There is a leadership crisis in Uganda

That Uganda is in deep crisis is no longer in dispute. There is a political crisis; there is an economic crisis; there is a food crisis; there is a health crisis; there is education crisis; there is moral crisis; there is environmental crisis; there is employment crisis; there is housing crisis etc, etc. These crises are upon us in large part because of poor leadership. How did it happen? We need to examine the leadership style of President Museveni since 1986.

Museveni came to power in 1986 believing that he was the only visionary, the only intellectual and a God send leader born to rule with his tribe’s people. Museveni thought he was on top of the world and would govern Uganda according to his own instincts. He thought running a country was the same as commanding a guerrilla war. But he forgot that he had prepared for the 1981-85 guerrilla war since the 1960s and had accumulated experience. He did not realize nor would he listen that running a country particularly at that difficult moment had different rules. Before becoming president Museveni – according to his own words – had worked for a few months in the office of the president in charge of nomadic people before Obote was overthrown in 1971. So he assumed the presidency without experience in the art of governing a country or managing an organization. Then he made the following blunders which should be avoided by the next administration.

1. Instead of relying on the experienced civil service already in place with knowledge of structural adjustment which was launched in Uganda in 1981, Museveni dismissed or marginalized it because to him it was a UPC civil service. From 1894 to 1986, Uganda’s civil service had been dominated (unfairly) by Protestants who because of the nature of Uganda politics were overwhelmingly UPC members. He replaced them with Ugandans from other faiths that through no fault of theirs did not have the same level of experience as Protestants. Many NRM cadres had joined the guerrilla war straight from secondary school and were given positions in the new government that they could not handle because of inadequate training and inexperience. This arrangement ran from the lowest resistance committee to the highest level in government. In some cases known to the author illiterate people were elected to positions of responsibility all the way to the district level. It was not a secret at least in parts of western Uganda that Protestants had their turn, now it was someone else’s. So, qualified Protestants wouldn’t be elected or appointed.

2. Apart from a selected few, Museveni refused as a matter of policy the return of highly and experienced Ugandans in the diaspora. He reasoned that new Ugandans were being trained in universities and technical colleges. Night classes for thousands of students per class were started at Makerere University, earning diplomas of low quality. There are stories that some graduated without stepping inside a classroom. After much criticism, the program was finally cancelled but damage had been done. Museveni forgot that getting a diploma is one thing. Using it to produce desired results is entirely a different matter. Museveni assigned these so-called graduates to key positions and represented Uganda in international conferences. I have been privileged to attend some of these conferences in Addis Ababa, Geneva and New York and watch Uganda’s representatives perform. At one time Uganda was the darling of the west and United Nations. Ugandans were invited regularly to make presentations and chair meetings. Some did well but the majority reflected lack of knowledge expected in international conferences especially when substance is expected in expert meetings.

3. To fill the professional gap, NRM hired expatriates most of them young and without experience working in a strange environment. Some of them came with different agendas either to test their theories or collect materials to write articles, theses or books. They helped draw up programs which never got off the ground such as the modernization of agriculture. The NAADS component was saddled with many problems. Uganda was used more or less like a guinea pig.

4. To make a bad situation worse, Museveni through the individual merit doctrine hired to strategic positions in key ministries and embassies people from his own tribe. Look carefully at the ministries of finance, foreign affairs, police and the military since 1986. Some staff in embassies came to study or to relax, knowing that they can’t be touched by heads of missions. Some would even refuse to be reassigned. The morale in such institutions isn’t conducive for productive work.

5. Poor leadership is also exhibited in policy formulation. Excessive focus on macroeconomic stability with especially inflation control to five percent and balanced budget suffocated credit facilities, eliminated subsidies for education, healthcare and agriculture. Staff retrenchment got rid of experienced civil servants; privatization of public enterprises was conducted poorly and in a hurry; expansion of agricultural production including through clearing large swathes of vegetative cover did not take environmental impact into consideration; export of food forgot demands of domestic consumers including lunch for primary school children; government focus on the capital intensive service sector in urban areas especially the city of Kampala neglected the rest of the country where 32 of Uganda’s 34 million people live and produce a mere 30 percent of Gross National Income (GNI); a regressive tax system that has overburdened the least able to pay and a focus on national security at the expense of human security etc.

6. Then came rampant corruption and mismanagement of public funds. Uganda’s revenue from taxes, export earnings, donations, loans and remittances should be enough to meet basic human needs. Unfortunately a big share has gone into security institutions. Much of the balance has been stolen or mismanaged with impunity. Consequently, social sectors like health and education (considered not productive) were starved of resources and trickle down from productive sectors did not occur.

As time passed and excess capacity inherited in 1986 got exhausted, the impact of these deficits due in large part to poor leadership began to show. Instead of coming up with a pragmatic solution, the government left the economy in the hands of market forces and laissez faire policies which focus on profit maximization and not on human or ecological matters. NRM leadership flatly refused to intervene in the economy. The result is the many crises enumerated above. Staying in power too long with the same leaders has not helped, leading to political cracks. Many people including from NRM itself believe that Museveni is no longer in full charge. That Museveni is losing control came from Ssekikubo who observed that “Fourteen key cabinet portfolios including foreign affairs and parliamentary affairs have been vacant for nearly a year now. That’s not the Museveni I knew, those are not the NRM strong points I used to know. There is certainly a problem”. Ssekikubo also addressed the growing problem of impunity. “When you see impunity taking the day, you know all is not well”.

These deficits and the failure to address them reflect a leadership crisis. And potential successors have realized there is a leadership gap and are trying to fill it up. That may explain why the prime minister and speaker are taking decisions without clearance with the head of state. That is why Ssekikubo, Baryomunsi and Niwagaba have formed a ‘rebel’ government with Ssekikubo as president, Niwagaba as attorney general and Baryomunsi as secretary for health. When things like this happen, you know for sure there is a serious problem. Nevertheless, the rebel government has at least three major problems. First, its members cannot escape NRM’s collective responsibility. They have been an integral part of NRM for a long time. Second, you don’t form a new government without a clear direction where you want to take the country. Third, their sectarian approach of getting rid of the old generation has critically undermined their plan. No Ugandan should support leaders who discriminate against fellow Ugandans. You can’t be sure what their next move will be. So, don’t take chances with a group like this. Being younger does not automatically entitle anybody to a higher position of responsibility. It has to be earned.

UDU believes the time for change is now before the crisis develops into a full-blown conflict. A transitional government should be formed from all groups including NRM. UDU’s National Recovery Plan prepared by Ugandans from all regions and with wide support at home and abroad should serve as the basic development document with modifications as appropriate. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Recruitment into the cabinet should be based on competence, experience and character without losing sight of Uganda’s diversity unlike Niwagaba and colleagues. The transitional government should run the country and prepare for free and fair elections. During the transitional period and beyond separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government should be restored with the power of the presidency considerably reduced.