Why Museveni has difficulties explaining his accomplishments

President Museveni is campaigning for reelection for another five-year term. He has been telling NRM supporters that he has a solid record of achievements for the last 25 years. But he does not elaborate on that record. Deep in his heart he knows that his performance in all areas of human endeavor has been dismal. He has been variously described as a dictator presiding over a failed state. Images around the world of Ugandans disfigured by jiggers which he condemned while waging a guerrilla war, children dying of hunger, Ugandans dying in traffic accidents because of bad roads, patients sleeping on hospital floors, children studying under trees, Kampala City under floods, shooting unarmed demonstrators while he was Chairman of the Commonwealth, demonstrations against him in New York City in 2009 and 2010, recent allegations that Uganda troops committed genocide against Hutu in DRC and terrorist attack on Kampala have left Museveni a weak and vulnerable man. That is why talk of his achievements is circumscribed.

To assess what he achieved or failed to achieve, one has to understand the political economy parameters within which to measure that performance. The overall purpose of development is to improve living standards of all citizens, build and sustain institutions and infrastructure (energy and roads in particular), protect the environment for present and future generations and nurture good neighborly relations. A critical analysis of what he has done shows that overall Uganda has moved backward instead of forward. It is being described as a country transiting from third to fourth world, witness the reemergence of diseases. This conclusion can be deduced from comments in Uganda media and foreigners that have been associated with Uganda since Museveni came to power. He is increasingly being described as another African dictator, trampling human rights of his citizens.

When Museveni came to power he inherited an economy, society and ecology in bad shape. He promised to eradicate poverty through rapid economic growth and restructure the economy away from subsistence to commercial farming and from raw material to manufactured exports. He also wanted all Ugandan children and adults to get excellent education, eat adequate and balanced diets for a healthy and productive life besides protecting the environment, ending corruption and sectarianism, uniting the people of Uganda and establishing good neighborly relations etc.

Laudable and relevant policies and programs such as modernization of agriculture, poverty eradication action plan (PEAP), food and nutrition security, environmental protection and decentralization to bring services closer to the people etc were drawn up. Reviews of these documents at home and abroad were positive. Development partners were happy and donated generously. Then came the implementation stage and things began to go wrong.

Economic growth which has averaged some six percent per annum has throughout the last 25 years exceeded average annual population growth rate of some 3 per cent. Under normal circumstances of equitable distribution and social justice, the standard of living of all Ugandans should have improved leading to eventual eradication of poverty. In practice, the benefits of economic growth which reached 10 percent in mid-1990s have not trickled down to all classes and regions. Instead, a disproportionate share has gone to a few households related to the first family, leaving the rest in economic trap with 20 percent getting poorer and suffering the diseases of poverty.

Former Administrator of UNDP reported in 1998 that although average economic growth posted an impressive record of 6 percent for a decade, two-thirds of Ugandans remained in absolute poverty and per capita income had not yet reached the level it had attained in 1970 (when Obote was overthrown). According to UNDP’s 2010 Human Development Report, over 50 percent of Ugandans are living below the absolute poverty line. In 2010 as in 1998 the general standard of living still falls below the level reached in 1970.

Museveni blamed previous regimes for focusing on export production at the expense of domestic food security. He promised he would strike a balance between the two. However, at a 1989 conference for parliamentarians and other stake holders, Museveni changed course and attached higher priority to exports including non-traditional exports (NTEs) to increase foreign currency earnings. The production of traditional exports of cotton, coffee, tobacco and tea were scaled up. Non-traditional exports included foodstuffs that had previously been produced for domestic consumption. The export of nutritious fish and beans increased dramatically sending prices through the ceiling beyond the means of many consumers. Downward adjustments had to be made. Some Ugandans are having one meal a day while others are going to bed hungry. Currently, some 9 million Ugandans are going to bed hungry and majority of the rest are eating one meal a day of nutritionally poor cassava, maize/corn or plantains without nutrient supplements causing ill health including under-nutrition.

Studies have shown that people who eat too much cassava, maize and plantains develop neurological abnormalities including insanity. The situation is made worse by stress. The rising number of neurological problems could be accounted for by poor feeding. Further, food shortages affect women and children more severely than men. Under-nourished women produce underweight infants with permanent physical and mental abnormality and early death. Furthermore brain develops during the first three years of human life from conception. That is the time nutrition should be at an optimum level. Sadly in Uganda food intake is low during these years. Thus nutrition insecurity has retarded brain development among many children.

Because food production for export has taken precedence over domestic consumption, Museveni’s government has not been able to provide school lunches as agreed by NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development). It is indisputable that school lunches improve attendance and performance especially of girls. In the absence of lunch many children have dropped out of school, got married and had children early endangering the life of mother and child. Museveni’s record in ensuring food and nutrition security has thus fallen far below expectation.

Museveni promised a metamorphosis of Uganda’s economy and society through rapid industrialization and job creation. Paradoxically, he liberalized Uganda’s economy that allowed the importation of cheap manufactured and processed products including used clothing and powdered milk. He also decided to focus on inflation control to 5 percent per annum, raising interest rates that discouraged borrowing by small and medium enterprises that create jobs especially for young and inexperienced workers.

Consequently, domestic industries like textiles have been outcompeted. Some have closed down (de-industrialization) while others are operating below installed capacity with many workers laid off. Consequently, over 80 percent of Uganda youth (15-24) are unemployed over 50 percent being university graduates. This is another area where regression has been recorded.

President Museveni promised a modern and technically-oriented education to meet the demands of a global knowledge-based economy. Along the way, he decided to focus on mass education at primary level. Universal Primary Education (UPE) which was implemented in a rush for political reasons has turned out to be a disaster. The dropout rate is unbelievably high and the quality has sunk so low that the majority of primary graduates are functionally illiterate and unemployable. Poor quality education has cut across all levels. Consequently, skilled jobs in Uganda are being performed by outside workers when the country has over 50 percent university graduates out of work.

The health sector has been hard hit from many angles. Government budget has been very low, corruption and mismanagement very high as well as brain drain of doctors and nurses, leaving inexperienced personnel in charge while many posts remain unfilled. Acting in concert absolute poverty, poor nutrition, poor healthcare, poor housing and poor clothing including lack of shoes have resulted in reemergence of diseases that are sapping energies of many children at school and adults at work.

Museveni scored very high marks for the tough fight he waged against HIV and AIDS, being the first African leader to confront the pandemic. However, his move towards abstinence and subsequent rise in infection has dealt a heavy blow to what had been an excellent and bold performance.

Uganda’s environment has progressively declined. Clearing large swathes of land to grow export crops including commercial livestock herding, timber harvesting for export and domestic use and wetland clearance have exposed soils to agents of erosion such as wind and tropical torrential rain. Local climates have changed. The dry period has become drier and longer. Rainfall pattern has changed causing irregularities in amount, timing and duration. Streams have dried up or become seasonal, spring wells are disappearing and lakes are shrinking and water tables dropping. Consequently, Uganda is increasingly being defined by frequent and devastating droughts and floods and desert conditions.

Lack of urban planning especially in the Capital City of Kampala has led to serious problems. Until Museveni came to power, building in water drainage channels and on wetlands was prohibited. All that changed following Museveni’s ascent to power. Shopping malls, industrial complexes and residential buildings have been constructed in previously prohibited areas blocking water runoff channels. Consequently Kampala floods every time there is heavy rainfall which is frequent in a tropical setting.

Museveni promised Ugandans and the rest of the world that corruption and sectarianism would be wiped off the face of Uganda in the shortest possible time because they had hindered development and national unity. Paradoxically, under Museveni Uganda has become the most corrupt in the country’s history. Members, relatives, friends and in-laws of the first family have benefited disproportionately and become visibly filthy rich and accumulation continues uninterrupted. Appointments, promotions and assignments are based largely on loyalty rather than competence.

The desire to give more powers to districts through decentralization so that services can be brought closer to the people who should participate actively in matters that affect their lives attracted Museveni early in his presidency. While the idea is laudable and received warm reception at home and abroad, Museveni has divided the country into tiny, virtually tribal-based districts that are economically unviable and cannot even raise revenue to meet administrative costs, besides acute shortage of qualified and experienced human power. With over one hundred districts that are inward-looking the idea of national unity has been shelved.

Finally, Museveni was seen as a regional leader capable of bringing about peace and stability in the great lakes region. However, his involvement in Burundi and Kenya politics, his dream of Tutsi Empire, invasion of Rwanda and DRC as well as wanton exploitation of Congo resources involving members of his family and recent allegations that Uganda troops committed genocide against Hutu people in DRC have badly damaged his reputation at regional, continental and global levels.

All in all, Museveni is being described as a dictator presiding over a failed state. That is why during campaigning, he merely mentions achievements without elaboration making people think he is hiding something or is avoiding opening a Pandora box. Consequently, he is more comfortable talking about his struggle before 1986 and what he plans for Uganda in the future including sending some Ugandans to the moon than his accomplishments.