Uganda Needs A Transitional Government To Replace Gen. Museveni's Sooner, Not Later

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Burden of misrule? Gen. Yoweri Museveni, after 28 years of dictatorship time for transitional administration columnist says

[Commentary]

When Yoweri Museveni became president in 1986 he launched the 10-point program for the transformation of Uganda’s economy and society.

He traveled to Europe to mobilize resources for that purpose. He was told he could not get funding unless he reached an agreement with the IMF which was promoting a structural adjustment program (SAP) that Museveni had vehemently opposed while waging a guerrilla war against the UPC government in part because it implemented SAP that was hurting the people. Structural adjustment was totally different from the 10-point program.

With no adequate funding, Uganda’s economy dipped in 1986 and the first half of 1987 forcing Museveni – who had hoped to run the economy his own way along the same lines he ran the guerrilla war – to yield to external pressure.

He abruptly dropped the 10-point program and embraced the extreme – shock therapy – version that Chile and Ghana were moving away from and Tanzania had rejected because of its adverse impact on social welfare and the environment by massive extraction of natural resources for export.

The qualified and experienced economist who was minister of finance and the governor of the Central bank that had recommended a gradual and incremental approach to minimize the suffering of the people --different from the IMF strategy that called for comprehensive, rapid and simultaneous implementation of many components-- were dismissed. The role of the state in the economy was also significantly reduced as were the functions of the ministry of planning and economic development that got absorbed in the ministry of finance where it is languishing.

Uganda then embraced a macroeconomic approach focusing largely on monetary stability by controlling inflation to around 5 percent per annum that drove interest rates through the roof by limiting the quantity of money in circulation, making it difficult to borrow and invest in employment creating activities.

The outcome was rising unemployment and under-employment especially among the youth. Fiscal balance was accomplished by cutting subsidies and reducing expenditure on social sectors, especially education and healthcare. There was diversification of exports including foodstuffs such as maize, beans and fish traditionally developed to provide an affordable source of protein to low income families -- the objective was to earn more foreign exchange to settle external debts. This forced food prices to increase rapidly forcing many Ugandans to go hungry with all the implications including the level of nutrition and capacity to endure hard physical and mental work.

This "stabilization" program was followed by structural adjustment, largely, privatization of public enterprises and retrenchment of staff to generate revenue and improve efficiency, reduce costs, maximize profits and make products and services less expensive.

The theory was that the private sector would serve as the engine of economic growth. The benefits of economic growth would trickle down to all sectors of Uganda society equitably. The entire process would be guided by the invisible hand of the market forces. For launching these tough programs that IMF and World Bank favored, Museveni received adequate funding, sometimes in excess of what he had requested. 

However, from the experience of Chile and Ghana Museveni and his external supporters knew that at least in the short term these measures would be unpopular and lead to political instability especially if their implementation coincided with unleashing the forces of democracy, civil, political, economic and social rights. Museveni therefore demanded and received tacit support to postpone multiparty elections that were being imposed on other countries including neighboring Kenya; he was allowed to strengthen security forces to clamp down on dissent and weaken opposition parties.

With IMF and World Bank blessing, Museveni became the darling of the West, regularly attending the G8 Summits to sell his success story as a model for emulation in other developing countries. At the respective AU and UN Summits in Addis Ababa and New York, Museveni was the star and gave lectures to his fellow leaders and everyone wanted to meet with and learn from him. Uganda ministers and senior officials were invited to conferences all over the world to talk about Uganda’s success story. Even the Human Development Reports (HDR) of UNDP that focused on the human costs of structural adjustment programs found space to praise Uganda’s "success" story. Uganda was even prematurely graduated from Least Developed Country (LDC) status to a lower middle income category.

Museveni was described as the intellectual who picked up the gun and became the dean of a new crop of African leaders determined to chase away African dictators; end corruption, cronyism and sectarianism; introduce democracy and good governance; restore respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and re-establish good neighborly relations including assuring the late President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda that he would not export Uganda revolution to Rwanda. He also emphasized laying a foundation for rapid economic growth and poverty eradication, inter alia, through industrialization of Uganda within 15 years. Museveni even vowed that he would step down as president as soon as Uganda security returned to normal which occurred within four years.

As time passed, critics began to show that the political economy picture painted by the government and external backers was not as rosy. The benefits of economic growth largely based on excess capacity and high level of consumption by foreign troops based in Uganda and not so much on macroeconomic policies went to those already rich, widening the income gap.

The export of food traditionally grown for domestic consumption reduced availability in the domestic market and raised prices beyond the reach of many consumers increasing the number of Ugandans that went to bed hungry every night.  Unemployment of youth including university graduates reached over 80 percent. Environmental degradation due to excessive de-vegetation to increase export commodities threatened the ecological system by changing the thermal and hydrological regimes resulting in rising temperatures that attracted disease vectors such as mosquitoes in areas that had been too cold for them to survive and declining rainfall.

The abuse of human rights including torture as dissent spread was stepped up and the world noticed.

Over the years Museveni's behavior became increasingly reckless. For instance, he reasoned with a reporter that Africans were enslaved because they were stupid. He praised Hitler for being smart. He signed the anti-homosexual bill against the objections of many in Uganda and beyond including close allies he had assured he would not sign it. He allowed corruption, sectarianism and cronyism to spread like a brush fire. His family members, including his wife Janet Museveni, his son Brigadier Muhoozi Kaenerugaba,  and his brother Gen. Salim Saleh, are holding key and strategic positions in the government and security forces and owning many businesses and assets including land largely grabbed from powerless and voiceless indigenous owners particularly in Buganda region.

Initially Museveni argued that these criticisms were false coming from the opposition and misguided reporters.  He vowed to deal with them accordingly and he did, sending some to prison. But his actions stiffened resistance, forcing outsiders and even government officials to take a closer look. They finally concluded that Uganda was actually a failed state vulnerable to domestic and external shocks. Corruption among other constraints had strangled private sector investments, forcing some industries to close, others to relocate outside Uganda, yet others to operate below installed capacity. Change of policy resulted in HIV infection that had been brought under control to rise again threatening everyone in rural and urban areas.

Sadly, Museveni didn’t realize that his star had long fallen until he came to Washington recently for the US-Africa Leaders Summit from August 4 - to 6. He was marginalized while the presidents of Tanzania and Ghana enjoyed the Washington D.C. glory.

It is possible his advisers who knew what had gone wrong were afraid to tell him the truth for fear of repercussions. Genuine advice from the opposition that the perception of Museveni in the US had changed including in the media was ignored as an act of sabotage. But a major article in the New York Times on the eve of the Summit by Helen Epstein confirmed what we had been saying that Museveni star had fallen.

He realized it too late. His discomfort at the Summit is reflected in his body language as captured in the pictures we have seen so far. To repair his image in the U.S. Museveni has made two major errors.

First, it is reported that Museveni has allocated $600,000 of taxpayers' or donors' money to hire a Washington-based lobbyist to restore his battered image. Ugandans and others are demanding that the money be returned to Uganda where it is needed for urgent purposes including purchasing medicines for children that are dying needlessly.

Second, Museveni sent a young and inexperienced ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) Member of Parliament from Jinja to a US-Africa conference on trade and investment in Africa that took place in Los Angeles, California, from August 15-16, 2014.

The hope was to absolve the NRM old guard by making it appear as if the younger generation of the party were now in charge.

The barrage of questions in formal and informal discussions demonstrated that the MP had failed to convince participants that Uganda was on a different and better political and economic trajectory. He was unable to explain what concrete steps have been taken to fight corruption except imprisoning a few civil servants.

He was unable to explain why many well educated and experienced Ugandans continue to languish in the Diaspora when the government complains about human power shortage and hires very expensive foreign "experts" and consultants.

He was unable to explain the de-industrialization of the economy and the dynamics of the explosive population growth. He was unable to explain why the NRM youth purportedly endorsed Museveni to run again in 2016 presidential elections, unopposed; how would that reconcile with the fact that he belongs to the old guard that has messed up the country?

The MP's patronizing attitude disqualified him as the right spokesperson for the emerging cadre of young leaders. He was saved from further embarrassment when the moderator ended the session because time had run out. The MP did not show up for the balance of the conference.

Ugandans in the opposition including members of the United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) since July 2011 and The Hague Process (THP) since November 2013 have been advocating an alternative approach to arrest the decadence and return Uganda to a normal political economy path to save Uganda from a possible civil war. This alternative is based on forming a transitional government of all Ugandans including good elements in NRM. This transition should be led by a Presidential Team -- one person would amassed power into the hands of an individual; this power has been abused in the country's recent history.

Apart from the day-to-day state activities, the presidential team should organize a comprehensive population census of all residents in Uganda as a basis for development planning and drawing up constituencies of equal voting population size. The transitional government would also convene a national convention so that Ugandans debate and agree on how they want to be governed. Meanwhile institutions would be strengthened and separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government re-established as checks and balances.

UDU has already formulated a well received National Recovery Plan available at www.udugandans.org

The Hague Process has also produced a road map and methodology for unseating NRM by non-violent dissent. Studies have shown that over 70 percent of authoritarian regimes including those in Iran in 1979 and Philippines in 1986 were removed by people power that embraced all sectors of society including religious and military leaders and their followers acting in unison to save the country and its people from a dictator; not fighting for personal interests.Uganda can also do the same.

Consensus is emerging that the country be led by capable, patriotic Ugandans with impeccable record of character.

 

Eric Kashambuzi is an international consultant on development issues. He resides in New York, USA.

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