Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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The Mirage of Fundamental Change after 26 years of Museveni

Despite Museveni's rhetoric, the NRM has failed on the change it promised.
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Trumpeting change: the NRM brass band.

Kampala, Uganda:

“No one should think that what is happening today is a mere change of guard: it is a fundamental change in the politics of our country. In Africa, we have seen so many changes that change, as such, is nothing short of mere turmoil. We have had one group getting rid of another one, only for it to turn out to be worse than the group it displaced. Please do not count us in that group of people.” – President Museveni 1986

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni marked 26 years of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) being in power last week by explaining the movement’s great achievements and the backwardness Uganda would embody without them.

And yet, if we were to read the speech that Museveni made in 1986 upon taking power, we would realise that the ideals the NRM stood for at the time have since faded. The NRM overthrew the prior regime, only to morph into a version of it, a quarter-century later.

Indeed, looking at the NRM after 26 years, it seems the fundamental change that was promised has turned into a pipedream. In fact, more accurately one could say it has become a mirage, a promise that eludes you every time you think you are getting closer to it. The NRM has had notable achievements, but has very far to go to achieve the fundamental change it promised.

Oil

President Museveni is very wrong to say that the NRM government discovered oil in Uganda; oil was discovered in the 1920s.

Another issue that seems to elude the president is that the oil we have in Uganda is a resource that will be depleted at a certain point. Experts put the lifespan of oil production in Uganda at about 40 years. Current estimates put Uganda’s oil potential at about 2.5 billion barrels of recoverable reserves from the three blocks that have so far been drilled. This should mean that despite the oil that is present, we need to invest in other sectors simultaneously. It is shocking that the agricultural sector—the biggest employer of Ugandans—has one of the slowest growth rates in the country, averaging 2% per annum since 2000. Prioritising growth in this sector could considerably uplift large portions of the populace. But Uganda before the NRM exported more agricultural products compared to today. Parastatals and arrangements like the cooperatives that were used to make this possible were killed off, sadly, by the NRM.

The potential of this oil is enormous. But with the ‘business as usual’ model that is a characteristic of the NRM government, it will be very hard to the country benefit as it could. African countries with oil tend to have a slower economic growth compared to those without oil. Uganda is sadly not an exception.

Corruption

The president seems unable to see that he is the person that can best deal with corruption. The problem with Museveni is that the same people cited in corruption scandals are usually close ‘comrades’ of the president. The failure to reprimand them is very worrying. When he calls for foot soldiers to help in the fight against corruption, he is short-changing ordinary Ugandans. People have talked and talked about corruption, although whistle blowing has not helped either. So when he says he needs foot soldiers, I really wonder what more he wants.

Sectarian Exclusion

One of the promises Museveni made upon his inauguration in 1986 was that he would end the spell of sectarian exclusion and violence by forming a broad-based government, and yet today we see a government as sectarian as the past ones.

Stefan Lindemann, a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, argues that all post-independence governments failed to accommodate ethnic, regional, and religious cleavages and the same is going on in the NRM government.

According to Lindemann’s research, the main beneficiaries of the NRM, regarding ethnic favouritism, have been people from the western region who have been overrepresented in the cabinet and been able to dominate the inner core. Most of the positions go to Banyankole, who happen to be Museveni’s group.

Lindemann goes on to show how military power-sharing has been limited since 1986. A classic example of this can be seen in the appointment of army commanders. Five out of six commanders came from the West, four of whom were Banyankole, out of whom three are from the Bahiima subgroup. Jeje Odong, from Teso, is the only non-western commander who, according to Lindemann’s research, wielded very little real influence.

We need to be very cognizant of the fact that the NRM has economically transformed the country in one way or another. Of course, the massive liberalisation of the economy might have had some casualties, but the Ugandan economy has grown. The next five years, however, will be critical in making claims of fundamental change. How the NRM deals with these years will determine a lot in all sectors of the economy, including the elimination of poverty in the country.

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