Thought and Ideas
Uganda at 51 years and Museveni’s leadership
Posted Sunday, October 13 2013 at 01:00
Last week, Uganda marked its 51st independence anniversary. This October anniversary for most Ugandans these days is a day off to sleep, drink, work, work on their hair in salons and listen to music. Its relevance recedes with every passing years.
The national mood is one of dejection.
There is no dedication. No ability to see the relation between the human potential and the national destination.
There is very little do-or-die urgency in anything we do. The government can lose billions of shillings every month. The political class and the media will bemoan the loss, critique the government, but life will still go on.
There are very, very few Ugandans for whom our waste, incompetence and sluggishness means everything to them, is a deep and personal shame and pain.
Most of what runs Uganda was not produced by us. Our bank notes, airport equipment, cars, clothes, electronics, home appliances, public utility infrastructure, none of these are made by us. So how can we really feel the loss in a very personal way of our resources?
People who produce think and react very differently from those who simply import and consume.
A person who receives his salary at about the same time every month does not have the urgency of one who processes a shipping container from a port in Hong Kong or Shanghai, waits nervously for weeks for it to arrive at Mombasa, then make its way to Kampala.
Different governments have behaved responsibly or irresponsibly to varying degrees since 1962. However, what they all had in common were the above traits: There was never any urgency about anything to the extent that it felt like life or death.
The world was divided roughly between two competing powers, the Communist Soviet-led East bloc and the free market United States-led West bloc.
African governments and other states decided where in the two camps they lay (the Non-Aligned Movement claims notwithstanding).
If you were Uganda in the 1960s and 1970s, all you needed to do was sound out hostile intentions to the West, the Soviet Union approached you and soon military equipment, printing presses and engineers and medical doctors flowed to your country.
If you were Kenya or Zaïre, you made it clear you were pro-West. Then British or American troops or military advisers were sent to your country, Western companies set up franchises in your industrial area, offered scholarships and financial aid.
Perhaps this explains why most post-independence African leaders tended to be vocal and given to delivering long, dramatic speeches. Their speeches were their pronouncement of their foreign policy and their stated foreign policy decided real benefits like construction loans, investment and getting military support.
When you don’t really manufacture or produce much (like Uganda’s politicians or we media commentators), the only asset you have is your views and loud mouth.
The head of state at the time Uganda turns 51, President Yoweri Museveni, seems to be in a situation of having reached and passed his maximum, but unable to turn back or step aside.
This crisis of one’s place in power after 27 years can be seen in the kinds of officiating he does these days. Last week, he commissioned the new Wandegeya Market, then went on to open the renovated New Taxi Park, all in Kampala.
Two men at a kiosk in Makindye commented on these diminishing marginal returns from Museveni. They wondered why the President should be reduced to opening every little project.
What was the role of the Lord Mayor of Kampala? Or the Minister of the Presidency? Or the Minister of Local Government? Why can’t the President leave these sorts of commissioning to his aides and ministers and allow them the honour of feeling they too have powers of decision-making and matter?
The President has been in power for 27 years but rather than have gotten to a point where the sheer monotony of being praised, inspecting the same guards of honour, being on the road all the time starting to tire of bore him, he seems to need these rituals of State even more.
The result has become a Ugandan government where everything revolves around him and State House is now the government of Uganda. During the presidencies of Milton Obote and Idi Amin, very few Ugandans knew officials who worked at State House. It was a quiet place in Entebbe where foreign dignitaries or high-ranking national officials met the president.
Today, State House is the centre of government, a place abuzz with activities, intrigue and in-fighting, delegation after delegation waiting to see the President, State House officials busybodies always on radio or TV defending Museveni and attacking his critics, and handling everything from land wrangles to army veterans’ matters, sorting out boda boda registration, issuing overseas scholarships and every petty political activity known to the NRM.
Commenting on the depreciating presidency of the Ugandan leader, the London news magazine The Economist, in a Saturday October 12, 2013 article titled ‘A leader who cannot bear to retire’ said “Mr Museveni is virtually the only decision-maker in the government. Almost nothing gets done without his nod. Officials must travel down to his farm from Kampala to seek his blessing for their plans.”