Sunday January 26 2014

President Museveni, vision, could have all along been a mere myth, politics

By Alan Tacca

In late December, some religious people in Kampala were praying or thanksgiving for something, and President Museveni was in attendance. I had roamed into some local FM radio station and by pure chance found Mr. Museveni speaking. Guess what… By and by, he started talking about his vision.

My heart was full of charity. I instantly focussed my attention: This is it. This is not the media giving accounts that sometimes lose vital stuff in the transmission between the event and the compressed versions that are usually sold to the public. This is the prophet himself on his vision; an encounter with things of wisdom from the horse’s mouth.

I was thoroughly disappointed. It was another round in the old groove about generalised intentions and opposition politicians who obstructed him but had nothing useful to offer as an alternative to his rule.

A person living in a faraway land would think there was something very special going on here, a phenomenal transformation taking place. But when President Museveni described his vision, he said it was about commercial agriculture, manufacturing, increasing energy generation; it was about…

Admittedly, I might have fallen asleep. But before I got bored, Mr Museveni had castigated the politicians and parliamentary process that had variously obstructed or slowed the advance of his vision.
When launching Finance Trust Bank last weekend, Mr Museveni answered those who say he is getting too old by insisting that his brain was still fresh and his ideas relevant.

Again, he gave the same generalised intentions – agriculture, services, industry and ICT – and called them his “ideas”. Now, with due respect, no politician; nobody indeed – not even Col Kiiza Besigye’s little boy, Anselm – would describe these sectors (or areas of activity) as ideas, let alone a special vision.

Some rulers would not even think it worthwhile to sing about these areas, because their centrality in any under-developed country is so obvious. They go directly to the specific projects and approaches that they think will help their countries achieve their development goals. Some succeed, some fail.

It is of very little value to come forward and tell us that since the bush war days, you (and only you) have a vision of an industrialised Uganda, or a country where the people got richer. Instead, we look at the power plants your government has built, or those your rule has enabled the private sector to build. We look at the price of the power they produce.

If, because of the effects of corruption, incompetence and over-taxation in your government, the final price is too high, you are about to see why no rational person is genuinely clapping: the industrial people using your power come out with products far more expensive than the competition from other countries. And we look at the industrial sector showing only limited expansion.

The industrialists also try to counter the same (government) effects in their sector, as well as the high power prices, by striking shady deals with tax, procurement and other government authorities, and by paying criminally low wages. And because Mr Museveni knows the argument, he dare not institute a minimum wage. So the factory slaves are not about to have enough purchasing power to drive the economy into the next gear.

The industrial bosses have learned from President Museveni’s ruling clique that only the elite deserves good incomes, so they remain cynical about the widening income gap between the managers and the slaves. Turning to the countryside and the legendary peasants, we look at your failed “Entandikwa” and “Bonna Bagaggawale”, at your under-funded agriculture, at the rot in Naads, and at the primitive production and storage system that keep the peasants one drought away from serious food inadequacy.

But these glaring shortcomings are not because President Museveni is old. From the days of the disastrous barter trade arrangements, they have been part of NRM rule even when he was a young man. It is the generosity of Western donors and the goodwill of Ugandans that allowed the myth in which they are woven to be sold as a heightened vision.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator