Mr Augustine Ruzindana served in the NRM government as Inspector General of Government and also represented Ruhaama County in the 7th Parliament. The Forum for Democratic Change Secretary for Research explains why no one should toast to President Museveni’s 24 years of power.
The last 24 years have been a mixture of successes, failures and disappointments. Museveni has had significant impact on so many aspects of the country and the lives of its people and within the Great Lakes region but I will only be able to deal with a few of them, in particular governance and politics.
His greatest success has been his ability to hold power for so long no matter what he has done with that power. His greatest disappointment has been failure to deliver free and fair elections and to transform the country from least developed to a developed industrial country which he had been accusing other leaders of failing to do.
He has also failed to create consensus on such issues as democracy, citizenship, political systems, respect and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, electoral system (see the representation of NUDIPU an NGO, UPDF, NOTU in parliament), system of local government (federalism) and the separation of his party from the state.
After 24 years the basis of Museveni’s tenure of power remains Legal Notice No.1 of 1986 issued immediately after the NRA captured power on January 25th 1986. Museveni, as Chair of the High Command of the NRA, ruled by decree until Legal Notice No.1 of 1986 (Amendment) Decree of 1987 vested “All Legislative powers” in the National Resistance Council (NRC).
During the initial years major decisions like the four-year initial transitional period and the restoration of the Kabaka were made by the NRA Army Council not the NRC, which was the top political organ of the NRM party and also chaired by Museveni.
Thus, Museveni was legally the head of the Legislature and the Executive at the same time until the 6th Parliament elected in 1996 under the 1995 Constitution. This should explain why the checks and balances of the 1995 Constitution failed to work.
With the experience of the bush days and the first 10 years of NRM rule, Museveni still looks at Parliament as an organ of the NRM and the Speaker as one of his appointees deployed to chair Parliament.
This explains why the late James Wapakhabulo and the late Francis Ayume could be removed from being Speaker without raising a murmur of protest. This is also why Museveni still decides what laws Parliament passes and when. The Land Amendment Act and the Regional Tier Bill are recent examples. In reality the independent Parliament created by the Constitution does not exist, it is just the NRC with another name.
The only organ of state that did not come under the President’s direct control was the Judiciary and to this day, even if it is gradually changing through appointment of NRM supporters, it is still under frequent unjustified attack by the President.
Similarly, the Police never came under the direct control of the NRM until recently when serving military officers were appointed to head it, thus facilitating the posting of military officers to various departments and sections of the police, especially the intelligence department that replaced Special Branch.
The Civil Service and the Teaching Service are also undergoing similar changes through appointment and the recent patriotism programmes. This is the background to the power equation under Museveni/NRM rule. All the congratulatory messages in the media capture this reality by showing the picture of the man to whom the messages are sent.
One man’s show
Power in the army, the executive and the legislature has been held by one man since January 1986. He has exercised this power largely to continue as president indefinitely.
The first 10 years were of great promise and registered most successes. The President formed a broad-based government accommodating different political views and interests. The system of decentralisation and resistance councils (now local councils) with elected leaders was introduced.
Increased press freedom coupled with freedom for civil society to organise seemed to create prerequisites for a thriving democracy. These measures created immense good will and popularity for Museveni and his party. However, from the very beginning at no time was freedom for political parties to organise tolerated.
This has been a consistent position which to this day accounts for persisting police repression of activities of political parties.
While addressing the Movement National Conference on March 30, 2003 Museveni told the participants: “Because of the nature of our society, we shall not be a party”, but “we must have a system of allowing people who do not want to be part of the Movement to find their own home.” (New Vision, March 31, 2003).
Thus the movement system continues to operate as before side-by-side with political parties which are allowed to operate within restricted bounds.
Case of EC
The NRM political school managed by the UPDF continues to operate as before. The movement-era Electoral Commission remains in place with members appointed on the same criteria and in the same manner as RDCs. To maintain local councils as structures of the NRM, competitive elections have not been held since 2006 when their terms of office expired.
With regard to the economy, there were successes in turning round the economy and in maintaining macro-economic stability.
The rehabilitation and reconstruction phase attracted huge international support resulting in improved physical and social infrastructure. Employment levels in the formal sectors remain very low.
Tax collection improved but is dominated by indirect and import taxes and has stagnated at 12/13 per cent far below the African average of 18 per cent (Kenya 24 per cent).
Reports of foreign investment are of licensed projects by the UIA not of actual investment made. The country has registered respectable growth rates but the high birth rate and huge disparities between the rich and poor make the growth another ghost to the majority.
Governance, human rights protection, openness and accountability, due process and fair trial improved for sometime but there has been a sharp decline in the last 10 years.
The levels of corruption have reached the Mobutu/Suharto/Ferdinand Marcos levels and the regime can be rightly classified as a kleptocracy; corruption, loss of gains that had been made, has occurred at central and local government levels undermining service delivery so much so that no one takes the President’s lamentations seriously.
There are ghost teachers and students, ghost health workers and ghost health facilities and payment for air supply has become common place. Numerous scandals involving high level personalities have created a thriving sector of commissions of inquiry. Nepotism and cronyism are dominant features in recruitment, promotions and in doing business with government.
The greatest failure, however, has been the failure to deliver free-and-fair elections, the alleged cause of the Luwero war. The elections of 1996, 2001, 2006 under Museveni have not been deemed free and fair.
It seems this is an ingrained character trait as in some of these elections Museveni could have won without rigging.
For elections to be considered free-and-fair, there must be agreed rules for the electoral process and they must be conducted by an electoral management body accepted and respected by all the participants in the elections.
Failure to meet this requirement explains why elections are always considered rigged and do not achieve the finality they should.
Museveni has so changed Uganda that everything revolves around him.
The 24 years have been a movement from chaos (Lutwa) and tyrannical instability (Obote 11) to relative peace and more or less tyrannical stability.