Why seasonal leaders are best for development

Sunday May 12 2019


By Harold Acemah

On Labour Day, Ugandans, Africans and the world at large were given a public lecture on “seasonal leaders” elected every four years by people who “are just playing around,” i.e. people who are not serious. These cynical, derogatory and irrelevant remarks were made in an address delivered at Patongo on May 1.

According to a story published in Daily Monitor of May 2 titled, “US ruled by seasonal leaders – Museveni” the sole candidate of NRM alleged that American presidents are seasonal leaders because, unlike him, they serve for only four years which to him is like a “game”. I suspect the incumbent “seasonal leader” of the US, Mr Donald Trump, will in due course tweet on this matter when it comes to his attention.

By the way, Americans have been playing this game for 243 years – since 1776, many years before anybody ever dreamt of Uganda.
To the best of my knowledge, Uganda and USA enjoy cordial diplomatic relations and have done so since 1962. As per American embassy diplomatic number plates, the US was the second country after the UK to open a resident mission in Kampala. During the 1960s and 1970s, the US embassy was located at Embassy House.

Against this background, the tasteless and unbecoming remarks Sabalwanyi made on Labour Day are diplomatically embarrassing, offensive and unacceptable. I hope the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will send a diplomatic note to the US embassy to apologise on behalf of the people of Uganda who have no quarrel with the leaders and people of USA who are among Uganda’s leading donors of assistance.

My father taught me that some things are better left unsaid however strongly one feels about them. With the benefit of hindsight my father was absolutely right. As an Anglican priest, he knew that self-control is one of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. I tell you, a man who lacks self-control is doomed and dangerous because his tongue is like fire.

On the US economy which is number one in the world, Museveni said that the strength of America’s economy is the private sector, not the seasonal political leadership. Sabalwanyi argued that, “United States is the most powerful country not because of leaders, but because of business people”.

Urging Ugandans to engage in commercial agriculture, Museveni claimed that the strength of all countries does not depend on politicians, priests and traditional leaders, but on business people. He added that a country cannot be successful if businessmen are mishandled. No wonder he has gone to great lengths to accord preferential treatment to foreign investors at the expense of Ugandans. Many of the foreign investors are bogus.

Why is US economy strong?
As one who worked in the US for six years and who has studied the political economy of the US at graduate school, I beg to disagree with Sabalwanyi’s thesis that the strength of the American economy is business people.

The first and primary factor which underpins US democracy and the US economy is liberty or freedom. The slogan Americans adopted during their struggle for independence from the British was, “Give me liberty or give me death!” The Statue of Liberty at New York harbour has for generations symbolically welcomed to the USA immigrants from all parts of the world, including Uganda.

The lesson for Uganda is that as long as the NRM regime denies Ugandans liberty, our country will not grow and become a developed country, let alone a middle-income country. Lack of freedom has suffocated the creative energy of Ugandans, especially the youth who are the vast majority of Uganda’s population.

Second, hard work; Americans are hardworking people driven by the Protestant work ethic.
Third, the political leadership of USA has adopted the right national priorities unlike Uganda where the number one priority of government is regime survival, especially of NRM’s sole candidate.

US presidents are proud to be seasonal leaders because regular, orderly and peaceful change of leadership at all levels, especially at the national level is good, healthy and inevitable for every country. “No change” is a backward, primitive, reactionary and retrogressive policy which retards development. Uganda deserves a lot better.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.