At 34 years in power, NRM registers a wobbly record

Sunday January 26 2020


By Bernard Tabaire

It took almost two decades to be realised, but that there is general peace in Uganda is possibly the only uncontested issue about the NRM government, which has been in power since 1986, and under the same visionary leader: Yoweri Museveni.
Almost everything else is arguable because it seems incomplete, muddled, or simply incoherent.

You spend years and loads of cash to make a good national Constitution and then you mutilate it when it does not serve your interests.
We got free Universal Primary Education, which saw the number of kids going to school shoot up. A very good thing. But report after report over the last 20 years of implementation of the scheme shows that Uganda’s children are getting a lousy education, even by the low standards of the East African region.

A poorly educated human resource cannot be relied upon to deliver socio-economic transformation, a goal that President Museveni talks about a lot.

Kampala has grown and expanded with new neighbourhoods and shiny new structures and more are on the way, but it remains an incredibly chaotic place. It is dusty, it is unlit, it obeys no traffic rules, its streets are decayed.

Its population increases faster than the national average every year, piling on more pressure. But idiotic local and national politics and a failure of imagination has rendered the city, a key contributor to national economic growth, utterly dysfunctional.

You work methodically to develop the oil sector, starting with taking Ugandans as early as 1986 to study abroad and specialise in matters petroleum. You find commercial oil in 2006, but in 2020 not a drop is flowing.


The goal is to push a hard bargain with the international oil companies so that Uganda can benefit maximally. As is, good intentions are delivering near-paralysis, thereby holding back the sector. The perfect has definitely become the enemy of the good, as some sage proffered. Our petroleum sector may one day become a study in how good intentions deliver minimal results. Or, uncharitably, how resource nationalism leads to a dead end.

You fight for freedom and the dignity of Ugandans to not be brutalised by the State that is supposed to protect them, but the State under your government routinely brutalises the Opposition. I suppose Opposition members are not Ugandans. Opposition politics is tolerated but not embraced.

Serious political dissent is effectively criminalised. Beatings, arrests, teargassing. All these things are done under laws that are expediently crafted and implemented. Talk of a free Uganda is a charade, an exercise in rank duplicity.

You build more health centres but don’t staff and equip them well. If you staff and equip them, you pay a pittance and expect good results. The wishful thinking here is not much different from declaring that Uganda will be a middle-income country by X date or that it will be exporting 20 million bags of coffee by Y year. Just declare it and feel good about it, after all 40+ million Ugandans are that gullible. But I guess if you have been in power for more than three decades, it means you are ruling over a gullible population. It makes sense.

You talk the big talk against corruption, but the steps to fight it are so disjointed and piecemeal as to have meaningful impact. And, so, corruption thrives. The 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International on Thursday ranks Uganda at 137 out of 180 countries, a small positive change from 2018 when the country ranked number 149.

We are in the same position as Kenya. Tanzania and Rwanda are doing much better; Burundi and South Sudan much worse. At the release of the 2018 rankings, the chairperson of Transparency International said: “Corruption is much more likely to flourish where democratic foundations are weak and, as we have seen in many countries, where undemocratic and populist politicians can use it to their advantage.” Rings familiar.

Finally, once upon a time Africa’s key problem was leaders who overstay in power, clearly beyond their welcome and sell-by dates. You said that and then went on to chase a life-presidency. We are at year 34 in pursuit of that goal. Not bad.
Enjoy NRM Day today.

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.