I enjoyed reading President Yoweri K. Museveni’s response to the American government’s sanctions against Kale Kayihura. I agree with him that banning a non-American from entering the United States is not a matter of life and death.
Whereas I was disappointed that, instead of addressing the substance of the Americans’ allegations against Kayihura, the President focused on the reaction of some Opposition leaders to the sanctions. I was struck by his claim to be independent of foreign agency and control. Really?
When Ugandan intelligence services detected that a group of Ugandan army officers had set up camps in Rwanda and Eastern Congo in 2001 with a view to launching an armed rebellion against Museveni’s regime, the President did not take the matter to the African Union, or to a respected African leader. Our pan-Africanist President run to his British masters, with a letter that he penned on September 28, 2001, not to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but to a junior minister of the crown.
Museveni’s letter to Claire Short, Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development, stated in part: “I am embarrassed to have to communicate with you about the deteriorating situation in the bilateral relations between Uganda and the government of Rwanda, led by President Kagame.”
The Ugandan President then proceeded to report the wrongs of his African neighbour to the Englishwoman, the way colonial African chiefs reported uncooperative Africans to European district commissioners.
Museveni concluded his painful letter with an acknowledgement that the British minister was his boss: “I am, therefore, writing to you for two reasons. First of all, to inform you about the sad and childish developments here which, nevertheless, are very grave for this region.
Secondly, to request you to show understanding to our intention to raise our defence spending beyond the 1.9 per cent of GDP we had agreed with the donors.”
That was our President, who wears the cloak of a fiercely independent African ruler that proudly advocates an Afrocentric approach to Africa’s problems. Eighteen years later, his actions still undress his words. He presides over a highly dependent country that receives $2b in foreign aid annually. This makes Uganda the 19th largest foreign aid recipient in the world.
In last week’s missive, Mr Museveni declared that it would be treason if Kayihura had investments in the USA. After declaring that he could never make personal investments outside Africa, Museveni wrote: “It is, therefore, inexcusable that at a time when Africa is still struggling to stand up, still with deficits in many areas, that the African elite would transfer money, again, to the West.” There is nothing treasonable about an individual’s choice to make legal investments of legally acquired money in any part of the world. Museveni and Kayihura are free to invest wherever they want. It is none of our business.
What is our business are the President’s actions that, after nearly 34 years in power, have turned the country into a hostage of cronyism and corruption, and encourage large outflows of profits without significant growth of a Ugandan middle class.
That Museveni favours foreign businessmen whom he calls “investors” at the expense of Ugandan entrepreneurs is a matter of record. That he favours foreign doctors and despises Ugandan ones is on record. That his neglect of the public health service sector has boosted the revenues of hospitals in places like India and Thailand is a national scandal.
That his presidential palace at Entebbe, built by the Chinese, and his other government houses are furnished with foreign goods, is a fact. That Ugandan minerals and other valuable natural resources are being sucked out by foreigners is not a State secret.
Whereas I am very much in favour of foreign investment in Uganda, the absence of a coherent and integrated policy on foreign investment that does not destroy domestic entrepreneurship undermines the President’s claims to be proudly pro-Africa.
There is no doubt that, on the surface, Uganda’s industrial landscape has positively changed in the last three decades. The infrastructure projects that the Museveni regime has midwifed have created opportunities and improved the lives of a section of the population.
However, the development that the President celebrates is a mirage. The investment programme, such as exists, is an ad hoc arrangement, mostly dependent on friendships with the President or his inner circle. This is the group that has captured the State, turning corruption into the central driver of the economy and politics.
Capturing the State by political and military operatives doubling as businessmen, is not a pro-African policy. Looting workers’ pensions is not a sign of pride in Africa. These and other acts of terror against citizens undermine Africa.
Uganda has no actionable policy that favours the advancement of domestic professionals. To my knowledge, there is nothing that requires foreign companies to build a strong local entrepreneurial class. Infrastructure projects are funded, managed and manned by foreign nationals, without requirements that ensure that locals will effectively take over the jobs in the next few years.
What foreign investment exists is in small enclaves, without strong linkages in the domestic economy. Foreign investment that enters the mainstream, beyond a few silos of development, and creates massive local employment and value chains remains a dream.
None of this will be possible without a deliberate, coherent policy on foreign investment that grows domestic investment. The business of the president running the economy the way 19th Century kings of the Great Lakes Area did – personalised, micromanaged, crony-based, punitive against political opponents, sectarian – flies in the face of his claims to be a champion of the African continent.
To me, Museveni’s practices have done more damage to Uganda than the small change that people like Kayihura have allegedly invested in America.
The people who are benefitting are those who have captured the State, along with the shrewd foreign businessmen who are happily repatriating profits to their home countries and other safe spots.
I agree with Museveni that “it is a sacrilege for Africans to continue to contribute to the welfare of others to Africa’s detriment.” I wish Walter Rodney, author of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, was alive today. I would have encouraged him to write a sequel with the title: “How Africa Underdeveloped Africa: The Case of Uganda.”