34 years of NRM: What has changed, what has remained the same?

President Museveni during his recent six-day trek to retrace the steps of his guerrilla forces when they seized power three decades ago. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Today marks 34 years since President Museveni and his ragtag army, the National Resistance Army (NRA), kicked the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) forces out of Kampala.

That takeover and the swearing in ceremony held on the steps of Parliament three days later, marked the beginning of a journey that has seen Mr Museveni become the longest serving President of Uganda. His 34 years in power is 10 years more than all his six predecessors managed over a 24-year period. That makes Mr Museveni one of the longest serving leaders on the African continent and the world.

Given that Mr Museveni had in his inaugural speech on January 29, 1986, declared “The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular, is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power,” most of those who were around back had not expected him to have held on for so long.
As it turned out, however, he has emerged as the only President to have held onto the same job for 34 uninterrupted years. He is the only constant amidst waves of changes, both the good and the bad, but what has changed since he took office?

The most significant changes have been in the area of the economy, which had until 1986 been driven by the Cooperative Movement and public enterprises and government parastatals like Coffee Marketing Board (CMB), Lint Marketing Board (LMB) and Produce Marketing Board (PMB).

The apex cooperative unions like Lango Cooperative Union and Banyankole Kweterana would with funding (Crop Finance) from the Cooperative Bank purchased produce mostly coffee, cotton, maize, beans and cocoa, from the farmers and in turn sell them to the parastatals, which would process for export or feed some of the agro-based industries like Nyanza Textiles and British American Tobacco.

Back then, government determined what farmers would be paid depending on either projections or actual prices on the international market. Declaration of the price of either a kilogramme of coffee or even a bottle of Uganda Waragi was always one of the highlights of Budget Day speech.

The NRM tried in its maiden years to use the cooperatives societies in a similar manner, especially when it introduced barter trade, but at the urging of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it adopted more capitalistic policies, which saw the economy turn into a private sector driven affair in which local giants Madhvani, Mehta and Mukwano Groups and later multinational corporations called the shots.

The decision to embrace liberalisation and structural adjustment policies is believed to have been the precursor to the growth of the last three decades. Figures by the World Bank indicate that by 1986, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was at $3.92b, but rose to $6.04b in 1996, $9.94b in 2006 and $24.07b in 2016.

Dr Fred Muhumuza, an economist attached to Makerere University’s School of Economics, describes the period between 1986 and 1996 as a decade of remarkable economic achievements on the part of the NRM.

“That is when they did their best. Having been amateurs who had just come from the bush, they let the professionals do their work and also sought advice from experts. Some of us wish those times could return,” says Dr Muhumuza.

However, whereas liberalisation meant the produce markets were opened up to private players, which meant that farmers were instantly paid, the cooperative where they used to take their produce could not match the private actors. That eventually led to the closure of primary cooperatives and later the apex unions. Farmers were left without both collective bargaining power and known selling points. That partly explains why they are sometimes paid as little as Shs100 for a kilogramme of maize.

Little wonder then that whereas the proportion of Ugandans living below the poverty line of $1.25 (about Shs5,000) a day had reduced from 56 per cent in the Financial Year 1992/1993 to 24.5 per cent in the Financial Year 2009/2010, Uganda has since suffered a reversal. The Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) 2016/2017 report, which was released by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) in September 2017 revealed that the number of people living below the poverty line had increased from 6.6 million in the Financial Year 2012/2013 to 10 million in the Financial Year 2016/2017.

The report says income poverty levels rose from 19.7 per cent to 27 per cent with Karamoja, Bukedi and Busoga regions being the worst hit with 61 per cent, 48 and 42 per cent of their respective populations categorised as income poor.

Dr Muhumuza says the downward trend actually started in 1996 when government opened up the political space to allow for Uganda’s first direct presidential election. He says it got worse around 2000 when dissent started manifesting inside the NRM itself.

“The downward spiral began when government started emphasising social service delivery at the expense of macroeconomics. They started talking about introducing universal education, health centres in every village and so on. They also started ignoring the technical requirements of forming a district,” he says.

He says the situation was not helped by massive corruption, recruitment of new people in government ministries and agencies and the army. Focus, he adds, shifted from long term planning, which led to suffering in all aspects of the economy.

“Right now we are back to 1980s when there was no budget to fund priorities. We need to go back to Structural Adjustment Programmes and downsize government, but can it be done? I don’t think so,” Dr Muhumuza concludes.

If any sector underwent the “fundamental change” that Mr Museveni promised, it is education. The NRM rung several policy changes that led to liberalisation and the introduction of universal primary and secondary education. According to Vision 2040 the gains made include:
• Increase in enrolment from 2.8 million in 1996 (EMIS) to 8,485,005
• Teachers increased from 74,000 in 1995 to 187,668
• Schools increased from 12,500 in 2000 to 22,600
• Classrooms increased from 68,000 in 2000 to 151,239
Gains in the area of Secondary education include:
• Increased student enrolment from 123,479 to 697,507
• 1,096 secondary schools built
• 5,060 teachers trained under the training of secondary science and mathematics teachers’ project
The Obote II government tried to increase opportunities for university education by creating several branches of Makerere University, but access still remained a challenge. It was not until the NRM liberalised the sector that the opportunities for enrolment increased thanks to the introduction of private sponsorship.
• Increase in number of public universities from 1 to 11
• Opening of 34 private universities
There are, however, losses made over the years
• Primary and Secondary Schools are poorly equipped
• Teachers are poorly paid and under motivated
• There are serious questions about the quality of education on offer
• There is inequality in education. It is difficult for one to come from a village school and join an elite secondary school
• University education remains very expensive

Energy sector
By 1986 there was only one big power generation plant at the Owen Falls Dam in Jinja and Mubuku in western Uganda. Installed production capacity stood at 180 megawatts, this had by 2014 increased to 851.53 megawatts. Gains made here include:
• Extension of the Owen Falls Dam to create Kiira Dam
• Construction of 10 mini hydro generation plants
• Completion of work on Isimba Power plant
• Commencement of work on Karuma Dam
Other power producers are:
• The Kakira Co-power Cogeneration plant
• Kaliro Allied Sugar Industries Co-generation plant
However, according to figures from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), only 19 per cent of the population has access to electricity. Access in the rural areas is at 19 per cent and 23 per cent in the urban areas.

Whereas the delivery of health services has remained predominantly government, the health sector has also undergone tremendous changes. The number of government health facilities has gone up from 100 in 1986 to 1,708 as of 2017. Liberalisation of the sector also saw the arrival of NGOs that opened 559 health facilities and individuals opening another 280 facilities. The facilities include:
• 2 national referral hospitals (Mulago and Butabika hospitals)
• 10 regional referral hospitals
• 101 general hospitals
• 143 Health Centre IVs (HCIVs)
• 650 Health Centre IIIs (HCIIIs)
• 845 Health Centre IIs (HCIIs)
The downside is, however, that the increase in facilities has not been marched in terms of funding and staffing. The Health Sector Development Plan (2015/16-2019/20), indicates that the manpower deficit stood at between 30 and 31 per cent in the Financial Year 2013/2014 and that staffing levels stood at 70 per cent in the financial year 2015/2016.

• Life expectancy has increased from 48.13 in 1986 to 59.18 years now
• Infant mortality rate has dropped from 113.41 per 1,000 births in 1986 to 57.40 per 1,000 births in 2005
• Maternal mortality dropped from 438 per 100,000 births in 2011 to 336 deaths per 100,000 in 2016

Roads’ infrastructure
Uganda has invested quite heavily in the roads infrastructure. Old roads have either been resurfaced or upgraded from gravel to tarmac. The result has been an increase in the number of kilometres under tarmac from 1,200 in 1982 to 4551 now.
According to the NRM’s 2016 manifesto, the number of kilometres under tarmac is expected to have reached the 6,000 mark by the end of this year.

Transport and communication
Government had until 1986 been the biggest player in the transport sector as it owned and operated Uganda Airlines Corporation, Uganda Transport Company and People’s Transport Company. However, those companies were wound up on the recommendation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stop haemorrhaging of resources. Some of the gains in that sector include:
• The system is more efficient as it is driven by profits
• There are vehicles plying all routes across the country
• Uganda Airlines has since been restarted
Losses are, however, big. They include:
• Collapse of both Uganda Transport and People’s Transport Companies
• The onset of financial woos for Uganda Railways’ Corporation (URC)
• Water transport remains undeveloped
• The promised Standard Gauge Railway remains a dream
• Rehabilitation of the Meter Gauge Railway has also never taken off

Telecommunication sector
In 2006, government liberalised the telecommunication sector. The process entailed first breaking up the Uganda Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (UPTC) to form Post Bank Uganda, Uganda Posta and Uganda Telecom (UTL).
According to the German-based business consultancy firm, Factfish GmbH, by 1986 UPTC had 25,836 fixed telephone’s subscribers. The number had risen to 47,927 in 1996 and to 108,140 subscribers by the time of liberalisation. Gains in this sector include:
• Number of mobile telephone subscribers had grown to 23.2 million
• Number of mobile internet subscribers increased to 13.5 million
• Users of fixed telephones reached the 500,000 mark
• Introduction of mobile money transfers and mobile banking
Posta Uganda and UTL are struggling on the market and are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Whereas the size of Parliament has been increasing since it opened with 92 members, before rising to 112 following the last general election that was held before Independence, the size has risen quite tremendously under the NRM.

Initially the National Resistance Council (NRC), which served as Uganda’s Fifth Parliament, was composed of 38 members, mostly Bush War fighters and historical members of the struggle, but the number rose first to 270 following countrywide elections held in 1989. The creation of the districts of Kisoro, Pallisa, Kiboga and Kibaale on March 15, 1991 and Ntungamo on May 5, 1993, saw the numbers increase to 275 before once again rising to 283 following the election of five youth representatives and three worker’s representatives.

During its term, the Sixth Parliament approved the creation of 17 new districts which led to an increment in the number of District Women representatives to 56 from 39 and the total number of MPs from 283 to 300. The number of MPs increased to 326 in the Eighth Parliament; 375 in the Ninth Parliament and 445 today.

A new Chamber of Parliament, estimated to cost at least Shs179 billion, is already under construction. The facility being constructed has the capacity to accommodate 500 MPs.

The NRM has over the years been coming under attack for maintaining such a bloated Parliament, but prior to the commencement of work of the 10th Parliament, President Museveni defended the big numbers, saying it is a “liberation Parliament.”

On January 29, 1986, when President Museveni swore in, he declared that democracy was “the right of the people of Africa” and that governments must not be the “the masters, but servants of the population”. The NRM subsequently released the 10-point Programme, which had the restoration of democracy as item number one on the minimum recovery programme.
The government soon after embarked on the process of initiating decentralisation by introducing “grassroots democracy” based on Resistance Council which were elected at five different levels, ranging from the village to the district level. The expansion of the NRC, organisation of the Constituent Assembly elections in March 1994 appeared to set the country into cruise mode on the path to democracy.

However, four general elections later, it would appear that the NRM’s definition of democracy is limited to holding regular elections regardless of how transparent the process is and how fair the political terrain is to all players, which is summed up by Prof Paul Wangoola, a former Makerere University don, who was also a member of the National Consultative Council (NCC).

“We are captive. Elections are just a motion without content. They are aimed at giving the regime some legitimacy, especially in the international community,” Prof Wangoola says.

Matters are not helped by the fact that those in government do not seem to be bothered whether the NRM wins them; ugly or not.
Mr Shaban Bantariza, the deputy director of the Uganda Media Centre, told Sunday Monitor in a recent interview that those talking of a level playing field live in a land of fantasy.

“The world all over, the playing field is always skewed in favour of the incumbent. The playing field will always be uneven,” Mr Bantariza argues.

Since the year began, the police has disrupted planned consultative meetings organised by Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, and also disrupted planned celebrations of the 15th anniversary of the formation of the largest Opposition political party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), in various parts of eastern Uganda.

Mr Gerald Siranda, the secretary general of the Democratic Party (DP), says the police’s actions stifle the growth of democracy.
“The Electoral Commission (EC) has issued a roadmap. Nominations for some of the elective positions are expected to be held starting in April, but the police is busy blocking all party activities. That is incomprehensible in an election year,” Mr Siranda says.

Given that all previous elections have ended in controversy and accusations that the NRM has always stolen the victories, the snail speed at which Parliament has been going about legislating on electoral reforms has left some people like the former coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), Mr Crispin Kaheru, thinking the 2021 elections will not be credible.
“If the law is not coming in time, I don’t see us having a credible election,” Mr Kaheru says.

Sir Peter Allen was the Chief Justice when the NRM shot its way to power, but the man who swore in the President was soon succeeded by Justice Samuel Wako Wambuzi who was also succeeded by Justice Benjamin Odoki.

In 2013, Justice Odoki left office after attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70 years, but it was not until after more than two years that now outgoing Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe, took office.

Despite accusations that it is full of cadres, the Judiciary has over the years exhibited a measure of independence. For example, following the 2001 polls, two out of the five-man panel of justices of the Supreme Court agreed that the polls had been riddled with cheating.

Then again in January 2004 the Supreme Court nullified the first Constitutional (amendment) Act 13 of 2000 on grounds that the Bill was introduced to Parliament, debated, passed and assented to by the President on the same day, contrary to requirement that there should be at least 14 working days between readings. The case was lodged before the court by DP stalwarts Paul Ssemogerere, Zachary Olum and Rainer Kafiire.
Following the 2016 general election, though the court did not overturn the outcome of the election, it concurred with former presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi that the electoral process had been marred by gross irregularities and malpractices and that the process fell short of acceptable standards of free, fair and credible elections.

Despite having created several offices, including that of the Inspectorate of Government (IGG), to fight corruption, and creation of a specialised court, the Anti-Corruption Court, to try those accused of corruption, Uganda seems to be fighting against the tide in the fight against the vice.
Over the last several years, the country has been rocked by huge corruption scandals, including the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) scandal in which former vice president, Prof Gilbert Bukenya, and several ministers were implicated in the loss of billions of funds through botched procurements, road constructions and renovations of hotel and airport facilities; the Global Fund scandal of 2008 in which billions of money meant for malaria and tuberculosis were embezzled; the loss of billions in the Office of the Prime Minister of money meant for the Peace Recovery and Development Plan for northern Uganda and the purchase of junk helicopters for the army. As a result:
• Uganda is listed as one of the most corrupt nations of the world

• Ranked 149 out of 180 countries listed in the 2018 Transparency International survey
• In 2011 it scored 19.9 on control of corruption on a scale of 0 to 100 in the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) and has shown no sign of improvement.

The situation seems to have become so bad that President Museveni early last December marched to Kololo Independence Grounds in one of his efforts to rally the citizenry around the fight against a vice through which Shs24 trillion is believed to have been lost between 2007 and 2017.

Lack of respect for institutions
Whereas the NRM has been quite instrumental in attempts to build up institutions, there are also accusations that it has been either ambivalent about the principle of Parliamentary supremacy and independence of the Judiciary or simply disrespectful of the institutions.

For example, on November 16, 2005, personnel attached to the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force Urban Hit Squad invaded the High Court to re-arrest suspects who had been jointly accused with Dr Besigye of terrorism, but had been granted bail. The same team once again invaded the court in March 2007.

In September last year, another raid took place at the Kololo-based International Crimes Division of the High Court, where suspects who had been charged with the murder of former Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi were re-arrested after they had been released by the court.

Then on September 27, 2017, security personnel believed to have been members of the Special Forces Group, who guard the President, raided Parliament and violently evicted some Opposition MPs as they debated the age limit Bill.

Constitutional lawyer Dan Wandera Ogalo argued in a previous interview that the raid left Parliament weak.
“I think it has greatly weakened itself as an arm of government. It has shown itself to be inferior to the Executive… You do not rely on the forces of the Executive to enforce discipline in the House. We have greatly weakened ourselves as a country. We have become a laughing stock,” he said.

Whereas the size of Parliament has been increasing since it opened with 92 members, before rising to 112 following the last general election that was held before Independence, the size has risen quite tremendously under the NRM.
Initially the National Resistance Council, which served as Uganda’s Fifth Parliament, was composed of 38 members, mostly Bush War fighters and historical members of the struggle, but the number rose first to 270 following countrywide elections held in 1989.