Motorists on Kampala Road on May 13. Inflation has dominated the sense of anxiety among Ugandans with attention focused on the steadily increasing price of petrol and diesel at the pump. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA 

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Mid-year review of 2022

What you need to know:

  • Former FDC party president Kizza Besigye revived his political activism to coincide with the spike in inflation, at a time the main Opposition party in Parliament, NUP, appeared to have few ideas on how to address the public’s frustration.

Rwanda reopened its border with Uganda at the end of January that had been closed since March 2019. The reopening of the border was greeted with relief in both countries.

However, data from Uganda’s Ministry of Finance showed that Ugandan exports to Rwanda saw a steep decline from a monthly average of $16.6m to an average of $220,000 for the three-month period of January to March 2022.

Such a steep drop in Uganda’s exports to Rwanda illustrates how badly the three-year border closure affected both countries and how much entire supply chains and distribution channels mush have vanished over that period.

The announcement that an Italian-owned company, the Vinci Uganda Coffee Company, had been awarded the contract to process and market Uganda’s coffee stirred up public anger and galvanised various interest groups, who raised legitimate questions about a company whose proprietor had not yet even began to work on the international hospital at Lubowa awarded to her several years ago.

Economy reopened

The Ugandan economy itself was at last reopened in February from the two-year Covid-19 lockdown. Many sectors continued to show the effect of this lockdown.
The entertainment and hospitality sector was the most affected and it showed in the struggle to win back customers who stayed away partly because of the shortage of disposable income and partly because of the new habit of spending most of their time at home.

Inflation dominated the sense of anxiety among Ugandans.
Most attention was focused on the steadily increasing price of petrol and diesel at the pump, but incrementally life seemed to get more and more challenging every passing month.
An increasing number of small shops and kiosks around the country were pushed below a profit margin and into losses.

The death of the Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, in March was a traumatic national event, particularly for the people of Acholi and other parts of northern Uganda.

Amid the mourning, assertions were made about the importance of Acholi in Uganda’s current politics.

Old wounds between Acholi and Buganda were briefly reopened following comments by the Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo, but just as quickly reconciliation was declared.

A refugee inflow from the Congolese border town of Bunagana increased the stress on facilities in western Uganda.

One of the biggest talking points of the first half of 2022 was Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s 48th birthday celebrations.

It started as a birthday but mutated into a general populist political show of force.
Reports in June suggested rising tensions in the army, attributed by some to the privileges Gen Muhoozi enjoyed that any other senior officer, were they to utter blatant political statements, would be arrested.

Former FDC party president Kizza Besigye revived his political activism to coincide with the spike in inflation, at a time the main Opposition party in Parliament, NUP, appeared to have few ideas on how to address the public’s frustration.

Efforts by the NRM government and its organs to disorganise NUP continued to yield little significant result.

Strong-arm tactics

Government continued to use strong-arm tactics on its critics, from the activist and writer Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who fled into exile in February, to NUP activists and party members still being held in jail, and the use of the courts to frustrate Besigye’s application for bail.

The declaration by government in its annual budgetary proposals that Uganda had at last attained a middle income status was greeted with scepticism since there was no independent way to crosscheck this data.

The fact that the regional towns recently gazetted as cities continued to operate on their old municipal budgets, demonstrated the contrast between political declarations and economic realities.

A report in May indicated that the new cities were short of funds to operate fully.
The social media crowd continued to view everything almost entirely through the lens of politics: One group praising government for everything perceived as a success story, while another group blamed everything wrong in Uganda on government.

Facebook, blocked by government in mid-January 2021 the day before the general election, remained blocked nearly a year and a half later.

However, that millions of Ugandans found virtual private networks to navigate their way around the block and continue to use Facebook, showed how difficult it is in the Internet era for governments to exert control over populations.

A strike by teachers in June showed a surprisingly cohesive, determined side to these professionals, given how difficult it usually is for Kampala City traders to sustain a strike.
By mid-year, all the bypass roads around Kampala and the majority of the main municipal roads had been completed for those being built and for those being repaired.

Kampala, for the first time in decades, did have a notable new look to it as a result.
Only the Kiwatule-Kira road serving the residential area of many of the new-rich, remained pot-holed like a rural road.

Even here, looks could be deceptive. According to Kampala Capital City Authority, by 2020, only about six percent of all household toilets in Kampala were connected to the central sewerage system.

Nothing government said or did was readily believed or embraced by the population.
Much was touted by government of the Parish Development Model. Launched in November 2021, it went into full swing in 2022.
Shs100m was to be deployed in the country’s parishes as seed money, with the goal of lifting 39 percent of the poorest households from a subsistence livelihood into the money economy.

Predictably, it was dismissed by most as just one more opportunity by government to hoodwink Ugandans and swindle their money.

At least from the imagery of its promotion, this latest poverty-eradication campaign by government had all the appearance of a lacklustre, unimaginative effort with few prospects of success.

By the end of June 2022, the Twitter handle of the Parish Development Model had less than 2,300 followers, showing how little interest there is in the country for it, including among NRM government supporters.

Fortunately, there were few major natural disasters during the first half of 2022 such as those that occur from time to time in Kasese or the slopes of Mt Elgon.

There was a reported uptick in violent crime in May and June, including armed robbery.

A vocal civil society organisation, Chapter 4, also resumed its activities after having been suspended in 2021.

The continued reliance on funding mostly from Europe for Uganda’s civil society and human rights organisations continued to expose the disconnect between the Ugandan population that professes to desire better governance and respect for human rights and its inability or unwillingness to fund these NGOs.
 

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