Museveni’s road to 40 years in power: The challenges ahead

Sunday May 09 2021
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President Museveni (centre) receives symbols of power during the just-concluded presidential campaigns. PHOTO | FILE

By Isaac Mufumba

A few days after his November 18, 2020, arrest in Luuka District for allegedly holding a rally in breach of the coronavirus pandemic regulations, which stipulated that the numbers of people at a rally would not exceed 200, the presidential candidate of the National Unity Platform (NUP), Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, had an interview with the Africa Report Magazine in which he dwelt on a wide range of issues.

One of the issues he addressed himself to was his candidature and the threat it presented to Mr Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) bid to extend their rule beyond the 35-year mark.

“Museveni has never had a challenge similar to the one before him right now…There is a whole generation of citizens that is hungry and angry. That generation is yearning for change and I am here to deliver it,” Mr Kyagulanyi declared.

Mr Museveni overcame the challenge. He was declared winner of the January 14 election by the Electoral Commission with 6,042,898, or 58.3 per cent. Mr Kyagulanyi was declared runner-up with 3,631,437 or 35.08 per cent of the vote and Forum for Democratic Change’s Patrick Oboi Amuriat third with 337,589 or 3.26 per cent of the vote.

If Mr Kyagulanyi presented a different challenge, it would seem that on Wednesday, May 12, when Mr Museveni embarks on a political journey that will end in four decades as Uganda’s President, he will be coming up against yet another set of challenges.

Prof Paul Wangoola, a former Makerere University don who was also a member of the National Consultative Council (NCC), which served as Uganda’s Parliament after the ouster of president Idi Amin, argues that the biggest challenge that Mr Museveni faces will be around the question of legitimacy.

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“The most immediate and enduring challenge for him is how to be in power without legitimacy. What we have is ‘electionism’. He has made elections a tool for clinging onto power, but they are elections without content. They are elections that don’t allow people to express their will,” Prof Wangoola argues.

Mr Mike Mukula, the NRM’s vice chairman for eastern Uganda, however, dismisses talk of illegitimacy on the part of Mr Museveni as superfluous and politically inaccurate.

“A party cannot win a majority in Parliament and the local governments if it has a weak presidential candidate. They are the same voters that elect them. How do you rationalise that? That illegitimacy talk can only come from a sour-graping loser,” Mr Mukula argues.

Mr Mukula argues that whereas there could have been a few electoral glitches during the recently concluded elections, those should not be reason enough for the Opposition to cast doubts over the outcome.

“No election is without blemish. Even the US – which is believed to be the mirror of democracy – had issues during the last election. But do we say that Joe Biden is illegitimate because the Republicans complained about a few things? Or should we say that he is an illegitimate president because Mr [Donald] Trump did not attend the inauguration?” Mr Mukula says.

Mr Mukula’s arguments suggest that Mr Museveni, his handlers and supporters are not about to lose any sleep over the question of legitimacy. But there are so many other challenges that lie in wait, which have to be dealt with given that they will have a bearing on the 2026 election, the future of the NRM and how the question of identifying a possible successor of Mr Museveni will pan out.

Top on that list are the management of the economy; mending relations with southern neighbour Rwanda and many Western countries that seem to have blacklisted Uganda because of questionable human rights record; youth unemployment; increasing poverty levels, corruption and poor service delivery.

Economy

The economy took quite a hit as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Government introduced a stimulus package as part of a plan to help the economy recover from the effects of the pandemic and the lockdown that was introduced as a containment measure.

Some of the action points under the stimulus package included the implementation by Bank of Uganda (BoU) of a debt service suspension initiative through which financially-distressed firms were helped to get their loans with the commercial banks restructured.

Ms Charity Mugumya, who speaks for BoU, says the move was aimed at enabling borrowers deal with the effects of the pandemic on the cash flows.

“BoU allowed supervised financial institutions (SFIs) to restructure loans that were affected by the pandemic as long as it was done within a one-year period effective April 2020. Borrowers were within that period eligible to have their loans restructured for up to two times,” Ms Mugumya says.

Under the same package, the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) introduced initiatives that led to the postponement of the payment of certain taxes and decrement of others as government sought to prevent firms from laying off workers.

Mr Ian Muhimbise Rumanyika, the acting assistant commissioner of public and corporate affairs at URA, lists extension of periods in which monthly returns were meant to be filed in respect of, among others, value added tax (VAT), pay as you earn (PAYE), withholding tax and taxes under the lottery and gaming returns. It also extended the periods by which penalties for late filing had to be paid.

However, if what BoU Governor Tumusiime-Mutebile said last month is anything to go by, the stimulus package was a failure. 

Dr Fred Muhumuza, who teaches Economics at Makerere University, says the package was always doomed to fail because it was very hollow.

“The stimulus package did not have anything meaningful. It did not target sectors that drive growth…The question that should have informed the stimulus package was, how do we beef up household incomes? Extension of loan repayment periods cannot work unless we have the power to make purchase form the affected firms. How will they sell their products if the communities have no power to purchase,” Dr Muhumuza argued in a previous interview.

Dr Muhumuza has a point. Sectors such as tourism and trade, which should have been given attention, were largely ignored when the Uganda Development Bank (UDB), which had been capitalised thanks to a $300 million support from the World Bank, announced that actors in the manufacturing, agribusiness and tourism sectors could access credit to enable them recovery from the effects of the pandemic. 

Under the plan, businesses in tourism, manufacturing, horticulture and floriculture with turnover of less than Shs500 million ($136,300) would have been exempted from corporate and VAT tax. Tourism earned Uganda $1.6b  (about Shs5.6 trillion) and contributed approximately 77 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and about 6.7 per cent of the National Budget in the Financial Year 2018/2019. 

One would, therefore, have thought that it would be given priority status, but the tourism sector was only allocated Shs20.1b, which represents only three per cent of the Shs444b that UDB approved as credit.

Trade 

Trade too was not given much consideration under the stimulus package. Mr Everisto Kayondo, the chairperson of the Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA), says calls by actors in the trade, commerce and real estate sectors to be assisted in dealing with rent arrears and interest on bank loans which accumulated during the lockdown were ignored.

“Government should not have created an environment that stifles growth. They chose to introduce new taxes just when traders are struggling to pick up the pieces,” Mr Kayondo says.

New taxes are set to come into force in the Financial Year 2021/2022 following amendments to several Acts of Parliament, with government set to collect more money as rental taxes, which landlords are likely to transfer to the tenants, a situation which Mr Kayondo says will not favour trade and commerce.

Foreign relations

The common border between Rwanda and Uganda remains closed to human traffic and cargo since February 28, 2019, amid accusations by Rwanda that Uganda was, among other crimes, abducting its citizens and detaining them in ungazetted areas. Kigali also accused Kampala of hosting and facilitating activities aimed at destabilising it.

Despite the shuttle diplomacy that has taken place over the last 26 months and three tripartite summits involving presidents Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Joao Lourenço of Angola, very little progress has been made to normalise relations between the two nations.

At the same time, relations between Uganda and its allies in the West took a beating during the campaigns ahead of the January 14, 2021, elections. 

In the wake of Mr Kyagulanyi’s November 18, 2020, arrest, the chairperson of the United States’ House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Mr Eliot L. Engel, issued a statement in which he accused Mr Museveni of following in a pattern of oppressing his opponents.

“For almost two decades, President Museveni has shown he is incapable of conducting an election without jailing his opponents and brutalising Ugandan citizens expressing their desire for a more inclusive democracy. This week, he has continued this trend with the arrest of presidential candidates MP Robert Kyagulanyi and Patrick Amuriat,” the statement read in parts.

Following the violence that broke out in Kampala and other towns on November 18 and 19 after the arrest of both Mr Kyagulanyi and Mr Amuriat, a delegation from the European Union (EU) along with diplomats from the missions of, among others, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, issued a joint statement in which they reminded the government and security agencies of the need to “to ensure the safety, security and dignified treatment of citizens, including electoral candidates and their supporters, in line with national laws and Uganda’s international human rights commitments”. They also called for a probe into the violence.

“A full and independent investigation should be launched into the events of November 18 and 19, to ensure justice for victims and to avoid impunity for the perpetrators who must be held accountable for their actions,” the statement read in part.

Whereas meetings have been held with the same diplomats in an attempt to mend fences, Mr Mukula says more needs to be done.

“We need to re-engage the international community. Some of them have been hostile towards Uganda. That has to be managed by an effective diplomatic engagement, Mr Mukula says.

Youth unemployment

The urban poor and young people constituted about two thirds of the 17.2 million registered voters and most of them seemed to have rallied behind Mr Kyagulanyi and NUP, a situation which Mr Museveni blames on some leaders in his own party.

“Some of the problems we have in areas like Kampala are due to our leaders. We brought UPE and USE but the local elites have refused to implement them. We brought UPE but head teachers are still charging money yet leaders don’t want to speak out for fear of antagonising them (head teachers). It is those children dropping out school who are joining NUP,” said Mr Museveni said.

That, however, misses the point. Many of the youth who supported Mr Kyagulanyi are unemployed university graduates, whose promise to create at least 500,000 jobs in the first two years in office made sense. It also gave hope. 

Whereas the NRM manifesto also talked of job creation, promises of jobs had been made so often the last 35 years. There will be need for a rethink.

Parliament

Parliament is likely to present a different kind of challenge all together. On January 29, during the election of the Army’s 10 MPs, Mr Museveni indicated that he would be open to beating Parliament into towing his chosen position.

“In the last 30 years, I have only used my powers against Parliament on about four occasions, including one in 2001 when we had a Cabinet meeting in Gulu and I ordered that 23 per cent must be cut from Budget allocations of all ministries and given to ministry of Defence so that we build capacity to defeat [LRA’s Joseph] Kony, and by August 2003 there was a the turning point in the war against Kony. The other was in 2006 when I insisted on putting more money on roads and electricity,” Mr Museveni said.

Then recently while speaking in Luweero, he expressed his frustration with the slow pace at which Parliament has been working when it comes to appropriating funds for projects that he considers key.

“Of course, we get a lot of delays by this Parliament… It has been delaying. You see sometimes I’m polite because I didn’t want to cause political problems for people who belong to the same party as myself. So that’s why I don’t talk so much, but this must stop!” Mr Museveni said.

Those comments seem to have defined how he will be relating with the 11th Parliament, but will Parliament simply roll over or bend backwards in order to let Mr Museveni have his way?

Mr Mukula says other challenges include tackling poverty and corruption, and improving service delivery.

“All those challenges are, however, well addressed in the NRM manifesto. It will be incumbent upon him to appoint or get a team that will help him effectively take those matters head on without fear or favour,” Mr Mukula says.

While talking challenges, assembling a team to help him deal with the challenges is going to be the very first and perhaps most challenging task.

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