Museveni drops bombshell

President Museveni. PHOTO | FILE. 

What you need to know:

  • This is the second but more detailed and scathing rejoinder by the President in a week after the World Bank announced it was freezing approval of new aid and loans, worth Shs6.7 trillion, to Uganda over the anti-gay law. 

President Museveni has slammed the “provocation and arrogance” of the World Bank following its August 8 suspension of new loans for Uganda over the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“To dare think that … Ugandans… can be intimidated by the threat of withdrawal of loans and aid that are, moreover, peripheral to our transformation efforts, is the epitome of mistake-making, to say the least,” the Ugandan leader noted in a 2,960-word statement.

Strident in tone and questioning of the motive and impact of support from Western governments and their allied Bretton Woods institutions, Mr Museveni said their altruism had been eroded by exploitative ploy to clone the rest of the world as subservient suppliers of raw materials for their markets and self-enrichment.

“Therefore, the World Bank and other external actors, have no capacity to interrupt our transformation journey. It is actually the internal weaknesses that delay our forward march and that must, and will, be crushed,” he wrote, citing what he baptised as neo-colonial civil servants and political elite, whose corruption and “mis-planning” he argued stymie the private sector.

This was the second but more detailed and scathing Museveni rejoinder in a week after the Washington DC-headquartered World Bank’s aid and loan freeze held up an expected Shs6.7 trillion disbursement to Uganda over the anti-gay law.

No homosexual has been arrested or punished under the law enacted three months ago, rendering the West to accusations of disproportionate reaction and elevation of gay rights above multiple others that critics say the Museveni government has violated, including when security forces shot dead 54 civilians on Kampala streets in broad day in the run up to the 2021 elections.

Majority of the now vocal Western government were muted at the time, despite local protestations, and only a couple of soldiers have been tried, sentenced and convicted, leaving majority of the dead and injured victims without justice. 

The Ugandan Parliament enacted the anti-gay legislation with an iron-clad majority in early May, and President Museveni signed it into law three weeks later, opening the country up for an avalanche of vitriol and condemnation by selected Western capitals and rights groups.

President Joe Biden of the United States, which calls Uganda its “key ally”, on May 29 condemned the legislation as a “tragic violation” of universal human rights and ordered a review of his government’s support to Uganda, and a final Washington decision is pending.

At home in Kampala, opponents and gay rights groups are in court, challenging the constitutionality of the law, with the Judiciary yet to name a coram of judges to hear the matter.

After an initial statement in which it said the law, which prescribes death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” was “not consistent with [its] values of non-discrimination and inclusion”, the World Bank pulled the trigger on August 8 when it declared it would offer no new loans to Uganda.

This followed petitions by a global coalition of 170 civil society groups and another on July 25 signed by 11 members of the US Congress to Ajay Banga, who became the bank’s President only on June 2, demanding specific, concrete and timely action on Uganda over the anti-homosexuality legislation.

In yesterday’s 26-page letter titled, Foreign aid and loans, President Museveni chided western “imperialist actors” that elect to rebuke or condemn other countries over their own internal and sovereign decisions, as “insufferable”.

“You have to work hard to restrain yourself from exploding with anger. They are so shallow [that] they do not know when and where to stop,” he wrote.

He added: “It is this shallowness in philosophy, ideology and strategy that interferes with the global efforts to generate [global] consensus … Hence, the recent provocation and arrogance by the World Bank Group on a subject of the homosexuals that we have so patiently discussed with so many of those elements.”

In the World Bank’s loan suspension statement and President Museveni’s immediate response, both parties committed to continue dialogue to explore areas of meeting of minds, although the Ugandan leader was clear he would not capitulate to foreign intimidation and blackmail.

It is unclear if the engagements have been ongoing, what the outcome is and whether the bombshell that Mr Museveni dropped yesterday was a catalyst or sign of a stalemate.

We were unable by press time to reach out to the World Bank for its response to the President latest letter, which although not canvassing new issues, offers new insights into his troubled relations with the institution and its lending philosophy, redundant loans and Uganda’s growth trajectory.

He outlined five strategic drivers for Uganda’s rapid growth: embracing the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party’s principles of patriotism, pan-Africanism, socio-economic transformation and democracy; strong army to undergird peace and security; establishment of core infrastructure such as roads and railway; a vibrant private sector and innovation; and, expanded local, regional and international markets.

“It is these areas that can quickly help to transform the economy. We salute the World Bank and some other actors for supporting the social infrastructure (health and education), in spite of the erraticness and frivolity. However, there is a fundamental disequilibrium here,” he noted,.

He attached copies of official correspondences he authored, one of them 16 years ago to then Finance Minister Joash Mayanja Nkangi, to show his struggles with bureaucrats on the necessity and urgency to implement decisions on adding value to Uganda’s exports, especially coffee.

According to the President, a failure by the West to bankroll value addition to Uganda’s exports or construction of railway and electricity infrastructure to lower production costs impair citizens’ and the country’s ability to make money and create jobs, rendering graduates jobless.

Mr Museveni’s letter shared by State House yesterday headlines his frustrations with loans picked and used without tangible impact, which in 2017 prompted him to centralise loan processing.

This ended in him approving the borrowing of $4.4b and Euro40m and rejecting $1b proposed for vague and inconsequential programmes, among them fighting gender-violence, farming on computer and monitoring use of finances.

In a response to this newspaper’s enquiry about the president’s revelation that some of the monies were being picked by colluding technocrats for non-productive activities, Finance ministry Spokesman, Mr Jim Mugunga, noted: “The Ministry of Finance follows laid down procedures in processing and contracting external financing that includes loans and grants, among others. These processes involve multi-government agencies. However, the President is the government chief executive and, hence, he has access to a lot more information. As a ministry we cannot add, deduct or comment beyond this on the statement.”

In his terse August 17 statement, Mr Museveni likened the “intolerant” World Bank and states and institutions that behave like them to “religious fundamentalists” blamed for terrorism activities, warning their unilateral actions were likely to boomerang.

“This arrogance of some actors creates unnecessary contradictions among partners in that cause [of the global war on terror],” he noted, citing Uganda’s deployment of troops in Somalia and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo to fight extremism.

The very intolerance to different views by these homosexual lobbies is, he argued, in itself is a “bad example”.

“How, then, are you different from the religious fundamentalists who are intolerant of other faiths? If you have a certain view-point about homosexuality, we have a different one. Your attempt to coerce us [to acquiesce] puts you together with the chauvinists,” he noted.

The bank in funding freeze statement demanded that Uganda guarantees that projects it bankrolls breach no rights of minorities, including individuals who identify as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queer, intersex (LGBTQI)+.

There are about 70 countries around the world, including the West’s Middle East ally Saudi Arabia, that criminalise or provide death penalty for homosexuality and the conflict in Uganda’s case, as is for most of Africa, is centred on protection of traditional and family values against the pro-gay campaigns.

President Museveni, who shot his way to power as a socialist scholar and practitioner, attempting a failed batter trade with Cuba in the early days of his government, however turned an avid convert of western liberal economics to midlife Uganda’s own experiment with the Bretton Woods-pushed Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) that birthed downsizing the government, deregulating the economy and promoting a private sector-led growth.

In his statement yesterday, Mr Museveni said these actions locally championed by high-flying technocrats such as the deceased Bank of Uganda governor Tumusiime-Mutebile and late Finance minister Permanent Secretary Keith Muhakanizi kicked life into Uganda’s early recovery and stabilised the economic fundamentals alongside the exchange rates.

He said with or without World Bank help, Uganda, if it extricates itself from a capture of raw material exporter and pursues 14 growth areas he specified, will be “unsinkable” in a turbulent global economic environment. He told the bank Ugandans are not like “kindergarten goers”.

Mr Julius Mukunda, the executive director of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, and Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba, in separate interviews with this newspaper yesterday asked the government to introduce austerity measures, tackle graft and dialogue with World Bank for a win-win solution since both need each other.