What has changed since last year’s address

Speaker of Parliament Anita Among with his deputy Thomas Tayebwa (right) following a meeting with President Museveni at State House Entebbe yesterday. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • When he made a similar speech exactly a year ago, it was largely about the fragile state of the economy as Ugandans battled soaring prices of essential commodities in post-Covid era.

President Museveni is today expected to deliver the 2023 State-of-the-Nation address (SoNa), an annual constitutional duty for the assessment of government’s achievements in respect to policy promises over the year. 
 When he made a similar speech exactly a year ago, it was largely about the fragile state of the economy as Ugandans battled soaring prices of essential commodities in the very difficult post-Covid environment.

 Mr Museveni did not offer quick solutions, resisting calls for tax cuts and subsidies even as many businesses were closing shop. He explained why such a course of action would be detrimental in the long term.

 He argued the situation would improve, saying the answer lay in increased local production and a re-opening of the world economy, which had suffered devastating disruptions in supply chains due to Covid lockdowns.

 There was also a mention of how the prevailing global economic crisis had been made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent Western sanctions.
 Twelve months later, however, a kilogramme of good rice, which cost an average of Shs4,000, now goes for more than Shs6,000. Fuel prices are stuck at around Shs5,000 a litre, resulting in steep increases in transport costs.

 Everything is more expensive and the value of Uganda’s shilling is in free-fall.
 International consultant on economic transformation and wealth creation in Africa Prof Augustus Nuwagaba attributes the continued high prices to the residual effects of the coronavirus pandemic on global oil prices over which the Ugandan government has little control.

 “Inflation is determined by food and fuel prices. There is a bumper harvest and inflation has gone down because of the agricultural sector, which is performing very well. Petrol and diesel have not gone down. Demand went down abruptly when Covid struck and oil producers incurred heavy losses, and so they have to recoup their money,” Prof Nuwagaba said yesterday.
 Notwithstanding, he said the economy is on the path to recovery with signs that some businesses are picking up. 
 He, however, raised the flag on high public debt that eventually outstrips investment in form of debt repayment- citing it as a primary cause of the shortfalls in government revenues.

 In its annual growth estimates reported last week, President Museveni will have been pleased to learn that the Uganda Bureau of Statistics reported a 5.3 percent economic growth rate, up from 4.6 percent in 2021/22.
 After the economy and commitments to strategic investments on energy and transport infrastructure, Mr Museveni also highlighted his government’s record on security .
 He was confident. “We have strengthened security on the whole, including Karamoja and surrounding districts,” he said.

But a resurgence in deadly urban thuggery, gun-related crime, and more disturbingly, fatal shootings by security personnel, have put a blemish on the President’s pet subject.
 In Executive Order Number 3 of 2023, issued last month, Mr Museveni moved to reinforce anti-armed cattle rustling efforts in the Karamoja sub-region. Spill-over effects of the rustling have been felt across parts of Acholi and Lango sub-regions in the north.
  His commitment to regional security; both diplomatically and militarily, with an eye on the economic prospects for a peace dividend in the Great Lake region once DR Congo and South Sudan settled, has suffered some setbacks.

 Eastern DR Congo is strife-torn despite regional shuttle diplomacy and military intervention designed to get M23 rebels and the government in Kinshasa to talk. Now, there are fears of an outbreak of all-out war on Uganda’s western border.
 An unstable South Sudan remains a challenge too – hampering cross border trade.
 Days ago on May 26, a UPDF unit was attacked and overrun by extremist Muslim al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, raising questions about the sustainability of Uganda’s involvement in peace enforcement operations of the African Union Transition Mission there.

 The President made the worrying revelation that corruption in the army has resulted in the deployment of personnel ill-equipped for combat missions; referring to reports that unprepared soldiers bribe their way onto UPDF Somalia missions so as to enjoy relatively higher allowances.

On corruption
Still in line with his promise to end corruption in government, the country is still awaiting his action against top government officials named in the diversion of relief items meant for Karamoja sub-region.
 The iron sheets scandal remains a topic he has avoided, only bringing it up in a stern April 3 letter to the Prime Minister -- in which he promised undefined “political action” once the wheels of justice have run their course.

 Ms Sarah Bireete, the executive director at the Centre for Constitutional Governance, sees the failure to act on ministers implicated in the scandal as evidence of no political will to fight corruption.

 “I cannot believe that any sovereign leader can chair a Cabinet with ministers who have taken pleas in criminal charges. He has failed to ensure that his ministers step aside as they face criminal charges. If you used this saga, President Museveni has nothing more to tell Ugandans that he can fight corruption,” she said.

 “You do not fight corruption by duplicating institutions. The rest is political drama,” Ms Bireete said in reference to the new anti-corruption unit in State House announced on May 1.