What you need to know:
- The President will make the yearly address against the backdrop of a country struggling with a sagging economy and high levels of unemployment.
A cross section of Ugandans hope that President Museveni will in his State-of-the-Nation address today talk about the high food prices and an ever-rising cost of living; growing insecurity and the institutionalised corruption, which continues to bedevil his rule 37 years since taking power in 1986.
The President will make the yearly address against the backdrop of a country struggling with a sagging economy and high levels of unemployment, which together have fuelled a creeping sense of hopelessness in many households.
He will seek to talk up any achievements measured against promises he made in last year’s speech.
Official records show that the country’s economy is not sound, grappling with an alarming 52 percent debt-to-GDP ratio, yet the government shows no signs of losing its appetite for borrowing.
The debt-to-GDP ratio is a measure between a country’s debt and its gross domestic product (GDP), or total money value of goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time.
This year, Uganda has witnessed public sector workers’ strikes over unacceptable working conditions.
Medical workers’ protests over poor pay, including the latest one by specialist doctors, have been frequent. Local government workers also had rounds of industrial action, affecting already poor social service delivery.
The spike in gun violence by security force has added to the growing list of issues Ugandans face, including the ever the present paralysing effect of graft in public office.
In February, relatives of Dr Mary Gorreti Kitutu, the minister for Karamoja Affairs, were arrested in the eastern Uganda district of Namisindwa for selling government branded iron sheets meant for the Karamoja Community Empowerment Programme.
The minister’s brother, her mother and a nephew were picked up, opening up a Pandora’s Box, which exposed the Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, more than 20 ministers, more than 30 MPs and other government officials.
At least three ministers have been dragged to court over the iron sheets’ theft scandal. Other files are pending sanctioning by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Vice President Jessica Alupo, Speaker Anita Among, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, Finance minister Matia Kasaija and the others are all implicated in a crime which President Museveni has denounced as theft, political corruption and undermining of national security.
It is against this background that ordinary Ugandans and politicians interviewed by this publication yesterday outlined what they want to hear the President speak about today.
Mr Kennedy Apangu Fanuel, an economist and banker, wants word on the struggling economy. He also wants to know what will be done about soldiers, policemen and private security guards who are going around shooting people dead.
“Certainly, the economy isn’t doing well,” he said yesterday. “The President ought to give the country clear direction on how he intends to fix it, not forgetting the issue of security both at home and abroad.”
Mr Apangu speaks about the alarming shooting deaths over the last two months with a dozen lives lost, and the tragedy of Bulo Marer in southern Somalia where extremist al-Shabaab militants overran a Uganda army forward operating base on May 26.
The President says 54 soldiers died in that surprise dawn raid although the militants who are linked to the al Qaeda terror outfit claimed 137 kills.
“I have never heard of such a level of loss in the history of this country’s foreign military operations. We have had soldiers in Sudan, Congo, CAR but this loss was the most humiliating one,” Mr Apangu says.
To Mr Philbert Baguma, the secretary general of the Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu), the unresolved question of teachers’ welfare tops the bill.
“As teachers, we expect himself to address the salary disparities that have sharply divided the public service, which in turn affects service delivery,” Mr Baguma said.
“We would love to hear the President pronounce himself on recruitment so that more teachers are recruited to fill vacancies after many left the profession during the [Covid] lockdown… When we talk about teachers’ welfare, it is broad and we want him to state government’s position on issues of accommodation for teachers and other facilities,” he added.
Ms Nicky Katusime Isabirye partly agrees wih Unatu. A monitoring and evaluation expert, she also says the government must address salary disparities.
“We need to have a comprehensive salary review to address the gross inequalities in the public service... Medical records’ cadres are not paid as scientists yet they do a lot. Let their salaries be enhanced just like the others in the health sector,” she said.
For Mr Godwin Azale who earns a living as a biosystems engineer and social worker in West Nile, the age-old unfulfilled pledge of power remains the biggest issue.
“I would like him to address the issue of extension of the national power grid to West Nile to promote industrialisation. This region has been left in the dark for too long and also wants power so that our people can set up industries… ,” he said.
He also wants to hear proposals for lower taxes on investments in renewable energy.
“The obvious cost cutting strategy here is to offer tax cuts on renewable energy products like solar, biogas, etc. Or reducing hydro power tariffs. Government needs to offer tax incentives in that area...,” he said.
Opposition Forum for Democratic Change party president, Mr Patrick Oboi Amuriat, hopes President Museveni recognises the gravity of the challenges facing Uganda.
“It is evident that Mr Museveni has grown very old and seems to view this address as nothing more than a casual conversation with his bazzukulu (grandchildren),” Mr Amuriat said.
The FDC leader hopes the President will speak to the economic hardships facing most Ugandans, saying things are so bad it now calls for a comprehensive social action plan.
In that spirit, the opposition party leader sees an opportunity for the President to finally meaningfully talk about the minimum wage.
“All of us have seen the high number of suicide cases based of people’s inability to make ends meet… Police shooting themselves, shooting their bosses, men in uniform committing suicide cases that have now increased [because of low pay],” he said.
Mr Amuriat also asked the President to focus on escalation in prices of consumer goods, the high cost of fuel and institutionalised corruption.
“We propose the implementation of a regulated price of fuel and enactment of legislation that prohibits selling of fuel above the government-regulated price,” he said.
“The case of mabati (iron sheets) continues to show preferential treatment of [suspects] in this country. As FDC we begin to believe that there are people who are untouchable in this country when it comes to addressing corruption,” Mr Amuriat said.
But taking a darker view of things, leading opposition group, the National Unity Platform, does not expect much today.
Secretary General Lewis Rubongoya tersely said: “I don’t expect anything new or different from what Gen Museveni will say”.
The Uganda Peoples Congress spokesperson, Ms Sharon Arach, however, still hopes to see new direction on the gun violence menace, solutions to out-of-control unemployment and reassuring pronouncements following the expired degree programmes’ scandal.
“We also expect him to address the welfare of police and military because when you look at the reasons they are giving for shooting other people, they are attributing it to economic hardships they go through as men and women in uniform,” Ms Arach said.
The value of money has depreciated in Uganda, Mr Arach observed.
Whether the President’s speech answers these hopes remains to be seen as he appears before MPs this afternoon.
What others say
Korneleo Mutabazi, head teacher: “There is a big backlog in the education system where salaries of 50 percent of the teachers are paid by parents and yet we are told not to charge any single penny. I have 1,200 students and 16 government teachers. I was forced to hire 42 and who is paying for their salaries?”
Johnson Butamanya, farmer
“He should address issues of the cost and quality of agricultural inputs; farmers are struggling with fake farm inputs and no one seems bothered and there is also an issue of mechanizing agriculture”
Yob Okello, businessman:
“The security issue should be addressed and also an evaluation whether we still need to be in Somalia, we also have the issue of the ADF on the DR Congo border and the M23 which is creating uncertainty of investment in the region”
Aisha Nakubulwa, teacher
“We have many teachers in government schools but they are not on the government payroll and we also have an issue of insecurity where you cannot move on foot at 8pm without being attacked by teenagers.”