What you need to know:
- Western liberal democracies, major contributors to the World Bank, raised human rights questions over this law long before it was signed.
Few events make Ugandans talk like the recent World Bank decision to stop lending money to Uganda, punishment for the draconian anti-homosexuality law President Museveni signed this year.
Western liberal democracies, major contributors to the World Bank, raised human rights questions over this law long before it was signed. The energy from their different institutions apparently converged and packed a punch that was delivered by the premier low-interest rate and long-term lending bank.
Ordinarily, people talk so much over acts of great injustice, or where excessive imbalance has been exhibited, or something happening that was highly improbable, or gloriously heroic, or horrendously wicked.
The World Bank decision is none of these. On the contrary, it provides something for everybody to carry home. Take President Museveni, whose support may be at the lowest it has ever been since he seized power in 1986. The World Bank decision should – or may – make the heads of many common people droop to one side, lamenting:
‘Bambi, our Jjaja! These World Bank Bazungu are punishing him for signing a law that we all supported. Can you imagine? They are even worse than those trying to drag him and poor Muhoozi to that stupid international court like they are chicken thieves! The Bazungu just want us to be immoral sexwise, or miserable moneywise.’
Not bad for Museveni. But not bad for the masses either.
Why? The rampant corruption in all government institutions and public projects means that the masses benefit very little from World Bank loans, while the same masses, their children and grandchildren are being heavily burdened with an ever-growing debt. Their only prayer should be that other sources of borrowed money are not widened, or new ones opened.
Take the political Opposition, which has from time to time listed the abuses by the NRM government, including the 2020 killings, and pleaded with foreign governments and institutions to stop propping it up with their financial support. The World Bank has hitherto cynically ignored those calls. The bank’s decision now, although hypocritical, should make the Opposition happy.
It is even thinkable that Opposition politicians partly engineered and fully supported the Bill/Law precisely to lure the NRM/Museveni government to the spot where it now finds itself: Too arrogant to beg openly; too poor not to beg.
Anti-corruption activists are also winners. For decades, the NRM government has simply ignored them or disbanded their NGO’s.
These activists have generally maintained that Uganda is poor only because of NRM incompetence, corruption and the huge cost of militarised methods of undermining democracy. They can now instruct Mr Museveni, that he has to rein in corruption and cut the size and extravagance of his government, or borrow from sharks more voracious than the World Bank and in the end face more humiliation.
The World Bank and its financiers are also winners. They can now show how small countries with exaggerated self-confidence are trimmed to the correct size.
The fact that the World Bank has been watching the cumulative record of Uganda’s conspicuous abuses and remained indifferent, but brought down the hammer ostensibly over a law that actually does not trouble many Ugandans, underlines the message that the chests we have been thumping are aging and shrivelled, and they do not have much heart in them.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin could also be a winner. He can exploit the new development and smile more broadly with his Ugandan friends before they realise that the animal they are flirting with is not a joke at all. This is a multiple-win situation.
Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.