Why changing govt won’t solve Uganda’s problems

 Nnanda Kizito Sseruwagi 

What you need to know:

  • We are not dysfunctional because we blatantly disregard the rule of law expected of a modern democracy.

In this article, I argue that the lack of a developed socio-political infrastructure to uphold the bureaucracy of a modern state exposes Uganda to certain structural problems which cannot be solved fundamentally by any change of government. I then suggest that we can make this dysfunction serve us.

Modern states evolve out of a process by which politics is gradually emancipated from society and configured into progressively impersonal, autonomous political institutions. The key to such institutionalisation is not just about the exercise of the monopoly of legitimate violence as enunciated by Max Weber (which might be easier for “President Muhoozi” than “President Kyagulanyi” to attain), rather, it is about the successful establishment of a truly independent bureaucracy which neither “President Muhoozi” nor “President Kyagulanyi” can reasonably achieve.

Contrary to popular perceptions that percolate through our social discourse, most of Uganda’s problems are not problems caused or perpetrated by Mr Museveni or whichever incumbent President we might have, but are problems of “underdevelopment”. 

They exist by virtue of our current level of development as a society and not because of any person acting as President. This is where I think Mr Bobi Wine and Dr Kizza Besigye go wrong; when they articulate Uganda’s problem to be President Museveni individually and hold a singular will to power informed only by the intention to remove the current president as a panacea to heal all our problems as a country.

For anyone aspiring to govern this country after President Museveni, whether Mr Bobi Wine or Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to claim that they intend to solve most of the disorder that is Uganda, immediately invites them to end patrimonialism or patronage- that is, to completely break from the notion that as wielders of political power, they possess any legitimate claim on the resources they administer. I submit that neither of them would do this because to do so would mean losing the very power they badly want to exercise. Administering Uganda’s resources as his personal wealth is partly how Mr Museveni has managed to hold power for this long and doing otherwise would spell his fall. 

At Uganda’s current stage of development, it is impossible to bring functional distinction between the public and private spheres. For this reason, the opposition in Uganda rightfully, but also hypocritically and maybe also, naively criticize Mr. Museveni’s government for corruption. But like President Museveni, if they too acquired power they would sooner than later govern exactly as he has, lest they lose power as quickly as some of his predecessors. 

Therefore, the challenge for the next President of Uganda is not to flirt with the popular and pretentious narrative of attempting to govern Uganda as and on the principles of a functional state and modern bureaucracy. The true challenge is finding workable means to instrumentalise the advantage of Uganda’s political-economic childhood to steer it steadily as a parent would guide a child, to achieve economic development. This has been Mr Museveni’s greatest miss in his close to half a century of presidency.

It cannot be blamed on the current, past or next government that our country fails to meet the Eurocentric standards and notions of a modern democracy. However, to show that we could profitably exploit the current backwardness of our country and be industrious and productive in our “failing” as construed by Westernised metrics of measuring a modern state is not difficult.

The unexploited advantage of our current underdeveloped statehood is the leverage an incumbent President has over taking fundamental decisions in the country’s interest for example on mega investments in industrial, infrastructure or educational projects with limited let or hindrance from the absent or where present, weak democratic bureaucracy.

We are not dysfunctional because we blatantly disregard the rule of law expected of a modern democracy. It is actually the very attempt to follow the procedural propriety of an advanced country that grinds our development efforts to a stalemate. 

Governing Uganda like Switzerland or the USA which the NRM government and its opposition parties alike promise to do is like driving a Mercedes Benz GLS 450 on the chassis of a Toyota Corolla. It won’t work.

 The author, Nnanda Kizito Sseruwagi is a lawyer doing a clerkship at Kampala Associated Advocates.