“No one should think that what is happening today is a mere change of guard: it is a fundamental
change in the politics of our country. In Africa, we have seen so many changes
that change, as such, is nothing short of mere turmoil. We have had one group getting rid
of another one, only for it to turn out to be worse than the group it displaced. Please do
not count us in that group of people.” -President Museveni 1986
This morning, I asked my boss if he had bothered to tune into Uganda Broadcasting Service (UBC) to listen to President Museveni’s remarks commemorating NRM Day. His replied saying that he never wastes his time listening to Museveni. I know for certain that a great majority of Ugandans would agree with him.
I, on the other hand, like the idea of listening to Museveni wax on about the Movement’s achievements, and how, without the Movement, Uganda would be backward. And yet, if we were to read the speech that Museveni made in 1986 upon taking power, we would realise that the ideals that the NRM stood for at the time have since faded. The NRM overthrew the prior regime, only to morph into a version of it, a quarter-century later.
Indeed, looking at the NRM after 26 years, I still believe that the fundamental change that was promised has turned into a pipedream. In fact, it’s become a mirage—one that eludes you every time you think you’re getting closer to it. When the president stated yesterday that he had achieved that fundamental change, for a second I thought that he was reading off another speech script. Of course, it would be wrong to say that the NRM government has not done some remarkable things over the years as I will be make note of in this article.
However, let me look at the areas he mentioned yesterday.
President Museveni is very wrong to say that the NRM government discovered oil in Uganda. What he fails to acknowledge is that this resource was discovered way back in the 1920s—unless, of course, he is saying that the NRM somehow traveled back in time to make that discovery (a claim that is, sadly, no less fantastical that many others made in his latest speech)! Indeed, if there is any government that took a keen interest in the notion of oil in Uganda, it’s the Obote II government. It is this government that came up with the 1985 Petroluem (Exploration and Production) Act. So it would be very misplaced to lie to the people that the NRM “discovered” oil.
Another issue that seems to elude the president is that the oil we have in Uganda is a resource that will be depleted at a certain point. Experts put the lifespan of oil production in Uganda at about 40 years. Current estimates put Uganda’s oil potential at about 2.5 billion barrels of recoverable reserves from the three blocks that have so far been drilled. This should mean that despite the oil that is present, we need to invest in other sectors simultaneously. It is shocking to state that the agricultural sector—the biggest employer of Ugandans—has one of the slowest growth rates in the country, averaging two percent per annum since 2000. I would rather the president prioritise this sector as a way of uplifting the populace. Uganda before the NRM exported more agricultural products compared to today. Parastals and arrangements like the cooperatives that were used to make this possible were killed off, sadly, by the NRM.
The potential of this oil is enormous and exciting. But with the business as usual model that is a characteristic of the NRM government, it will be very hard to see the ills of this discovery come into play. Interestingly, Africa has not yet had a success story with regard to oil. It is a fact that countries with oil tend to have a slower economic growth as compared to many others that have no oil. The resource curse, characterized by corruption in the political realm, has moreoften made people suffer than rejoice.
I fail to understand why the President cannot see that he is the person that can best deal with corruption. The problem with Museveni is that the same people cited in these corruption scandals are always close ‘comrades’. The failure to reprimand them is very worrying. When he calls for foot soldiers to help in the fight against corruption, I feel like he is shortchanging Ugandans. People have talked and talked about corruption, although whistle blowing has not helped either. So when he says he needs foot soldiers, I really wonder what more he wants.
Lastly, one of the promises that Museveni made upon his swearing in in 1986 was the he would end the spell of sectarian exclusion and violence by forming a broad-based government, and yet today we see a government as sectarian as the past ones.
I spent some time looking at the trends since 1986 and I found them very compelling. Stefan Lindemann, a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, in his research on Uganda states that all post-independence governments failed to accommodate ethnic, regional, and religious cleavages and the same is going on in the NRM government.
According to Lindemann’s research, the main beneficiaries of the NRM, regarding ethnic favouritism, have been people from the western region who have been overrepresented in the cabinet while dominating the inner core. Most of the positions go to Banyankole, who happen to be Museveni’s group.
Lindemann goes on to show how military power sharing has been limited since 1986. A classic example of this can be seen in the appointment of Army commanders. Five out of six commanders came from the West (Elly Tumwine, Salim Saleh, Mugisha Muntu, James Kazini, and Aronda Nyakairima). Four of these were Banyankole, out of whom three are from the Bahiima subgroup. Jeje Odong, who is from Teso, is the only non-western commander who, according to Lindemann’s research, wielded very little real influence. I find this intriguing.
So, when the President uses his 26th anniversary to preach to Ugandans about the attainment of fundamental change, I am left wondering what yardstick he is using. I think we need to be very cognizant of the fact that the NRM has economically transformed the country in one way or another. Of course, the massive liberalization of the economy might have had some casualties, but I must say that the Ugandan economy has grown. The next five years are going to be very critical in making claims of fundamental change. How the NRM deals with these years will determine a lot in all sectors of the economy, including the elimination of poverty in the country.