By Stephen Twinoburyo
I am currently involved in a facebook discussion posted by Mr. Muhire Nathan that compares and analyses the records and contributions of all Uganda’s leaders since independence in 1962. Mr. Muhiire has been posting very topical issues that have over the past few weeks engaged us in interesting debates about Uganda’s past, current state and way forward. Advancements in technology have enabled us, Ugandans spread all over the world together with those within the country, to get actively involved in Ugandan matters and add a voice. It is interesting to note that many of the participants don’t know each other but we are united by being Ugandan or well-wishers of Uganda.
In the 48 years since independence, current president Yoweri Museveni has ruled for 25 years followed by Amin with eight. Museveni has, right from the time he took power in 1896, blamed all Uganda’s problems on past leaders and described them with such descriptions as: idiots, senseless, cowards, swines, murderous, corrupt, power-hungry, name it. He has portrayed himself as somebody who came to clean the mess created by these ‘swines’ and up to now he says he is still on a mission to put Uganda on the right path. He declares himself the only one capable of doing so and even goes as far as saying he will not hand power to “the wrong people”. The ‘swine’ he seems to hate most is the late Apollo Milton Obote who he fought a 5-year guerrilla war against on his way to power, and kept in exile until his death a couple of years ago. In the current campaigns where he is contesting for another 5-year term to make it 30 years in total, he pleads with the electorate to give him more time as he has not yet accomplished his vision for Uganda. It’s important to note that he has been telling Ugandans about a vision since his day 1 but it’s only him that seems to know what that vision is. If he could share it with the rest of us Ugandans, maybe we could help him along – or maybe it would have been realized by now.
It’s Museveni’s continual hold onto power after saying in 1986 that, unlike his power-hungry predecessors, he would not rule for more than 5 years, that is now pushing us to examine his contribution to Uganda’s political-social-economic landscape viz-a-viz his predecessors. Did previous Ugandan leaders contribute nothing to the country as Museveni asserts? More importantly, has Museveni contributed more positively to Uganda than them?
For one, many participants point to the various visible landmarks that were left behind by former presidents, Idi Amin and Milton Obote. In between the two of them, they built most of Uganda’s public schools, Uganda Hotels (used to be spread all over the country), Uganda Commercial Bank, Bank of Uganda, Uganda Cooperative Unions, Mulago and other state hospitals, Uganda International Conference Center, Jinja industries, Bugolobi and Bukoto flats, a number of buildings at Makerere University, bought Uganda embassy properties abroad e.t.c. Museveni on the other hand not only has nothing to show for his 25 years in power but has even destroyed what the others left behind. They add that he has not only destroyed structures but institutions as well. I fall in this category of participants. Some say even the FDC opposition party has managed to build as its headquarters a villa while Museveni’s ruling NRM has nothing to show.
On the opposite side, there are those who point out that Museveni’s rule has enhanced great economic development in which many private establishments have been set up and as such does not need to show individual achievements in terms of structures built. Particularly, Mr. Godfrey Kahangi argues that it’s economic development that matters most and that we should look towards market-driven economies as drivers for change rather than the government. I agree, economic development is utmostly crucial but a government that works for the people is also equally crucial if this is to be attained. My take is that a few people in Uganda seem to have progressed massively while the overwhelming majority have receded into hopeless poverty and biting despair. With a government that is so untrusted like the one we see in Uganda right now, it is difficult to see how people will get motivated to work for national development. More to that, people are so disillusioned by the wanton plunder of the country they see taking place at the top. This kind of plunder is unprecedented. Never before have Ugandans seen those at the top display little regard for the country, as they continuously and unashamedly empty national resources into their pockets. The proceeds of all state enterprises that were sold in the name of privatization are untraceable. The Amin and Obote governments never reached such levels. The arrogance at the top is only matched by Amin. Even the fight against HIV/AIDS lost direction when it turned into a personal enrichment enterprise through the endless stream of dollars it was attracting. It is interesting to note that Uganda’s population grew the fastest during the period HIV/AIDS was hitting Uganda the hardest, having almost doubled over the last 10 years to approx 33 million. Currently more than half of Uganda’s population is below the age of 20. (The future of Uganda is about targeting the youths).
My other argument is that Museveni has only compared himself against bad systems such that the common Ugandans don’t have anything good to rank him against. By comparing himself only against mayhem, Ugandans don’t seem to realize that there is a lot more beyond sleeping at night and waking up in the morning. While other countries in the region seem to be striving for great advancements of their citizens, he seems after 25 years at the helm to remain stuck in “I saved you from past regimes and brought you peace” – yet most of the wars in the region have been his making. He has deliberately kept the bar very low. Many of the things that pass as acceptable, like the state of roads and national hospitals, would be considered disasters in other societies. The president promised toilets in the capital city in 2010 and it was greeted as a great achievement. Can anybody tell me Museveni’s achievement in the last 10 years? Those 10 years are more than what any previous leader ever had. Somebody added that all Museveni has offered is sleep but “for some of us who need more than just sleeping we’ve opted to leave the country to where sleep is not a privilege authored by the head of state.”
Obote, in his second term, had a 5-year plan. Nobody can now say what Museveni or his government plan to do in the coming year. His plans seem to come off campaign platforms but nothing appears on paper. In short, no visible discussion seems to have been held on where the country should head. Despite the war that was ravaging the country, Obote had embarked on a large infrastructural development programme with companies like Roko and Sterling already repairing Uganda’s roads. Museveni later took on these programmes and declared them as his. Needless to say, that was almost the end of such programmes.
Uganda has had a difficult past and Museveni has been involved, directly or indirectly, in the chaos that has gripped the country for almost 4 decades. He should be credited as a man of determination and sheer persistence. He had a desire to rule the country and he indeed achieved it. Many people cannot muster his kind of will. That drive to power has however left a lot of destruction in its wake.
I went to boarding school at Mbarara Juniour School (a government school) during Amin’s last year in power. All we had to do then was appear at school with a suitcase of changing clothes and the rest (beddings, washing material, stationary, uniforms e.t.c) were provided. Mbarara town had car showrooms. Amin’s soldiers were never seen in public except when matching. Then the war of the Tanzanians came and we fled to villages. When we returned, everything was upside down. We were this time required to bring beds to school and buy our own soap. The wonderful meals we used to have were no more and we struggled to adjust to ‘posho’ and beans. No more milk and eggs. No more meat except the tinned one from the World Food Programme. We would occasionally bump into dead bodies, littered bullets or unexploded shells in the neighborhood. Those were the effect of the first war Uganda faced, and 31 years later, Uganda has never recovered. So when Museveni constantly goes into other regions seeking/igniting war, I wonder if he thinks about the consequences war has had on his country. His predecessors were never such warmongers.
The ensuing period was tumultuous. Different Ugandan personalities came from exile riding on the back of the Tanzanian troops and many of them were powerful and untouchable. Museveni was one of them. There were others like Oyite Ojok (RIP). Poor Obote came at a difficult time and it was never going to be easy to control those below him. Museveni himself was never a man who was going to be led. In his address after swearing in as president in 1986, he made the following remark of Obote’s 1980 offer of a ministerial position: “can you imagine the idiot had the guts to make a man like me a minister of regional cooperation?” It was after this ‘idiot’s offer’ that Museveni went to the bush for the 5-year bloody war that eventually led him to power. It is also on the background of this that I say that Museveni should never say that he went to the bush to liberate me; he went to the bush to liberate his pocket and ego. Museveni has since behaved like a merchant and his lack of patriotism is phenomenal. He cannot even show a sensible road in his capital city as that is seemingly none of his concern – he’s almost turned the country’s roads into cattle tracks. A visit to Makerere University where he recently obtained a honorary degree in law and Mulago hospital where most of the unfortunate citizens find themselves, will leave one in tears. One wonders how he can attend global events and claim to lead a country when he is sitting over such rottenness. No, Amin and Obote never showed this lack of concern for the country. In fact they showed concern.
Yes Museveni, like his predecessors, has had some achievements made on behalf of the country. Most of these achievements were made during his first 10 years in power and I am hard-pressed to think of any after that. However his glaring failures and the despair to which he had driven most Ugandans, coupled with the heartless plunder of the nation, threaten to erase all the achievements he ever made. It’s noteworthy to remember that even people like Amin, Saddam or even Hitler, had some achievements made before they went ‘mad’ and changed the course of their destinies. Museveni has since 2006 seemed to be changing the course of his destiny, mainly due to his incorrigibility. A participant pointed out that it’s sad that Museveni is now making his predecessors look like angels and that the tales that will come out after Museveni has gone may make Amin look like he was on a Sunday school picnic. His soldiers reactions to civilians, for instance at Kasubi; the suffocation of innocent people in train carriages in Teso on suspicion of being rebels, the devastation in northern Uganda and DRC and various other acts that people narrate quietly may just be a droplet of issues that may come to the fore. All these acts were committed in a senseless quest for absolute power, control and acquisition. I sometimes think history may come to regard Museveni as the worst disaster to have happened to Uganda, and the region, in modern times.
In all past regimes, there was a sense of working for the country. This seems to be lacking in the present leadership. Uganda seems to have become an individual affair where those who can manage will grab as much as they can and the rest can go to hell. The country has never before been plundered on such a massive scale, and by a few people. For instance, there is nothing to show for the hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) summit, yet more than Uganda Sh. 500 billion were pumped in. Museveni’s predecessors also grappled with corruption, but not the kind that leaves absolutely nothing to an allocated project or to the country. The worst victims of this moral decay are the under-30 youths who comprise more than 70% of Uganda’s population. The only moral lesson they seem to have learnt from their leaders is that merit and honesty don’t pay and will lead them nowhere. One participant, Christine Lubwa Oryema Lalobo, aptly put it: “…Waging and winning wars these days is more important than production, passing exams is more important than studying, winning an election is more important than governance…” The dishonesty that has been displayed by our leadership is unbelievable. Put Museveni and Obote before me and ask me who I trust; I will pick Obote without blinking.
The question I keep on asking myself is, did Museveni right from the beginning have a grand plan to lead us along this path or did something happen along the road to Jericho? If he indeed had this grand plan, how did we all not see it? A statistical random sampling of any group of people, physical or through social networks like facebook, shows an overwhelming dissatisfaction or dislike or anger at Museveni’s continual leadership – across all of Uganda’s regions and age groups. How then is Museveni able to preside over a population that overwhelmingly hates him and his government? All these seem to give Uganda an unstable peace, and we are therefore likely go back full circle, unless of course he belatedly and for once chooses to put the country first.
When Mandela took over as president of S Africa, he found a system that was morally corrupt and had no respect for human rights. The government was unquestioned by both blacks and whites, and would punish heavily those that threatened the status quo. Mandela set the tone for respect for institutions and established the foundations of what we have today. Besides, he worked within the guidelines of his organization, the ANC, and positioned himself under, rather than above, it. Museveni had the best opportunity to put Uganda on the right footing; he squandered it, together with what would have been an admirable legacy. But does he care?
For more on the facebook debate, please go to: