Museveni has turned Uganda into a sad story

1986, the year Museveni became president of Uganda, coincided with an announcement from Ghana that “IMF fails to redeem”. Since 1983 Rawlings had used force to implement stabilization and structural adjustment program. In the end the experiment failed – badly. In 1986, the minister of finance publicly admitted that Ghana’s economy was in deep crisis – the ‘economic success story’ had been a hoax. There were complaints that there was something inherently wrong with international financial institutions’ (IFI) diagnosis of Africa’s challenges and the medicine they prescribed. Rawlings was accused of sowing in the wind by ignoring advice of his Ghanaian advisers in preference for IFIs – IMF and the World Bank (Africa Concord September 18, 1986). Although donors’ had poured vast amounts of money into Ghana the experiment did not work. Finally Rawlings too announced that he had been unimpressed and had had enough of IFI policies (Peter Anyang’Nyong’o 1992). Ghana quietly dropped off the World Bank/IMF list of high performers and was replaced by Uganda (Paul Nugent 2004).

Before becoming president Museveni had spent most of his time in military training, fighting, reading revolutionary books and criticizing Amin and Obote regimes. He had no practical experience in governing a country – much less a complex country like Uganda. Like Rawlings before him, Museveni chose to ignore his Uganda advisers and to listen to foreign experts who lectured him on the virtues of the Washington Consensus. He filled the powerful ministry of finance and central bank with IFI’s surrogates. Paul Collier, British economist working at the World Bank championed the design of Uganda’s structural adjustment program (SAP) (The New Federalist May 25, 1998) and monitored its implementation. Collier is still actively involved in Uganda’s macroeconomic work, even after structural adjustment has been officially abandoned as a failed model.

Structural adjustment focused on inflation control and economic growth completely disregarding unemployment reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher in Britain. It was thought that low and stable inflation would attract large foreign investments that would promote rapid economic growth and create jobs. Through trickledown economics the benefits of growth would spread to all Ugandans equitably and pull them out of poverty. Through taxation revenue would increase and the government would allocate them to infrastructure (like roads and energy), institutions and social sectors like education, healthcare and housing.

Uganda massively devalued the currency to promote exports particularly non-traditional (NTEs) such as foodstuffs as an engine of growth, privatized and liberalized the economy and balanced the budget by targeted retrenchment of public servants that looked like sectarianism, removed subsidies on productive and social sectors, introduced user charges for education and healthcare that kept children away from school and sick persons from hospitals. Expenditure on security forces was exempt from budget cuts and even increased as Uganda faced a rebellion in northern and eastern Uganda and ventured into costly regional wars in money, troops and reputation. Museveni was tacitly permitted by western sponsors to delay multiparty democracy and even to be dictatorial in order to implement the unpopular structural adjustment program and fight wars some of them on behalf of his sponsors. “The new British Labor government has decided that it will ‘not press for multiparty reform in Uganda’” when elsewhere on the continent including neighboring Kenya multiparty was a condition for continued foreign aid (Journal of Democracy April 1998).

Initially economic growth was rapid in large part because of excess capacity inherited by Museveni government in 1986 (unutilized industrial capacity stood at some 80 percent) and restoration of peace in the southern part of the country that permitted Ugandans to engage in economic activities on their own initiatives and improvisations. Inflation was also quickly brought under control from triple to single digits. Western reporters and other commentators got excited and used economic growth figures (mostly cooked as statistics were scarce {Consultative Group for Uganda April 16, 1997 & Sebastian Mallaby 2004}) and low inflation per se as a measure of success. Like Ghana, Uganda was marked a ‘success story’ and Museveni graded a ‘star performer’ and ‘darling of the west’ prematurely. Uganda appeared on front pages of major international newspapers, on western television screens, was quoted in major magazines and academic journals and in United Nations reports to conferences and the United Nations General Assembly. Museveni was even invited regularly to attend G8 Summits of most developed countries in the world! He was sought after at conferences and Museveni enjoyed it big and often became boastful – perhaps he knew it would not last long!

The momentum began to fade since the late 1990s and by 2010 Uganda was talked about in past tense and Museveni even missed the UN General Assembly Summit on MDGs in New York in September 2010 even though his name remained on the list of speakers but did not show up when it was time for him to speak because there was not much progress he could report to his fellow presidents – a very sad moment indeed not only for Museveni but for all Ugandans as well especially those that had gathered in the General Assembly Hall to hear him speak! The following contributed to Museveni’s diminished image and Uganda’s fall from grace.

1. Economic growth fell short of the projected 7 per cent per annum as a minimum for meeting Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Notwithstanding low and stable inflation and political stability in the south, the anticipated foreign direct investments did not happen thereby hindering rapid economic growth and creating jobs. Devaluation of Uganda currency resulted in expensive imports which are crucial inputs in Uganda’s economy. Consequently, small and medium enterprises that create jobs were unable to afford expensive imports. High interest rates to curb inflation by reducing money in circulation discouraged borrowing. Furthermore, trade liberalization opened Uganda’s economy to cheap imports especially used products like clothing that out competed local industries like textile and apparel. Overall, economic growth has remained far below 7 percent. Unemployment especially of youth now stands at over 80 percent over 50 percent of them university graduates that are frustrated, desperate and increasingly becoming alcoholic and engaging in criminal activities to make ends meet.

2. Trickle down of economic growth benefits did not take place. At a 1998 conference in Tokyo Japan, former Administrator of UNDP observed that “Uganda is a leading example of an African country that is doing many of the right economic things [inflation control, currency devaluation, economic growth, diversification of exports and balanced budgets etc] to lift its people out of poverty. It has posted growth rates averaging over 6 percent a year for a decade. Yet two-thirds of the population remains in absolute poverty, per capita income is only now approaching the level it had attained in 1970” (Development Cooperation Seminar 1998). Not only has the overall standard of living not reached the 1970 level but 20 percent of Ugandans are believed to be poorer than when Museveni became president in 1986.

3. The emphasis on export diversification of nutritious foodstuffs (especially fish, beans and sim sim) traditionally produced or harvested for home consumption has resulted in eating non-nutritious food stuffs such as cassava and maize. There is scientific evidence that individuals who eat a lot of maize and cassava without nutrient supplements develop neurological abnormalities such as insanity. “A diet high in cassava is poor in essential nutrients, particularly protein and B vitamins, unless supplemented with animal protein…. It has been shown the frequency of cassava consumption to be associated with higher plasma thiocyanate levels and low mean vitamin B12 in the serum … where a significantly higher percentage of neurological abnormalities occurs (e. g. visual difficulties, paraesthesiae, impaired hearing, vibratory sensitivity)” (B. J. Meggers et al., 1973). Cassava which was introduced in Uganda as a famine crop has become a staple under Museveni government. Studies have also shown that those who eat a lot of maize/corn without nutritious supplements develop pellagra, a vitamin-deficiency disease characterized by dry, scaly skin and can lead to insanity. Maize like cassava was a famine foodstuff. Under Museveni’s regime it too has become a staple. A word about fish is in order at this juncture. Fisheries including fish farming/ponds were developed by British administration for the sole purpose of providing protein to low income families when under-nutrition had become severe. Under Museveni regime fish has become a major export commodity. The scarcity in domestic market has raised the price so high that many households cannot afford it. Export of foodstuffs to earn foreign currency for the rich to enjoy has resulted in about 10 million Ugandans going to bed hungry, under-nourished mothers who are producing underweight children with permanent physical and mental abnormalities or early death, 40 percent of under-nourished children under age five and some 80 percent of children dropping out of primary school because they are hungry (Museveni has refused to let them have lunch). The strategy of production for cash rather than for the stomach under Museveni regime has done a great deal of damage to Uganda population and human capital formation in particular. Regions that produce surplus food like Bushenyi are among those areas with the highest level of under-nutrition because most of the food is sold to purchase inter alia mobile phones that have become a net drain on most household incomes.

4. Agricultural expansion by clearing large swathes of vegetation in part to increase exports has resulted in extensive biological loss with serious soil erosion, adverse thermal and hydrological regimes. Rainfall has become irregular in amount, timing and duration constraining agricultural production. Irregular rainfall together with longer and drier periods have resulted in frequent and devastating droughts and floods, causing serious food shortages and destroying infrastructure like bridges. Water tables have dropped, lakes have shrunk, perennial rivers have either dried up completely or become seasonal, spring wells are gone in many places and desertification conditions have become common. Dust clouds have become a traffic hazard during dry seasons. Scarcity of water combined with soap has resulted in reduced bathing and washing of hands thus contaminating food before eating and increasing diseases of the digestive system. Repellent body orders and skin diseases have become common in town and rural areas. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has advised the government that if corrective steps are not taken quickly Uganda could become a desert within a hundred years. This is a very short time.

5. The social sectors especially of education and healthcare have taken a heavy beating. There is a shortage of drugs due to corruption – not lack of funds because Uganda gets a lot of foreign aid. The encouragement of qualified and experienced Ugandans to work abroad or discouragement from returning has deprived Uganda employment of qualified and experienced professionals, ending up with unqualified and/or experienced people or professionals in wrong places where they are inefficient (medical doctors in finance or policemen in education). “Because of these sorts of conditions, many of the most principled and best educated [Ugandans] leave to work abroad. Many of those who stay [behind] are underused [in part because they belong to previous regimes or did not join the guerrilla war], their abilities and knowledge wasted. Just when globalization demands innovative knowledge, [Uganda] has fewer and fewer [human] resources”(Dissent Spring 2002). Although hospitals, dispensaries, schools and universities have increased the quality has declined precipitously. Uganda has graduates at all levels that are mostly functionally illiterate. For this reason, unemployment is very high while skilled jobs are going to qualified foreign workers. Many people are sick while the country has many hospitals and dispensaries that have inadequate supply of medicines, doctors and nurses. Therefore those who measure Museveni’s success in the number of schools and dispensaries or graduates are missing the point. We need to look at the health status and functional literacy of Ugandans.

6. Using the few illustrations above one can safely conclude that Museveni has turned Uganda into a sorry state: poverty is still over 50 percent with 20 percent poorer than in 1986; income distribution is highly skewed in favor of few families with connections to the seat of power; unemployment of youth, Uganda’s future leaders, is over 80 percent; Uganda is de-industrializing while existing industries are operating below installed capacity shedding workers to make ends meet; corruption and sectarianism have gone through the roof; alcohol consumption, traffic accidents, domestic violence and human sacrifice have become uncontrollable; child school dropout and early marriage are contributing to large families; functional illiteracy is preventing Uganda graduates from getting skilled jobs that are going to foreign workers; diseases of poverty such as jiggers, trachoma, scabies, etc including those that had been forgotten are spreading like a wild brush fire (between 1995 and 2000 infant mortality rose from 81 to 88 deaths per 1000 live births, under-five mortality increased from 147 to 152 deaths per 1000 live births during the same period and maternal mortality rose from 527 in 1995 to 920 per 100000 live births in 2005 {MDGs report 2003 & APRM 2009}); moral decay including sex work even by married women with knowledge or encouragement of their spouses to put food on the table are no longer secrets and environmental decay and unplanned construction in towns have resulted in frequent and severe droughts and floods and slums teaming with crime and disease (and yet Ugandans are being encouraged to relocate to towns where economic growth prospects exist and once they live the countryside the rich buy peasant land and uproot them). Images of decay such as disfigured bodies by under-nutrition, jiggers, overturned vehicles with dead bodies all around; collapsing grass thatched structures called schools or children studying under trees have brought shame to Uganda and to Museveni in particular once considered the star pupil of Africa. Many in the west who supported him are now avoiding him at conferences while demonstrators scream and write dirty words against him in full view of cameras from all over the world. If you do not call this a sad story, then I don’t know what is.

Eric Kashambuzi
Working with UN in New York


5 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Kiryowa John,

    This is total rubish, Museveni has turned aroud this country that had been messed up by our past leaders of the same thinking like the Semuwemba’s of this world.
    We should learn to give credit where it’s due. Omanyi abamu bagamba nti “Basiima ogenze”, Museveni tumisiimeko ng’akyaliwo akoze ekimala.

  2. kwitonda juma,

    it’s my minds to say that museveni he was agood leader in 1986 up-to 2006 but at this time forexamples in my area kisoro district we have money for bonnabaggagaware if your not educated person you cant kisoro we dont have any chance to museveni except good things he gave agood security only.

  3. the man has simply lost it.diminishing returns in addition to corruption,nepotism,selfishness,outright greed and arrogance have all contributed to whatever is pertaining.

  4. I would like to thank the people who started this website.Good job!
    My contribution towards the said Theme is that,no body will ever satisfy all the people because even God himself has never satiffied people and thats why you will always hear people say God is not fair.So,thats why you find people complaining every time.Sometimes it is inborn to people who complain for whatever they see or hear,who are always on negative side.But we do appreciate them the way they were created,they are part of us the have right to criticise but they should at one moment appreciate for the good things that Museven has done to Ugandans like Security,free Education,water in the rural areas etc but if they say he has contributed nothing,they are totally wrong.They will never get someone who will do things to their expectations only.Entasiima eburwa agiwa.Bravo Muzee.God bless

  5. kwitonda juma,

    we thanks yoweri kaguta museveni to be president for twenty five years old and we are still loves him until now but this days uganda is not agood becouse corruptions.According how museveni is thinking he like to stolen the money only.if we get another president it can coused uganda liker he spent alot of money in campains

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