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Day December 24, 2010

How Museveni is silently turning Uganda into another Ivory Coast


It has been reported that migrant workers have triumphed over indigenous population in Ivory Coast’s presidential and parliamentary elections – essentially taking over the country. Museveni in collaboration with or under the direction of foreign advisers is methodically, silently and incrementally turning Uganda into another Ivory Coast. This is being done by increasing migrants through favorable policies and reducing indigenous population through birth control measures. I have already written an article arguing that immigrants will soon outnumber indigenous Ugandans. Let us see how Museveni is doing it beginning with policies that are encouraging foreigners to enter Uganda under conditions that are not clear to the public.

First, Museveni’s decision to adopt the shock therapy version of structural adjustment or economic recovery in 1987 was not an accident. It was designed to introduce unpopular decisions quickly before opposition groups organized to resist them. They also required dictatorial methods of governance which have been tacitly endorsed by Museveni’s foreign backers and conveniently described as bold leadership.

The first very unpopular policy change was the return of Asians and Europeans and repossession of their properties nationalized by Obote and Amin. The return of foreigners was done largely through quick and comprehensive privatization of public enterprises. As V. V. Ramanadham (1993) observed “It has been decided [by government or Museveni] to begin divestments immediately, and to deal with any problems as they arise, rather than to delay the privatization program until all constraints have been resolved” Supplementary policy decisions have permitted hiring of foreign workers whose contract status is unclear. This policy has increased immigrants in Uganda.

Museveni has followed strictly structural adjustment requirement that developing countries should employ foreign experts to direct their economies (John Brohman 1996) that has turned out to favor migrants into Uganda. To create room for foreign experts dominated by British (Sebastian Mallaby 2004), Museveni decided to retrench senior civil servants and to refuse the return of qualified and experienced Ugandans in the diaspora. Museveni has sugarcoated his unpopular refusal by arguing that Ugandans in the diaspora will contribute better to their country by earning and remitting foreign currency that is badly needed than returning home where they may not find work because of retrenchment programs. Additionally, Museveni has encouraged qualified and experienced Ugandans to seek work abroad.

The capacity gap Museveni deliberately created has been filled by foreign experts particularly in the key ministry of finance, planning and economic development and central bank that has responsibility for national policy formulation supported by national surrogates. NRM cadres like the first minister of finance and central bank governor who did not support shock therapy adjustment were fired. The fired minister who was an economist by profession was replaced by a medical doctor. That can tell you who has been in charge bearing in mind that Museveni did not have governance experience before becoming president in 1986. It has been reported that Museveni underwent training in macroeconomics by foreign experts.

Second, Museveni has consistently argued that Uganda still has plenty of arable land that needs to be utilized to maximize economic growth and transformation. He has equally argued that a liberal immigration policy within East African economic integration and political federation would promote Uganda’s economic prospects. Consequently Uganda has become an attractive place for migrant workers and refugees. Kenyans, Burundians, Rwandese and Somalis have particularly flocked into Uganda as workers, refugees and illegal migrants. Some of them have acquired land and become settlers.

Settlement anywhere in Uganda has been facilitated by provisions in the 1995 Uganda Constitution that allow Ugandans to reside and settle anywhere in the country and speak their native languages. Under these provisions Rwandese and Burundians for example can settle anywhere in Uganda and speak Kinyarwanda claiming they are Bafumbira!

Information about migrants is normally obtained in reports on population census and vital statistics (births, deaths and marriages registers). Two developments have made access to migrants’ information impossible. The 2010 report on Uganda’s population status excluded information on migration. The argument, difficult to believe, is that information on migrants is scarce. But we know that the ministries of labor, internal affairs, economic planning and UNHCR (refugees) keep information on in-migrants, out-migrants and refugees.

Further, it has been reported that all files on vital statistics have been stolen. However, testimonies have revealed that those who ‘stole’ the files are known. Ugandans must demand that these files are all returned intact.

Third, Museveni, like no other leader in East Africa, has pursued fast track negotiations on economic integration and political federation with such a zeal that some are beginning to wonder why the rush. However, conclusion and ratification of economic integration and political federation agreements if they happen while Museveni is still president, he will use them to allow more migrants into Uganda especially from Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda where population densities are very high. This will change the demographic composition in Uganda in favor of migrants.

Policies and programs regarding indigenous populations have focused largely on birth control for poor citizens. Museveni has – knowingly or not – pursued a Malthusian approach to birth control. Simply put, Malthus believed that those able to maintain a family without burdening the state can produce as many children as they can. For poor people Malthus recommended that they should not be permitted to marry and have children until they demonstrated that they had adequate means. Poor couples should be discouraged from having more children by denying them relief such as food and making conditions difficult for them to want to have an additional child. Meeting basic needs would encourage them to have more children. Ricardo added that more children would ultimately increase labor force that would push wages down and make it difficult for them to make ends meet, hence more relief and additional burden to the state or rich citizens. Therefore the best way to avoid these difficulties was to limit the number of children in poor families.

Museveni has made direct and indirect statements in line with Malthus that may seem contradictory because they are not explained to the public. In public Museveni has been preaching that Ugandans should have as many children as God gave them. This message is directed at the rich.

For poor Ugandans, Museveni has approached birth control indirectly. In 1996/97 he announced that the government will admit into free primary education four children from each family. He said if you have an extra child you will be responsible for his/her education. Word filtered through that help could be provided through family planning to those who did not want an additional child (birth control is avoided because it is sensitive). Family planning conveys good news that you are planning the birth of a child while birth control conveys bad message of preventing birth of a child. In the end family planning and birth control result in fewer children.

Birth control advice was taken by poor couples and fertility has declined considerably in a relatively short time from 7.1 to 6.5 and contraceptive use has increased from 15 to 24 percent. These birth control outcomes were omitted in the 2010 report on Uganda’s population status. The report gives the impression that fertility has remained at 7 and contraceptive use has remained low at 24 percent. The report does not show progress that has been made.

Following Malthus advice, Museveni has refused to subsidize food because that would encourage poor couples to have more children. When he addressed the UN General Assembly in 2008 on the impact of rising food prices on Uganda consumers, he reported that Uganda did not have such a problem because everyone has a piece of land or a relative that produces food can help in difficult times. These arrangements have kept food prices low.

Here is exactly what Museveni said “As far as Uganda is concerned, apart from the lazy ones, the only groups that are adversely affected are salary earners in towns. Unlike the farmers, they cannot benefit from the higher food prices. Yet they must buy food. Fortunately, all these families [urban families] in Uganda have a dual capacity. Apart from being salary earners, they also own land in the rural areas or their relatives do. They can, therefore, subsidize themselves through growing food using this land. Africa and other agriculture-based economies should rise up, utilize their full potential and take advantage of the high food prices”.

Through this statement, Museveni announced that high food prices had not affected Uganda consumers and there was no need for subsidies or stop food exports like other countries had done. He took a position that is favored by major donors. He did not convince his listeners. What is known about Uganda is that many farmers do not produce enough food. And during the world food crisis 2007 and 2008 food prices are reported to have risen sharply. Even today in 2010 about 10 million Ugandans out of 33 million go to bed hungry.

Museveni hid the Malthusian thought favored by foreign experts that once you start subsidizing food, it may become a permanent feature that would encourage poor families to have more children. The best thing was to starve them so they have no urge for an extra child. Uganda experts who probably would have advised him differently have been marginalized at home or are working abroad.

Museveni has also taken two further steps to limit fertility of poor Ugandans. He has refused to create jobs for unemployed youth because if he does they will make enough money for dowry and wedding and the beginning of a family. Many youth especially in towns cannot afford to marry because they have no means. These unemployed youth have become the target of birth control which is being popularized through Uganda media that has published pro-birth control articles and rejected those with different approaches.

Museveni is also vigorously pursuing rapid urbanization disguised as a solution to slow agricultural transformation while the real goal is to push Ugandans into urban areas where life is difficult and contraceptive supplies readily available to limit child birth.

Other indirect birth control local and foreign voices are advocating replacement of small holder farmers with large-scale ones. For example, British economist Paul Collier and principal adviser to Museveni believes in large-scale farms based on modern science. He has advised that “First, contrary to the romantics, the world needs more commercial agriculture [large-scale], not less. … Second, and again contrary to the romantics, the world needs more science: the European ban and the consequential African ban on genetically modified (GM) crops are slowing the pace of agricultural productivity growth in the face of accelerating growth in demand” (Foreign Affairs November/December 2008).

Yet, in its World Development report 2008,the World Bank “hailed the role of small farmers in leading the way out of hunger and poverty and recognized the importance of state intervention in agriculture and some subsidies” (Foreign Affairs November/December 2010). Following other reports including those by the United Nations, the whole world has supported small holder agriculture because it is productive, efficient, environmentally and socially friendly.

Notwithstanding, Museveni has chosen to follow Paul Collier’s advice. He has introduced GM crops against some Uganda and foreign voices. He is also encouraging rapid rural-urban migration to vacate land for large-scale farms. While in towns, Museveni believes that pressure of urban life will force urban migrants to accept birth control more easily than in the countryside.

There are two conclusions to be made. First, since 1987, Museveni has relied on foreigners for advice and policy formulation that drove Uganda along unpopular structural adjustment path that eventually crashed and was abandoned in 2009 after causing untold suffering. If Museveni had mixed advisers he probably would have avoided what many call his humiliating admission that structural adjustment had failed to deliver and had to be abandoned.

Ugandans holding key positions particularly in the ministry of finance and central bank behave more than European advisers. They give the impression that they have no mandate for social and environmental conditions in Uganda. They produce statistics like Keith Muhakanizi did recently that do not reflect the suffering of Uganda people. For example, Keith Muhakanizi reported that the number of people wearing shoes has increased and housing has improved. Then why has the spread of jiggers increased since wearing shoes and living in good houses reduce the spread of jiggers?

Second, policies adopted since 1987 have favored an increase of migrants and increased birth control of poor indigenous families. If the trend continues, Ugandan indigenous population will soon be outnumbered by foreigners. When people discuss these and other developments implemented by Museveni, they begin to wonder whether Museveni is a foreigner pushing a foreign agenda or a Ugandan employed by a foreigner and forced to implementing unpopular policies because of collective responsibility principle. Either way indigenous Ugandans are steadily losing control of their country.

With 25 years in power pursuing the policies analyzed above, Museveni would not change course even if he realized he was on a wrong path. This can be deduced from the foreword to the current five – year development plan. The language he used was similar to key elements in structural adjustment program. Staff in the ministry of financed and central bank with their advisers have continued to stress macroeconomic policies as though Uganda was re-launching structural adjustment as it was done in 1987.

To save indigenous Ugandans from losing their country, there is one choice only – defeat Museveni in the February 2011 presidential elections. When Museveni is re-elected he will assume that Ugandans have endorsed his past policies and will push harder for economic integration and political federation that will result in Uganda flooded by migrants that will drown indigenous populations and create another Ivory Coast this time in East instead of West Africa. When this happens Ugandans should not say they did not know because now they know.

Eric Kashambuzi

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