Military leaders replaced the first generation of post independence civilian leaders because the latter failed to grow the economy and distribute equitably the fruits of Uhuru (independence) to a wider public. Civilian leaders were further accused of divisionism, corruption and sectarianism etc. In short civilians were poor leaders. Below are some of the 18 reasons for overthrowing Uganda’s first civilian government in 1971.
1. Economic policies have left many people unemployed and even more insecure and lacking in the basic needs of life like food, clothing, medicines and shelter;
2. The creation of a wealthy class of leaders who are always talking of socialism while they grow richer and the common man poorer;
3. The Lango Development Master Plan, written in 1967, decided that all key positions in Uganda’s political, commercial, army and industrial life have to be occupied and controlled by people from Akokoro County, Lango district. Also the master plan decided that nothing of importance must be done for other districts, especially Acholi district. Emphasis was put on developing Akokoro County in Lango District at the expense of other areas of Uganda;
4. We all want only unity in Uganda and we do not want bloodshed. Everybody in Uganda wants that. The matters mentioned above appear to us to lead to bloodshed only. For the reasons given above, we men of Uganda Armed Forces have this day, decided to take over power from Obote and hand it to our fellow soldier, Major-General Idi Amin Dada, and we hereby entrust him to lead this our beloved country of Uganda to peace and good will among all.
By the time Amin was overthrown in April 1979 conditions in Uganda were much worse than in January 1971 when the military overthrew the civilian government. Those who still believed that military leaders were preferable to civilian leaders argued that Amin and his soldiers were uneducated, made blunders unintentionally and goofed in the process. From mid 1980s, Africa witnessed the rise of better educated military leaders in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda christened the new breed of African leaders led by Museveni. We were told these were no nonsense leaders who wanted to institute democracy, good governance and liberalized and privatized national economies, with the state confined to providing law and order and preventing breach of contracts. The new breed of African leaders was showered with donor money, foreign experts and rosy reporting of performance in foreign media. Economic progress is still judged in terms of controlling inflation, boosting exports, building foreign reserves and privatization of the economy rather than employment, quality education and healthcare, housing, poverty and status of the environment, all of them getting worse.
Museveni came to power in 1986 and condemned African leaders for keeping silent while Ugandans were being murdered by Uganda dictators; why African leaders tolerated neo-colonialism that kept the continent a producer and exporter of raw materials; why Africans should walk barefoot, go to bed hungry and suffer from jiggers in a continent that has everything to make life better for all. He vowed he would never travel in executive jets to attend meetings in New York like his predecessors did or import furniture. At the start of his presidency he even refused to wear western suits preferring short-sleeved Kaunda attire and drank milk from a metal mug!
However, the record shows that Amin and Museveni both soldiers, one educated and the other illiterate, did worse than Obote, a civilian leader before them. Museveni is embarrassed that his economic record has failed to raise the general standard of living of Ugandans to the level attained in 1970 under Obote regime.
By and large performance of military leaders in Africa is judged to be worse than the civilian leaders that brought independence. Corruption, human rights violation and sectarianism have characterized soldiers as poor leaders. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya popular revolts changed military governments with civilians. We have to wait and see how they perform. In Ethiopia, the military leader who was described as dictator died recently of natural causes. In Rwanda and Uganda the military leaders appear not to have noticed what has happened to their counterparts in the north and think they will continue to do business as usual because they still enjoy external support. But Mubarak, Ben Ali and Qaddafi enjoyed as much external support if not more than Museveni and Kagame.
The tide has turned against military leaders whether they conduct elections or wear civilian suits. The bye-elections in Uganda have sent a message to NRM regime that business as usual has no place in Uganda politics. Recruiting a 19-year old young man to run on NRM ticket in Usuk could reveal it can’t hire experienced politicians. Now is time for civilian leaders. To succeed they need to be good leaders.
Aware of leadership deficits in Africa, a select group of prominent past and present leaders met in 2003 and decided to “confront the pathology of poor leadership”. They promulgated a Code of African Leadership with 23 commandments and issued a Mombasa Declaration promoting better leadership. A Council of African Leadership was also established. It believes that absolute standards of leadership are appropriate and attainable. They include:
1. Good leaders deliver security of the state and of the person, the rule of law, good education and health services, and a framework conducive to economic growth;
2. They ensure effective arteries of commerce and enshrine personal and human freedoms;
3. They empower civil society and protect the environmental commons;
4. They provide their citizens with a sense of belonging to a national enterprise.
Aware that Africa’s poor are getting poorer and good governance is essential for successful economic development, the African Leadership Council encourages leaders to:
1. Offer a coherent vision of individual growth and national advancement with justice and dignity for all;
2. Encourage broader participation and adhere to the letter and spirit of their national constitutions (especially term limits);
3. Encourage dissent and disagreement, respect human and civil liberties, strengthen the rule of law;
4. Promote policies that eradicate poverty and improve the well-being of their citizens;
5. Ensure a strong code of ethics;
6. Refuse to use their offices for personal gain, oppose corruption and bolster essential personal freedoms (Foreign Affairs July/August 2004).
In drawing up the National Recovery Plan (NRP) to replace the failed NRM policies, UDU was guided by the commandments summarized above. Uganda is now described as a failed state under military dictatorship. The internal conflicts have made NRM unfit to govern. Give civilian opposition a chance under strong institutions, not individuals, to make life better for all Ugandans. Military leaders are not equipped to deal with civilian matters that require listening, arguing and compromise on a win-win basis. Military leaders see opposition as an enemy to be destroyed. They invest more in security forces than development programs.
For the first time in Uganda history, the National Recovery Plan accessible at http://www.udugandans was drawn up by Ugandans following the Los Angeles conference of July 2011 that created UDU. NRM policies and programs have been drafted and managed by foreign experts with good intentions but lacking in understanding Uganda’s history, regional differences and culture.
A senior government official wrote “Faced with these acute problems and a limited domestic capacity to respond to them, in 1987 the government sought the assistance of the World Bank and IMF in designing and implementing an economic recovery program” (P. Langseth et al., Uganda Landmarks in Rebuilding a Nation 1995 page 2). To understand the extent of foreign experts involvement in designing and managing Uganda economy read chapter 8 of Sebastian Mallaby’s book The World’s Banker published in 2004. The recruitment of foreign experts and advisers to run Uganda economy became necessary because Museveni refused to employ experienced Ugandans in the diaspora (The Courier Sept/Oct. 1993) including those that drafted the well received UDU’s National Recovery Plan and those considered too close to UPC to be trusted.
Time has come to use Ugandans in designing and implementing development programs calling on foreign consultants to advise only in cases where Uganda may need short-term assistance but not to continue designing and implementing Uganda’s development policies, strategies and programs as NRM has done since 1987.