Africa’s disgrace:                             With arms of steel and feet of clay, Museveni is in office for sixth term

17 May

Editor’s Note:


Many Africans cringe with shame. Yoweri Museveni has become Uganda’s president for a sixth time, since he seized power in 1986. He has become richer in office, while Ugandans on the reverse have become poorer.

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of life of the day-to-day Ugandans, the Global Partnership for Education some months back wrote:

“The rate of absenteeism is high. The school doesn’t provide a school lunch for children and parents cannot afford to send them to school with food. Some teachers live too far from the school to commute every day, especially during the rainy season. Parents also cannot afford to buy basic learning materials like books, pens or uniforms.”

At a moment of frayed nerves, Museveni spilled it out how wealthy he has become:

“President Museveni told off donor countries that are in the habit of criticising his … The President said he does not take orders from foreigners …. each time; and yet Ugandans have a billionaire in dollars as President.”

The ‘newly-sworn-in president’ has just promoted his son to the rank of major-general.

At his ‘coronation’, the aging president told his nation the truth that his sixth term would be business as usual, and that by 2020 all Ugandans would become middle-income nation:

How does he go about it? One of the ways announced is, just as in the case of the TPLF in Ethiopia, through ‘industrial parks’:

Most of the public response is characterized by disgust and disbelief that he should say that to cheat the nation:

As if that were not enough, on the eve of his swearing in, the president tweeted how Uganda would be land of rule of law:

Why not? Charlatans in power in most of Africa!

In the case of Uganda’s master of deceit and crookedness, following the announcement of his electoral victory, he twitted his opponents, by implication the UGANDAN ELECTORATE, whose voices he has stolen the following message – undoubtedly inappropriate and unbecoming of a president:

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Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
by Daniel Kainaki, Africa Review
Delegates who drive into Kampala on Thursday May 12, 2016 to attend President Yoweri Museveni’s swearing-in ceremony will find the main road from Entebbe International Airport cleared of all regular traffic and manned by soldiers, some carrying machine guns.

This is, in part, to save foreign dignitaries from the nightmare of traffic jams in Uganda’s capital. Mostly, however, it is also to avoid a repeat of events exactly five years ago when crowds of enthusiastic supporters jammed the road to welcome home opposition leader Kizza Besigye from a Nairobi hospital where he had been admitted after being brutally arrested while protesting the outcome of the 2011 election.

The opposition leader’s crowds, which took up the whole day covering the 38-kilometre route into the city and fighting running battles with the police, was uncomfortable evidence of another centre of power in the country, particularly in urban areas.

Little has changed in five years.

Latest contest

Dr Besigye, who received 35.61 per cent to President Museveni’s 60.62 per cent in the latest contest, in February, rejected the official results from the Electoral Commission, claimed he had won the election with around 52 per cent, and has called for public protests to force an independent international audit of the election.

The government has rejected the calls, citing the lack of a legal basis for such an audit. It also points to a Supreme Court ruling that unanimously rejected a petition filed by former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who came third in the race with an underwhelming 1.78 per cent of the total vote.

The opposition FDC party has also not presented any evidence to back up Dr Besigye’s claim of 52 per cent, although election observers noted widespread irregularities, including in the counting and tallying of results, ballot stuffing, intimidation and the disenfranchisement of voters in opposition strongholds.

The sixth time

Swearing in for the sixth time since taking power in 1986 (fifth after a General Election), President Museveni should be at the zenith of his power. He remains firmly in charge of the military where his son, Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, heads the Special Forces Command, and his purge of Mr Mbabazi and his loyalists from the NRM left the ruling party firmly under his thumb.

The constitution gives the President power to appoint all manner of officials and the length of his tenure is such that loyalists occupy most, if not all key positions.

In Parliament, the NRM comfortably won a supermajority, giving it considerably more than the two-thirds necessary to amend the constitution (the opposition failed to field candidates in 91 out of 402 constituencies), and won three out of every four district races.

Police block former Forum for Democratic Change presidential candidate Kizza Besigye from proceeding to the party headquarters at Najjanankumbi, Kampala for the routine party prayers April 5, 2016. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

President Museveni recently ordered an investigation and the suspension of Energy ministry officials after cracks were discovered in two hydropower dams under construction at Isimba and Karuma on the River Nile. It was a powerful metaphor about cracks in the incumbent’s own power.

The President had earlier awarded tenders to build the dams to two rival Chinese construction firms after the fight between rival commission agents, including some close to his family, reached his desk. What might have appeared like a Solomonic decision then was not only in violation of public procurement rules as Uganda’s Auditor General recently noted, but also gave the projects a presidential imprimatur strong enough to shield them from bureaucratic supervision, but, as it now turns out, not strong enough to hold the concrete together.

President Museveni’s strong grip on the state is now undergoing a stress test. The court ruling might have confirmed President Museveni’s legal re-election, but not necessarily his legitimacy on the streets and among opposition supporters, especially in urban areas, who continue to refer to Dr Besigye as “the people’s president”.

Calling for dialogue

Frustrated and unwilling to bow down to pressure calling for dialogue or a Big Church government of national unity, the government’s response to opposition calls for protests has grown increasingly intolerant. Dr Besigye and other opposition leaders have been arrested or kept under house arrest, journalists threatened and arrested, including during live broadcasts.

“In some ways, this is nothing new,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement released ahead of the swearing-in. “Ugandan security forces have regularly relied on bullets, teargas, ‘preventive detention’ of opposition leaders, and endless fear mongering to silence government critics.”

The “defiance campaign” as the protests were called, took the form of prayers and the symbolic wearing of black clothes as a sign of mourning. They were small, but they refused to go away.

On April 29, the Deputy Chief Justice, Mr Steven Kavuma, issued an order banning FDC from “engaging in demonstrations, processions, other public meetings, or media campaigns, or pronouncements” for up to four months.

No justification

In a statement, Mr Francis Gimara, the president of the Uganda Law Society, said there was no justification for granting the order in a hearing at FDC was not permitted to be present. Other lawyers questioned whether the ruling did not infringe on constitutional rights to assembly, expression and political association.

On May 5 the Information minister announced a ban on media houses reporting live about opposition or any news related to the defiance campaign. Those that didn’t comply, General Jim Muhwezi warned, risked having their broadcast licences revoked.

Government officials say the strong measures are needed to prevent the unconstitutional capture of state power by Dr Besigye and his allies who had earlier planned to carry out a parallel swearing-in ceremony at the FDC offices on Thursday.

Containing a pesky opposition that just won’t go away is costing the government political capital it sorely needs. It is also one of at least four major challenges President Museveni faces in his new term.

Problems with the elections and human rights violations that followed appear to have pushed long-term allies, the US and the European Union, close to the end of their tether. The new US ambassador to Kampala, Ms Deborah Malac, has been particularly outspoken about governance, as have several European envoys.

Some diplomats have interpreted Uganda’s recent announcement that it is reviewing its deployment of troops to Somalia and the Central African Republic as a push back against EU and US criticism.

Ugandan military officials say it is a routine exercise.

Cutting deals

President Museveni has, in the last decade, spread his foreign policy eggs across many baskets, including cutting deals with the Chinese (various), French (oil pipeline), Russians (refinery) and even North Korea, which provides some security training. Managing these various interests will test his long-practised balancing act. The US is the biggest donor and a key military ally, however, while the EU is a key market and a major donor, too and mending fences will be a key priority.

Uganda has been a dependable ally in the Great Lakes region, putting boots on the ground where other countries were reluctant to do so. Uganda’s allies in the Pentagon have helped shield it from State Department criticism, but geopolitical analysts say recent developments in South Sudan, where Ugandan troops were pressured to leave, and Somalia, where intelligence on a US drone attack against Al-Shabaab militants was not shared with usual partners, shows this relationship might now require counselling.

The loss, real or perceived, of key foreign allies is likely to galvanise local political rivals and their challenge to the NRM government. While this might not be enough to unhinge the government, there are likely to be political confrontations and economic consequences.

The Ugandan economy appears to have missed the inflationary bullet that followed the 2011 elections and fuelled public protests and growth, while slowing to 5.3 per cent from a target of 6.5 per cent, is higher than the sub-Sahara African projection of 3 per cent according to the IMF.

Monetary policy

Yet worries remain. A large exchange rate depreciation triggered a sharp tightening of monetary policy, sending interest rates to the high 20s for prime borrowers and bringing pain to the private sector. Anecdotal evidence shows that the pain is already being felt. A few years ago, tracking permits to view mountain gorillas in south-western Uganda had a waiting list for several months. These days there are few takers, even after tourism officials slashed prices.

Privately, government officials worry about jobless growth in a country with one of the highest youth unemployment figures in the world.

“The thing that we need most are jobs for our young people,” a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Africa Review in Kampala recently.

“Without jobs, we are in trouble.”

The reforms required to unlock entrepreneurship are often stymied by political exigencies. At a recent public dialogue in Kampala organised by the country’s tax authority, some of the country’s brightest economic minds spelt out the changes that need to happen but aren’t.

Many privately speak of the “lack of political will”, others of the slow decision making in a political system where many decisions, from the award of major public infrastructure contracts to whether motorcycle taxis should be allowed to operate in the capital city, often require input from State House.

More power

Some privately worry that President Museveni might be suffering from “diminishing marginal return on power” whereby the more power he amasses, the less effective becomes.

For instance, keeping a tight leash on party finances during the last election did not stop many officials from stealing from under the President’s own nose, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Tax collections as a percentage of GDP hover at around 14 per cent, well below the sub-Saharan African average, thanks in large part to tax exemptions granted to big businesses that are political donors.

Cutting exemptions hurts friends; increasing taxes on the small taxable base hurts voters.

The electoral losses by as many as 19 ministers, the retirement of long-time Cabinet allies like Daudi Migereko and John Nasasira, and Mr Mbabazi’s departure, in particular, have left President Museveni looking lonely at the top of the political pile.

Another shot

How President Museveni responds to this will give some indication of whether this will be his last term in office as mandated by constitutional age limits, or whether he will use his parliamentary majority to have those discarded, as he did with term limits a decade ago, and prepare himself for another shot at 2021.

The best-case scenario is that President Museveni uses the political legroom to bring youth and talent into a Cabinet which, at the last count, had 53 out of 122 ministers aged 50 and above in a country with a median age of 15.7 – one of the youngest populations in the world.

The worst-case scenario is a repeat of the election campaigns, however, when the incumbent fell back on family networks and securocrats to manage the core of his re-election effort, which would see a return of most of the old guard and a perfunctory sprinkling of younger faces.

Oil deposits

The President ran on a slogan of “steady progress”, and there is a lot that’s improved in Uganda since he took power in 1986. Gone are the chronic shortages of commodities, hyperinflation and war.

There is a surplus of electricity, expatriates drink $227 bottles of champagne at high-end pubs in new malls in the capital, and oil deposits in the west of the country have sparked a rash of investments in roads, railways, power plants and the airport.

Yet corruption remains endemic and distributes the proceeds of growth unevenly to a small coterie in power.

The country has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world and public services, from schools to hospitals, are crumbling.

These challenges require the new government to hit the ground running but corruption, incompetence, sheer fatigue and a premium on regime continuity have left Mr Museveni with feet of clay.

The less able he is to kick his government into action, the more likely he is to use his strong arm to keep opponents in check, and the less likely the streets will remain empty.

Related:

Besigye charged with treason, remanded in remote Moroto

Museveni son promoted to rank of major-general
Related:

Western envoys in Uganda walk out of Museveni swearing-in

 

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