Ugandan human rights activist Vincent Nuwagaba responds to an e-mail letter he received fron the Presidential Standards Task Force, apparently signed by President Museveni. Nuwagaba received the letter after submitting comments on issues from corruption to unemployment to the Ugandan government's web-based service for engaging with citizens.
On Monday 29 June 2009 at 12:10, I received an email purportedly from President Yoweri Museveni responding to the comments I had made on the Presidential Standards Task Force website. The author of the email said I clearly have personal vendetta against him as opposed to working for the good cause of all Ugandans. The president (or any other person who wrote the mail on behalf of the president) outlined 12 points and said points number 10 and 11, which talked about turning Uganda into a monarchy and hounding me out of my country were not worth addressing. I will address the president's concerns in turn.
1. DISSOCIATION FROM CORRUPT MINISTERS:
I wrote that the president cannot use ministers as an alibi in his bid to fight corruption when he is the one who has kept them around himself. It is documented in black and white that ministers that were censured by the 6th Parliament over accusations of corruption were recycled and appointed to senior cabinet positions in the aftermath of 2001 elections. The sole reason for their reappointment was because they vigorously and rigorously campaigned for President Museveni when he faced his former physician Dr Kizza Besigye. Actually, when the eyebrows were raised over the reappointment of these people, the president was not shy to tell everyone that they were censured out of sheer malice!
Furthermore, we have permanent ministers in some ministries. The minister in charge of works has been in power ever since I gained knowledge to date. This is despite the appalling road carnage as a result of the very poor state of our roads, with gullies and potholes virtually everywhere. It is rumoured that a road which ordinarily should have six layers ends up with three layers, with the money that would provide for the other three consumed by corrupt officials. It is clear that people who win government tenders and contracts do so either through bribery or patronage as opposed to meritocracy. As of now Makerere University Livingstone Drive is impassable. The president concedes that he has campaigned for some of them. Is it not clear that he who pays the piper calls the tune?
2. THE PRESIDENT DOESN'T CARE IF MINISTERS SNOOZE IN PARLIAMENT AND WAKE UP TO VOTE NATIONAL RESISTANCE MOVEMENT (NRM):
The president himself said it on radio in the run up to the 2001 parliamentary elections that the people of Kinkizi should vote Mr Amama Mbabazi as opposed to Garuga Musinguzi although the former slumbers in parliament because if he woke up he would vote the NRM position. Some of us believe the Movement position is Museveni's position. The president is an embodiment of the NRM party. Surprisingly, by then even Dr Kizza Besigye was still a movementist and he came under the banner of reform agenda which aimed at reforming the Movement.
3. THAT I (VINCENT NUWAGABA) AM MISINFORMED ABOUT THE NUMBER OF GRADUATES THIS COUNTRY HAS:
Makerere University, the biggest university whose enrolment is even bigger than all other Universities combined, has had only 59 graduations. The total number of Makerere's products ranges between 100,000 to 150,000, out of which number some merely get certificates and diplomas. Remember also that before it was undermined by government through denial of research funds and poor pay to the academic staff, Makerere used to be the Harvard of Africa and would attract very many foreign students. These cannot be counted as Ugandan graduates.
Truthfully, Uganda has less than one per cent of university graduates and I can stake my money on this if anyone proved me wrong. But I raised this matter in regard to graduate unemployment, to which the government has paid little attention. Today, we have many graduates running out of the country to do odd jobs (which in Ugandan parlance is termed as 'kyeyo') in America, Japan and the UK among other areas. My concern as a patriot and Pan-Africanist has been: Why can't the government provide or create jobs for the meagre number of graduates that we have? What sort of vision does the president have when peasants' children have remained jobless even after their parents have sold their land to have their children study? Parents sell their property to ensure their children access education which is believed to be a liberating tool. These children sadly never get jobs, as jobs are a preserve of those that are connected to the powers that be, either through blood, marriage, cronyism or patronage.
In fact, people hired as coursework mercenaries and those who run printing bureaus which forge academic transcripts are mostly university graduates with honours degrees but have failed to get jobs. Sadly, those who forge academic transcripts use them to get jobs. The government has proven incompetent to handle this small problem. Even when I suggested in my Sunday Monitor (16 March 2008) article 'Graft begets graft' that government could hire me as a consultant to fight that sort of corruption, all government officials kept a deaf ear. People in Uganda faced with unemployment problems are not those who haven't gone to school but the educated. The illiterate and semi-illiterate are happily employed as wheelbarrow pushers, boda boda (motor bike) cyclists, shoe shiners, chapatti bakers, etc.
4. THE PRESIDENT'S VISION:
Vision means a mental image or a dream. In leadership it denotes what one intends or envisages to achieve in a given period of time. I am fully convinced that at the moment, it is imprudent for the president to tell us about his vision when he has been given more than two uninterrupted decades to put his vision into reality. Any other person can talk about vision but not our dear president. It is also apparent that the president has deliberately refused or inadvertently failed to share his vision with other Ugandans. Not even his fellow NRM members! At this point in time we don't want a personal but a shared vision. As to whether some visions are never realised by their beholders or realised with difficulty, some of us feel it is reason enough why he should offload excess baggage from himself lest he dies under a heavy load that he is carrying. I want to restate that the president's vision was applicable before 1986, in 1986 or shortly thereafter. At the moment the vision talk is but hot air.
5. THAT THE PRESIDENT SHOULD BE VOTED ON THE BASIS OF WHAT HE HAS DONE AND NOT WHAT HE PROMISES:
In 1996 the president promised a community polytechnic for each sub county in his manifesto. To date I am yet to see one in my sub county Bitereko and neighbouring sub counties in Ruhinda. He promised in 2001 that universal secondary education (USE) was to begin in 2003 to cater for universal primary education (UPE) products who would have finished Primary Seven then. Universal secondary education was to be used as a campaign tool in 2006. Yet both USE and UPE have raised many people's eyebrows over their quality and the reason is because they were not properly thought out but introduced for expediency (as vote winning gimmicks). I am not bothered whether the opposition only does the talking. The Uganda that the opposition is concerned about is the same Uganda the NRM is concerned about and the same Uganda that I as a human rights defender am concerned about. All I can say is that something is wrong and that is why we hear secession talks. The weakness of the opposition is no justification for the failure of the ruling party. As a human rights defender I have both a moral and legal obligation to demand accountability from the government that uses our taxes.
6. THAT MUHOOZI KEINERUGABA IS A PATRIOT:
The newspapers quoted the president as having said so. I fail to believe that Afande Muhoozi is not in a position of luxury. Is he not a commander of special forces having risen through the ranks at a supersonic speed? Don't we hear of classified budgets and expenditures in regard to the military? In the mail I was told that if I showed interest in joining the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) my application will be considered with the highest priority. Is it only in UPDF where my knowledge can ably be exploited? Why can't the president talk about appointing me as one of the directors in National Planning Authority, Uganda Revenue Authority or any other parastatals?
7. MY HARASSMENT:
It is good that Mr President you know that some of your supporters take the law in their hands. I have written to you twice over my ordeal and told you the reason as to why I appealed to you is because all other institutions failed to handle my case. I have never got a report, although I am sure that your office has gathered enough data about me through Mr Tito Ntsigaireho the NRM chairperson of my sub county. Moreover, my tormentors invoked your name which is well documented in the report that Dr Tom Onen wrote about me. I am still traumatised by the psychological torture they inflicted on me. They also stole my property and money. Although you advised me to compile evidence and present it to the police I believe we just have a semblance of the police. The Uganda Police Force has been militarised as some of the officers have left military cadet courses and are deployed into the police. I am sure you will not ask me how I know this for our police and military officers are from the same society with us. Some of them are our neighbours, others are our friends, and others are former schoolmates and classmates. So I and all other Ugandans know the extent to which the security organs have been militarised. In fact, I reported this case to the Professional Standards Unit but you can ask them how they handled it.
8. THAT YOU SHOULD ACCEPT DEFEAT:
Mr President, the press has quoted you to have said before that you cannot hand over power to people you fought and defeated. You have also said that if in 1996 Dr Paul Ssemmogerere had won, you would not accept. You have said in the past that you cannot be chased anyhow, as if you are a chicken thief. In the aftermath of the court ruling that declared the movement and 2000 referendum void abnition, you hit the tables saying the judges in that case were only fit to handle Matoke and chicken thieves. You have in the recent past told MPs not to give you an ultimatum because civilians cannot give an ultimatum to a general, adding that it is a general who gives an ultimatum to a general. All this creates fear in our hearts and portends a picture that it may not be easy for you to accept defeat.
9. THAT YOU SHOULD FIRE ALL THOSE APPOINTED ON PATRONAGE BASIS:
Your Excellency, although you say you have the prerogative to choose people to work with you, your choice often borders on sectarianism. In fact, the people appointed on patronage basis are largely responsible for the high levels of corruption. Remember, Alice Kabayo is one such person that was appointed on patronage basis. Everyone in the world that cares to know knows the mess she caused when she was on your youth desk.
10. THAT YOU HAVE TURNED UGANDA INTO A MONARCHY:
I will not address this point since you never addressed it. If put to task to explain though, I will elaborately explain.
11. THAT YOU ARE HOUNDING ME OUT OF MY COUNTRY:
I wish to explain briefly: I was detained and tortured and your name was invoked. I made you know this, Your Excellency, through the letters I wrote to you. I know, your Excellency, that these nonentities misused your name, but I thought you should have called to book the people I complained about. To date, they walk with their heads up - yet they almost killed me. I do believe Mr President you don't condone impunity and as such, it is not too late. You can see my article in the Red Pepper of Saturday 4 July 2009 and get just a tip of the iceberg of the ordeal I went through.
12. PRESIDENT KAGAME VIS-Ãƒ--VIS PRESIDENT MUSEVENI:
I firmly believe that President Kagame is a transformational leader. There are no potholes in Rwanda. It is a policy for primary school children now to own a laptop computer. In short, Rwanda is a social democratic state; a state that cherishes social justice and social welfare for all regardless of one's social, political or economic background. I am sure that if opportunities were allocated on meritocracy basis, some of us would never ever raise a finger to criticise your leadership. Mr President, please revisit your blueprint - the ten point programme, your 1986 inaugural speech and your own book What is Africa's Problem?
You said, if I am a human rights activist, I should advocate for better health services, better roads and better benefits for children and women of the UPDF etc. I commend the task you are giving me but please give me facilitation to enable me perform that task.
As to whether I should choose between being a human rights defender and a politician, Mr President, what human rights defenders do is entirely political in nature, only that they play politics in a non partisan manner. Politics is about resource allocation and if I feel I am marginalised, I will not keep quiet because I am a human rights activist. Human rights activists want drugs in hospitals, want good roads, want jobs for all people among others, which politicians promise while campaigning and are duty-bound to provide upon their election. Right now, my dear mother is likely to die of fibroids because I have no money to treat her and there are no drugs in the hospitals. Should I keep quiet? The United Nations fact sheet number 29 is clear about who can be a human rights defender. Politicians can as well be human rights defenders - and indeed some politicians are - although some choose to become notorious human rights abusers. I am a citizen, not a subject. As a citizen I clearly have rights and I have a role to play in my Uganda. For God and my country!
* Vincent Nuwagaba is a Ugandan human rights defender.