13 June 2017

Uganda: Stability - Let the Donors, Not the Opposition Speak to Government

Photo: New Vision
President Yoweri Museveni has criticised donors over aids cut.

This view has become a cliché. That Uganda's political and social stability is uncertain 'if the ruling NRM does not dialogue with the Opposition.' When this comes out from the mouth of an ambassador from one of the so-called 'development partners' - the ones from Europe and the USA or from the head of a donor agency, it causes excitement.

Why? Because of a certain 'complex' that makes us believe that when a white man says something, it is au courant or a fact cast in stone. For don't they know it all and aren't they seemingly above reproach? How else would they be in those lofty positions from where they dole aid out of their magnanimity and wisdom borne of their tested, unrivaled cerebral abilities?

Well, the stability of Uganda beyond the NRM and President Museveni is definitely something that will cause anyone a huge amount of nail biting. The greatest trouble is that nearly all serious institutions of State have either collapsed or are limping and are hardly functioning independently. Nearly everything depends on the President.

He has become the State. His decisions and whims at times carry more weight than Parliament's resolutions. He has made pronouncements on legal matters, which seemingly override the judicial process. His hand is everywhere in the economy and most functions of the State.

He directs 'his' army and the police as he sees fit. So in case of the departure of such a 'towering' figure in the current politics of the country, it is only logical to expect a vacuum. A free for all may ensue and that is how anarchy is born. It happened in Libya after 42 years of stability and prosperity under Muammar Gaddafi.

So to that extent, this view is correct. The trouble is with the panacea prescribed - 'talk to the Opposition for consensus on contested issues.'

The trouble is that you hardly have a representative Opposition in Uganda today. It is scattered and full of powerful individuals, some of whom are mere self-seekers, who like Nicodemus in the Bible, oppose during the day and concur in the night. The worries of Uganda are mainly that the State is so weak; it can hardly provide for its people and make them respond as citizens should in an organised country.

Uganda currently has a young population with more than 60 per cent being below the age of 18. As many as 80 per cent of these are either unemployed, underemployed or in disguised unemployment. We have serious challenges with the delivery of social services - with accessing quality education and healthcare being a nightmare. There is a problem of security of tenure on land and evictions by powerful people are rampant. Agriculture has not moved much from the peasant type, which depends on the mercy of God and nature. Crop failure is rampant.

The failings apply to accessing justice, where the shortcomings of the police and the Judiciary have been well articulated. All these and more are things Ugandans live with daily. They are so unbridled that you do not need to throw it to the government to sit with the Opposition. They stare in your face.

What the donors need to do instead, is to use their powerful position as the ones who pay the piper and call the tune - if at all they have a genuine interest in stability beyond protecting their financial interest.

The problem of instability in future will mainly stem from the lack of economic and social security that will arise out of austerity. This situation is a result mainly of lack of financial prudence and good will by the leadership.

This is especially with regard to money Uganda receives from donors, who continue donating funds with interest even when it is clear that the money does not serve its proper purposes.

Now the government will in the Financial year 2017/2018, spend Shs2 trillion on servicing the national debt in loans and interest. Going by the current rate, in 20 years time, countries like Uganda, with young populations of unemployed energetic youth, will be literary working to pay interest on loans that have not changed their lives. Social services, already poor or non-existent, will suffer tremendously.

The leaders will be angrily tasked for solutions for the growing armies of the urban poor youth. Because they will be scarcity of funds to solve social and economic challenges, leaders will have to resort to being heavy-handed in the absence of solutions. That is a recipe for disaster.

The solution to this is donors having a re-think in regard to the way they lend and prudently use the influence they wield. If their paramount care is stability, to secure their loans and interest accruing, they are in for a surprise. It will not work. They must ensure that those loans benefit and empower the people to lead better lives.

Unfortunately, most African governments work against the people being totally empowered and independent. They are comfortable with a subservient population that is easy to manipulate and that is why the money never reaches them. The donors should know this, but they continue to donate.

Nicholas Sengoba is a commentator on political.


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