Uganda: State of the Nation - Museveni to Deliver 2019 Speech

President Museveni waves to delegates as he arrives to deliver the State of the Nation Address at Kampala Serena Hotel.

Kampala — When President Museveni today delivers the State of the Nation Address (SONA), one explosive issue in his in-tray will dwarf the rest: the Rwanda border blockade and trade embargo.

Article 101(1) of the Constitution obliges the President to deliver to the Parliament "an address on the state of the nation".

This is the executive's preview of significant social, political and economic developments in a new financial year and an accountability of its performance in the ending financial year.

"This is not a mere constitutional ritual as some people may want to perceive it, but accountability on particular government commitments since the last State of the Nation Address," Mr Museveni said in 2014.

And the last time he delivered SONA last June, Uganda's most pressing problem was the brutal gunning down of notable national leaders.

There was panic as to the mastermind and motive, which the President, in the case of Arua Municipality Member of Parliament Ibrahim Abiriga, said was "political".

Many of the raft of security measures Mr Museveni proposed, except for installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, have remained in the wings.

Since the President's last SONA, a previously under-reported tension with Rwanda bubbled to the surface; it closed its busiest customs point with Uganda at Gatuna and slapped travel embargo on its citizens, claiming the Ugandan authorities were prowling to arrest and torture them.

Uganda denies claims that it's plotting to destabilise Kigali, saying there is no reason to, and Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa stated that the country's borders remain open to all foreigners as long as they are "law-abiding".

This frosty relation has sparked worries beyond the borders of the two countries and region.

The World Bank, in its 13th Uganda Economic Outlook report released last week, noted: "Tensions with Rwanda and volatility in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and other export markets present risks to external stability and export performance."

We flag 10 of the key issues of national importance expected to grip President Museveni's attention during this afternoon's SONA, which also marks the beginning of a new session of the House, this time, the fourth session of the 10th Parliament.

Below is a quick hint on critical areas to the President's address:

1 - Uganda-Rwanda border row

On February 28, Rwanda abruptly closed its Gatuna border, claiming ongoing works for upgrade of the one-stop border post.

That story changed almost immediately when the country banned its citizens from travelling to Uganda where, Kigali claimed, they faced imminent danger. Rwandan Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera would later accuse Uganda of fomenting trouble for President Kagame's government by bankrolling subversive activities.

Uganda condemned the border closure, which President Museveni described as a "hiccup".

Since the open eruption of the bilateral and diplomatic feud, Rwanda has fumed most, with Uganda largely keeping more reticent.

The economic cost of the row to Ugandan exporters and increasing demand for official explanation on the reason for the dispute means the President, in response to public sentiments, could delve into the matter and help calm nervous Ugandans.

On May 24, Uganda said Rwandan soldiers crossed into Uganda in pursuit of a Rwandan smuggler, shooting him and a Ugandan citizen dead.

2 - Standard Gauge Railway

President Museveni had year-on-year flagged the modern railway, agreed by East African presidents as critical part of the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Project, in his State of the Nation Address.

It would link Kenya's coastal Mombasa city via Uganda and connect to both Rwanda and South Sudan. Whereas Kenya built and has in operation the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR, Uganda, which requires $2.3b (Shs8.6 trillion), has not put in place a single rail sleeper.

Then a February news that China was unwilling to finance the Naivasha-Malaba section of the SGR has meant plans to dramatically reduce costs of hauling imports and exports remain wet in the wing.

The President's word on this economic lifeline project, which would provide faster access to regional markets, is awaited.

3- Agriculture

Uganda's gamble to modernise and mechanise agriculture through various projects, the latest being Operation Wealth Creation and National Agricultural Advisory Services, is yet to yield expected dividends for farmers.

Irrigation remains low and farm productivity is dependent on nature-fed rains. Storage and market access glitches during plentiful harvest plunge prices of crops yet vast parts of the country, devoid of state-run silos, suffer chronic food shortage.

President Museveni, has for five consecutive years, vowed to prioritise irrigation, but has ended up popularising drip irrigation using perforated mineral water bottles.

It is only in milk and beef processing, most of the business in private hands, that investment and standard improvement are marked.

Agriculture is the largest employer in Uganda and critical to achieving Vision 2040, but the budget allocation does not match the importance.

4 - Preparedness for next election

By the time President Museveni delivers his 2020 State of the Nation Address, campaigns for various offices will be full-throttle. The Electoral Commission's roadmap to enable it achieve free and fair vote in early 2021 itemises requisite legal reforms and structured financing of its activities.

Most of the planned activities are behind schedule, and cash available below budget. The government is yet to table a Bill to make changes as required for a credible poll.

As a self-professed democrat, Ugandans will eagerly await the President's word on the country's preparedness for the next elections.

5 - Media and political freedoms

The media has come increasing under attack by State actors, the latest stick wielder being the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the statutory regulator of the communications sector. It on the eve of World Press Freedom Day ordered more than a dozen broadcast media outlets to suspend more than 30 critical media executives. The clampdown generated negative publicly for Uganda, ahead of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference due in Kampala in September.

President Museveni has always pointed to the phenomenal growth in local media as proof of his commitment to freedom of expression. Yet the renewed assault reverses these gains.

Following a lull since the March 2018 sacking of former Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, the police have resumed crackdown on Opposition political activities, including physically plucking them from studios during live talk shows.

With elections drawing closer, Ugandans will look to the President as Commander-in-Chief for assurances that his government will not seek to tether its opponents to gain space for an unencumbered sprint to victory.

6 - Unemployment and rising crime

The police crime report for the year ended 2018 recorded a decline in crime by 5.2 per cent from the previous year.

Capital offences, including violent crime, however peaked.

From assassinations of political and security leaders to broad daylight robbery in Wakiso, outside Kampala, the teething problem of crime remained a sore.

An eroded human security has prompted citizens' faith in government to plunge. Police attribute the crime wave to massive unemployment, especially among the youth. Also jobs are scarce for graduates, consigning millions of Ugandans to a miserable wealth in the sea of wealth owned by a handful.

Analysts worry that the population explosion and diminishing opportunities amid widening inequality places Uganda on a highway of self-destruction.

The government's accelerated programme of vocational training for the youth is one pathway for them to develop skills for self-sustenance.

7 - Raft of security measures

Shortly after last year's SONA, and amid rising gun violence, President Museveni outlined a raft of security measures he deemed critical to restore sanity.

Many have gone nowhere. There are no sniper guards for lawmakers, ban on hooded attire fell through the cracks, the army is yet to make helmets and car/motorcycle registration with chips for auto-tracking drivers/riders.

However, police have networked the city and Wakiso District with 1,940 CCTV cameras out of the expected 3,233 as of end of April. Guns in security hands have been finger-printed and some 6,000 Local Defence Unit personnel, a fraction of the planned 24,000, have been trained and deployed to supplement UPDF soldiers and police.

The nation awaits a detailed presidential account on the mismatch.

8 - Debt portfolio

Uganda's total debt portfolio stands at Shs42.3 trillion as at December 2018, triggering alarm bells from the Bretton Woods institutions.

More than half of the external debt is owed to China, which is a key financer of Uganda's big ticket road and energy infrastructure.

Just within two years, official statistics shows that the debt: Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio has increased by 10 percentage points to 41.8 per cent.

Worse, Shs15 of the money borrowed remained unutilised as of December 2018.

The government insists that the borrowing, which is below the 50 per cent of GDP threshold, is sustainable.

9 - Land conflicts and reforms

The protracted and unresolved Apaa land conflict, pitting the Ma'di and Acholi communities in northern Uganda, underlines how intractable and volatile the land question is in the country.

The Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters, which is about to wind up its business, is inundated by complaints of land grab. From Kayunga in the east to oil-rich Bunyoro in mid-western Uganda, a trail of blood and hate and clashes over land are innumerable.

With land as only inheritance for the downtrodden, the fight to hold onto any parcel by any means, however tiny, triggers mayhem.

Present laws have been inadequate in resolving land disputes, and the President's new thinking on the problem is likely to calm nerves.

10 - Road and energy infrastructure

This is probably the area of the biggest wins for the President to report about in today's SONA. He in the last quarter of 2018 commissioned the iconic cable-stayed Source of the Nile Bridge, crucial for export-import trade.

He returned to Kayunga months later to inaugurate the 183-megawatt Isimba dam. Works on the 600-megawatts Karuma dam are expected to be completed by end of this year.

And the Entebbe Expressway is almost complete, cutting travel time to the peninsula and Uganda's only international airport.

Entebbe International Airport is being expanded and modernised. The government has acquired two Bombardier planes to revive Uganda Airlines billed crucial for boosting tourism, international trade and reinforcing national pride.

The robust energy infrastructure is undercut by low affordability, meaning the few connected national grid customers still pay higher prices, making manufactured goods relatively expensive.

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