Molly Kamukama, the Principal Private Secretary to HE President of the republic of Uganda, has no kind words for the International Crisis Group, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.
The group in its latest report on Uganda said popular discontent is growing over President Museveni’s apparent desire to remain in power while governance, economic performance and security deteriorate.
It said Uganda is not in danger of renewed civil war or rebel violence, but it risks sliding into a political crisis that could eventually threaten the country’s hard-won stability.
It advised government to hold a national dialogue over presidential succession, enact reforms to the partisan police force, stop postponing local elections and initiate broad consultations on land reform. Donors should encourage these efforts, while avoiding projects that help perpetuate political patronage.
Accuses Museveni of patronage?
Uganda suffers from inefficient patronage politics and a downward spiral of declining governance, poor economic performance and local insecurity.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, in power since 1986, appears unwilling to step down; supporters and detractors alike expect him to rule until he dies or engineers a handover to a close ally or family member.
He will be 77 by the next election in 2021 and is poised to amend the constitution’s 75-year age limit, despite objections from the opposition, civil society and some in his own party. The president undoubtedly retains support, particularly in rural areas, not all of which is patronage-based.
He is credited with bringing stability after the 1980s civil wars and eventually defeating the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion, though his autocratic drift and systemic corruption risks wrecking this legacy. With political and institutional reform, there still is time to avoid such an outcome.
The decline in governance has ripple effects across the system. It stymies attempts to improve core services – particularly infrastructure and agriculture – that are strained by the demands of a rapidly growing population.
Urgent infrastructure projects and the long-anticipated start of oil production have suffered delays, further depressing international investment.
New government initiatives, nominally aimed at stimulating the economy, typically take the form of handouts, particularly to under-employed youth, designed to secure political support.
The likewise politically-motivated creation of new administrative districts has not improved local services, but instead increased the size of the public sector, straining an already overwhelmed public purse. New districts also contribute to communal tensions, particularly when delimitation reallocates control over natural resources and land.
The security sector, particularly the police, is emblematic of these problems. Police officers carry out functions that are nominally intended to preserve public order yet in reality function as the president’s first line of defence against rivals.
They spend much of their time disrupting opposition activities. Allegations of criminal activity within the police undermines its legitimacy; officers are reportedly involved in protection rackets, organised crime and turf wars.
Violent crime, including murder, is on the rise as police ability to carry out regular duties declines.
The rise of informal security groups, most notably the Crime Preventers (a non-uniformed youth militia that mobilised pro-government votes and intimidated its rivals during the 2016 election), has blurred lines, further eroded accountability, politicised policing and weakened the influence of better trained and disciplined career officers.
As crime has risen, particularly in urban areas, local governance has deteriorated.
The local council system remains the bedrock of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), but the government has not held village or parish council elections since 2002, due partly to their cost but also reportedly to fears of the outcome. Local administration has withered and become increasingly dysfunctional.
Disputes over land, administrative districts and the government’s recognition of “traditional” authorities – another form of patronage – likewise prompt communal and ethnic violence, problems Ugandans doubt the state can resolve.
Clashes are on the rise between the authorities and locals forcibly removed from newly demarcated wildlife reserves or who feel that ancestral lands are being grabbed by rapacious businessmen.
The forthcoming land reform bill – a constitutional amendment that would ease government purchase of private land for infrastructure projects – provokes fears of more land-grabbing.
The lack of opportunities for youth plus tensions surrounding the presidential age-limit amendment and controversial land reform bills are fuelling the rise of new political actors – notably the musician turned-populist MP Bobi Wine – and increasing the risk of popular demonstrations that could provoke a violent crackdown.
Molly Kamukama speaks
In a series of tweets, Kamukama accused the group of imperialistic tendencies saying contrary to what the group would have the world believe, the current political contestations in Uganda are no sign of crisis, but rather signify the vitality of democracy.
“I have read the rather false and alarmist report by the International Crisis Group on Uganda…about which we must reject imperialism,” charged Kamukama.
She said Uganda requires no lecture on Governance from anybody noting that the LC system which ICG correctly credits for empowering citizens to participate in their governance and for being the source if stability was pioneered by NRM.
“It’s still in place. Whether it be Article 102(b) or the Land Bill, Uganda’s laws are always the product of rigorous, popular democratic processes, as the current public consultations – including the President’s radio talk shows have shown.”
She said the current slowdown in economic growth is a function of heavy borrowing to finance infrastructure development, which is critical to the long-term transformation of the economy, NOT the product of “dysfunctional management” as ICG would have the world believe.
“Even then, Uganda remains amongst the 10 fastest growing economies in Africa. The Question of Political transition is for Ugandans and not for arrogant imperialistic actors like ICG to resolve.”
She said when the right time comes, Ugandans will resolve it according to the constitution. There is no need for alarm.
“Finally, let the world be assured that Uganda is secure, stable and open for investment like it has been through the reign of the NRM government. ICG, whose speciality is crisis and conflict has no business here. It may be more relevant elsewhere.”
Museveni for Life?
President Museveni has led Uganda since 1986 and seems determined to remain in power.
Over time, his rule slowly has shifted from broad-based and constitutional to patronage-based and personal, with his family at the centre.
The president controls key institutions, including the army and police, that guarantee his political survival.
His ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party dominates all levels of the state.
Established opposition forces, whose populist messaging often appears to resonate during election campaigns, lack the organisation, money and political space to win at the ballot box.
Despite some dissent around the 2016 election, Museveni also has neutered internal NRM opposition and remains entrenched as party head.
The longer-term significance of emerging political leaders and new forms of protest remains uncertain as does the potential mobilisation of discontented youth.
However, taken together these factors arguably now pose the biggest current challenge to President Museveni.
Uganda is in urgent need of political and administrative reform to prevent a slide toward an increasingly dysfunctional, corrupt and insecure system. In order to mitigate longer-term dangers of civil strife, donors should be more sensitive to the political impact of their assistance by avoiding projects that contribute to ruling party patronage.
For its part, President Museveni’s government should: hold a credible National Dialogue, take steps to professionalise the police and improve its leadership, improve local governance and consult widely on land reform.