To undertake a proper assessment of Museveni’s record one has to fully understand his overall goal. Museveni wants to be remembered as a great and bold leader at the regional, continental, commonwealth and global levels. He made this clear in early interviews after he became president. In one of them he said he would quit Uganda politics for pan-Africanism as soon as peace returned to Uganda. Thus, he has used Uganda and Ugandans as a spring board in pursuit of that larger goal. In short, leading Uganda and promoting Uganda interests were not his main reason for waging the devastating guerrilla war. Neither was it in sympathy with Baganda nor Catholics that felt had suffered under Obote leadership. Rather Museveni wanted a starting point – using Baganda and Catholic frustrations – which he failed to get in 1980 elections. The ten-point program and broad-based government at the start of his presidency were designed to consolidate his support among all Ugandans because he captured power in 1986 with a very narrow base.
Once the spring board was secured, Museveni’s mind turned to the external forces. He knew that his ambitions would be realized only if he associated himself with world leaders especially in UK and USA and international organizations such as Bretton Woods Institutions (the World Bank and IMF). He knew that structural adjustment based on capitalist ideology was the order of the day and would conflict with the ten-point program based on socialist ideology. Museveni also knew that structural adjustment or Washington Consensus had two strategies: the gradual and sequenced approach with less pain, and the quick version (shock therapy) with severe pain favored by leaders in the USA, UK and BWIs. He knew that the shock therapy version had failed in Ghana with severe social and environmental outcomes and had been rejected by Rawlings. But Museveni opted for it nonetheless because that is what Linda Chalker a trusted minister in Thatcher’s government wanted in developing countries (her statements clearly show that orientation). Thatcher was totally opposed to any program that had elements of socialism and state intervention in national economies. That is why after a year and half of pondering, Museveni abandoned the ten-point program, dismissed the minister of finance and governor of central bank that are reported to have favored a gradual approach. So Museveni had two alternatives and made a conscious choice!
At the political level Museveni positioned himself to serve as dean of a new breed of African leaders in the Horn of Africa and Great Lakes regions. At the continental level he wanted to be the undisputed leader through the AU and global leader through the United Nations including Security Council. These efforts for Museveni’s personal recognition drained Uganda’s financial and human resources. Let us begin with the economic part of his policies since 1987 by comparing successes and failures and drawing net conclusions.
Since 1987, Museveni has stressed that to tolerate high inflation is indiscipline. He worked hard and brought inflation down from triple to single digits. That is the positive part. The purpose of low and stable inflation was to create an enabling environment for foreign and domestic investment that would serve as the engine of economic growth and job creation. To control inflation, Museveni had to reduce the quantity of money in circulation by raising interest rates. So what has happened? Foreign direct investment has remained dismal – far below expectation. Foreign direct investment in Uganda as percentage of GDP has increased from 2.9 in 2000 to 5.0 in 2008 (UN Report A/65/80-E/2010/77). The overall unsettling atmosphere has driven some businesses out of the country and discouraged others from entering.
High interest rates and expensive imported intermediate goods (currency devaluation has made imports very expensive) have discouraged small and medium enterprises that create jobs particularly for young workers from borrowing and starting new businesses or expanding existing ones. In fact many of them have retrenched workers and are operating far below installed capacity. Thus, on balance, controlling inflation to such a low level of 5 percent per annum has had a detrimental effect on investment and job creation through high interest rates. Studies have confirmed that there is little evidence to indicate that moderate rates of inflation say above ten percent damage growth in developing countries (W. K. Tabb 2002).
Museveni focused on economic growth hoping that the benefits would be distributed by a trickle down mechanism driven by invisible hand of market forces. Museveni has not succeeded in both areas. He had targeted a growth rate of 7 percent per annum. So far the rate has averaged at 6 percent according to official figures which are disputed. Some think the average rate is much lower than 6 percent, say three or four percent. The benefits of economic growth have disproportionately gone to the richest 20 percent who own over 50 percent of GDP. Some 20 percent in the lowest income bracket have actually got poorer and Uganda has not reached the overall welfare level attained in 1970 when Obote was in power.
Like in colonial days, Uganda’s economic growth has been of the ‘enclave’ type focusing on Kampala and the corridor between Kampala and Entebbe that contributes 70 percent of GDP bypassing over thirty million Ugandans that live outside this area. Overall, inflation control and concentration of economic growth activities in a few areas based on a service sector that is largely capital intensive have had a net negative impact on the majority of Ugandans.
Beginning in the 1990s, Museveni focused on exports particularly non-traditional exports (NTEs) as the engine of Uganda’s economic growth. While NTEs have increased export earnings, they have focused on foodstuffs traditionally consumed by low income households. Beans, fish and maize/corn have constituted a large portion of NTEs. They have reduced supply of these foodstuffs in the domestic market and increased prices beyond the means of the majority of Uganda consumers. The result is that some ten million Ugandans go to bed hungry every night and those who have a meal of some sort it is largely cassava or maize which have contributed to severe under-nutrition especially among women and children and neurological abnormalities including insanity.
On the other hand, the rich who smoke, drink and eat too much of the wrong food (meat, eggs, white rice, etc) are developing a different type of malnutrition (malnutrition is bad eating – too much or too little of the wrong food) connected with diseases of affluence (diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular) which are increasing in Uganda.
Export earnings mostly from peasant and poor workers’ efforts have been used to meet the needs of the rich. Poor peasants continue to labor with a hand hoe and wear second hand clothes. Growing export crops has resulted in extensive environmental damage. For example, the vegetation around Kampala and between it and Entebbe has been cleared to grow cut flowers. Overall, export-oriented growth has benefited the few rich families and harmed the majority of Ugandans and the environment in 25 years of Museveni presidency.
Thatcher’s model which Museveni adopted excluded state intervention in the economy. Accordingly, all parastatals (public enterprises) whether making profit or not were privatized or eliminated. These actions resulted in retrenchment of many workers and abandonment of vital services as those provided by cooperatives. The latter, notwithstanding some difficulties, served peasants pretty well especially those in remote rural areas. The revenue from sale of public enterprises was to be used to build infrastructure and institutions. This has not happened and Ugandans do not know how the revenue was utilized. Overall, privatization has had adverse impact on the majority of Ugandans through retrenchment and failure to create sufficient jobs. Consequently over 80 percent of Uganda youth are unemployed.
On liberalization of Uganda’s economy, Museveni went too far. Uganda’s markets have been widely open to all sorts of imports with detrimental consequences. Uganda’s industries have been knocked out of business (Uganda is among countries with the highest rate of business failure) while others are operating far below installed capacity. WTO rules allow countries to impose restrictions on imports when there is unfair competition. Second hand clothes constitute such unfair competition. Museveni has not utilized this provision. Uganda is therefore unable to industrialize, create jobs and add value. Consequently, under Museveni, Uganda has continued comparative advantage that has condemned the country to produce raw materials that do not earn enough foreign currency to meet Uganda’s development needs. Uganda has thus continued to depend on donations with stiff conditionality including overall supervision of Uganda’s economy by World Bank and IMF staff.
Balanced budget has harmed productive and social sectors. Retrenchment of public servants has created a class of ‘new poor’ of former civil servants. Removal of subsidies and reduced budget for agriculture have undermined productivity and reduced its contribution to GDP. Education and health care have been starved of funds and are on the verge of collapse. Lack of adequate funds for education has forced the government to deny school lunches which promote attendance and performance especially of girls. Lunches are provided in schools in developed and developing countries because they work. While Museveni should be congratulated for finally agreeing to provide lunch to Karamoja children, hunger affects all children from poor families. Therefore school lunches should be extended to all primary schools. School lunch is a human right. It is not a privilege to be dispensed by a head of state.
The overall sad assessment of Museveni’s economic performance was captured in the following quotation by Gerry Helleiner. “One senior (and informed) World Bank official has remarked to me privately that, despite all the favorable press on Uganda, Tanzania is actually about four years or more ahead of it [Uganda] in terms of truly nationally-owned (and thus sustainable) economic policy for overall development. Tanzania may seem to move more slowly he noted, and I agree, but it does so on a firmer and more stable base” (D. A. McDonald and E. Njeri Sahle 2002). Tanzania has fared better than Uganda because it opted for a more gradual and sequenced approach over the shock therapy one which Uganda adopted. This and other assessments forced Museveni to drop structural adjustment in 2009 as a failed experiment which caused too much suffering like it did in Ghana before it was dropped after official complaints became public in 1986, a year and half before Museveni adopted the same failed version of the Washington Consensus. Abandonment of structural adjustment has been followed by loss of Museveni’s two titles of ‘star performer’ and ‘darling of the west’ especially when they learned that he was actively pursuing a Tutsi Empire in Eastern and Central Africa. Overall, in the economic field the gains have been outweighed by the losses.
At the political level, his status as regional leader in the great lakes region has been outweighed by negative developments including his alleged involvement in Burundi coup of 1993. Linda de Hoyos writes “Museveni also had a hand in the Oct. 23, 1993 coup against Burundi President Melchior Ndadaye, whose election had ended 31 years of Tutsi military rule in Burundi. According to some sources, Museveni planned the coup in a meeting in Entebbe which included the RPF’s Paul Kagame. Two coup ringleaders, Major Bucokoza and Lt. Paul Kamana, were in Kampala, openly carousing with Ugandan officials … and according to Burundi sources, they are both now with the RPF”(EIR November 1994). The looting of DRC resources and arming militias, participation in the invasion of Rwanda from 1990 to 1994 and the alleged genocide of Hutu in DRC by Uganda troops have irreparably damaged Museveni’s image as a regional peace maker.
At the continental level, Museveni’s confrontation with Qaddafi over the political future of Africa has not earned him the pan-Africanist image he had hoped for.
At the global level, his star began to fade when the G8 most developed countries decided not to invite him again because of his deteriorating performance in governance and economic areas made worse by rampant corruption including GAVI and CHOGM funds, broad daylight sectarianism and dividing the country into economically unviable units called districts almost along tribal lines.
Uganda’s failure to present a report at the MDG Summit in September 2010 covering ten years of implementation and Museveni’s failure to address the MDG Summit at the United Nations when his name was on the list of speakers and he did not show up, his failure to meet with key delegations together with Ugandans’ demonstrations against his rule in 2009 and again in 2010 outside the United Nations General Assembly Hall in full view of reporters and their cameras from around the world and reports that Museveni had ordered shooting of unarmed demonstrators (more than 70 died) while he was chairman of the Commonwealth drove the message home that Museveni should have retired a few years earlier.
All these overwhelming negative developments have completely overshadowed Uganda’s two-year membership in the Security Council which ends on December 31, 2010. It is not even clear what Ugandans have gained by having Uganda sit in the Security Council Chamber for two years, a position that was very expensive to campaign for. Even with AU endorsement of Uganda candidature, Madagascar campaigned until the day of the election forcing Uganda to spend even more!
All in all, Museveni’s 25-year record clearly demonstrates triumph of failure over success. Staying in power longer if elected in February 2011 will only make matters worse. Museveni has reached a point of no return (he won’t abandon corruption and sectarianism. He will use oil money to entrench himself and cause hell on earth for poor Ugandan!). Those – at home and abroad – who continue to invest in Museveni will incur very heavy losses when time comes.