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Where did it go wrong?

7 things M7 should reflect on at his 27th anniversary!  

On 26th January 2013, every honest person is asking one question, “Where is Uganda heading?”

Many events have occurred and continue to occur that have prompted many people to ask the very question people thought had forever been answered the day NRA shot the last bullet 27 years ago. Mr President, I don’t think I should delineate these events for you because they are well known to you. In any case any attempt to outline them might leave me with no space to write the main reason I picked pen and paper this week. I picked my pen to let you know the seven key things you should reflect on at your 27th anniversary in power!   

1. When does one’s hold onto power become untenable?
Mr. President, many things have been said about your continued stay in power. You have always defended yourself by citing elections; that as long as the people of Uganda continue to vote for you those who question your decision to remove the two-term limit from the 1995 Constitution are saying nonsense. But each passing day, you seem to lose more supporters than those you recruit.

More worryingly, because your focus now is on how long you can hold onto power, you’ve made politics a nigiina (a free-for-all) punctuated with lots of indiscipline. Leaders, right from you down to the lowest village chief, are behaving in a manner uncharacteristic of a leader. All that is going on is because you seem to matter less as long as you continue being addressed as Your Excellency!

2. How many relatives does one have to employ?  
Mr President, everybody, including some of your bush war heroes, now sounds a betrayed person. Throughout last year I wrote in these pages informing you that Ugandans were angry with you because you have become so insensitive to their feelings and needs. Ugandans have come to believe that the only things you now care about are (1) yourself, (2) your family, and (3) your close friends.

Mr President, the level of nepotism, cronyism, and patronage you are practicing nowadays has reached stinking levels. Spare a minute and look around your cabinet, your security detail, and your general government and see what I am talking about. This is what has eroded all your moral authority to lead those around you.

3. Ugandans seem not to trust you anymore. Why?
Mr President, you used to be not the most but the only politician Ugandans could trust. You have always faulted your predecessors and other contemporaries and political opponents for being liars, dishonest, opportunists and undependable. Now many people believe that the need to stay in power at whatever cost has taken away from you four critical virtues — honesty, trust, altruism, and a sense of shame.

You very well know that it is the succession question that has bred all this confusion and unrest. People need to get an idea where we are heading. Political unrest has bred economic unrest. The economy, which had started to show signs of transformation, is gradually collapsing under the weight of fiscal indiscipline, a weakening shilling, massive corruption, and politically inspired violence.

4. The shame of leading the most corrupt government
When does it become disgraceful for a leader to just lament like everyone else about corruption? Mr President, I wrote in these pages recently that under your stewardship graft has not only become an economic activity but also the fastest growing sector in Uganda! You are the one hobnobbing with the corrupt. When the system identifies them and isolates them, you reappoint them in your government. Now, everyone in government is saying “If the president is reappointing implicated ministers and they are the closest persons he works with, who am I to abstain from ‘eating’?

5. Can anyone now be a minister?  
Seven years ago, seats in the cabinet chambers were strictly reserved for people like Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, Prof. Apollo Nsibambi, Prof. Mondo Kagonyera, Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, Omara Atubo, Miria Matembe and others in that bracket. Look around your cabinet chambers, Mr President; who is occupying such seats today? Can’t you see a problem?

This apparent problem does not end at cabinet. The mess extends to other critical government departments. When one person recently said he trusts in God to allay his troubles, someone told him, “I can see your faith in God, but God already left Uganda!” When I look at what is going on I get tempted to believe this guy’s hypothesis.      

6. Rethink your economic strategy
Mr. President, like I have been writing in these pages before, someone somewhere advised you to abandon the “backward” agriculture and adopt industrialisation as a strategy to deliver development to Uganda before your time is up. Your speeches, actions, and budgetary allocations in the last decade or so portray a man desperate to make Uganda an industrialised country overnight.

Every single action you have taken shows that your decision to change policy from developing an agro-based economy to this sort of gambling going on was informed more by politics than economic considerations.

One wonders: can you turn around an agrarian economy whose agricultural sector is growing at a rate lower than the population growth rate? Don’t you think turning the terms of trade against agriculture could be the reason our economy is doing badly despite all efforts to get it back on the growth trend? Isn’t it a case of commonsense to know that if government doubled or tripled the total public investment in the agricultural sector it will attract more private investment into the sector other than in phone kiosks, bars, wedding planning, boda-bodas, and FM radios where people spend the would be farming time discussing their worsening economic situations?       

7.Reassemble your team; this one ain’t a winning one!

A good leader should always endeavour to assemble a winning team. And once they do this, and they continue to deliver results, nobody will be interested in knowing details like their age, their race or tribe, and their religion. In fact people will be praying that God keeps them healthy and young forever so that they continue to deliver the goodies.

Mr President you have a contemporary long-serving leader in the world of football. He is called Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of English football club, Manchester United. As you were taking over Kampala in 1986 he was taking over Old Trafford (the home of Manchester United).

Both of you have many things in common beyond the tenure of your offices. Ferguson is the most successful manager in United’s long history and equally you are the most successful President of Uganda. This is one of the most painful facts all your foes have to endure!  

Like you, Ferguson was more successful in the 1990s winning trophies year-in-year-out. As if you were twins, towards the end of the twentieth century as you were asking Ugandans to give you a last term, Ferguson promised Man-U fans he would step down as their club’s manager, only for both of you to retract on your promises.  

Coincidentaly, like in your case, things began to turn against Ferguson at the turn of the new millennium and he won no titles for three years (2003 – 2006) and many pundits started to ask him to step aside. This was also the time you faced unrelenting pressure both here at home and abroad (from donors) not to remove term limits from the Constitution and to “give Uganda a chance by stepping aside.” Both of you refused to relent.     

However, unlike you Ferguson went back to the drawing board and carried out a near total overhaul on his team. Like all geniuses do, he started with the members of his team whom we thought were untouchables and indispensable. He didn’t mind how good we (and themselves) thought they were. Some like Roy Keane were even his close friends. Few could contemplate a Manchester United team without David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane, Dwight York, Andy Cole, and Yap Stam. Only Ferguson knew that for him to keep United on the top, he had to work not with the so-called untouchables but with fresh, hungry, and energetic young men.  

He replaced the Beckhams of this world with talented young men like Cristian Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and other budding fledglings. And since pragmatism never lies, in the subsequent four years, Ferguson and United were celebrating unprecedented success they had failed to win with the so-called super-players. Because of this no one is talking about Fergie’s overstay at Old Trafford. Actually every day Manchester United fans pray that Gold keeps him healthy and strong to keep managing their team.  

Back home, NRM’s curve is on a downward trend thanks to its self-righteous leadership that 27 years ago managed to liberate a country but has failed to liberate itself from “oblivious thinking”. Mr. President, you often tell us how you and your other tired colleagues are “natural leaders”. You have failed to realise that like the Beckhams, these so called natural leaders have accumulated so much wealth that they don’t see why they should continue working as hard, both for themselves and for the country. Overhaul your team like Ferguson did to his and reassemble a winning team. No one will remember how long you’ve stayed.

Mr President, only a friend can risk to tell you directly what is on everyone’s lips, only that others feel more comfortable talking about these very issues in your absence. Please find a moment and reflect on each of them. I don’t need a response, for “as I grow older I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” Andrew Carnegie’s words, not mine! Happy New Year, Mr President!

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Ramathan Ggoobi

Ramathan Ggoobi is Policy Analyst, and Researcher. He lecturers economics at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) and has co-authored several studies on Uganda's economy. For the past ten years, he has published a weekly column 'Are You Listening Mr. President' in The Sunrise Newspaper, Uganda's Leading Weekly

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