Mr. President, you are the expert of what happens when people get angry to the level you were in 1970s and ‘80s!)
I have been a witness to nearly all the elections under the NRM government. In 1996, I was not old enough to vote but old enough to consciously follow what was going on. Since 2001, I have not only been a voter but also an active participant in the general elections. In all the five elections I have witnessed, I have not seen the people of Uganda in the shape they are in right now.
People are angry. Anyone who follows what goes on, on social media knows the magnitude of the anger boiling in people’s heads. The other day, someone sent me a short video of a group of children, toddlers between four and six years, stoning the campaign poster of President Museveni.
In the video, an adult voice is heard asking the kids in Luganda, “What are you doing?” The kids reply, “We are beating Museveni!” The adult inquires further, “Why are you beating him?” The kids reply, “Atumazeeko emirembe” — literally meaning, “Museveni is the reason we are suffering.”
I wanted to dismiss this, and other anger messages that have been flooding the social media platforms especially Facebook and Watsapp, as false piety created by opposition supporters to show that President Museveni has become unpopular. But then I remembered how much the people of Uganda loved President Museveni. So what happened? Why do people seem to have lost all the love, admiration and the respect they had for their bush war hero?
My damn feeling is that adversity has forced Ugandans to divorce from NRM. It is now a national mood that NRM and President Museveni in particular no longer cared about the aspirations and needs of the people of Uganda, let alone their feelings.
Two researchers, Riker and Ordeshook, in their 1968 fascinating article “A Theory of the Calculus of Voting,” posit that voters punish incumbent politicians for bad economic performance and reward them for good performance, even when those events are beyond political control.
Why elites hate NRM
A recent research by three German professors, Robert Kappel, Jann Lay, and Susan Steiner, titled “Uganda: No more pro-poor growth?” found that the poor in Uganda were no longer benefiting from the continued growth of the economy. That growth was now going to the very few who were already rich.
Richard Musgrave and Peggy Musgrave, in their 1989 book “Public Finance in Theory and Practice”, emphasise that a voter has little incentive to vote where there is little difference between political parties or where parties can not be trusted to carry out the manifestos for which they were elected or where the probability that one’s vote will be pivotal in determining the outcome of the election is insignificant or where the cost (in form of effort or time foregone) of voting is high relative to the potential benefits.
In November 2007, the Financial Times of the UK published a Special Report about Uganda in which it is stated, “Mr Museveni is now viewed increasingly by diplomats, donors, and a good number of Ugandans themselves, as an impediment to the country’s prospects.”
It is now commonsense that a large proportion of the elites (the educated, the working class, the well-travelled and the well-informed groups of Ugandans) no longer support the NRM party. This is why the NRM performed abysmally in areas where most of the people who fall in this category reside — Kampala, Wakiso, and most urban places around the country.
Since 2006, I have been warning you Mr. President that you were risking becoming a President for the rural Uganda while Besigye or any other opposition politician takes the support and allegiance of the urban population. But where did this begin? What has made the educated Ugandans — the privileged class of Ugandans — lose confidence in the current government? Indeed it is this very government that created the environment under which most of these people who have turned against it flourish.
Mr. President it is former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who once said, “It is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.” My own patriotic contribution to Uganda that I will always cherish is the fact that I have persistently told you the truth. Now let me tell you more.
The elites hate NRM for many reasons, but the key ones include: the insensitivity of NRM’s leaders; the poorly performing economy; and the pathetic nature of government.
NRM became insensitive to our needs
Mr. President, you told us that the NRA/NRM was built on majorly one pillar: the people. That the reason the NRA succeeded where many had failed — liberating a country in a mere 5 years — was because yours was a “just” war and a just cause. What made it just? You always listened to what people had to say. You were sensitive to their grievances. You were sensitive to their emotions.
Lately, insensitivity from you leaders of NRM has reached boiling points. Look at the composition of the NRM government. It doesn’t require someone to be a genius to see that the top leadership of the NRM government is no longer sensitive to things you used to preach to us about: nepotism (military Generals are now fighting to have their children elected), sectarianism and tribalism (look at the composition of the cabinet, the statutory agencies, the security organs etc, etc.
Mr. President, these are the issues on everyone’s lips only that they talk about them when they are far away from you. They fear that since you seem to have become increasingly insensitive, you might witch-hunt them for crossing the line. For me I risk writing about these things here for one reason; I love you so much to keep quiet when I see your superb legacy getting wiped out by correctable mistakes and misjudgements.
I have written about this subject more than anything else. Although since the implementation of the 1987 reforms, the economy is growing, the expanding economic opportunities are going to very few people; those who are already rich. A lot of people have been left out. This in my view is actually the top most reason many young people in Kampala and other urban centres around the country are bitter with this government.
Mr. President, the very reforms that helped you accelerate the growth of the economy also created conditions that are keeping the benefits going to very few individuals. I warned you exactly one year ago that the fights we see in the streets were no longer politics; we are watching an economic war between the haves and the have-nots.
The economic polarisation is being reinforced by the unfettered market economic system that we chose to guide our economy. A few years ago, the Governor Bank of Uganda, Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebire told an audience at Makerere,
“Let those who have eyes to see where money is, amass it”. But what happens to those without those “eyes”? You think they will look on and die when “those who have eyes” are enjoying? Whoever thought it that way must have got part of the answer in the concluded elections. Now wait for another round if you keep on the prevailing economic trajectory.
Mr. President, the neo-liberal structural adjustment policies that you inherited and heightened have worsened inequality. The unregulated market have dragged the country into a situation where prices of everything; food, water, electricity, fuel, and medicine have risen. Predictably, this has led to rising cost of living. Life is not good at all for the young people that are earning very meagre salaries yet the prices of the goods and services they must buy to survive are rising exponentially. They hope that by changing government things might get better.
Mr. President, many elites and other people are also angry with you because they feel you no longer care about the quality of government that is appointed to lead them. I have poured oceans of ink on the pathetic nature of your government Mr President.
Personally I have lost count the number of times I have written questioning your sense of judgement lately as far as selection of leaders into your government is concerned. I have questioned the logic of imposing political rejects on people; the logic of recycling corrupt leaders; and the logic of appointing close relatives in government where you are the head as if there are no other people that can serve.
Mr. President you need to remember that you built NRM on some basic principles, the most important one being respect of the people power. Your government introduced true democracy of open free and fair elections beginning with the RCs in the liberated zones.
Ugandans came to love NRM mainly for giving them this opportunity to elect the leaders they wanted. Today, you are more inclined to taking away this right by imposing on the people leaders they don’t want. As a result of this, NRM has lost the people’s confidence.
Mr President, in the last thirty years you have led Uganda you have been a lucky man. But as I warned you five years ago, you are about to run out of this luck. Your actions, especially the several times you have come out to defend the indefensible — suspected corrupt leaders, sheer nepotism, an economy that is not working for the majority, very old leaders, your continued stay even when all signs show you need to retire etc. — have led you to lose the trust, support and admiration of a cross-section of people.
These people are right now as angry with you and your government as you were angry with past leaders and their governments. Luckily, you are the expert of what happens when people get angry to the level you were in the 1970s and ‘80s.