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Uganda under Museveni and NRM 30 Years on


I came across this resent study by Africa Research Institute titled ‘Steady Progress? 30 Years of Museveni and NRM in Uganda.’ It is a good read giving a crisp analysis of Uganda under President Museveni and the politics of the movement for the last 30 years. The following is the findings of the research at a glance. Full text can be accessed on the Institute’s website.

The opening statement reads that on 29 January 1986 Yoweri Kaguta Museveni addressed Ugandans for the first time as national leader saying that “no one should think that what is happening today is a mere change of guard; it is a fundamental change in the politics of our country.” Given that Uganda had been led by seven presidents and a presidential commission in the preceding seven years, few could have expected that Museveni would remain at the helm 30 years later. This appears to be one of the unexpected but many other shocks have come with the 30 year Museveni rule as well.

The NRM Ten Point Agenda

The National Resistance Army (NRA) and its political wing, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) took power after a bush war that began in 1980. The NRM’s ten-point programme, debated and agreed during 1984, sought to usher in a new and better future for the long-suffering people of Uganda on the back of a grassroots campaign to seize power. The NRM ten point agenda was good and well articulated. I am sure I too would support it then. I can understand why many Ugandans believed in the politics of the movement then and why some of those who have since broken away from the movement insist that the spirit of the bush is no longer the current spirit of Entebbe. The ten point agenda promised a peaceful, democratic future, free from corruption, and with basic services and economic opportunity for all Ugandans. That was good, wasn't it? Unfortunately what Uganda is witnessing today is pure Musevenism, a complete and total deviation from what was envisaged in the ten point agenda. Uganda has slowly mutated into a kleptocracy that it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between the Ugandan state, its dominant political party/movement (the NRM) and its leader (Museveni).

Democratisation and Participation

In 1986 the NRM promised “popular democracy” and began to dismantle Uganda’s political structure. In 1992, political parties were banned, giving rise to a no-party or “movement” system. Museveni said this would provide a platform for more inclusive politics and encourage Ugandans to move beyond divisive tribal rivalries prevalent during the previous three decades.

Devolution of power was a key tenet of NRM policy. Deployed as a strategy for popular engagement during the bush war, in the late 1980s a five-tier system of elected government was rolled out in villages, parishes, sub-counties, counties and districts nationwide. The 1993 Local Government Statute was arguably the most promising reform initiated during the NRM’s early years in power. However, no village or parish elections have taken place since 2001. Despite its early promise, local administration has become more of a political project than a service provider. Since 1986, the number of districts has grown from 30 to 112. However, the increase in the number of political office holders has not meant more representative governance.

Uganda’s constitution-making process, commenced in 1989 and at the time, it was unsurpassed in Africa in terms of civic participation. But by the time the constitution was adopted in 1995, the process had been manipulated by the NRM to entrench it and its leader’s hold on power. While political and civil rights were provided for and legislative oversight extended, the presidency was invested with significant powers of appointment. Due to progressive mutilation of the constitution, today it is difficult to differentiate the constitution of Uganda and the Presidency but again very difficult to differentiate the presidency from the president (Yoweri Museveni).

Movement Dominated Politics

Uganda now has many political parties, holds presidential and parliamentary elections every five years, and has a vibrant and critical press. Representation in parliament is not bad. Despite media coverage of huge election rallies and competitive campaigning, electoral participation has dwindled. Turnout for presidential polls, which have returned the same winner four times in a row, fell from 72.6% in 1996 to 59.3% in 2011. Voter apathy is on a steady rise. The long term legacy of movement-dominated politics, combined with control of state resources and restrictive legislation such as the Public Order Management Act 2013, which outlaws political gatherings of three or more people without prior permission from the police, has stymied genuine opposition to the NRM.

Peace at last?

In his 2014 Independence Day address, the president remarked that all Uganda was finally at peace for the first time in 114 years. While the narrative of the NRM as guarantor of peace is grounded in fact, it underplays the persistence of domestic conflict. Military action against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) affected northern districts for almost two decades, displacing as many as 1.5 million people. Why it took the well-equipped Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) so long to bring a couple of thousand rebels to heel confounded many. By the time it did so, many northerners could not regard the troops as liberators. The lack of investigation into alleged abuses on both sides has created a legacy of “negative peace (absence of war). But the present calls it peace anyway.

Conflict Entrepreneurship? 

To some extent, Museveni and the NRM benefited from the protracted conflict in the north. Instability in the north prevented opponents from establishing a power base in the region. The conflict may have been used as a pretext to curb freedom of expression, and attract US funding and assistance with training for the security forces. Museveni has continued to use both internal and external conflicts to progressively and shrewdly position Uganda as a guarantor of regional stability and key ally of the West in the war on terror. Museveni has consistently turned regional geo-politics to his advantage. In addition to attracting substantial funding, this has deflected censure from donors over issues such as governance and corruption.

Economic Development

The ten-point programme described economic development as probably the most important part. Whereas Uganda has consistently been one of the fastest-growing African economies, the NRM’s stated goal of achieving self-sustaining economy remains elusive 30 years on. The danger of relapse is equally plausible especially due to plunder of state property, corruption, political and economic patronage and purchase of loyalties.

Unsustained Education

The NRM’s initial ambition for education was impressive, but achievements have been mixed. Investment has been universal primary education in 1997 and universal secondary education in 2007. This greatly increased the number of children attending primary school, from 3 to 8 million. However, drop-out rates remain the highest in East Africa. Schools are ill-equipped and overcrowded; teachers’ unions are permanently restive about conditions and pay; and the pressure on the education sector is rising inexorably due to population growth.

Social Service Provision

In 1986 the ten-point programme aimed to restore and improve social service provision in war-ravaged areas. A decade after the end of hostilities in the north, the region is home to almost half Uganda’s poor. The Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP), launched in 2008 appeared to be a statement of intent to tackle underdevelopment in the north. But PRDP I was a world scandal. It is unclear what PRDP II can achieve for the north.


Soaring Corruption


Corruption is endemic at almost every level of society despite 30 years of promises to eliminate it. Only 26% of Ugandans feel that the government’s response to corruption is adequate. Museveni himself acknowledges that embezzlement and abuse of office are problems. Anti-corruption measures include the Anti-Corruption Act, Enforcement of Leadership Code of Conduct Act, and the Anti-Corruption Court (ACC). Nevertheless, the independence of the judiciary and the state’s willingness to investigate the influential or affluent are questionable.

More of the Same?

30 years on, the NRM’s 2016–21 manifesto focuses on economic development, tackling corruption, and peace and security. No one can accuse the party of inconsistency in its policy pronouncements. The document is coherent and consistent, but the vision remains no more than that for most Ugandans. The NRM needs to rediscover its boldness if it is to stay remotely relevant to ordinary Ugandans; but time is not on its side – and its, Museveni, may not allow the movement to reinvent itself in his lifetime.

In 1997 Museveni claimed that there are now people of presidential calibre and capacity who can take over when he retires. In 2001 he promised that he would retire in 2006, but in 2016 he is seeking a fifth term. Interestingly, about 45% of eligible Ugandan voters have never known another leader than Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Also looking at the top presidential contenders it is agreeable that the winner of February 18, 2016 presidential election will be male, over 55, from the west of the country, and a past or present NRM grandee. That much will be no different. 
Uganda under Museveni and NRM 30 Years on Uganda under Museveni and NRM 30 Years on Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on February 09, 2016 Rating: 5

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