The cost of decentralization in Uganda

This quote from The Independent says it all:

……. In 2010 Bushenyi district was split into five districts. In the 2009/10 financial year, the old Bushenyi had a budget of Shs 1.64 billion for UPE and Primary healthcare (non-wage) of which Shs214 million was for administrative costs.

When it was split, the mother Bushenyi got Shs482 million. Of this, administrative costs were Shs241 million (due to wage increases). Mitooma district got Shs365 million of which administrative costs were Shs201 million; then Rubirizi got Shs198 million of which administrative costs were Shs136 million; Sheema got Shs403 million with administrative costs of  Shs160 million; and Buhweju got Shs175 million of which Shs 126 million went to administrative expenses.

The total central government grant to the “region” of the old Bushenyi remained the same. But the administrative costs now grew from Shs241 million to Shs865 million – that is money diverted from providing public goods and services to citizens to paying the salaries of elites – civil servants and politicians – in these areas.

Theoretically, in an electoral democracy like ours, voters should reject this arrangement in favour of services. Yet a study by the London School of Economics found that whenever a district is created, Museveni’s support increases by 3% in the mother district and 5% in the new.

More on this here.

It’s clear that Museveni’s preferred method of keeping Ugandans (and especially the political elite) happy is not sustainable in the long run. Mr. Museveni does not operate outside the laws of economics, and soon enough he will hit the glass wall of finite resources. Uganda’s rising patronage inflation might soon explode into patronage hyper-inflation (I think most reasonable people would find it insane to have over 70 ministers).

In addition, a crazy number of MPs are broke (the president recently had to step in to stop them from selling their debt to a Chinese firm), and might demand for even thicker brown envelopes or sacks of cash in order to continue playing ball with State House.

The oil in Bunyoro will definitely buy President Museveni time. But for how long, and at what cost?

Going back to pre-2001 “no party” authoritarianism would be a very costly option. The horrors of pre-Museveni Uganda are slowly being archived by time; and can no longer sell among Uganda’s younger generation who might prefer to think of Uganda’s future potential rather than what Museveni saved them from.

All this makes for interesting politics in Uganda ahead of the 2016 elections.

H/T Andrew Mwenda

Is Uganda experiencing its 1991 moment?

UPDATE II: Angelo over at TIA offers an analysis of the ongoing situation in the development of Uganda’s oil sector. After months of under-the-table maneuvers by the executive it appears that the Ugandan legislature has finally found its voice. Angelo credits this both on the rise of independents and internal divisions within the ruling party, NRM.

Perhaps in an attempt to deflect from its recent woes the government has also been trying to prosecute those involved in the mega-corruption surrounding procurement for construction projects in the run-up to the commonwealth summit in 2007. Senior officials, including a cabinet minister, have since resigned over this saga.

Many of us thought that the oil money would buy Museveni more time in State House, Entebbe. But the other thing the discovery of oil has done is increase the stakes. It remains to be seen how far Ugandan politicians and their coalitions within and without NRM are willing to go in order to get their fair share of the cake. I would not want to be M7 right now.

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UPDATE: Joel D. Barkan has a nice piece outlining Uganda’s and Museveni’s many challenges are potential scenarios of the continuing struggle for accountable government in Uganda.

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The early 1990s were a heady time on the African continent. Student riots, mass strikes, opposition rallies and international pressure were causing many a one party African dictator sleepless nights.

By dint of history, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda escaped the winds of change that were sweeping through the continent. Having brought stability to Kampala and most of southern Uganda following the 1981-86 bush war, he had gone ahead to preside over the longest stretch of sustained economic growth in Uganda’s history. Many loved him. He was able to sell his weird idea of no party democracy to the masses. As a result Uganda’s first multiparty elections took place in 2006, a full 20 years after Museveni came to power.

But the long honeymoon for Museveni – the champion of Ugandan security and growth since 1986 – appears to be in its twilight. Since the last elections early this year, protests have rocked Kampala and other major urban centres across the country. Earlier today on twitter Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda argued that Museveni’s success will be the source of his downfall. Economic growth has created a lot of powerful forces with a lot to lose as Museveni continues to restrict political space in his bid to cling to power.

In a new article in the Journal of Democracy, Angelo Izama, another Ugandan journalist, echoes the same claims. The Ugandan masses can no longer tolerate the regime’s sins of misgovernance. High level sleaze in government, economic mismanagement (recent walk to work riots were in reaction to high inflation, partly related to runaway campaign spending by Museveni) and general fatigue with the overbearing Ugandan securocracy have ignited protests by the masses, beyond those called for by the main opposition party.

By all accounts Museveni is in a tight corner, despite his 68% win in the February 2011 polls.

But as many Uganda experts would quickly add, do not count M7 out just yet. The recent discovery of oil in the Lake Albert region is expected to provide a steady supply of cash to prop up the regime into the immediate future. Furthermore, the Ugandan opposition remains divided and unable to come up with a singular message against the regime’s many failures in the recent past.

That said, the cat appears to have been let out of the bag. Like many of his regional counterparts back in 1991, Museveni will have to make significant concessions if he is to survive the latest street protests.

But just how much time does Museveni have?

In my view, a lot of time. This is partly because Museveni has successfully convinced Ugandans – including many in the opposition and media that are opposed to his rule – that he is indispensable. Many, in the same breath, decry the sleaze and economic mismanagement in his administration but admire his regional military adventurism and opportunistic “independent mindedness.”

There is simply no compelling (and credible) replacement for Museveni in the public psyche (yet). The opposition leader Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s personal physician turned foe, is a pale shadow of his former self.

The other reason is Uganda’s weak civil society – a direct product of the country’s tumultuous history since the mid-1960s. Not enough indigenous independent wealth has been created to support a nascent opposition and civil society movement as was the case in Kenya, among other early experimenters with electoral pluralism, in the early 1990s.

Being the adroit politician that he is, Museveni will definitely play this reality to his advantage into the foreseeable future.

For the sake of Ugandans and the hope of a freer East African Community, I hope I am wrong.

Birthday politics in Uganda

President Museveni’s plans to succeed himself in 2016 have come under fresh attack. Activists in Uganda staged a mock birthday party, complete with gifts, to celebrate Museveni’s 73rd birthday. Police dispersed participants at the mock party and even seized the birthday cake.

The politics behind Museveni’s date of birth stem from the fact that the Ugandan constitution bars those over 75 to run for president. Museveni insists that he is 68, which means that he will be 73 in 2016 and still eligible to run for president. The opposition maintains that based on its own research the president is 73.

It appears that the latest strategy of the Ugandan opposition is to de-legitimize Museveni using his own rules.

So why should Museveni care if a bunch of activists stage a mock birthday party for him?

The beginning of the downfall of authoritarian systems is when the opposition goes legal on the regime. By highlighting the inconsistencies in the legal structure and challenging the regime using its own rules, the opposition forces the regime to continue tinkering with the very same rules.

But tinkering with the rules creates winners and losers within the regime. Ultimately it is those that find themselves with the short end of the stick that jump ship and join the opposition in an effort to oust the ancien regime.

President Museveni should consult with Kenya’s former President Moi on how events unfolded after the fiasco that was the 1988 mlolongo (queuing) election. It will take time, but kila mwizi ako na siku arubaini (every thief has forty days).

You can find the BBC story on the Uganda protests here.

electoral democracy and inflation in africa

UPDATE: A related paper is here. [HT Julie]

Central bank independence is still the exception rather than the rule in most of Africa. This then raises the question of what effects elections – with the high associated costs of buying votes – have on the inflation rate.

For instance, Uganda has been experiencing inflation (a.k.a walk to work) riots following Museveni’s reelection. Many in Uganda and beyond have attributed the hike in the cost of living not just to global trends (food and oil prices) but also to Museveni’s massive reelection budget. Just before the Ugandan elections in February the president doled out cash like he was “printing his own money.”

Next door in Kenya rumors abound that the recent hike in oil prices, the failure to resettle IDPs and other forms of grand corruption are related to politicians amassing a war chest for next year’s general election.

This raises the question: Is there a correlation between election years and inflation in Africa?

My first stab at this reveals rather weak correlations between election years and trends in inflation rates in a number of African states. (Shown below are Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Senegal). The vertical dotted lines indicate election years.

In the regressions different lags produce different results.

That said, it appears that competitive elections are significantly correlated with hikes in the inflation rates for up to three years (elections are “competitive” if the incumbent gets less than 2/3 of the vote).

Given the fact that Museveni’s vote share was trending downward in 1995, 2001 and 2006 (75%, 69% and 59% respectively), the NRM leader must have panicked and opened the floodgates for this past election.

Election monitoring and international sanctions against cheating have made the stealing of elections a very costly endeavor. But politicians are smart. If you can’t stuff the ballot boxes you can certainly intimidate voters or buy them off.

My hope is that with time the buying off of voters option will become institutionalized and made impartial to party ID.

this is how museveni treats the opposition in uganda

Uganda is experiencing hike in food and fuel prices – partly because of the rise in global oil prices but also because of “election money.” The Ugandan opposition has been organizing “walk to work” protests against the government’s inability to tackle inflation. In this video, the main opposition leader in Uganda gets to experience the full force of Museveni’s thugs security forces.

Museveni’s rule in Uganda will only get stronger because of the recent discovery of oil in the country. So much for someone who 25 years ago when he first assumed power was seen to represent a new crop of African leaders who were poised to usher in the era of African prosperity. Increasingly in Museveni I see a bungling but eloquent Paul Biya with a touch of faux egalitarianism.

african presidents and the “elites” around them

This is the first of many installments on African presidents. I am currently researching the nature of presidential power in Africa.

First on the list is Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Mr. Museveni has been in power since 1986 and is pretty much convinced that he is God’s gift to Uganda has just won another 5-year term in office. The picture below is a screen shot from a recent tour of an area of Kampala to launch a cooperative society.

More Village Chief than President

Notice the state and size of the presidential “red carpet.” Also, everyone but the president has to make do with plastic chairs. This picture, in many ways, is a metaphor for most African societies. In many countries only the “Big Man” gets to sit on the “carpet” while everyone else has to languish in the dust, including elites around the president.

This state of affairs creates perverse incentives that are inimical to economic growth. If I am an elite – even one who is close to the president – why should I invest in creating a carpet of my own if I know that the president will take it away? The result is poverty and material want that extends to the heart of power and elite-dom.

In a way EVEN the political elite in Uganda are poor. They may have some wealth stashed abroad but their realized standard of living within Uganda is not elite. If they get sick they have to fly to Kenya, South Africa [who's elites have done slightly better at local accumulation] or further afield for treatment. Oftentimes even their 4X4 vehicles get stuck on the non-existent roads that they have refused to build and maintain. A mastery of the art of surviving [living day by day] is not restricted to the hoi polloi. Even the elite lack the requisite stability to escape the surviving mentality, even though they may not necessarily be surviving materially.

This is the reality for most of the Continent.

Next time, something on the false largesse of the likes of the late Omar Bongo Ondimba (the very short guy in the middle of the crowd in this video)

quick hits

Ugandan walk to work protests continue, despite the arrest of key opposition leaders.

Mutiny spreads in Burkina Faso. Compraore has been in power since 1987 after he ousted Thomas Sankara.

Benin’s Yayi Boni might have stole his way into a second term. I hope he is not planning on extending the presidential term limit in Benin.

economic hardship in uganda

Strongman Yoweri Museveni might be nearing the end of the road. For 25 years he has ruled Uganda as the country recovered from Idi Amin’s disastrous rule and a brutal civil war. To add to the stability brought about by his regime, Uganda has also been one of the fastest growing in Africa since the mid 1990s.

But recent inflationary pressures on the prices of fuel and other essential commodities are increasing pressure on the strongman. The last two days have seen running battles in Kampala and Gulu, with at least two reported dead. Opposition leader Kizza Besigye was reportedly shot in the hand by a rubber bullet on Thursday.

Museveni’s game plan in reaction to all this still remains unclear. Whatever the eventual strategy, it is gonna be hard to keep the rallies against his regime bloodless if the people keep coming out to protest. Most people tend to forget that Museveni has never really stopped being a military ruler.

History shows that the most frequent way through which military rulers are ousted, at least on the continent, is through coups.

Those who enter power by the gun also tend to exit by the gun.

Overall, African autocrats with the longest tenures include: Obiang’ of Equatorial Guinea (32 years); Edwardo dos Santos of Angola (32); Biya of Cameroon (29); Compraore of Burkina Faso (25); Mswati of Lesotho (25); Museveni of Uganda (25).

Other autocrats fast approaching the league of lifetime rulers include Omar al-Bashir of (Northern) Sudan, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia (who is planning on crowning himself King), Idris Deby of Chad, and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

museveni is on the ropes

With 72 cabinet ministers Uganda reeks of instability. Leonardo Arriola, a Political Scientist at Berkeley, has made argued that African presidents create bloated cabinets to buy off opponents when they feel insecure in power. Uganda’s Museveni might be doing just that. In office since 1986, Mr. Museveni just won another 5-year term in office with 68% of the vote, or so the Ugandan electoral commission would like us to believe.

The opposition parallel vote tallying system was sabotaged by security forces in cahoots with cell phone companies (these companies should be fined in other countries in which they operate…). The main challenger, Mr. Kizza Besigye, claims that the last count he got showed Museveni at 50.8% with him second at 42.5%. The final official tally gave Mr. Museveni a landslide win of more than 40 points.

It is now quite possible that a majority of Ugandans do not want Museveni in power. Given his long tenure and the recent terror events that could have boosted him with a “rally around the flag” effect, his poor performance at the polls should be cause for concern for stability in Uganda. Too bad he will soon have oil money to create even bigger cabinets and buy more tanks and anti-riot gear, if he so wishes.

Ugandans may have to wait for quite a while before they experience their first ever peaceful transfer of power.