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.
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.
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.
Here’s another possible future: the promise of resource riches coming online intensifies competition for control of state authority now, leading to coup attempts. Do you see much chance of that?
Possible but not in the short term. Presently Museveni appears to have most of the NRM and armed forces under his thumb – his son heads the Special Forces Unit charged with protecting the president (under the Presidential Guards Brigage) and other key government installations.
Also, potential coup makers (coups tend to come from those close to power) have also been deeply implicated in the current mess and can’t claim to be offering anything different.
I see Museveni coasting on momentum for a few more years, and if the economy improves he will be reelected in 2016. Continued economic decline and macroeconomic instability on the other hand will lead to more and more urban unrest, followed by greater repression.
The upside : agriculture. M7 leaves the farmers and traders alone. The enjoy windfall profits in regional trade, albeit from a depressingly low base. Exports are up at least 600% since 2000.
Most farmers are not trading at all, as yet. Here is the real support for the regime.
The downside: all other economic sectors. A mad tax system is heavily skewed toward the well connected. It makes no sense to start a business in Uganda if you need inputs from outside.
Even the oil sector : The government is not mature enough to regulate the sector properly, so I doubt whether anyone is investing in production soon.
The risk: a crash in the totally mad housing boom. Ugandans have two options for the money they save (steal), cash (carrying a negative intrest rate of -15% at the moment) , or real estate. As a result, my properties in Uganda have rising in value (in hard currency) at least 20 fold over the last 9 years.
The housing sector gobbles up also all the youngsters leaving the countryside, as there are few opportunities in the rest of the economy.
When this bubble collapses, M7 is toast.