THE LAST WORD: How the obsession with our internal weaknesses has obscured the international dimension of Africa’s problems
Andrew M. Mwenda | THE LAST WORD | Now in his 32nd year as president, Yoweri Museveni faces a dilemma. Uganda is still a very poor rural agricultural economy in spite of having sustained an impressive rate of economic growth over 30 years. Museveni’s (and Africa’s) problem is excessive reliance on advice from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, the main agents of multi national capital. In 1987, Museveni accepted IMF and World Bank policy prescriptions out of desperation rather than conviction. This opened doors for foreign financial and technical assistance to aid a bankrupt state. As the economy recovered, Museveni was able to use growing state revenues and foreign funds to rebuild the state and consolidate power; rewarding loyalists, buying off opponents, providing some basic public goods and services and defeating armed insurgents.
Museveni was, therefore, quick to see and seize the benefits of IMF and World Bank policy prescriptions in politics and economics. When a state is recovering from collapse, you need to divest it of many responsibilities. This improves performance. And when an economy has been destroyed, removing onerous controls improves it. Hence Museveni became ideologically converted. But he was misled to think these policies that are good for recovery in the short-term are the solution to structural transformation – which is long-term.
IMF and World Bank did not stop at Museveni. They also cultivated close relationships with the most influential sections of the Ugandan society and state. So they courted journalists, academics, businesspersons, civil society leaders and the bureaucracy – especially the ministry of Finance and the central bank. They gave such people internships and fellowships to go to USA or UK be indoctrinated with the free market dogma. Within the bureaucracy, they paid such people salaries above the rest of the civil service.
Henceforth, to be an influential bureaucrat, you had to have good relations with donors. To have such influence, you had to share their free markets ideology. Once you had this profile, you could negotiate aid i.e. revenue to the state. This meant that now Museveni would look at you as an asset – the man or woman who handles donors and brings in cash to finance his political survival. You would be promoted and placed in strategic positions.
This is the context that led to the rise of Tumusiime Mutebile, Keith Muhakanizi etc. I admit I was one of these people in the media. Looking back 30 years later, one can see the results. Most of the influential pillars of opinion, including Museveni’s critics such Charles Onyango-Obbo, are advocates of the free markets and low inflation.
Thus, disagreements within Uganda are never about the viability or suitability of our macroeconomic policies and the philosophy that justifies them. The disagreement is about the right way to implement them or what donors call “governance.” “Good governance” (whatever it means) became the catch phrase in development thinking. The policy debate was settled. Every African country should court foreign direct investment, control inflation, sell off state enterprises, liberalise and deregulate, promote private sector led-growth, control inflation below 5%, etc. and prosperity will follow.