THE LAST WORD: By Andrew M. Mwenda
How economic success has tended to create more political trouble for Museveni than comfort
Very many Ugandans are angry, very angry. They feel the country has lost direction. They argue that our politics is corrupted, our democracy in retreat, and elections are rigged. They say the economy is not growing, poverty is increasing, inequality is widening, and state capacity to deliver public goods and services has been grossly eroded. Yet the opposite is the case on almost all these issues. Uganda is more democratic today than ever before and elections are increasingly freer and fairer. The country is making massive and unprecedented investments in infrastructure that will give it future productivity gains. Yet when you cite evidence of all these, critics retort that the numbers are cooked.
It is not only people who in the opposition that are angry. Many people high in the government – ministers, ruling party MPs, top civil servants, leading business persons, prelates, intellectuals and even members of the First Family including President Yoweri Museveni and the First Lady, Janet Museveni, make these criticisms. For example, in her autobiography, `My Life’s Journey’, Mrs. Museveni, criticises rampant corruption, inefficiency, and incompetence in the government.
In meetings I have attended with the President and government officials, Museveni always expresses frustration with the public sector’s inability to perform its functions. Even in some of his public speeches he sounds more like an opposition politician than an incumbent president. Therefore, disillusionment with the status quo is a widely shared sentiment across Uganda’s political spectrum. Recently, a top public official told me that I have lost my journalistic quality of being critical and keeping government on its toes. He said that these days I sound like a government spokesperson.
Indeed, I have been involved in battles with many people in large part because I previously used to hold these doomsday feelings and articulate them myself. Over the years, I have increasingly moved away from relying largely on my feelings to comment on public affairs towards greater reliance on statistical data, empirical evidence, historical reflection and comparative studies to understand Uganda and explain it to my readers, viewers, and listeners. For that, many people accuse me of having been bribed by Museveni. I am still waiting for my cheque!
But let me digress a bit to some kind of mini autobiography. I am inherently suspicious of majoritarian views and, therefore, I am always inclined to be more skeptical about what is the most popular and widely accepted version of things. I have rarely found myself on the side of the majority on any issue – whether it is corruption being an impediment to growth or foreign direct investment being a solution to our development predicament or the greatness of Barack Obama or the need for foreign aid to cure poverty.