President Yoweri Museveni has not pronounced himself on the bill. But his handlers at State House initiated the campaign, State House is funding it, cabinet sanctioned it and the ruling party has been at the centre of pushing it.
Its timing also appears to expose the motive behind the bill. Now 31 years in power, President Museveni, 73, will be 77 at the next polls. Given that Article 102 (b) which is targeted for scrapping caps the upper age limit for a presidential candidate at 75 and bars him from contesting, Museveni appears to be the intended beneficiary, critics say.
Meanwhile, political violence has risen from the level of threats to action. At least four MPs opposed to lifting the age-limit have had grenades exploding in the compounds of their homes around the same time in what appear to be acts of intimidation.
But politicians supporting the Bill are almost equally threatened with some being attacked by angry mobs at public gatherings.
Effect on economy
Unfortunately, Museveni’s decisions and the opposition’s calls for nationwide civil disobedience appear to be hurting him and his fundamental change legacy even more. He has apparently transformed himself into “the biggest threat to Uganda’s development prospects”.
Critics say Museveni’s quest to stay in power and the chaos it is attracting, are having a chilling effect on, among others, investor confidence, critical for Uganda’s struggling economy.
On the fiscal side, Museveni has been attempting to revive that economy through increased and better managed public investment. Bank of Uganda has also attempted to strengthen the sluggish economic growth momentum reported in the third and fourth quarters of FY2016/17.
Some of the interventions appear to be working. In Q1 of FY2017/18, for example, economic growth rose to 1.8% from 1.1% in the previous quarter.
Unfortunately, as Bank of Uganda Governor Tumusiime Mutebile noted in an Oct.03 monetary policy statement, most of this growth appears to be driven by public sector activity because private sector credit growth remains sluggish. This prompted the Central Bank to cautiously ease the monthly indicative lending rate, the central bank rate (CBR) from 10% to 9.5%. The economy is still being projected to grow at an annual rate of 5.0 to 5.5 percent in FY2017/18, which is a bit lower than the projected medium term GDP growth of 6 and 6.5%.
“No serious investor can bring here their money under these circumstances,” says economist Fred Muhumuza, who previously advised the country’s Finance Minister, “that is why FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) has continued to fall.”
Muhumuza is dismissive of the huge investment in physical infrastructure and says poor policies, implementation and supervision largely explain Uganda’s current economic situation.
“Development is cosmetic,” he said, “power lines and roads are extended where they cannot be used. The timing and management of development projects is all political and there is no supervision.”
All this is worsened by the fact that institutions are not functional. “Infrastructure is not the most important factor to investors,” he said, “Serious investors will look at the institutions like courts and ask; if I get a legal complication, how fast will it be resolved?”
World Bank figures indicate that FDI fell from US$ 1.2 billion in 2012 to US$. 1.0 billion. By June 2016, it had hit $ 870 million, a seven year low. Insiders say 2017 could be worse.
As Muhammad Sempijja, the former Country Manager at Enerst & Young explained, the response of investors is like the normal response of human beings.
“Investors like stability, security and certainty,” Sempijja explained, “if anything affects any of these variables, investors are going to be concerned.”
He said that unfortunately, sentiments emerge quickly but tend to linger.
“When there is a sense of uncertainty,” he said, “investors are going to take a wait and see approach. And the longer the uncertainty takes, the bigger the impact. Because there are usually options, others can take their money elsewhere.”
Sempijja noted that the capital flight from Uganda is not as great as it should possibly be because neighbouring economies, such as Kenya, that Uganda tends to compete with for investors are not doing any better. Added to that is the general gloomy global investment environment which has led the IMF to predict that global output is to remain unchanged at 3.6% in 2017 from 3.5% in 2016.