Why can’t the president stop complaining about everything?
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | President Yoweri Museveni is always cited as an all-powerful figure in Uganda based on his decades-long reign and ability to dispatch opponents at elections and those emerging from inside the government. But this is belied by his continued lamentations about the failures of his government; on the rampant corruption, his public frustration, the apparent insubordination as officials refuse to implement his directives either out of incompetence or inability to do so.
While officiating at a pass out ceremony of 2717 police constable and immigration officers at Kabalye Police Training School in Masindi, Museveni complained about his directives being ignored. He was annoyed that his order for Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) to vacate Entebbe International Airport was not heeded. It was a shock to some as the one place where many assume Museveni would not brook failure to carry out his orders is in the forces.
“I have discovered that my instructions were never carried out…All these wonderful people. I think Major Kandiho and Brig. Charles Bakahumura. I want to find out what CMI is doing at the airport,” he stressed.
“I said airport should be for immigration and police. What is CMI doing at the airport? Are they flight controllers at the airport?” the president wondered.
At a recent event celebrating young innovators and scientists, President Museveni again puzzled those present when he asked: “How can you tax young enterprises and industries when you’re giving these old companies’ tax holidays for 10 years?” he asked to the bewilderment of the young scientists at the event and to Ugandans.
“But, who really runs this country? Seems like Museveni is the defacto opposition leader, always whining as if his hands are tied.” Godwin Toko, a lawyer and activist commented. On social media, the President has since been caricatured as the Leader of Opposition because of his frustration and endless rants at making decisions.
Museveni’s question on the taxes was directed to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) which, although it has established a reputation as an anti-business organization, is usually acting at the behest of Museveni or taking cues or even outright directives from him.
Foreign investors are known for getting tax holidays in Uganda by the Ministry of Finance at Museveni’s directives as a way of promoting investment.
While presiding over Independence Day celebrations in Kitgum, he complained about cattle rustlers who have existed there for close to a century. Museveni met some local leaders over the matter but they left unsatisfied at the lack of effort by the head of state in dealing with the problem decisively.
On International Labour Day in 2021, he ranted again: “In Kyankwanzi I told the MPs how in 1789 France had 4 social classes. If you go to France now the peasants are no longer there, they have disappeared. Here we are preserving the peasants.”
On another occasion, Museveni had this to say: “Uganda’s problem is the unwise villager who sells farm products without value addition. When you export raw materials, you get less money than when you export a finished product. We coffee growers are getting $1 while those that don’t suffer in producing coffee get $53.”
The rants by Museveni are not limited to when he is Uganda. Museveni was at it again while on a trip to Serbia. “We are here buying furniture from the Arabs who stay in the desert. How can we sit on imported furniture here? We cannot make a plane, a computer, or medicine, we can’t even make furniture, what sort of experts are we? Experts of ignorance?” The President who has been in power for 37 years said out of frustration while visiting Serbian businessmen.
“The day Museveni becomes the president of Uganda, he will implement those things he keeps recommending in his current station in opposition politics, we will be unstoppable! I can’t wait!” Chaos Theory, commenting on X, the social media platform formerly called Twitter.
Sometimes, he has turned the frustration on his subordinates. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, Museveni blamed the health ministry for failing to implement his directive for what he said would have averted the catastrophic outbreak in June and July of 2021 of a lethal Covid-19 that claimed thousands of lives.
Museveni publicly rebuked Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, at a function held at State House, for failing to procure 42,000 ICU hospital beds to manage COVID-19. Museveni said he came up with the figure based on the number of Covid-19 patients that were critically ill in Italy in the early days of the pandemic.
Atwine defended herself saying they had submitted requests to the Ministry of Finance and were waiting for approvals. For observers at the time, the directive seemed to be an easy cop-out for Museveni who left Atwine and the ministry holding the bag at a time of desperation as the country grappled with its most challenging healthcare crisis.
Atwine follows on cue
Museveni’s rants, indecision and at times deaf tone attitude are now also reflected in some of his officials as they ponder questions in their work. On Nov. 23 while addressing a workshop, Atwine, picked up the cue from her boss as she shed tears over the rising rate of HIV/AIDS in children and adolescents. “You people to sit here in these meetings in Serena…it is not enough, those young people out there need us.”
However if there is a health sector meeting at a plush hotel like Serena, there is a high chance that Atwine paid for it as the Accounting Officer of the Ministry where she is accountable for every penny. But even a day before, Atwine had stirred more anger and criticism with a tweet lamenting another healthcare crisis.
“The level of teenage pregnancy in West Nile region is notably sad. I was shocked to find all these girls, below 17years filling the waiting desk at the antenatal unit of one of the facilities. Many of these girls end up dropping out of school and will not get a chance to go back. Many of these don’t make it out of childbirth alive!” Atwine said. She wasn’t done “Something needs to be done!”
The post got Atwine a lot of criticism because as PS she is a decision maker at the top of one of the most important ministries. Ugandans rapped Atwine for posturing about a countrywide problem after a random visit to one health facility in one far flung corner of the country. In fact one shared with her a 2021 fact sheet on teenage pregnancy in Uganda by UNFPA that indicates that West Nile was the fourth most affected region behind South Central, North Central and Busoga presenting as an overall national epidemic.
However in his lamentations, diagnosis seems to be Museveni’s strength and execution his weakness as seen from his usual mantra of development bottlenecks which he shares with other African leaders. In 2016, the 25th Summit of the Heads of State and Government participating in the African Peer Review Mechanism, endorsed a discussion paper presented by President Museveni on Africa’s bottlenecks.
Titled ‘The 11 Bottlenecks facing Africa’ he listed them as ideological disorientation, interference with the private sector, underdeveloped infrastructure, Weak States especially the army, police, Fragmented Markets, Market Access, Lack of Industrialisation and low value addition, Under-development of Human Resources (lack of education and poor health), The under development of Agriculture, The under-development of services sector (banking, insurance, tourism, etc.), The attack on Democracy and Governance, Non-responsive Civil Service.
The bottlenecks are issues that Museveni had addressed for over thirty years and some his pet subject of industrialisation, he outlined what he always says in Uganda. “…we are still struggling with the value addition for coffee. The coffee bean from Uganda has been exported to United Kingdom at US $1 per kilogram for the last 100 years. The price of the coffee bean has recently moved to US $3 per kilogram in the international market” he told his fellow heads of state at the summit in Nairobi.
“Yet, when this coffee is processed in the United Kingdom it is resold to us at US $15 per kilogram. This means for the last 100 years we have been donating 14 dollars per kilogram to United Kingdom. In addition, we are creating jobs in their country for their people in the coffee processing chain. We are working hard on reversing this trend to ensure that our people get access to employment in this coffee value chain.”