By Joseph Were
The scandal in yellow shows why manifesto writing should only be attempted by the most committed thinkers
Have you seen President Yoweri Museveni’s manifesto for the 2016 elections? If you have not, thank your gods. As one commentator said, it is a ‘PhD thesis”. That was in reference to its size, not its substance. Yes, the manifesto is actually 338 pages long – in other words, slightly bigger than the `New Testament’ of The Good News Bible. Who did the authors think was going to read it; professors or the semi-literate multitudes of Museveni supporters?
But volume is just the first level at which things fall apart. The copy I got started on page 6 and had several pages either repeated or mixed up. The physical entanglement apart, the taste of this manifesto is in the reading. Honestly, it is unclear what plank Museveni is campaigning on this time.
Part of the challenge for the team at the NRM Secretariat which compiled the manifesto is that Museveni has been in power for 30 years and has a strategic agenda that he has incrementally been implementing. That is good for Museveni but bad for the manifesto drafters. For them, it is important to communicate something new. Within the confines of traditional manifesto writing, it is unacceptable to simply tell voters that Museveni will “continue doing more of the same”.
Related to the traditions of manifesto writing still, the drafters also needed a slogan. They chose “Steady Progress”, which is normally a positive expression. But in serious writing, such as a manifesto, it really does not communicate anything. In 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya faced the same situation as Museveni. He was running to continue what his predecessor, Mwai Kibaki, was doing. He decided to run under the slogan “Transforming Kenya” with the tagline “Securing Kenya’s prosperity”. In his famous 2008 campaign, U.S. President Barack Obama ran with the promise of `Renewing the American Promise” and had the now famous slogan “Yes we can”. Both portrayed a clear intent.
In case of the NRM manifesto, it is not clear how “steady progress” is different from “progress”. `Progress’ signifies movement, whereas `steady’ signifies inertia. Very quickly it becomes clear that “Steady progress” is a much used and abused expression that communicates nothing and suffers an inherent contradiction nearing what is often called an oxymoron. It is like saying NRM is “going nowhere”. Such language is strangely familiar when one is saying nothing.
Up to this point, the only respite from a near manifesto-reading heart attack comes from Museveni’s portrait on the cover page. That image is a classic. It shows Museveni in perfect character – presidential and dignified, yet approachable and fun. Museveni has aged quite a bit and many of us were apprehensively waiting to see the latest attempt to make him look younger in his campaign poster. We saw that in 2006 and 2011. Not this time. This time one sees the genuine article – a 71-year old gentleman who has aged gracefully and maintains a commanding visage under a wide-brimmed hat and a mask of mirth.
Elsewhere the lack of clarity persists throughout the publication. The sections and chapters bear only distant relation to the promise. Where one expects a succinct statement of intent, one is served with one of Museveni’s favourite speeches in the abridged version. In the longer form, the main points of wealth creation, modernisation, job creation, and inclusive development, are rendered bones without flesh, like a bride without her false teeth. New creatures, including security, good governance, democracy etc. rear their uncoordinated heads. Of course these are Museveni’s pet projects and reflect the checkered success of his reign. But it appears an awful misdirection when the main planks of the campaign become the clear water pushed below the layer of well-oiled political waxing.
When I read the main manifesto tagline of “taking Uganda to modernity”, it conjured up images of Museveni taking Uganda by the rope and dragging it along – the way his cowboys take his cows to water. Surely, shouldn’t “taking Uganda to modernity” simply be “modernising Uganda”? Amidst the mind-twisting jumble of a promise, one hears a mixture of political gobbledygook, logical paucity, and NGO workshop verbiage. It is a scandal in yellow.
On page 237, a section on `Infrastructure development: Energy, Transport” omits the game changer in the electricity sector so far, which is the 250MW Bujagali Hydropower Project. Then it is not made clear how Museveni intends to create “inclusive development” aka shared prosperity. This is a favourite talking point among development institutions like the World Bank and covers areas like aggregate economic growth contrasted with income distribution issues such as economic equality, middle-class prosperity, poverty alleviation, and economic mobility of the general population. It is not clear in the manifesto how Museveni intends to perform here.
Job creation is hinted at in Chapter three under ‘Consolidating growth, employment, and macro-economic stability’ which has nothing to do with jobs. In Chapter Fourteen where it is treated in a slightly deeper way, the information appears perfunctory. The rate of Ugandans “…in gainful employment, it says, have grown from 70.9% to over 75% in last five years and actuals jobs created are 2.5 million”.
The jobs question in Uganda is, of course, a topical but equally slippery issue. The Uganda Investment Authority should be keeping records of new employers and numbers of jobs created per season. It does not. But there are areas of obvious job growth that the manifesto could have mentioned, for example among women.
Where the youth and the rest of the population have failed to find jobs, the women-folk have excelled at creating jobs – for themselves and others. An International Labour Organisation report of 2014 titled `Women entrepreneurship Development in Uganda’ notes that women comprise 52.5% of the work force, are 86.2% self-employed, and own 44% of registered businesses in Uganda. Women control the food, accommodation, and trade sectors. Most of this growth has happened in the last 10 years, according to the Census of Business Establishments (COBE) (2010/11). That is the latest data.
Secondly, according to COBE, all businesses, formal and informal employed only 8% or 1.07% workers in 2010/11. Formal sector businesses employed only 430,000 people. Interpolation based on the 6% annual growth rate over 15 year would push the total jobs figure to about 750,000. Therefore, the claim that up to 2.5 million jobs have been created in the last five years is worth double-checking. Such follies abound. Suffice to say that manifesto writing has never been easy. But what the NRM secretariat produced shows why it should only be attempted by the most committed thinkers.