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Nation at crossroads

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Museveni losing support, Besigye gaining

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye’s Walk-to-Work protests could be gaining him significant support according to an analysis of the latest Afrobarometer poll. But the growth of opposition to President Yoweri has still not passed the critical 50% mark.

Part of the explanation could be that although the opposition has exploited the tough economic times and government failures to galvanise public anger, it has largely been unable to articulate an alternative vision, especially on the economy.


The survey surprisingly does not mention the Walk-to-Work protests but indicates that trust in the opposition has risen significantly compared to January 2011, just before the February 2011 election, that Museveni won by 68%.  At the time, trust in the opposition was 37%. It has gone up by 11 percentage points to 48%.

The NRM has suffered the biggest loss of support, with only 47% saying the NRM is their party of choice. That is a 15 percentage point drop in popularity from 62% in January 2011.

Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) is the only gainer, albeit with a very small gain at just 2 percentage points with 15% saying FDC is their party of choice from 13% in Jan. 2011.

Over the same period, Ugandans who believe they are better off with Museveni as president have slid from 69% to 59%.

“A significant number of Ugandans have lost optimism. Ratings of the country’s economic condition are at an all-time low and this is the first time in all previous Afrobarometer surveys in Uganda that a majority foresee a future worse than the present,” says the survey released on March 26.

Afrobarometer is an independent research project that measures the social, political, and economic atmosphere in Africa to bring the voice of public opinion to the attention of policy makers and implementers.

Its last poll before the February 2011 elections indicated that Museveni would win between 66 and 65 percent of the vote with a +/-2 percent at 95% level of confidence. Museveni won with 68%.

This latest survey was carried out between Dec. 2, 2011 and Feb. 27, 2012, with the same margin of error and demographics of respondents; largely rural based, not highly educated people, aged predominantly between 18 and 44.

Significantly, however, only 6 percent of the respondents were from Kampala where Besigye’s Walk-to-Work protests have had the most impact. The central region, which has the highest urban population that has felt the pinch of rising prices and has been the epicentre of the protests contributed the least respondents, at 22%. Western Uganda, where Museveni is historically strong, contributed 25% of respondents. Therefore, it is likely that the Afrobarometer numbers indicated a reasonably accurate national picture but failed to highlight the opposition’s biggest gains.

Although the poll’s indication that 67%  of respondents trust parliament more than any other institutions in the country is obviously based on that institutions handling of corruption and governance issues and the competent guidance of its Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, up to 50% of the same respondents say  they trust the police. That is a 1 percentage point drop in police popularity at a time when the force has been widely criticised for its brutal repression of democratic activity.

The same poll indicates that 65% of the respondents said they trust the ruling party and army. That is an increase of 9 percentage points for the army compared to the Jan. 2011 pre-election survey.

No government mouth-piece

Robert Sentamu, Managing Director Wilsken Agencies Ltd which is Afrobarometer’s Uganda National Investigator told The Independent that it is “not a mouthpiece of the government”.

“Our duty as Afrobarometer is to report people’s opinions, attitudes and perceptions as collected and this is exactly what we have done in the recent report,” he said.

Sentamu focused on the government reaction to the poll because, unlike in the past, the poll this time showed many negative indicators for President Museveni, his NRM party and the government.

Sentamu said whatever government’s opinion on the poll result is, it is either not doing enough in regard to the economy to the satisfaction of the public or whatever the government is doing, the public is not happy about it or they do not understand it.

“Either way it’s government’s responsibility to explain and make the public understand what they are doing on ground,” Sentamu said.

Besigye and his group should do the same. The critical question for them is why perceived support for the opposition has failed to reach the critical 50% mark despite the unprecedented unpopularity of Museveni’s government.

Why has dissatisfaction with political parties generally increased from 13% in Jan. 2011 to 28%? The NRM has had the biggest drop in support with only 47% saying the NRM is their party of choice from 62% in January 2011.

But Besigye’s FDC, although the only gainer, its gain is very small at just 2 percentage points with 15% saying FDC is their party of choice from 13% in Jan. 2011. The Uganda People’s Congress dropped one percentage point to 2% from 3% in Jan. 2011.

Amidst all the hard economic conditions, why is that more Ugandans still say they don’t completely trust the opposition and think president Museveni can still be trusted?

The opposition parties have been criticised for not giving sound alternative visions of their dream government.  Just after Museveni was declared winner of the 2011 election the opposition built a Walk-to-Work campaign around the increased food and fuel prices that resulted in brutal arrests.  The food and fuel-driven inflation combined with a weakening shilling and perceived government profligacy to cause anger and protests especially among urban Ugandans. Inflation reached a 30 percent annual rate in October 2011. The central bank intervened to raise lending rates among banks in a desperate bid to curb inflation in a move that sparked a traders’ strike. The government was criticised for draining the national reserves to buy fighter jets at a whopping Shs 1.3 trillion.

As a result, a year after Museveni was elected with 68%; up to 75% of Ugandans think he is leading the country in the wrong direction. Just before the February 2011elections some 66% of Ugandans believed country was headed in right direction.  In December 2010, only 38 percent of the population believed that the economy was performing poorly, and only 31 percent of the population believed that the situation was getting worse, while the same number actually thought it was improving.

So what has changed?

But the poll has also thrown up surprising indicators. Although, the government has been harping on about the high cost of food, only 10% of respondent were concerned about it. It was a rise of 4 percentage points but not as high as those who are concerned about rates and taxes at 30% from just 4% in Dec. 2010. Poverty and unemployment remain an issue in place of health, roads and education which were the issues in 2010. The researchers say the shifting priorities are an indication of the focus on economic concerns.

Reacting to the Afrobarometer survey, the Minister of State for Economic Monitoring Henry Banyenzki said the poll “fell short of highlighting what the government of Uganda is doing on the ground to mitigate these economic challenges”.

He cited government employment stimuli which targets to give soft loans to the youths, building markets, and ICT development. “The President has been meeting leaders from different parts of the country to identify areas for agriculture zoning; which will address food production whose shortage was partly responsible for high inflation,” Banyenzaki said.

“It is true the economy is not performing as projected this financial year but nonetheless our economy remains resilient,” he said, “struggle with a bad economy is not affecting Uganda alone but the whole region, you have heard of the crisis in the Euro zone and some of these countries are our donors.”  But only 8% of respondents in the survey agree with Banyenzaki that external factors are responsible for the country’s bad economic conditions.

By February 2012, inflation had decreased slightly to 26 percent annually. While inflation raged, the shilling also lost 19 percent of its value between January and September 2011. Headline inflation eased off slightly to 21% in March.

Unsurprisingly, amidst these glaring challenges, only 12% of those polled said Uganda is a democracy. It was a drop of 16 percentage points from 28% in 2011. Not a good sign.

Popularity

Museveni down 10 percentage points to 59%.

57% think President Museveni has performed his job well in the last 12 months.

People’s trust in NRM increased by 1%.

75% think Museveni is leading country in the wrong direction.

64% said the country was heading in right direction in January 2011.

Trust in the opposition up by 11 percentage points from the 37%.

65% say they trust NRM.

Institutions

67% say they trust parliament more than any other institution.

65% say they trust army.

Trust in army increased by 9%.

50% trust police down from 51%.

Parties

Dissatisfaction with political parties has increased from 13% in Jan. 2011 to 28%.

47% say NRM is party of choice from 62% in Jan. 2011.

15% say FDC is their party of choice from 13% in Jan. 2011.

2% say UPC is party of choice from 3% in Jan. 2011.

Economy

75% think the economic conditions are really bad.

68 percent feel economy is doing worse now than it was 12 months ago.

In December 2010, only 38% believed economy was performing poorly.

In Jan. 2011 only 34% of Ugandans believed the economic conditions were bad.

26% say their personal living conditions were good.

64% said their personal living condition was bad.

67% say they are worse off today compared to 12 months ago.

37% said last year that they their economic conditions were the same as they were in 2010.

51% of Ugandans think their economic condition will get worse in the next 12 months.

Only 17% believed their economic condition will get worse in the next 12 months in 2010.

67% think economy is going to be much worse in the next 12 months.

In 2008 peak of global crisis only 52% of Ugandans believed that the economy was very bad.

That percentage reduced to 38% in 2010 only to increase to 75% this year.

Main concerns today

Rates and taxes (30% up from 4% in Dec. 2010)

Poverty (27% up from 23% in 2010)

Management of the economy (23% from 12% in 2010)

Unemployment (22% from 18 in 2010)

Food shortage (10% up from 6%).

Main concerns at Dec. 2010

Health, roads and education

Who/What is to blame?

80% think the government is handling the economy badly up from 41% in Dec. 2010.

78% think living standards of the poor and unemployment badly handled.

83% think gap between the rich and the poor is increasing.

26% blame mismanagement of the economy.

25% think excessive spending on the 2011 elections.

8% blame the global economic situation and the weakening shilling.

20% think the rising fuel prices should be blamed.

Pessimism

In December 2010, only 31 percent believed that the situation was getting worse

In December 2010, 31 percent believed that the situation was improving.

Before the Feb. 2011 elections 66% of Ugandans believed country was headed in right direction.

Today only 28% believe country was headed in right direction.

In Jan. last year only 20% had believed the country was going in the wrong direction.

Oil

22% think government will not use any oil money to benefit all Ugandans.

29% think government will use only little of the oil money to benefit all Ugandans.

2% think government will use all oil money for the benefit of all Ugandans.

10% hope government will use most of the oil revenue to benefit all Ugandans.

79% of Ugandans want government to disclose the details of oil agreements to parliament.

Democracy

40% say Uganda is a democracy with minor problems down from 43% who had thought so in 2011.

12% say it is a full democracy down from 28%.

Only 9% think Uganda is not a democracy.

39% of Ugandans are fairly satisfied with the way Uganda’s democracy functions.

30% say they are not satisfied with the same.

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