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State of silence isn’t golden

By Peter Nyanzi

The unaddressed issues in President Museveni’s State of the Nation address

At any particular time, there are five things that should be of utmost interest to any head of state.  These are the things they are expected to talk about at any opportunity; more so during mandatory speeches like the State of the Nation Address when they have everybody’s attention.

First are the good things that the government has achieved and which the head of state wants to shout about for everyone to hear. Emphasing these in as much detail as possible is absolutely important as it helps to build confidence in the population.

Secondly, however uncomfortable it might feel, the President must address the bad things that everyone is talking about and which the government could actually be embarrassed about. Without being defensive, the President must to a certain extent show he partly agrees with those who say there is a problem reassure them he will do everything in his power to deal with it. This is important because it helps to build bridges and consensus in the population.

Thirdly, the President must build an agenda by talking about the good things that no one is talking about but which he wants people to start thinking about and implementing. As the guy on top, the President is is the ‘Giraffe’ among us, and is supposed to see farther than the rest of us.

Fourthly, a country is not an island but is part of the global community so the President must talk about the things that he wants other countries to know and that he wants citizens to know about other countries.  By talking about them he shows that he is keen to build international relations.

Lastly, the President must build hope in the population by talking about the things that are not yet in place – but which he sees as a must and which he will ensure become reality.

So, how did President Yoweri Museveni perform on these issues in his State of the Nation Address on June 5?

Everybody – even the government’s main critics – knows that a lot has been achieved by the government over the last 12 months.

It was, therefore, disappointing and a missed opportunity for the President to say that the Minister of Finance would be the one to talk about these achievements in the budget speech. President Museveni knows the things on the minds of Ugandans more than any other person.

All that the people want from their government is to assure them of the availability of safe water, energy, social protection, health services, security, sanitation, jobs, housing, public transport, food, education for their children, recreation and a clean environment.  To show that the government is working in public interest, all the President needed to do was to provide some simple statistics to show what has been achieved.

For instance, he made no reference to education and health completely, yet we all know that new health facilities (both public and private) have been set up in the last 12 months.

On the education front, new facilities have also been set up and students have performed better in the various examinations. Like the saying goes, ‘the devil is in the details.’ Simple details that the ordinary person can relate to as opposed to the lofty figures he kept referring to. The President has all the machinery he needs to get these simple figures from the various ministries and departments. The address was lacking on these key details not only on those priority sectors but also on other key components such as job creation, justice, law, and order.

Among the things everyone has been talking about over the last 12 months has been the donor fallout over the Anti-Homosexuality Act and corruption both of which led to suspensions in aid and the massive retrenchment of workers in non-governmental organisations.  Why did the President remain silent on this important subject, yet the representatives of most of the donors were in attendance? It was clearly a missed opportunity to build bridges with the development partners, and to assure the citizens that everything would be fine.

Also, there has been a lot of concern about terrorism, and more so given that our neighbour Kenya has in recent months suffered terrorist attacks. The people needed assurances that the government was on top of the situation. Also, in the last 12 months, the hunt for Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army rebels has seen Ugandan soldiers deployed as far as the Central African Republic.  Ugandans are also on the ground in several other African countries including South Sudan and DR Congo among others. These gallant men and women and their families were desperate to hear words of assurance and support from the commander in chief.

Also, what is Uganda’s vision for and place in the region, Africa and the world? What values and principles does Uganda stand for in her relations with other countries? As a global citizen, who does Uganda stand with, what do we stand against as a country? What are the key drivers of Uganda’s commitments and contributions to creating a better region, a better Africa and a better world?  These are critical issues of international relations that the President had to address. His address was a chance for all the other countries; allies and foes alike – to hear him.

Over the past year there has been much talk about the vacuum or call it a conundrum in the Judiciary and the crisis at KCCA. Though both issues are now before the Courts, the President should have given assurances to the population that he was on top of the situation.

Also, the infighting in NRM – real or imagined – has been on the lips of many people. Commenting on these issues would have helped to give the assurance that the government performance on its commitments to the people would not be affected by the perceived battles in the party.

Of course not many people are talking about Northern Uganda anymore; now that the war is over, but the President needed to drive the agenda for that region by giving assurance of more government support for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of that war-torn region.  Also, the problem of land wrangles persists countrywide. That the President didn’t make any attempt to build an agenda on a way forward was a little disappointing.

While the President is not known to be a sports lover, he needed to highlight the achievements our boys and girls have made in the various sports disciplines over the last 12 months.  There is no better encouragement for even better performance in the future.

Against that backdrop, though sometimes “Silence is Golden’, this time the silence was indeed louder than words.


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