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Term limits debate

By Agaba Rugaba

An unfortunate misdiagnosis of our socio-economic challenges

I believe the Return-term-limits campaign offers nothing fundamental to our country’s socio-economic transformation efforts.  Its crusaders, ranging from the opposition political parties, Members of Parliament, Civil Society and church leaders, all seem to suggest that our political and social economic challenges come down to one man; President Yoweri  Museveni. They want to restore term limits to bar him from prolonged stay in power.

As per the Presidential Elections ACT 2005, Article 4 Section 1(b), President Museveni cannot stay in power beyond 2021 considering he will be above the 75-years age limit. Restoration of term limits today, or two years from now, will not bar him from contesting in 2016 unless the amendment specifically targets him. For us to put Museveni at center stage is an unfortunate misdiagnosis of the challenges we face as a country.

The recently released State of East Africa Report 2012 by the East African Community Secretariat and Society for International Development clearly highlights the major political and socio-economic challenges Uganda faces today and in the next two decades. These include poor infrastructure, energy deficiency, population explosion, climate change and environmental degradation etc.

Uganda’s population is slightly over 34 million today. According to the United Nations Development Programme Report 2011, this is expected to hit 60 million in the next two decades (2030). Over 60% of Uganda’s population today is below the age of 15 years and this number will rise to 35 million in the next two decades too. Imagine this: In the next 20 years; Uganda will have as many teenagers as its population today.

Urbanisation is another major challenge for Uganda before it makes 75 years. According to the United Nations Population Division, World Urbanisation Prospects 2009, Kampala is one of the 20 fastest growing cities in the world. Kampala’s population will double in the next 15 years. All this population explosion and urbanisation creates an urgent need for infrastructure, oil, energy, water systems, railways, housing, education facilities etc. These are the issues that should be at the center of debate and discourse in the Parliament, mainstream media and civil society forums.

The public infrastructure in Uganda, especially the road sector, is appalling. Despite huge budget allocations to Uganda National Roads Authority to implement road projects,  it has for the second year been unable to utilise all the budget allocations. According to the African Development Bank Infrastructure Data 2008, Uganda with over 71,000km of road network, only 4% is paved (2330km) and 96% is unpaved (68,670km). Furthermore, only 15% of the paved roads are in good shape and only 1% of the unpaved Roads network is in good shape. This translates to high transport costs, road accidents, delays in transport of goods and services, high production and maintenance costs for manufacturers. Parliament and Civil Society should be concerning themselves with how best to improve the capacity of UNRA, PPDA, relevant ministries and local governments to utilise these budget allocations optimally. The structural and capacity deficiencies at UNRA, PPDA, Ministry of Works, KCCA or District Works Departments have nothing to do with the Presidency.

Youth unemployment, poor agricultural production and poverty are the other major challenges. The notion that the solutions to these challenges lies in removing President Museveni is misguided and unfortunate. We need to engage pragmatic framework to combat and address these socio-economic challenges.

The closest, government came to engaging a robust framework to address these challenges was the formulation of the National Development Plan (NDP)in 2010 with a vision of transforming Uganda from a peasant to a modern country in the next 30 years.  The latest media reports indicate that Amama Mbabazi, the Prime Minister and Leader of Government in parliament, has admitted that the NDP is not working. This should now be the concern of our parliament, civil society and general public. The mandate to implement the NDP majorly lies with technocrats and Senior Managers in ministries, government agencies and local government authorities. Its failure is not entirely a political problem. It is not a problem of the Presidency.

A study on the performance of National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) by the Economic Policy Research Centre, Makerere University indicates that its failures are not on the part of Central Government or the Presidency. It highlights lack of monitoring and supervision by district officials, lack of capacity for districts to absorb all NAADs funds, poor quality farm inputs, nepotism – political heads at districts select their relatives for model famers, etc. All these are flaws at the local government and grass roots level –  so any attempt to stream line leadership and service delivery in this country has to cut across board not just the Presidency.

For us to shelve the current socio-economic challenges upon us and engage into political battles is an unfortunate precedence. We risk wasting the next ten years engaged in the political contests that don’t deliver any tangible results for the common people. We must engage government on how best they can implement programmes and projects that deliver public goods and services to the people, and that is the hall mark of democracy. It’s the best way to build both sustainable development and democracy. Unless we concern ourselves with these issues, whoever succeeds President Museveni will also inherit the same structural inefficiencies and capacity deficiencies.

The next 10 years could still see President Museveni at the helm. We may choose to engage him on how best he delivers public goods and service or we can continue the political contests on when he retires and who succeeds him. The latter seems to be what some of our Members of Parliament and Church leaders have gone for. I pray the general public and wanaichi go for the former. Considering the corruption scandals and infrastructure breakdown that have dogged President Museveni and his government for the last 10 years, it is apparent he is a man intent on redeeming his reputation and legacy before he heads off into retirement. We have never been in a better position to engage him on how best his government can deliver public goods and services. The term-limits debate is a step in the wrong direction on this note.

Agaba Rugaba is a Socio-Political Commentator

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