A Little History
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni became president of the Republic of Ugandan on January 26, 1986 after leading a successful five-year guerrilla struggle against the regimes of Milton Obote and Tito Okello. He formed a broad-based government in which formerly hostile factions were brought under the unifying influence of the National Resistance Movement (NRM).
Museveni and his colleagues were leaders; guerrilla, military leaders, who, suddenly, became suited, and, now, career politicians with, at both stations, a higher calling to serve the country. They might have lacked the necessary role models, training, and skills, but they successfully managed to wing it, and to lead Uganda. A fundamental change, they told us it was.
A Gradual Global Move
In his 2011-2016 election manifesto; Prosperity for All, Better Service Delivery and Job Creation, Mr. Museveni wrote, on page 79, that “the NRM has promoted a private sector led economic growth as an engine of development and job creation.” He had written, previously, on page 39 of his 1996 election Manifesto; Tackling the Tasks Ahead, that “private people look after their assets better than government bureaucrats who do not have a stake in the success or failure of an enterprise.”
What he did not write, was that, in fact, his was an enforcer’s job, as there was indeed what, for example, Hajo Lanz, the Resident Representative for the Friederich Ebert Stiftung termed as “a gradual move towards privatisation, decentralisation, and commercialisation of government functions.” Eventually, whether we liked it or not, several public and/or government run institutions were to fall into the hands of private citizens or foreign business persons – by way of privatisation.
A Method Applied
As such, there was a popular, public, pitch for privatisation, by the entire setup of the government. A couple of important public institutions, such as Uganda Commercial Bank, and the Diary Cooperation, were taken over by South Africa’s Stanbic Bank and Kenya’s Sameer respectively for prices too low to even believe. If memory serves me right, Sameer took over the Diary Cooperation for an equivalent of USD 1, before it sent off an initial shipment of not milk, but, instead, milk powder which was expired. The latter, we know because it was shared on the front page of a leading local daily as the President flagged the shipment off.
Even when private companies, like MTN are, thankfully, the biggest tax payers in the country, there are other companies, like the former Warid Telecom, which also launched, to invest in the highly lucrative Information Communication and Telecommunications industry have been lucky enough to enjoy enormous tax holidays, while several others have been granted free land.
With the exception of a few mishaps, privatisation took effect, and it can be said that it has worked well enough to, amongst others enable jobs and services.
The Method Emphasised.
In the mid-1990s, 1996 to be precise, there was a program known as entandikwa. Entandikwa was meant to sensitise people about the advantages of optimally using their resources and assets to maximise their homestead incomes, by availing seed money, through a revolving fund, to individuals and small groups, with the intent of bettering them, especially artisans and manufacturers.
Whether it worked or otherwise was never examined, but what we do know is that entandikwa – in the sense of growing local families and enterprises – was, somehow, ignored for a beautiful death, and replaced with the building of a new love relationship(s) with foreign investors.
Mr. Museveni’s mistake has, evidently, been spending useful time courting foreign investors instead of nurturing locally inspired, based and knowledgeable business leaders.
All the available support to investment, the institutions, that is, like Uganda Revenue Authority do not have much to tax as most Ugandans belong to the informal sector, Uganda Registration Services Bureau faces challenges of costly and lengthy procedures in as far as the ease of doing business is concerned, National Environmental Management Authority is involved in never ending dubious land wrangles, the Land Registry is not digitised and bathed with bribes, while Uganda National Bureau of Standards continues perpetuating the stereotype that Uganda has good research and policies but without effective action.
Getting foreign investors into an environment like Uganda’s only means that with the investors coming down here, they are only bound to indulge with a culture that, sadly, does not work well with and for them.
A Little Trouble
As illustrated above, Uganda’s public human resource is bathed in corruption – of all kinds; abuse of office, fraud and embezzlement, false declarations of imports and exports, bribery and extortions, nepotism, perpetual absenteeism from work without just cause, and more.
Well aware of the above, Mr. Museveni has maintained a direct link(s) between him and his investors, his investors because he has, really, sought them out, all by himself, to come and modernise Uganda, like he hoped to, in his 1996 election manifesto.
Then, Mr. Museveni argued that “it is Africa’s backwardness in general, and Uganda’s in particular, that we seek to eliminate.” “Uganda and Africa are backward because”, Mr. Museveni added, onto pages 13 and 14, “of economies and societies that are still largely based on pre-capitalist modes of production and social structures: tribal communism; a depressed cash crop economy which, in the past, depended only on foreign markets; and a largely subsistence economy on the edge of the money economy.”
Instead of following up with, and enhancing entandikwa, and also, well aware of the nature of the Ugandan culture, the same that is not believed to be made of poor business people, the same that he has for years, since the mid-1990’s, been trying to modernise into a middle-income economy, Mr. Museveni went out for his foreign friends.
A Little Bit of More Trouble
As recent as lately as 2017, some of these investors have, allegedly, been involved in petty crimes, some not even investment related (re: sexual harassment cases involving foreign investors and local employees); there have been stalled and/or stagnant foreign investor influenced projects (re: the hotels that were meant for CHOGM), and several others who are now being asked to return to their sending countries as they do not meet the local threshold of an investor – at least, the fancied one.
Unimpressed, Members Of the Parliament of Uganda have summoned the respective authorities, whom they have asked to explain what these investors are doing, and where applicable ask them to return back to their home countries.
While some of the foreign investors have, in essence, become a nuisance, some local, well meaning, equally important local investors have either willingly closed shop or been shut by some of the Uganda’s “support to investors” (re: WBS Television and Good African Coffee, respectively) due to unpaid taxes, in their billions. These businesses, I believe, would not have closed shop if they had the best entandikwa when they were not experiencing the best of times.
Even worse, it is worth noting, for purposes of sharing knowledge, that the investment opportunities the Uganda Investment Authority are facing numerous challenges.
Agribusiness is challenged by a continuing subsistence culture and the death of marketing boards; tourism opportunities are either not optimally exploited or they are undeveloped; mining is influenced by corrupt political leaders; ICT in Uganda makes it nothing but a digitaLOL country; manufacturing is hovered by expensive costs of production, so we have to import and make the expensive means for that importation possible, like the Standard Gauge Railway; infrastructure, across the board, is wanting; the products of our education systems are jobless whereas investors in that industry are doing nothing but fleeing parents and guardians; financial services ae not readily available to everybody, and if they are, they are expensive; and the general public health industry needs care and saving while the good local ones are expensive.
A Real Revolution
As a local social entrepreneur, I find that it is rather unfair for us to be moved to believe that it is Museveni’s investors, inglorious investors, who will help transform Uganda into a middle-income economy, especially when I am well aware that it is in fact small scale businesses that can ably do that, if they are well guided and helped to access the much needed but rare capital and other resources.
Our focus, thus, should be directed towards bettering the local businesses and encouraging the growth of more local investors.
If we do not do that, all the historical reasons for the demise of eras of leaders in ancient African Kingdoms, such as famine, drought, poverty, and more will eventually play a part in the demise of this one. They have already started. It is only the foreign investor loving Mr. Museveni who can save his dream by realigning his methods before a real revolution can happen, before his “fundamental one” is realised.
Without a doubt, there has been progress or some improvements made in all sectors, but as a person who sees everything in form of money, I do not think Mr. Museveni’s investors have much to show for all the worship they receive. Uganda, and Africa in general, is an emerging opportunity, one we cannot let slip through our fingers. We have to tender it, and carefully, for our current and future African generations, before our leaders today replicate the poor leadership habits that they have observed in those before them.
BY ALEXANDER TWINOKWESIGA
This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 5, Issue 1 of May 5th, 2017
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