By Frank Tumwebaze
The Uk based Economist newspaper and its other sister outlets, recently dedicated a good amount of their print space to publish nothing else but extreme hate content against Uganda and its President; a recent style of journalism i find so strange; but only common and popular with outlets of gutter press,to say the least.
The article was neither an objective critique of the political realities obtaining in Uganda nor a balanced account of what Uganda has managed to achieve or miss under the leadership of President Museveni, but rather was a well spiced instrument of propaganda from a hired political hit man; a merchant of hatred, only rehearsing dirty insults, innuendos and attacks against the person of the President of Uganda. Fortunately, the tenor of the article exposed the unnecessary personal outrage and emotions of the writer leaving any objective reader with an opportunity to discern easily between dirty handworks of haters and what can be taken as objective criticism.
It was an attempt by the economist newspaper , albeit a failed one, to lend a hand of support and credence to the desperate anti- NRM forces whose political efforts in Uganda have for decades now failed to win the confidence of the electorate.
This was however not surprising,well aware of the agenda of the western Media and their biases towards African leaders; especially those with reasonable amount of influence in their countries and in the region and with clear footprints of transformation planted on the development trajectories of their countries.
It's that category of leaders that they seek to target and demonize by falsely judging them on their own diversionary 'artificial symbols of democracy' and rhetoric. This is the mere democratic symbolism that the western media and its sponsors propagate and scream so much loud about for Africa to embrace and thus get diverted from its development realities at the expense of its peoples' empowerment.
The earlier Africa and her people put aside their small differences and concentrated on what unites them so as to collectively resist these diversionary and generic prescriptions of symbolic democracy, the better for our continent's future.
What these western media channels do is to target and frame the portraits of these resolute African leaders like President Museveni and others in the stereotype of their attitudes towards Africa and her people. Yet they cover up the actions of most of their own despots at home and fail to condemn the ego-centric wars sponsored and Exported to other countries by their leaders leaving their own economies bleeding profusely, citizens chocking on growing public debt and thousands of their tax payers jobless.
What a shame? The economist newspaper could perhaps gain more readership and some sort of legitimacy as an impartial umpire if it exposed such inequities in the backyard of its masters . Unfortunately it cannot. The whole agenda any way of these western media outlets that we should all know, is not to speak good of africa's progress, but rather to target and demonize such transformational leaders on the continent with strong and purposeful agendas for their countries' future as they deceptively pamper and promote weak unpopular stooges against them.
The late Melesi Zenawi of Ethiopia for example, suffered so much wrath of these partisan international media outlets, despite his land mark legacy of transformation that Ethiopia takes so much pride in and which has acted as a buffer for its economic resilience. It was therefore not surprising reading that much hateful content as contained in the economist article entitled 'Uganda and its President, a leader who cannot bear to retire; unleashing all sorts of emotional outbursts against the person of President Museveni.
With a history of political violence and short-lived regimes characterizing post independent uganda, President Museveni’s twenty seven year stable stay in power has confounded many; friends and foes alike. In spite of all else, Uganda’s post independence moment of truth was in January 1986; and the ‘man responsible for that moment’ was Yoweri Museveni.
His consecutive electoral victories therefore, are well grounded and come as deserving rewards from the population that know and feel the stable and prosperous journey he has walked them through . This of course comes at the chagrin of his adversaries and their foreign sympathizers. Yet on the other hand the much pampered Ugandan opposition have failed to seize any ground because of their failure to appreciate the status quo and thus propose alternatives that don't seek to undo what is already real but instead work to consolidate the gains.
For starters, democratic symbolism is an issue to understand and really debate whether that is the right direction nation states should take or indeed whether that is a form of democracy to talk of? It is the rhetoric of 'appearing to be' what actually one is not and the tendency to emphasize what is secondary while paying little or no attention to the primary antidotes of real democracy and development. Yet real democracy should not only preach rhetoric of mere political appearances but rather work to entrench the actual fundamental prerequisites that enable democratic cultures to thrive.
NRM has never worked for mere political appearances but rather for real causes even when a certain amount of a high price has had to be paid. Any country worth being called a democracy therefore, should be judged on these parameters and Not on Questions of longevity or short stay of leaders. What is crucial is the path that the leader navigates a country through and the policies he adopts.
In fact, if the policy instruments are excellent as is the case for Uganda, longevity becomes very significant. Conversely, regular change of leaders is no guarantor for good governance. If that was to be the case, then post independent Uganda,would have taken off much faster as a super democracy in it's early post- independence period, given the fact that between 1962 and 1985 alone, Uganda changed 8 Presidents . So why didn't a democratic culture then take deep root ? Was the problem then, leaders who couldn't bear to retire as was alluded to by the Economist? Certainly Not.
The problem was the collapse of the entire political structure without anything in place to support the evolution of democracy. Fortunately Our Political history is recorded for all to know. The works of NRM have enabled us to entrench real prerequisites for democracy building as opposed to artificial symbols. These prerequisites include; participation of the citizenry in determining their destiny, a free press, free and fair, periodic elections.
All these have since been restored and no leader in uganda at every level leads without the people's will. The most confounding aspect of President Museveni’s lengthy stay in power therefore, is NOT the length of time he has been in power, but Rather, what he has been able to achieve for his country. The aspect of longevity alone distracts us from asking relevant questions like: how has the country fared since Museveni came to power? What are Uganda’s strategic challenges? How are the socio-economic indicators of growth in all sectors doing? Let us attempt to answer these questions and therefore assess scientifically the performance of the Museveni administration, political biases of his opponents notwithstanding.
For instance the NRM government has managed over the years, to steadily maintain a positive rate of sustainable economic growth in terms of real GDP. Since 1992/93, fiscal policy in Uganda has entailed very strict budgetary discipline. Government has kept firm control over its own expenditures to ensure that it does not have to borrow from the domestic sources to finance budget deficits. Fiscal discipline has been absolutely essential for the control of inflation. In turn, low inflation is a prerequisite for the higher levels of private investment that have sustained rapid economic growth in Uganda.
For all this long, the main macroeconomic objectives of Government that have been steadily pursued without any policy reversals or deviations have been: to ensure rapid real GDP growth, to keep consumer price inflation to five percent or below, to maintain a prudent level of foreign reserves, and to ensure that the real exchange rate is compatible with a competitive external sector. Maintaining low inflation is an especially crucial objective of economic policy because high inflation has a number of harmful effects on the economy. In particular it increases uncertainty about future economic variables and thus discourages investment.
Low and stable inflation is a prerequisite for private investment in long term productive assets. It is very difficult to make long term forecasts about the commercial viability of an investment project in conditions of high inflation, because the future prices on which the viability of the project will depend are very difficult to predict when inflation is high. Hence inflation makes long term investment much more risky. High inflation also erodes the real value of money and thus discourages savings.
It often leads to shrinking of the financial system, as happened in Uganda in the 1980s. Inflation is also regressive, because the poor are much less able to protect the real value of their savings from erosion than are the rich. For these reasons, the control of inflation has been and still is a central objective of macroeconomic policy, and an objective which the NRM government has succeeded in achieving since 1992/93 to date because of being able to maintain strong budget discipline at the aggregate fiscal level. Even when inflation shot to a double digit last year because mainly of exogenous factors, it was eventually squeezed back to as low as 3.4% the lowest ever by the same correct fiscal and monetary policy instruments of government.
Another indicator of a well managed economy is the way how a government manages its borrowing in order to finance its fiscal deficit especially for a developing country like Uganda that was characterized by long periods of civil strife and general economic collapse. If the Government runs a fiscal deficit which is too large to be financed from donor funds, it must borrow from the domestic banking system, which generally entails borrowing from the Central Bank.
When the Central Bank lends money to Government it creates credit – which means that it prints money. When Government borrows from the Central Bank there is an injection of high powered money into the economy, which money is not backed by production. Furthermore, excessive Government borrowing from the banking system usually leads to the crowding out of private sector borrowing. The private sector is squeezed out of credit markets as the Central Bank tries to counter the affect of Government borrowing on inflation by tightening monetary policy.
If the private sector is squeezed out of the credit markets by Government’s demand for credit, there will clearly be adverse affects on real activity in the private sector, and therefore on the economy’s growth prospects. Our government has been sensitive to these effects of excessive borrowing and has tried as much as possible to mitigate them.
This however, does not mean that Government cannot run fiscal deficits – it actually does– but it ensures that the deficits are financed from non-inflationary sources, such as donor grants and soft loans after seeking parliamentary approval. A favorable tax policy has been pursued over the years and Uganda remains the only one in east africa with the lowest rate of tax contribution to GDP averaging about 13%. Despite pressure from the IMF and world bank to raise the tax rate contribution to GDP the government has moved cautiously not to hurt the growing private sector.
I am dwelling much on good economic management because it’s a variable highly dependant on the nature of the country’s Political leadership and it can therefore be a good measure in assessing governance credentials of any regime. No wonder the first alarming signs that come with effects of instability or bad governance in any country are inflation levels.
This should be the yard stick in my opinion to evaluate Museveni and his long service, biases notwithstanding. His contenders too should stop the cheap game of running only on this wave of his long stay without substantially articulating their alternative agenda. With or without President Museveni active on the Political scene of uganda, the citizenry will continue to reject resoundingly the political schemers that only seek to ride on mere sentiments and rhetoric, without offering dependable alternative
The writer is the minister in charge of the presidency and Kampala Capital City