President Museveni yesterday completed 2003 with a well deserved sigh. With 2,000 engagements many running into the wee hours of the morning, it has been a year of a punishing schedule, writes Mary Karooro Okurut, the Presidentâ€™s press secretary, and Onapito-Ekomoloit, the special presidential pre
President Museveni welcomed the New Year in Uganda's own terrorist action theatre â€“ Northern Uganda. The President had been in Gulu for the better part of 2002, overseeing operations against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) terrorists of Joseph Kony. With the LRA feeling the pinch in southern Sudan, as a result of Operation Iron Fist, it sought to re-establish itself in Acholi.
But Museveni, applying the concept of dino kal (Acholi for threshing millet) was determined to deny the terrorists space in Acholi during 2003. Consequently, he stayed in Gulu for the first quarter of the year. By the time the President left Gulu, it was clear that the LRA had no room there and had to flee eastwards.
Meanwhile, the President's international credentials against terrorism were put to test when America made good its threat against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and moved to kick him out. The world was split on whether to side with or oppose the US' unilateralist action.
Museveni having sided with the Americans in earlier anti-terrorism initiatives, proved no fair weather friend and threw his lot behind President George Bush and company â€“ the rest is history.
Terrorists, obviously desperate, continue to be a threat, as 2004 begins, but with Saddam Hussein captured like a rat and Osama Bin Laden gone quiet on his tape releases, the President may after all be on the winning side â€“ and so will Uganda.
Meanwhile, back home, the Kony terrorists, in what could be the last kicks of a dying horse, sneaked into Teso and did what they do best - killed. To his credit, Museveni was quick on their heels. He pitched camp in Soroti and saw the massive mobilisation of the peoples' self defence force, the Arrow Group, which helped the UPDF scuttle the LRA carnage in Teso.
As the year closed, the remnants of the LRA are largely cornered in Lango, but there too, the people with guidance from the President, have formed a self-defence force known as Amuka. Clearly, time is running out for the LRA.
Regional integration and peace
Museveni, a man whose political teeth were cut outside this country â€“ Tanzania and Mozambique to be precise â€“ remained the ultimate Pan-Africanist during 2003. As chairman of the Great Lakes Initiative on Burundi, he helped shepherd its warring factions into a series of peace building agreements, including the ascension of Domitien Ndayizeye into the second half of Burundi's transitional presidency.
Museveni remained in tandem with his East African Community counterparts in a push to fully revive the regional union. On June 20, at a Nairobi Summit, he won the confidence of Presidents Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania to become the chairman of the East African Community for the years 2003/4. In addition, he was a regular visitor to their two East African capitals, and so were the other Presidents in Kampala.
Elsewhere, Museveni mid-wifed the historic meeting and handshake in Kampala between Sudanese protagonists, President Omar Bashir and John Garang of the Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA), which was a precursor to the now promising settlement of the Sudanese conflict.
Museveni disproved the notion that he was the problem in the tension between Rwanda and Uganda by among other things, attending the swearing in of Paul Kagame as Rwanda's elected President.
Similarly, he acquitted himself on the Congo debacle, not only by pulling out all Uganda's troops, but by also restoring full diplomatic ties with the Kabila-led transitional government.
Further a field, the Somali clan feuding remained intractable and the President positioned himself to bring about a Burundi style push as a solution, having been elected the chairman of Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), which is the premier body searching for peace in Somalia.
Museveni also held several meetings with European, American and African top officials who visited Uganda seeking how to consolidate peace in the Great Lakes Region. Of course, he remained engaged in the wider Pan-African initiatives, attending the second African Union (AU) summit in Mozambique and several meetings on the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD).
Diplomatic and international ties
Museveni continued to guide Uganda into being one of the most internationally connected countries, by personally taking the lead. State House Nakasero, Rwakitura, the President's country home, his ranch at Kisozi and other places where he camped, such as Gulu and Soroti, saw a stream of diplomats, almost on a daily basis, going to confer with the President.
Museveni at the same time received many special envoys delivering messages from other heads of state and government. Many of these messages were invitations to visit other countries and visit them he did.
This shuttle diplomacy saw the President in countries as diverse as the United States, Britain, Ireland, Japan, Israel, Thailand, Denmark, Austria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda and of course Kenya and Tanzania.
Heightened diplomatic contacts saw Israel name Emmanuel Seri and Japan, Nobuaki Ito, as substantive ambassadors for the first time, resident in Kampala.
As mentioned earlier, Uganda restored diplomatic ties with two crucial neighbours, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Meanwhile, the reciprocation by other world leaders in terms of visiting Uganda was as prominent as it could possibly be. Among others, the de facto leader of the world, George Bush, the President of the US, visited Uganda on July 11, and become the second American President to visit the country during Museveni's presidency, his predecessor, Bill Clinton having visited earlier.
Investment, trade and tourism
President Museveni's foreign trips during the year clearly settled the argument as to whether the presidential jet was worth the money spent on it. While the President was feted at places such as the White House, his foreign trips were more to do with business.
He visited the US twice during the year and spoke himself hoarse courting investors. He did the same in the Far East, when he visited Thailand and Japan and went a notch higher in Europe, when he launched a brand of Uganda coffee at a Copenhagen supermarket in Denmark.
At all international meetings, a stranger could be forgiven for mistaking the President for a professor of economics, as he relentlessly spoke about Africa's economic woes.
Museveni's efforts earned him a special award for championing the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), which eased access into the American market for African products.
Back home, virtually one out every three meetings the President held during the year was with investors.
On the tourism front, the President among other promotion initiatives undertook a torturous lead in the making of a film about Uganda's natural attractions. Showing on the Discovery Channel, it is titled, "Uganda: The Presidential Tour" and has left viewers across the world itching to visit the "Pearl of Africa."
The fight against HIV/ AIDS
One area where Museveni continued to tower exceptionally and make more and more people stop and take notice of Uganda, was his crusade against HIV/AIDS.
In a year when the futility of playing the ostrich while the pandemic blew in the faces of many world leaders, Museveni's long-held approach of being open remained the world model.
Analysts argued that even the mighty, like Bush, came to Uganda to see the miracle of the Museveni-led fight against AIDS. Indeed, Bush met with those living with HIV/AIDS at the Entebbe branch of The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO), during his brief visit to the country.
The approach championed by the President, of having Ugandans know all the facts about HIV/AIDS and then guard themselves by using the ABC principles (abstinence, being faithful or using the condom) saw Ugandan slice its HIV/AIDS infection rate from 30% to 6%.
The President, on behalf of the country, continued to be richly rewarded for his efforts, receiving accolades and awards, such as the one he got from The African-American Institute, when he visited the US in November.
In recognition of the President's campaign, Uganda has continued to receive so much funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS that all HIV/AIDS patients are projected to receive free treatment in the New Year.
Government efficiency and corruption
While the President was clearly pre-occupied with boosting the economy, he never let down his guard on the jewel of his long stay in office: Maintaining firm political and government control.
For example, upon leaving Gulu on March 26, after a long spell there, he headed straight to the National Leadership Institute, in Kyankwanzi, where he guided the Movement's National Executive Committee (NEC), in making historic resolutions about the country's political future.
Key among the decisions of the three-day brainstorming were recommendations for the country to revert to multi-party politics and for the restriction on presidential terms to be removed.
Subsequently, the National Conference (NC) of the Movement, meeting in Kampala, also adopted the NEC position.
Afterwards, the Movement, in accordance with the Political Organisations law, was registered as a political organisation called the National Resistance Movement (NRM), and is now ready to compete with other political parties.
But as to whether the Movement's recommendations will become law is for Ugandans to decide for themselves through a national referendum that is firmly on course as per the national Constitution.
Meanwhile, in the day-to-day efficiency and control of Government, the President made changes in the cabinet, the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) and other security organisations, which are the pillars of the state.
Following the resignation of Dr Specioza Wandira Kazibwe as Vice President, the President on May 23, re-organised the cabinet, naming Prof Gilbert Bukenya as his new Vice President.
Similarly, he made changes in the army and Internal Security Organisation (ISO) on June 6, appointing Maj Gen Aronda Nyakairima the new army commander and Col Elly Kayanja, the director general ISO.
On December 11, the President made changes in the External Security Organisation (ESO), naming Lt Angalefo Maku-Iga its new director general.
Some changes made in the army, such as the December reshuffle of UPDF senior commanders were directly aimed at ending corruption in the army - the ghost soldiers saga. Top UPDF officers suspected of corruption are to be tried in the army court.
Religious and traditional institutions
Museveni continued to recognise the principle of the separation of state and religion. Similarly, he made no mistake on the fact that traditional leaders should not interfere in state affairs.
But knowing the critical role these institutions play in complementing government actions, especially in ensuring harmony in society, the President remained a steadfast ally of both religious and traditional institutions.
Traditional and religious leaders, such as Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, the Kabaka of Buganda and the Catholic prelate Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala, were warmly welcomed at State House. The President attended the Empango (enthronement anniversary celebrations) for the charismatic Tooro child King, Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru and raised funds for the kingdom's development.
Likewise, Museveni helped raise funds for a number of religious institutions such as, Kitabi Seminary in Bushenyi, where sh60m was raised, Virika Catholic Cathedral in Fort Portal, where sh45m was raised while the President personally donated sh1m and five cows, to Holy Rosary Church in Gulu. He also made similar contributions to the Church of Uganda and to Muslim initiatives.
Man of the people in joy and sorrow
During 2003, Museveni stayed true to his element when it came to touching base with the people both in good and bad times. Wherever he visited the people, the President concentrated on rallying them around commercial agricultural production for export and to harness the opportunities available under AGOA.
The President also gave a push to communities in the fight against poverty. His approach was to give donations such as livestock, which directly impacted on the people's ability to improve their incomes. In addition, a number of pledges made to communities on projects such as school construction, were fulfiled.
When the President was not talking about economic issues, he found time to share their joy with them. Consequently, during the year, he was an occasional guest at wedding ceremonies and other celebrations.
The President also made time to grieve with bereaved families either by sending messages of condolence or attending funerals in person. Notable of which was that of Basoga Nsadhu, the late minister of state for information. who was buried on May 4, at Busiki, in Iganga.
Such is the President we had in 2003.
Museveniâ€™s 2003 journey: Tiring but fruitful