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Look at longevity in leadership positively

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th January 2010 03:00 AM

JUST a day after the fifth NRM national executive conference (NEC) had ended, Stanley, a friend of mine in Brussels, sent me an email, asking me to confirm whether the media reports he had read online that the NRM NEC had endorsed President Museveni to run for a fourth term were true. The last sente

JUST a day after the fifth NRM national executive conference (NEC) had ended, Stanley, a friend of mine in Brussels, sent me an email, asking me to confirm whether the media reports he had read online that the NRM NEC had endorsed President Museveni to run for a fourth term were true. The last sente

JUST a day after the fifth NRM national executive conference (NEC) had ended, Stanley, a friend of mine in Brussels, sent me an email, asking me to confirm whether the media reports he had read online that the NRM NEC had endorsed President Museveni to run for a fourth term were true.

The last sentence in his email read: “It’s my earnest prayer that these reports are not true. Otherwise, you guys will have shamelessly stunned the world.”

My answer to his inquiry was a big and bold yes, and, of course, that was to his biggest disappointment. We have since engaged in quite a volley of arguments, with his stand being the notion that for democracy to be seen at play, leaders must come and go. This is the view I have long protested. I actually describe it as democratic symbolism as opposed to real democracy of the and for the people, as defined by Abraham Lincoln.

My friend Stanley joins the long list of the most idealistic intellectuals like retired Judge Prof. George Kanyeihamba, who have made it appear as if it is just a mere ritual for a leader who is performing well to step down from power, even when he is still very creative and more conversant with the challenges of the country where there is a lot to be accomplished.

To them, democracy building is all about periodic change of leaders, irrespective of whether they are worth retaining or not. No wonder this idealism of theirs has become more or less rhetoric. In my opinion, the progressive question should be: “Why should a country which has a performing president, think of replacing him when he is still productive?

Democracy building can never take root if society is not transformed. What Africa has lacked for decades, even during the colonial era, was transformational leadership as opposed to transactional leadership. The colonialists were not transformers, but rather transactional chiefs, who traded in certain interests against the common good of black Africa. Unfortunately, our immediate post-independence leaders only worked to preserve transactional forms of leadership.

This debate of longevity in leadership, therefore, vis-à-vis excellent performance of a given leader, should be subjected to the same criteria you can use to assess a leader who has stayed for short periods but simply messes up the country. The US Bush presidency can be a good case study. President Bush was condemned by many sections of the world for jeopardising America’s social and economic global repute, even before he completed his first four years in office. In fact, his re-election fortunes in 2004 had so much weathered with all polls conducted revealing the majority of Americans in for a change. But what later turned the tide in Bush’s favour was the failure of Democratic candidate Kelly to stand firm and give assurances to ordinary Americans that, indeed, it was safer for them to demand change and have it. The voting citizenry only failed to get convinced by the democratic candidate that he would be truly the custodian of their security concerns which the Bush administration had puffed up so much to occupy the mind of every voter and in a way cause fear.

The need to demand change of a leader or a system will automatically be induced from the citizenry, by his/her performance, no matter how long one has been in office. The fundamental point is not how long the period of rule, but rather the system and its policies. Good policies, championed by a leader, will promote growth and if consistently pursued without any deviations, cause real sustainable growth.
To my friend Stanley, it is, indeed, logical for the NRM to continue picking Museveni as its presidential candidate. It does so for the same reasons the population continues to trust his leadership.

One time Justice Kanyeihamba accused Museveni of being exhausted. An exhausted leader, for example, cannot steer a country and steadily maintain a positive rate of sustainable economic growth in terms of real GDP. Since 1992/93, fiscal policy in Uganda has entailed a very strict budgetary discipline. Since then, the main macro-economic objectives of the Government, that have been steadily pursued without any policy reversals or deviations, have been: To ensure rapid real GDP growth, keep consumer price inflation to 5% or below, 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 a crucial objective of economic policy because high inflation has harmful effects to the economy. Another indicator of a well-managed economy is the way a government manages its borrowing in order to finance its fiscal deficit, especially for a developing country like Uganda that was characterised 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.

xcessive 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 effect 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 effects of excessive borrowing and has tried to mitigate them.

This, however, does not mean the 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.

I am dwelling much on good economic management because it is a variable highly dependant on the nature of the country’s political leadership. 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.

One would wonder what kind of epidemic inflation is. But it is simply a failure of macro-economic management by the country’s leadership in terms of its fiscal and monetary discipline. I would love those who abhor the idea of staying in leadership for long to justify their arguments with facts based, for instance, on measuring the performance of macro-economic management, which is the bedrock of all the other functions of government and governance.

It is, therefore, not by sheer luck that our government has managed to control inflation over the years, sustain economic growth, promote favourable tax regimes that promote investment, as well as control its expenditure levels and thus reduce donor aid to about 30%. This is mainly due to focused political leadership that correctly diagnoses a country’s problems and prioritises its interventions.

It becomes evidently clear that long or short periods of stay of a political leader are not the fundamental prerequisites of good governance or transformational leadership. 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. I will, in future, demonstrate that indeed, precedents of long rule are there and those countries that experienced them had much more to gain. This is the direction that the debate on Museveni’s continued stay should take.

The writer is the MP for Kibaale County, Kamwenge district

Look at longevity in leadership positively

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