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How do you manage Uganda better when you can’t remove Museveni?

In a New Year's Eve address to the nation, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni discusses the COVID-19 situation in Uganda.
In a New Year's Eve address to the nation, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni discusses the COVID-19 situation in Uganda.

Every year comes with something new, and this one has brought with it a new media outlet founded by professional journalists who are trying to change the face of journalism in Uganda.

It is prudent that the founders have started with a news site as opposed to a newspaper. While it is hard to think of a country without newspapers, the days of newspapers are numbered. It may take some time before newspapers disappear altogether, but they will eventually vanish for good, mainly because of technological advances.

This website could not have come at a better time. Uganda is facing serious leadership problems and other challenges that need prominent coverage in the national media, but sometimes existing news outlets overlook them for various reasons.

One of the problems the media and Ugandans will continue to deal with in 2022 is the current leadership. In May 2022, it will mark one year in power since it was sworn in. When it completes its term in 2026, it will have been in power for 40 years.

The four remaining years may seem like enough time for the opposition to lay the groundwork and cause the change the country sorely needs, but it actually counts for little or nothing. The next election, as many Ugandans know, will give Uganda the same old, tired and corrupt leadership.

How to manage Uganda better when you cannot change leadership is the million-dollar question? Uganda may have principled, trustworthy and competent politicians who can do a better job than President Yoweri Museveni, but how can they lead Uganda when they cannot get power?

It is abundantly clear — and it has been for decades now — that as long as Museveni’s name is on the ballot, no candidate in Uganda can win a presidential election.

He has even more incentive to cling to power perhaps until he dies — because if he stepped down now, no one would praise and view him as a distinguished statesman. He once had a legacy to protect, but (by all outward appearances) that legacy is vanishing.

While his government, like all governments, claims some achievements, such as Universal Primary Education, its provision of social services, the most important thing ordinary people expect from governments, is underwhelming, and herein lies the problem. The government cannot do things better, but it cannot be changed.

The prize example is something I have complained bitterly about a couple of times in my Sunday Monitor column, and which I am repeating here to drive my point home: Umeme’s dismal failure to distribute enough electricity even in Kampala, the capital.

Umeme does not distribute electricity for free, and it does not distribute electricity across the entire Uganda. It caters to 1.5 million customers, according to information on its website, in a country that has more than 40 million people, but many people are unimpressed by its performance. All the problems consumers complained about 17 years ago when Umeme secured the concession to distribute electricity have persisted to date.

Another example is healthcare. Although health is essentially wealth, the health sector remains one of the worst performing sectors. None of the health ministers Uganda has had since 1986 — Zack Kaheru, James Makumbi, Dr Crispus Kiyonga, Jim Muhwezi, Stephen Mallinga, Christine Ondoa, Ruhakana Rugunda, Elioda Tumwesigye and Jane Ruth Aceng — has done anything exceptional to change healthcare provision for the better.

Few Ugandans rely on their government to get quality healthcare. In fact, some of the heavy lifting in the health sector is being done by foreigners, although the government unfailingly taxes Ugandans to raise money for service delivery.

The United States government buys anti-retroviral drugs for 1.4 million Ugandans who are living with HIV, according to its 2021 Report to the Ugandan People. Without the assistance of the US, which covers education and other sectors and amounts to $1 billion (shs 1.3 trillion) annually, these Ugandans would be living miserable lives.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, US public health, medical and technical experts have been working with their Ugandan partners to help check the spread of the pandemic. The report says the US has provided 9.4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses and has funded 200 Ministry of Health surge positions focused on Covid-19 surveillance and treatment.

There are a few successes such as the immunisation campaign launched many years ago under the Expanded Immunisation Programme, women delivering babies in health facilities (as opposed to consulting traditional birth attendants) and substantial reductions in infant and under-five mortality rates, according to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey (UDHS), but these achievements pale into insignificance beside the existing healthcare challenges.

This state of affairs means that political leaders in the opposition are going to have to cudgel their brains to see how they can usher in new leadership that can fix these problems, yet the only option of changing leadership is elections — and elections are rigged years before they are held.

It also raises questions about what else the opposition can do apart from appearing on radio and TV current affairs shows to rail against the government.

The opposition is not without failings. It remains divided, and the regime continues to use money to divide it. In principle, opposition politicians are working to rid Uganda of dictatorship, but their methods of work suggest that they have put state power before all else. For example, Dr Kizza Besigye and the leader of the National Unity Platform, Robert Kyagulanyi, are the country’s foremost opposition politicians, and they should be working together. Yet neither is ready and willing to let the other be the leader.

The NUP views itself as the leading opposition political party; Dr Besigye views himself as the opposition politician with political experience and wisdom to lead Uganda. These differences work to Museveni’s advantage, and he will continue to exploit them.

We have embarked on a new year, but as things stand, there is not much to look forward to in terms of the change everyone desires.

About the Author

Musaazi Namiti is a journalist and a communications consultant. He writes a weekly column for Sunday Monitor and has previously worked for Al Jazeera in Doha as a Digital Editor in charge of the Africa Desk.

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