About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Monday, June 13, 2011



While it is political choices that have fostered poor service delivery, it is reconfiguration of the civil service that will make service delivery possible

Finally, President Yoweri Museveni has ended the anxiety that was eating up the ruling classes – politicians, business persons, civil servants, prelates, journalists, etc by announcing his long awaited new old-cabinet. The politicians were expecting ministerial jobs from which they derive money and status. The journalists were hungry for a good story to go on the covers. Business people were anxious to know whom they now need to ingratiate themselves to, to gain advantage.

Their mutual anxiety provided considerable grist to the Kampala rumour mills. The newspapers speculated, politicians waited with excruciating pain, business hedged their bets while the public watched. Politicians were visiting churches and shrines seeking divine intervention in their quest for cabinet jobs. All this only shows that in spite of privatisation and liberalisation, the state in Uganda (i.e. politics) remains the central fulcrum through which economic and career opportunities are organised. That is why a cabinet reshuffle is bigger news than the rise and fall in the price of the dollar or of shares on our struggling stock exchange.

Over the last 25 years, Museveni has reshuffled cabinet 16 times: January 1986, February 1988, April 1989 (after expansion of NRC), June 1990, February 1992, November 1994, July 1996, December 1998, June 1999, June 2001, October 2002, July 2003, October 2004, August 2005, June 2006, January 2009 and May 2011. Only once has a reshuffle signalled a major shift in our national direction.

In February 1992, the president merged the ministry of finance with that of economic planning; removed Crispus Kiyonga as minister and replaced him with Mayanja Nkangi and appointed Tumusime Mutebile Permanent Secretary in the new enlarged ministry and Secretary to the Treasury. This marked a bold shift from state planning to reliance on free markets. From thence henceforth, government initiated a series of macroeconomic policy reforms – liberalisation, privatisation, deregulation, fiscal discipline and tight monetary control that launched the country on a trajectory of sustained economic growth of the last 24 years.

Since then, all other reshuffles have been largely political aimed at placating historical, ethnic, religious and clan interests within our body politic. Yet every time there is a reshuffle, the elite classes in Uganda debate, discuss and talk about what it means for the ordinary citizen, how it will deliver this and that public good. Yet cabinet in Uganda is not designed to deliver public goods and services but primarily to build a political coalition that can deliver an electoral majority.

During the last presidential election campaign, something happened that may (please note the use of the word “may”) signal a shift in Museveni’s thinking. Across the country, the population complained that public goods and services were not working. The president was forced to campaign as an opposition candidate, positioning himself as a critic of local authorities unto whom he deflected blame for government failures. The population largely agreed with him on the understanding that he must clamp down on the corruption of local officials.

It seems Museveni is acutely aware that unless he does something about service delivery, the population is going to lose patience with him. And if that happens, no amount of intimidation, vote rigging and bribery is likely to save NRM from the wrath of angry voters. Already, public discontent over food and fuel prices is giving the opposition popular appeal. Museveni therefore must be aware of the need to address the concerns of the voters. The recent cabinet reshuffle therefore can be seen in this light.

At its root is the appointment of Amama Mbabazi as Prime Minister. Mbabazi may be a polarising and dogged politician. But those who have worked closely with him find Mbabazi a performance oriented and results seeking manager. He may not be a good politician but he seems to be an effective manager. My brother who worked with him on security in eastern Uganda was impressed by his personal discipline, hard work and strategic focus. It is these qualities that make a good manager.

Given that Mbabazi has the confidence of the president, he is the man who can bring a performance based ethnic in government work. He can decide on goals and push ministers and permanent secretaries to deliver on agreed targets. If any minister fails, Mbabazi has the political clout to get them fired. If Museveni gives him power to do this, it is very likely that Mbabazi will begin to address lethargy in the civil service and get government to perform. If my intuition is right, Museveni, in appointing Mbabazi as Prime Minister, may be trying to shift his strategy of political coalition-building from overarching reliance on elite patronage to performance based legitimacy through the delivery of public goods and services.

The appointment of Mrs Maria Kiwanuka also gives some indicators that the president may be shifting to a more business friendly and results oriented leadership. I think Syda Bumba was excellent as bureaucrats in finance and donors were happy with her. However, Mrs Kiwanuka brings a private sector ethic into government. Her husband, Mohan, is one of the richest people in Uganda who built a large empire without much reliance on state patronage. She has worked with World Bank and been managing a private enterprise for years.

It seems Museveni felt the anger and frustration of his supporters about government service during his campaign. He came across as both shocked by and concerned about popular demands for public goods and services. He made promises that he may find difficult to renege on without high political costs. Yet save for Mbabazi and Kiwanuka and a few others, most of the other cabinet appointments seem aimed at placating political interests rather than driving performance by government agencies.

There is a lot of absenteeism, foot-dragging, corruption, incompetence, false compliance, apathy etc in our civil service. Yet success of any government programme can only be possible if the civil service is ideologically and ethically oriented to service to the citizen, not serving its own interests. Mbabazi’s challenge is to recognise that while it is political choices that have fostered poor service delivery, it is the reconfiguration of the civil service that will make service delivery possible; his primary objective is to reform the civil service, not to fire ministers.




Vincent Nuwagaba said...

Andrew, if you expect the current cabinet to deliver services you will be shocked. You argue that if the government doesn't deliver services no amount of intimidation, vote rigging and bribery is likely to save NRM from the wrath of angry voters. Museveni doesn't mind the wrath of the angry voters as long as he still has the military loyal to him.
You are one of the leading praise singers for Museveni for countless times you have said that he has presided over a growing economy. But it is during Museveni's regime that university graduates languish on the streets without jobs hence turning all sorts of criminals. I am sure most of the con-artists here in Kampala are university graduates. Yet I am sure, the jobs are a preserve of the friends, relatives and in-laws whether or not they are educated.
Museveni doesn't care whether or not they get jobs. His interest is to ensure that the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. Museveni doesn't want the peasant's sons and daughters to get money and threaten his hegemony.

Museveni cannot fight corruption because to my understanding, the NRM is a vehicle fuelled by corruption and lubricated by corruption. Forget about the complaints by the masses in regard to poor service delivery. After five years, Museveni will raid the state treasury and buy the voters.
It is nauseating that while you rightly state that Museveni has reshuffled cabinet sixteen times, he has remained a constant. Unless, Ugandans can have the wherewithal to reshuffle the President, we are headed for doom. I have never seen a greedy, fiendish, invidious and corrupt leadership like that of Museveni. If we cannot extricate ourselves from Museveni's leadership, he will surely get rid of us while the likes of Mwenda who have made a fortune such during Museveni's reign continue heaping praises on him.

Mateeka Innocent said...

it is alarming how people hate museveni and do you know what makes it more interesting, is that even you (nuwagaba) some hates you with the same passion, you should be very careful you people who hate museveni that way because you will fall prey to opportunists like besigye who are sworn enemies of museveni, and trust me that kind of frustration is un healthy cause it overshadows room for reason. look at uganda now, think of an ideal candidate you think shall steer us to greater heights, of all but mao

Vincent Nuwagaba said...

My brother Innocent Max, I don't have the time to hate Museveni because I know even the time to love him is limited. I don't know whether I have more than sixty years ahead just in case I don't die of accidents or curable diseases which is common in Uganda's Museveni. The only thing I do is hate with passion Museveni's and his lieutenants' methods of work. You may not know that Museveni is a mere custodian of Uganda's property. However, he has created an impression in the minds of people like you that he's the owner of Uganda. That's why he wakes up and gives public land to the so-called investors without Ugandans' consent; he takes his children abroad for treatment when our hospitals are devoid of drugs.
It's not that I love Museveni less, but because I hate injustice so much. Because, I love justice and Museveni is averse to justice, he and his followers like Innocent Max will always think I hate him. But I will remind you and Museveni a million times, Museveni doesn't own Uganda and it will be too bad should he die before he's brought to book. The country that the NRM oligarchy has hogged belongs to all of us. We are the owners of Uganda and we must get concerned when it is mismanaged. For God and my country!