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, November 9, 2020

Has Museveni destroyed Uganda?

How the opposition have invented a non-existing problem and are promising to build bridges where no rivers exist

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | On Monday, President Yoweri Museveni was nominated to run for an eighth term of office. When (not if) he wins this election, it will take him to 40 years as president, a remarkable feat. His efforts to cling to power, in spite of many promises not to, tells us very little about Museveni the man but a lot about power itself: few men find it possible to leave it easily and willingly. But that is a debate for another day. For now we need to deal with his legacy.

I think Museveni should retire. His inability to bequeath Uganda the first ever-peaceful transition of power is perhaps his worst act as president. Yet in spite of this conviction, I find it difficult to associate with Uganda’s opposition. Even when I try to warm my heart towards them, their leaders and activists just make it extremely difficult. One such example is the cartoon they have been circulating around of a malnourished Uganda feeding an overfed NRM.

You cannot position yourself as a viable alternative to any government without offering anything new that you want to do. Uganda’s opposition have a very narrow view of the future of Uganda. They believe the problem of Uganda is Museveni and the solution is “Museveni agende” i.e. Museveni must go. This narrow vision has led them to a blind alley, where they have invented problems that do not exist and then invent solutions for them.

In respect to the cartoon, the belief that Museveni/NRM is feeding off a malnourished Uganda is false and unnecessary. Museveni inherited a country where both the state and economy had collapsed. He has reconfigured the state: a country that was once considered a failed state is now helping other nations of Africa reconfigure themselves – Somalia, South Sudan and DRC. Museveni/NRM also placed the economy on a long-term growth trajectory. For the last 34 years the economy of Uganda (measured as GDP) has grown at an annual rate of nearly 7% per, its per capita income at 3.8%, both of which are among the best in history.

Thus Uganda’s economy was about $1.7 billion in 1986, now it is $35 billion. How do I arrive at this number? According to the information provided me by the World Bank at my request, our GDP was $6 billion in 1986. But this is misleading because the exchange rate at the time was fixed by the government and hence did not reflect the actual value of the shilling. So I went to IMF and Bank of Uganda sources and found the actual market rate, then called Kibanda.

Although in 1986 the official exchange rate was Shs1,400 to the dollar, the Kibanda rate was Shs12,000 – almost 8.6 times its value. So the market exchange rate of our GDP was about $700 million and a per capita income of $46. When we adjust these numbers to inflation, Uganda’s GPD was about $1.7 billion and its per capita income was $113 in 2020 prices. Today, Uganda’s GDP is $35 billion and its per capita income $800. If this is evidence of Museveni and NRM sucking life out of Uganda, our country is better off with such suckers.

I admit using the Kibanda rate is also a distortion. Being a black i.e. criminal market, it inflated the price of the dollar. But we can use the figures of 1992 when the exchange rate was fully liberalised. In that year, according to the figures supplied me by World Bank, Uganda’s GDP was $2.75 billion, which, when adjusted to inflation comes to $5.1 billion in 2020 prices. Given a population of 18.6 million people in 1992, Uganda’s per capita income was $274 in 2020 prices.

Hence for the opposition to claim that Museveni and NRM have impoverished Uganda economically is to indulge in dangerous myth making. But it also reveals their lack of understanding of economic issues. Given power they are likely to destroy the economy because they don’t understand it. Now there are many problems with using both GDP and GDP per capita while studying economic wellbeing. I am going to write another article on this. So let us use household consumption and assets to measure wellbeing.

The best place to begin is the results of the National Housing and Population Census of 2014. And these figures are six years old and so much has improved since. In 1991, houses whose walls were built out of permanent materials were only 12%. In 2014, they had reached 43.7%. Houses with roofs built using permanent materials were 40% in 1991 and 70% in 2014. The percentage of Ugandan households living in houses with rammed earth floor was 77.4% in 2002 (unfortunately we don’t have figures for 1986 and I suspect it was above 90%). In 2014, this had fallen to 32.4%.

Even when we look at household assets like possession of television, radio, bicycle, modern mattresses (as opposed to sleeping in grass), motorcycle, blankets, bed-sheets, sofa sets etc. the number of households with access to these assets has greatly increased. Indeed access to and affordability of such consumer goods as bottled beer, soda, sugar, salt, soap, bread, kerosene, cooking oil, etc. has also significantly increased. Every part of Uganda has benefited this way although not equally.

I grew up in a country where bottled or tinned beer and soda and packed or bottled juice were a luxury for the rich, many of whom could afford them but had no access to them; where basic consumer items like cooking oil, kerosene, salt, sugar and soap were not available in shops or affordable by most people. That is the Uganda Museveni inherited. I have many criticism of the Museveni era in regard to the management of the economy but I would not say he has sucked Uganda.

Thus, even though our country is still very poor, the numbers above show that the lives of many Ugandans have greatly improved under Museveni. The opposition should not imagine or invent a Uganda that does not exist. They should demonstrate that they know where we were in 1986, where we are today and what it has taken for us to get here. Only then can anyone with a brain believe that they have an idea of where they want to take the country, leave alone knowledge of what it takes to take it there. I think the opposition can be much better than this and their failure to get serious is unfortunate.



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