Dear President Museveni, I send you greetings and best wishes for good health.
I haven’t written on these pages for a while. Have been quite busy as well making my small contributions on how to make our country better. Because I assume that no matter our policy differences , making Uganda better should be the collective aspiration of each one of us who call Uganda home.
Mr. President, I was smoked out of my current hustles by your letter dated August 6, 2019 which was published on the State House website on August 11, 2019. First of all, I wish to congratulate you for a well written letter. I found it well researched, logically written with a profound depth of historical analysis.
While I often browse through some of your recent writings because of their repetitiveness in both narrative and content, I was curious to read this essay word by word because I had thought that you would help me understand how your recently concluded taxpayer-funded countrywide election campaign would move over 68% of our Nation’s households from substance into a monetary economy. I should pause and congratulate you for getting endorsements from across the country. Since nobody could become wealthy simply by your talk, I take it that you were the only winner from the trip picking up endorsements from all the regions of Uganda.
Otherwise, the contents of your letter and the analysis therein was so provocative that I thought I should spare some moments and pen some reflections here. I found your letter and most of what you stated there to be exactly the problem that our country is confronted with 57 years after independence and in the 34th year of your presidency. Why do I saw this?
1. PATRONAGE MAY BE GOOD POLITICS BUT IT DESTROYS A NATION TO ITS CORE
Mr. President, I find it patronizing to continue addressing Ugandans as “Bazzukulu” or the new characterization you adopted in this your new letter as “Buzzukulu”. The people you are characterizing as such are adults, educated, some have children and others run a successful business and other ventures. This patronizing language is a killer for our country. Traditionally, when we visited our grandparents, We expected to eat good food, eat yellow bananas, sweet potatoes cooked in a traditional pot, etc. and so on. Shwenkuru’s as you like characterizing yourself were the conscience of the family telling truth to power. Mr. President, reading your letter to these young Ugandans, both the narrative and the content look clearly patronizing, diversionary at best and economical with the truth at worst.
The young people that you patronize as your Bazzukulu may enjoy the patronage for the crumbs at the dining table. But the cult-like patronage is slowly but surely crushing their spirits. I have interacted with colleagues from Equatorial Guinea, Cameron, Chad and come to appreciate that the most destructive thing that a leader can do to a nation is to crush the spirits of her people.
2. REPEATING SAME SOLUTIONS TO OLD PROBLEMS IS NOT GOOD POLICY.
Mr. President, your essay sent me scratching my head on why you are using politicking to confront real economic challenges that require real economic policy solutions. Let me share a short story to explain my point. In 1996, you visited a mango farm of a young man by the names of Philbert Aryatunga somewhere in Kashari, Mbarara. Philbert is now about 30 years which means he was born approximately 4 years after you fundamental change speech at the steps of our parent on January 26, 1986. During your visit, you promised to support Philbert’s business by providing water for irrigation. In 1996, Philbert had opened up 5 areas of a mango plantation. Today, he has a plantation of 20 areas. Since then, all that Philbert has received is a barrage of your aides pretending to deliver your pledge and ending up doing nothing. Today, as you burn our hard-earned tax money campaigning across the country, Philbert is there, stuck with mangoes that he can’t find a market for. Your letter provoked me to check with Philbert again and he told me he asked your people for a fruit dryer, a cooler track, etc. Nothing! Nothing has ever been provided. Philbert is now stuck with over 30,000 mango seedlings and your OWC people can’t procure them for distribution. Most probably, they are busy reporting to you how they have delivered millions of ghost seedlings.
Mr. President, all that you prescribe in your essay was well laid out in your government policy document called Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) which you personally launched in August 2000. You have since then bastardized the entire policy package and reduced it into political campaign slogans – bona bagagaware! Prosperity for all! OWC, blah blah blah. Just so you know Mr. President, there are millions of Philbert’s in this our country. All they need is a President that inspires them to think big, dream big and act big. They don’t need political slogans. They need public policies that support what they do to be able to succeed and to contribute to building our country. And they need a president who doesn’t spend all his time telling them how they are lucky to be alive or that becoming a president is the most difficult thing in life. No sir! They need a president who inspires them, gives them hope and tell them each one of you can be president of Uganda.
Like Philbert, I am a farmer. I grow Matooke and I am now venturing into coffee farming. I fully understand Philbert’s pain. I am not sure you do sir.
3. IT IS DISHONEST TO BLAME COLONIALISM FOR ALL OUR FAILURES.
From a humanistic perspective, I can understand your attempt to blame everything that is not going right in our country on colonialism. That is standard for most leaders on the African continent. Especially those who were born before independence and are hanging on to power even in their advanced age. European colonialism was here in Uganda until 57 years ago. Amin was here only for 8 years almost 40 years ago. Mr. President, you have been our president for the last 34 years and you think the 68% households that are still in subsistence are because of colonialism and Idi Amin and Obote? Surely!
So we can’t increase coffee production or tea production or whatever because of colonialism? Or because of Idi Amin? Surely? Mr. President, check your statistics again. At independence in 1962, we were producing 2 million (60- kgs) bags of coffee annually. By 1970, coffee production had increased to 3 million bags (that means within just 8 years, Obote Government had increased coffee production by 1 million bags). As you admit in your essay, even with Amin’s failed leadership, coffee “limped” on at 2 million bags per year. In 1986, we were producing 2.392 million bags. After 34 years of recovery under your leadership Mr. President, we have only increased coffee production to just 4.305 million. In 8 years, Obote’s government increased coffee production by over 10 million bags. In 34 years (with all the technological changes and pumping in billions of taxpayer money), your Government has increased coffee production by a mere 1.913 million bags? And you are suggesting we are supposed to be celebrating this as an accomplishment? Seriously, Mr. President. You really think we should be celebrating that we produce very little of everything and we count that as progress and transformation? Mr. President, why do African rulers like celebrating marginal achievements? I have failed to figure out why. Especially knowing you as someone who used to be a BIG thinker and at some point, during your presidency, you inspired many of us.
4. YOU ARE DESTROYING OUR COUNTRY BY PERPETUATING A CULTURE OF HANDOUTS AND PATRONAGE
Mr. President, I find your politics of creating this and that fund quite frightening. So you have OWC, women, youth, micro-finance and innovation funds. So now you want to add: value addition; mayoga and leaders Sacco fund. Oh, my foot! So what exactly are the women and youth and everybody else doing with those funds if they are not doing value addition? What does the innovation fund do if it’s not supporting innovation? I am tempted to believe that either you are working with people who are deeply dishonest to the core or you personally are involved in a scheme of deliberate deception which constitutes good African politics but not good economic policy. While you are claiming to awaken the 68% of our citizens, I see what you are doing with all these Ponzi schemes to give our people sleeping pills or put them on oxygen. One of the things that you may want to find out Mr. President is that most Ugandans: Me, Philbert and many others I know who are doing productive economic activities have never accessed these funds you talk about. All that Ugandans need is investing in our nations economic infrastructure – transport, irrigation, storage, processing, etc to get Ugandan’s to thrive. Like your colleague Gen (Rtd) Muntu likes to say, Ugandans are smart people. They don’t need handouts. They need a hands up.
5. BUILDING INFRASTRUCTURE IS GOOD POLICY BUT ON ITS OWN, IT’S NO PANACEA TO TRANSFORMATION
Allow me to acknowledge and appreciate your steadfastness and consistency on sustaining the stance on public investment in infrastructure, especially improving our Nation’s road network. The obscene stealing of our hard earned tax money aside, I applaud you for keeping the government focussed investment in infrastructure. It is the right thing to do because it opens up economic opportunities for many people and many areas. Of course, smart and efficient governments would pursue this infrastructure development agenda with more discipline and commitment to economic transformation. I can fully understand that such discipline is simply unrealistic when a president of a country (whether you, me or someone else) is operating in a regime survival mode – the situation in which you are.
But kindly don’t praise-sing these things. You don’t have to be running around the country sir commissioning every small thing here and there. I could be wrong but I got this impression that when you get a president commission 50 kms of a road, or a factory that hardly employs 1,000 people or a district building that looks like an 18th century penthouse, you begin to lower the imagination of our young people. You know for many of us, you represented our idea of what BIG looked like. Big vision, big imagination, big thinking, dreaming big! It’s frightening that electoral politics is consuming you and has modified you from the Big thinker to thinking everything small. It’s so frightening for a generation that has to compete against global giants in all forms – economic, political, technological, security, etc.
Mr. President, one last point on this infrastructure thing: Sometime back (it must have been 2008 or thereabout), I visited Malabo, the capital city of Equatorial Guinea. Your good friend Obiang N’Gwema now in power for close to 40 years has really done a wonderful job building the most impressive road network in Malabo. But just so you, more than 60% of the estimated 1.2 million Equatorial Guineans live below the poverty line. Poverty can be very defiant when you approach it with a deceptive heart. Obiang’s roads have refused to change the fortunes of the ordinary people of EG. I am sharing this so that in case your roads behave like those of Obiang N’Gwema, you don’t get disappointed.
I know you are a busy man Mr. President. I better shut up and stop the \rambling. Admittedly, your essay is overly provocative for what I see as your analysis of paralysis especially on colonialism and for the wrong prescriptions you are providing to transform 68% subsistence households – something that has been staring in your eyes for for now 34 years. I want to suggest to you two BIG ideas that I believe you can think about to get our country on a better development trajectory:
1. LET’S BUILD ECONOMIC GEOGRAPHIES AS THE PILLARS FOR THE ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION AND SHARED PROSPERITY OF OUR COUNTRY AND OUR PEOPLE
I see that your political campaign this time round took the form of regions and this is a good thing. I take that to imply that you, like me understand that these district-size villages into which you have mutilated our country may make political sense but do not make economic sense. I want to plead with you that you use the political capital that you have as our president to reorganise our country into economic geographies by investing in building our regional economies. When I was in primary school Mr. President, we learnt about the Industrial economy in Busoga, the livestock economy of Teso, the cotton economy of Lango, the tobacco economy of West Nile, and of course the coffee economy of Buganda, etc. Mr. President, we can invest in these regional economies and make them pillars of local economic transformation and national economic development. To do this, you will need to become a president who talks less and does more. Who understands that it is more powerful to be president of an economically powerful country than being a president of millions of begging people. You will need regional governments that have dedicated budgets to invest in building local economic infrastructure and not taxpayer funded SACCOs. You will need more Philbert’s and less of the politicians that you were meeting during your tour.
2. GET UGANDANS TALKING TO EACH OTHER AGAIN
Mr. President, I implore you to use that power of the presidency to get Ugandans talking again. For far too long, we are talking at each other. You politicians are even making it worse by shouting at each each. A distorted and rigged electoral system can not be a pathway to a future that we desire or that you wish for the generation that you refer to as Buzzukulu. I believe that in the Uganda National Dialogue lies the opportunity for us to talk about the future of a country that we want. Our diverse nationalities – the Karimojong, the Ateso, the Batoro, the Acholis and the Langis and the Banyankole and the Kigezi nation and all the other Ugandan nationalities are the pillars upon which we can build a new Uganda as well as new economic geographies that can become pillars of an economically robust country.
Mr. President, great nations are built by selfless statesmen and stateswomen. They are never built through patronage and transactional politics. Politics of mpa nkuhe are too petty and destructive. And lest I forget. You have made a great contribution to our country and to our continent. But when the contemporary history of our country is written, you will not be remembered for the roads and bridges and dams and factories you commissioned. You will be remembered for whether you left Uganda a united and harmonious nation or not. From my view point, there is growing uncertainty on the horizon. The future is increasingly becoming unpredictable. The confidence of our people is increasingly being eroded. The young men and women of our nation are drifting into survival model. The current situation can only be sustained for so long but not for ever. And dialogue is the only pathway to create winners on all sides.
I hope you aides will get to you my humble letter. And that you can find a moment to read through it and reflect on the observations and proposals herein. I am also taking the opportunity to share with you some of my gardens. Gardens that are growing and expanding with any of those funds.
For God and My Country
Associate Director GLiSSMR. PRESIDENT, CASH HANDOUTS IS GOOD POLITICS BUT BAD ECONOMIC POLICY FOR A NATION