Andrew M. Mwenda
There is a suffocating sense among a large cross-section of educated urban Ugandans that our country is falling apart. In my frustrated moments, I too feel the same way. The growing potholes and traffic congestion in Kampala, the impunity of boda boda riders, and the general lack of a vision around which people can be mobilised, ensure a grim national mood. One, therefore, understands why some Ugandan elites rally behind demagogues that denounce the status quo and call for radical change.
Yet, this general sense of crisis is mostly based on based on emotion and conviction and not on evidence. On most of the critical state functions, evidence contradicts these popular feelings. Take the example of Makerere University Kampala; an institution I often criticise, calling it a casino. It is characterised by incessant strikes – one month it is by academic staff over wages, the next by non-academic staff, and the third by students over fees or food. The halls of residence are rotten and lecture rooms dirty.
Makerere has many students that are intellectually curious and question conventional wisdom i.e. have the foundation for learning. Yet most of the students from that university that I interact with, especially on social media, depress me by their utter intellectual ineptness, close-mindedness and propensity for mistaking political sloganeering for intellectual analysis. These are the young Ugandans who gave up on thinking long ago – or perhaps they grew up in homes or studied in schools where they were never challenged to think outside the box.
It was with this later frustration, therefore, that a young friend and first year student of law, Joel Mukisa, gave me an inaugural lecture by Prof. Sylvia Tamale on Nudity, Protest and the Law in Uganda. And boy, it was one of the most intellectually stimulating pieces of writing I have read. Tamale reminds me that Makerere has some of the best brains in the world. Indeed, The Times of London does an annual “Literary Supplement” where it ranks the world’s universities. It ranks Makerere fourth best university in Africa. Outside of South Africa, no other country on our vast continent has a university better than Makerere.
But no one sings this sweet music to our national ears – not Makerere or our inept government. Yet drumming this story from hilltop to hilltop across Uganda is important for building our national pride, uniting our people and improving our mood. Ironically many Ugandans would prefer Makerere to be ranked the worst university in Africa if only to get an opportunity to denounce President Yoweri Museveni for the corruption and incompetence of his government. Indeed, had it be so badly ranked, the noise on social media would have been as deafening as the silence on these good results. Yet celebrating our accomplishments does us much better than grumbling over our failures.
Makerere is not alone. Uganda’s water and energy utilities rank best in Africa. The National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), a government run utility, has been voted best water utility in Africa consecutively for the last four years. In a country where service delivery is considered Museveni’s signature failure, this is a paradox of the first rank. It is not. In 2016, the World Bank produced a report showing that only two countries in Africa are able to pay for the operational and capital expenditure on electricity in Africa – Uganda and Seychelles.
According to this World Bank report, power utilities in Africa are all malfunctioning and depend on government subsidies to survive. In Uganda, Umeme has created business efficiencies that have made investment in our energy sector attractive. Ironically, Museveni often joins his critics to call for Umeme to be kicked out of Uganda. Contrary to popular belief, Museveni invests little or nothing in trying to improve the image of his beleaguered government. Instead, with his reckless statements, he often personally contributes to damaging its image.
The National Social Security Fund (NSSF), run by the government of Uganda, is East Africa’s largest and most liquid provident fund. Last year it paid interest of 15% to its subscribers, favourably competing with private firms in giving a good return on people’s savings. The Uganda Cranes has twice in a row qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations. Critics rave and fume against our health system but the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Life expectancy in Uganda is consistently rising. Indeed, today Mulago is doing heart and brain surgery.
It is not the job of Museveni’s critics to polish the image of his government but his. But he does the opposite. Take the recent cabinet decision to merge some public entities or disband others “to save money” as an example. Government resolved to abolish the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and take it back to its parent ministry as a department. Yet government stopped funding it many years ago. Today UWA collects more money than it can spend. This financial year, its projected revenue is Shs100 billion against a budget of Shs70 billion.
Our government also resolved to abolish the National Registration Bureau and take it back to the Ministry of Trade as a department. Since it was created in 2011, this bureau has reduced the time it takes to register a business from two months to less than an hour and increased revenue from business registration from Shs3 billion to Shs50 billion. Given that it budgeted to spend Shs25 billion this financial year, it has huge surpluses that can fund the national budget. Yet the Museveni administration intends to deliberately abolish its own signature achievement.
In fact, most of the institutions cabinet decided to abolish or merge are equally some of the most successful; such as the Uganda National Roads Authority, the Insurance Regulatory Authority (which is self-financing), etc. Why? The committee that made these recommendations was composed of the Ministry of Public Service; the most incompetent ministry in Uganda. So government asked a blind man to search for a pin.
But why recommend the abolition of the most successful government entities? Here vested interests that lost access to public resources through the creation of these independently run government entities united with political sloganeering to create a toxic mixture of bad policy and corrupt politics. The most successful public entities are equally the ones with the most money. Some people in and around government want their fingers on this money; the better to take them back to parent ministries where it can easily be stolen because of the confusion there. Sad!
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Africa Tembelea’s editorial stance.
Andrew M. Mwenda – is a Ugandan journalist, founder and owner of The Independent News Magazine