Uganda: A nation’s discontent

Uganda: A nation’s discontent
Demonstrators taking cover during a riot

Shortly more than a year after Museveni’s presidential victory, the number of Ugandans discontented with 8 the NRM regime is staggering

In a new opinion survey published on March 26, 2012 by the public opinion firm Afrobarometer, 74 percent of the 2,400 Ugandans asked for their view of conditions in Uganda expressed a belief that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

In terms of the sexes, 70 percent of the females and 76 percent of the males interviewed felt Uganda is headed for trouble. About 85 percent of residents of Kampala City and 70 percent of Ugandans living in the rural countryside stated the view that the country was headed in the wrong direction. This gloomy view of Uganda’s current situation was gathered in a poll taken in all parts of the country between December 2011 and February 2012.

It is significant in that it is the first major public opinion survey of any kind conducted since the February 2011 general election. In that election, the NRM’s Yoweri Museveni scored an official 68 percent of the vote to win another five-year term in office as president. These stunning results are nothing less than a vote of no confidence in
President Museveni and his NRM government.

In a statement accompanying the report, Afrobarometer said: “These sharp declines over just 12 months reflect a perception of crisis in the economy for the first time in the 12-year period in which Afrobarometer surveys have been conducted in Uganda.

In previous rounds, the highest percentage of Ugandans indicating that the economy was doing poorly was 52 per cent, in November 2008…Notably, this is the first time in all the rounds of Afrobarometer in Uganda in which a majority of respondents have indicated that they expect things to be worse in the future.”

Even without this Afrobarometer poll, those who keep a keen eye on the situation in Uganda already knew of a rough 75 to 83 percent level of national dissatisfaction with the government.

Whenever one monitors the listener feedback through their phone calls into FM radio and TV studio talk shows, comments on social media Internet forums like Ugandans at Heart, Facebook and Twitter, and most likely tens of thousands of sms text messages exchanged privately between Ugandans, the picture of 74 percent disgruntlement is consistent.

One often talks to middle class professionals and throughout this year, most of them have complained about the increasing difficulty they face trying to make ends meet. A survey of health clubs in several parts of Kampala had the staff complaining about how they no longer get as many clients for sauna, massage and steam bath as they used to.

Small businesses all over Uganda have been choked close to death by this one year of electricity shortages and blackouts. Between April 2012 and March 2012, a greater number and variety of Ugandans have demonstrated as never before -political party activists, university students, teachers, Kampala city traders, printers at Nasser Road and Nkrumah Road in Kampala, taxi drivers and operators, boda boda cyclists and others.

When Rubaga South MP John Ken Lukyamuzi and Arua County MP Samuel Odonga Otto proposed a parliamentary motion to censure President Museveni, many commentators and NRM officials dismissed them as clowns. As it stands now, it is unlikely the two MPs can get the required 135 signatures from their parliamentary
colleagues to take the motion to the floor of parliament for debate.

However, the Afrobarometer survey findings now give weight to this Otto-Lukyamuzi motion and argument that after 26 years in power, it really is time Uganda started asking if it is best that Museveni steps down- or is made to step down. It will put parliament on the defensive and have many MPs thinking about their future.

If three-quarters of the Ugandan population is this dissatisfied with the performance of Museveni and his NRM government just a year after the general election, how can MPs not sign up to censure the president and still claim to be in touch with their electorate?

The survey will give added justification to the A4C activists and other activists. Many businessmen in Kampala resented the walk-to-work campaign when it started in April 2011, viewing it as the efforts by sour losers FDC to show some relevance. The Kampala City Traders’ Association would have nothing to do with it.

It turns out that the FDC, DP, and later A4C had read both the national situation and the national mood right. They must have known that the 68 percent scored by President Museveni was probably hollow, otherwise what else would explain such a dramatic turnabout in the public mood in only 12 months without a coup, earthquake or war?

Former minister Miria Matembe has separately started a countrywide campaign to restore the presidential term limits that were lifted in 2005. What Matembe is doing is virtually the same thing as Lukyamuzi and Otto.

Hers is more or less also a vote of no confidence move against Museveni. Over the last three months, several senior army officers, both serving and retired -ranging from Brig. Kasirye Gwanga to Major John Kazoora, Brig. Henry Tumukunde and Major-General Kahinda Otafiire -have publicly expressed discontent with the way the military is being run and promotions made.

The cumulative impression is of a country where, as this writer has stated several times in these pages of the Kampala Dispatch, things are in disrepair, broken or in crisis.

The moves to restore term limits, the public complaint about the state of the army without fear of martial discipline and the walk-to-work campaign also point to a growing number of voices in the political class crying “Enough is enough”.

All this is significant in light of Ugandan history. Conditions in Uganda were much, much better in 1971 than they are today when former government security officers like Museveni and others started their FRONASA guerrilla group to fight the new Idi Amin military government.

Whatever one’s view of the legitimacy or fraudulence of the 1980 general elections, the only reason or main reason that sent Museveni’s PRA guerrillas, Andrew Kayiira’s Uganda Freedom Army and others like the Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda (FEDEMU) starting a civil war against the second UPC government, the reason they all gave was that the general elections had been rigged in favour of Milton Obote.

None of these guerrilla groups has ever stated that they started their war because government hospitals did not have medicine, Uganda had regular power cuts, the standard of the country’s schools was appalling or that there were potholes in Kampala’s streets. Starting in 1996, every general election held under the NRM government has been met with a major public outcry that alleged it was rigged.

The outcry against the 1996 elections was not very loud but in 2001 and 2006, even High Court and Supreme Court judges admitted that there was rigging, but that the level of rigging did not affect or could not have affected the final outcome.

So if today there is a common complaint about rigged elections with 1980, on top of the run down public infrastructure, lack of basic public services and the widespread poverty, how can it be argued that the conditions for walk-to-work, walk-to-court, a “Ugandan Spring” or even an armed struggle are not present?

All this rising national discontent, we have to remember, is taking place just one year into Museveni’s new presidential term. One can only wonder what it will be like by the time the next election comes.

Members of Parliament are usually paid their salaries around the 15th of the month, but by March 27, several media reports said they still had not been paid. Most MPs are from the ruling NRM.

Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi inaugurated 50 MW at the Bujagali dam several weeks ago. Whatever happened to those 50 MW, most Ugandans don’t feel a difference, with load-shedding remaining as before.

The inability of the government to address the power shortage when power affects all Ugandans, including its supporters, shows that the NRM has reached the limit of what it is able to do.

Not only is the NRM government unable to solve the economic crisis most Ugandans face; is unable to do much for even its supporters. That is the clearest sign that Uganda is on course to becoming a Zaire under Mobutu.

by Timothy Kalyegira