Uganda’s Museveni. Photo: Foreign Commonwealth Office/Wikimedia Commons
[The View From Uganda]
In April this year, as the Coronavirus lockdown shuttered businesses and restricted movement, the president of Uganda Yoweri Museveni had this to say: “I’m very thankful with Ugandans; they have responded but the 20 million shillings by the MPs, that caused confusion. It’s bad planning but secondly, there were also legal and constitutional issues involved. It would be morally reprehensible to give themselves money for personal use when the country is in such a crisis, and totally unacceptable to the NRM.”
He was referring to Members of Parliament allocation to themselves 20 million shillings, the equivalence of $5,349, in country with estimated income per head of less than $800.
Mr. Museveni said these words during the twelfth televised address since the outbreak of Covid-19 was reported in the country in March this year. The president was castigating the MPs who awarded themselves the money as part of the COVID-19 supplementary expenditure, and used it to fill their personal piggy banks.
The subtext of what he said was simply: we cannot place individuals above the collectivity. We are all in this together, so those who put material gain above their country are unpatriotic and must be condemned.
However, in a plot twist, it has been reported that the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) has already spent 100 billion shillings—about $26.75 million— to fund its election drive. You can be sure that when the election dust settles next year in February, trillions would’ve been spent to hammer the opposition into submission.
In the context of an economic slowdown which has limited financial gains for Ugandans to a crawl, the NRM expenditure implies that we should eat cake if we cannot afford bread. For in the midst of deprivation, the government still has plenty of money to spend in order to keep us poor. As in April when money greased the palms of MPs, money has become the central issue once more in our state of affairs. This is so for a variety of reasons.
For one, it serves the purpose of consolidating NRM rule to the exclusion of other political alternatives or actors. To be sure, the NRM has deep pockets courtesy of the IMF approved US$491.5 million emergency assistance for Uganda under the Rapid Credit Facility made available to help the country wrestle Covid-19 to the ground. On top of that, hundreds of millions of shillings were raised by dozens of investors, private sector players, institutions and individuals responding to President Museveni’s call to arms against Covid-19.
The Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) registered net revenue collections of 4 trillion shillings against a target of 2.9 trillion. This reflects a 135.69% increase in the first quarter of the FY2020/21 from July to September 2020. With the government flush with cash, the neopatrimonial nature of our politics will kick in. And so the political leader with the greatest capacity to distribute funds to capture grassroots-level support will inevitably win elections.
This monetization of politics also plays into the ruling elite’s hands by stifling electoral fair play, evidenced by the Electoral Commission’s lack of autonomy to act without favor. Uganda is a party state and the NRM holds the public purse strings.
NRM will thus dispense bribes in the shape of “facilitation” to virtually every corner of the country in order to clear the way for its victory at next year’s polls.
To do this effectively, for example, vehicles will be delivered to the party’s chairpersons in all the districts. Mitsubishi L 200 double-cabin pickup trucks are the vehicles of choice. These cost about $50,000—about 188.6 million shillings) each. If the party distributes 146 of these, it would be ponying up more than 27.5 billion shillings in expenditure.
The President’s rant against the MPs for allocating to themselves 20 million shillings was mere posturing, subsequently revealing a deeper and darker reality regarding the hypocrisy of his rule. For, on closer inspection, Museveni is actually like Machiavelli’s Prince.
Machiavelli said that a prince should appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, and upright. But he must only Appear to have these good qualities. A prince cannot observe those things for which men are esteemed if he is to succeed. It is thus necessary for him to be a pretender.
Men are so simple, Machiavelli said, and so subject to present necessities that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who allows himself to be deceived. An Italian proverb echoes this trickery: Alexander never did what he said, Ceaser never said what he did. Since the president is such a prince, he’s made sure our socio-political history has been airbrushed for the record to show that only Museveni can be right.
This supposedly one-eyed man in the land of the blind scenario has led to Uganda remaining a failed state. While the president reminds us about what’s “morally reprehensible” and what’s not, he acts independently of both.
The columnist can be reached via email@example.com