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Is Uganda running out of leaders?

Ramathan Ggoobi

Is Uganda running out of leaders?

Nearly six years ago, in September 2009


From former commanders and senior leaders of the struggle to former sellers of pancakes to NRM guerrillas!

Nearly six years ago, since I started writing this column in 2006, I have, on a biannual interval, asked why you continued to surround yourself with pools of mediocrity and/or daytime thieves who were busy amassing wealth as the economy and the country went to the dogs.

You responded to my bafflement by continuing to recruit more second-rate leaders and promoting and defending the thieves! In the meantime you went around blaming the opposition, media, NGOs, and the clergy for undermining your government’s efforts to develop the country.  

I disagreed. I wrote here that it was NRM that was failing itself to achieve its good programs, policies and plans. At one time I suggested that your Government comprised a pathetic team that no right-thinking person could entrust their future with. I suggested that your government be transformed first before it thought of transforming the country.

In November 2007, we organised the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) here in Kampala. By October that year, Government did not know where the visiting leaders were going to sleep because the hotels that were being constructed were not yet completed. What was even more startling was that one week to the summit government contracted some women to plant grass and trees along the under construction “CHOGM roads” in Kampala!

Sellers of pancakes

I wondered whether grass and trees in Uganda could now grow in a week, and whether it just happened to you leaders that you had to make preparation for the CHOGM.   

Mr. President, I remember you quarreling publicly how your government was asleep yet we had a very important meeting in town. I advised you to make a total overhaul of government after CHOGM. Did you do anything? Never!

You simply did what you have been doing best since the beginning of the bisanja politics in 2005 — recycling your cadres, sacking a few who attempt to get near your chair (the Bukenyas and Mbabazis of this world), and those whose political shelf-life had been used up. Otherwise, it remained business as usual.    

However, many Ugandans continued to demand for a new breed of leaders. You often reminded us how those ageing, and some thieving, men and women were our “natural leaders.” And that we, the young people, were impatient and greedy.

Now, recently, when you were about to be cornered by some of your “natural leaders”, you pounced on the opportunity to get out of this challenge. All of a sudden you are now the champion of “a young generation of leaders” in the NRM.  

The other day, while celebrating your 29 years at the helm, you told the country how “we now have a government of children.” The message was clear: the days of bush-war leaders (except one) are over. You are now ready to heed our appeal for “a young, energetic, new generation of leaders.”  

But to let everyone know how jokey this was, you went ahead to describe the new leaders along the line: From former commanders and senior leaders of the struggle to former sellers of pancakes to NRM guerrillas! We really can see where we are heading.    

Low calibre leaders

Mr. President, I have written about the bisanja politics which have compromised you so much so that you have lost your historical guile when it comes to identifying leaders and making political judgments.

For the sake of votes, you have either gotten stuck with non-performers or surrendered the pride of our nation by appointing very questionable calibre of leaders, simply because they have some few hundred followers in their constituencies.

It is Friedrich Hayek, one of the most celebrated economists of all time, who, in his 1944 book, “The Road to Serfdom” wrote thus, “I object to the idea that [a leader who has overstayed his term] can remain benevolent. Why do we think he will stay benevolent when staying in power requires readiness to do bad things that brought him to power in the first place?”

Hayek went ahead and said, “A good [leader who stays longer than necessary] soon becomes a threat to economic and political progress of the society.”     

Mr. President, I have no doubt that you are a good leader. You removed the bad guys who used to kill their political opponents. You restored the security of both person and property. You tamed the army. You reformed the economy. You Uganda a free society for anyone to search for a life they want to live. Anyone who doesn’t see these good things is either blind or dishonest with themselves.    

However, when your time naturally was over, in the bid to buy more time, you started to inevitably do things that Hayek is talking about. To stay in power, you became ready to do things that you were condemning; things that took you to the bush in the first place.

Selective retirement

You enacted laws that are intended to stop dissent. Yet you used to be the champion of dissent since you know quite well that dissent is necessary for the “life of thought,” and its absence would produce a stagnation of thought and a decline of reason.   

You also now fear smart people near you. I have poured oceans of ink on the composition of your government which I felt, and still feel, was not a winning team. No wonder the infrastructure has continued to break down, agriculture had become extinct to warrant the intervention of the army, businesses are closing because of power shortages. People are getting more diseases from health facilities instead of getting medical care.

All this was happening under the watch of nearly 70 ministers, 338 MPs, and a crowd of civil servants that may fill Namboole stadium. As I usually say, this is simply unacceptable, and if I were the president of this country I would seriously have thought about carrying out a total overhaul on my government.

Mr. President, many Ugandans are getting tired of a good government for one reason: you leaders of NRM are talking and promising us all the good things without putting them into practice. If you know you will not be able to do something in the foreseeable future, then don’t promise people.

Secondly, Ugandans need to see change in their lives and it does not require anyone to keep telling them that the NRM government has enhanced their incomes; they will feel the change; they will notice the change in their lives themselves.

But as I mentioned already, you cannot change this country under the current team of leaders. You simply can’t. This country needs new leaders and a new leadership style based on three pillars; Discipline, Unity and Prosperity (DUP) in that order!

Mr. President, my damn intuition tells me the bush-war generation has done its part. It has nothing new to offer. Now that you have decided to handover to the “children”, let the retirement of the grandparents and the parents not be selective.   



Ramathan Ggoobi is Policy Analyst, and Researcher. He lecturers economics at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) and has co-authored several studies on Uganda's economy. For the past ten years, he has published a weekly column 'Are You Listening Mr. President' in The Sunrise Newspaper, Uganda's Leading Weekly

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