M7’s 30-Year Journey; The Importance of ‘Longevity’, The Story Of a Fundamental Change

Minister Frank Tumwebaze

The other day, price President Yoweri Museveni was Sworn-in to start on his yet another 5 year mandate of continuing to steer UGANDA on a steady path of sustainable development and prosperity.

Clear and measurable indicators of growth in all sectors can confirm this positive trend of development that has been sustainably pursed and maintained over the 30 years.  Sustainable development must be able to withstand all forms of economic shocks. And this is what every country strives to achieve.

But quite many miss out on achieving this sustainable development because of their failure to correctly identify and work on the core prerequisites or enablers.  That is how the leadership question therefore and how significant it is in the transformation of any state and its governance becomes paramount.  Good policies stimulate growth while bad ones stifle it.

This opinion piece puts a case of how “political longevity” in the case of Museveni, approved has not only enabled significant milestones of growth to be realized in all sectors, search but also strengthened Uganda as a state. Having a nation is one thing but having a “state” and moreover a strong one is another.

Yes, there are nations without states. And there are also failed states. For either case, reasons are known. It’s mainly lack of leadership that create failed states or nations without states. Therefore, Museveni’s 30 years can best be assessed  by looking at what capacity the  UGANDAN “state” has built under him, the deceptive rhetoric of his political rivals,(who are devoid of any objectivity) notwithstanding.

What a does a state mean in simple terms?

There are varying scholarly views on what exactly constitutes a “state”. From the Aristotle argument that steeps the “state” in its “constitution” where altering it means changing the state, to latter-day arguments that define a “state” around its functions (Anarchism, Marxism, Pluralism etc.), one common feature that all scholars coalesce on is that of having a common controlling authoring or government.

For this piece, however, I will refer to two simpler and straight-forward definitions. The first, is by the German philosopher and political economist, Max Weber, who defines a “state” as “a compulsory political organization with centralized government that maintains monopoly of legitimate use of force within a certain territory.”
The second is from the Oxford English Dictionary that defines the “state” as “an organized political community under one government.”

From these two definitions, the common definitive ingredients are that; a state must be organized, it must have a functional centralized government and exist in a certain territory. The absence of these account for either a no or failed state.

Now picture this. Militias are marauding across the country each controlling whatever swathe they can protect using their guns. The army or what is left of it has become a symbol of terror, with soldiers terrorizing citizens at roadblocks with outright extortion, littering the highways and raping women.

In many places, dusk meant people entering their houses and locking them up unsure of what the night portends. A nearly-broken revenue system means the government annually collects only Shs5 billion (yes 5 billion) in taxes.

Basics like sugar, salt, soap have become a rarity, a preserve for the “connected” or accessed on the black market at astronomical costs. Only 16% of the country’s population has access to clean water. A total of 123 children of every 1,000 live births die at infancy. Adult illiteracy stands at 58% (over half of adult population is illiterate).

I could go over and over but I know that any discerning reader will know the country I am describing. This was Uganda by January 1986. It is the Uganda that the NRM led by President Museveni inherited after a five-year protracted struggle.

The critics of NRM however, never want this piece of history-the starting point of the NRM journey to be brought out. It’s often glossed over, with some even trying to rewrite and deliberately distort it for selfish political interests. Indeed, as the President told the audience in his opening remarks during the last presidential televised debate; they don’t want to talk about Uganda as it is, but instead dwell on what it should have been yet it was not.

The basic elements of what constituted a state (at least from the earlier descriptions) were no more. Uganda was a laughing stock and an object of pity in the whole world. The independence of   October 1962 literally meant nothing.

President Museveni and his team of young but determined liberators inherited a totally broken-down system, actually no system to talk of. There was no organized political community, no government (in the real meaning of the word) and because of that, nearly each and every sector of this country had been eroded.

As President Museveni was swearing-in to commence his fifth elective term as head of state, there is so much discussion in the circles of the political elite on whether he has “ruled for too long”. No much conversation however, is on what Uganda was and what it is now, such that the future is well projected and planned for.

If you can’t know where you are coming from and how far you have covered, you can’t be sure of your destination. This is the disorientation we must fight in our politics. While we can’t continue to live in the shadow of our past, ignoring to know our past is a recipe for real disaster. We risk undoing the entire good over the years.

The obsession with Museveni’s long Stay by the opposition (in cohorts with their Western backers) has denied Ugandans an honest discussion on what we want as a country. Political contests should be based on policy issues and general performance track-record and not on political rhetoric driven by envy and rivalry.

Let us come back to reality. What exactly is the essence of leadership, especially political leadership?

Whenever I think of President Museveni and the Uganda he inherited in 1986, this quote by the 33rd American President Harry Truman comes to mind: “In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” What is key and emphasized here is leadership and the quality of it.  It’s not about how short or long the period of a leader is. Mark that!

To appreciate President Museveni’s quest to change the material living of his people, one needs to go back as far as his high school days, when as an A-level student in his vacation embarked on creating awareness among his immediate community that was largely nomadic, to settle down and engage in more commercially-viable farming.

At that early age, President Museveni already had a vision which later spread to a vision for not just Uganda but Africa at large. He was thinking of a market for his people as the biggest enabler of empowerment. No wonder he later become a Champion of other bigger markets for Africa in general.

He abandoned the comfort of his university room and other entrapments to go join FRELIMO and Samora Machel to fight in the jungles of Mozambique.

Even when he had an opportunity to serve and perhaps rise as an aide to President Obote (and possibly Amin after), Museveni made the conscious decision to base in Tanzania and through FRONASA wage a war against Amin that finally saw the dictator brought down by a combined force of liberators—with FRONASA playing a key role.

It is the same drive that saw him reject the 1980 elections circus and like I described before, put an end to the statelessness that Uganda had become.

This brief attempt at profiling President Museveni seeks to help frame the fact that his drive has been for a higher purpose than simply the quest for power and a career job. It is about transformation of a people and community. Like he emphasized several times on the recent campaign trail, Museveni is “mission hungry and not power hungry”.

That speaks volumes. Its high time Ugandans interrogated deeply the mission of each aspiring leader. One person’s mission therefore, can’t be that he wants to lead uganda because Museveni has overstayed. That becomes a mere game!

Museveni’s thirty years in power therefore, must be viewed from that prism. What was the magnitude of the problems that faced President Museveni when he took power in 1986 and what was his driving force? I have already painted the image of Uganda 30 years ago.

In making comparisons with Uganda’s economic and political growth, I see many people quote the Asian tigers of Singapore, Malaysia and other cases like Cuba.

I wonder if they have stopped to think that Lee Kuan Yew served 56 years as a minister, 31 of them as prime minister and had little room for dissent or critical media in Singapore. It is the same case with Mohamad Mahathir of Malaysia, who did 22 years as prime minister, plus another five years as deputy PM and his reign saw a total suppression on freedoms. Or even good old Cuba that is credited for an effective health care and education system.

To achieve that, Fidel Castro ran the country with an iron fist for 49 years, 32 as president, and 17 as prime minister before handing over to his brother Raul Castro.

Each of these countries had their peculiar challenges but what was not in doubt is that their leaders knew exactly where they wanted to go. Neither of them took short stints at the presidency. They had their time to plan and execute the same plans for their countries.

Uganda similarly had its own challenges when President Museveni assumed power but with his clarity of vision consistently pursued without veering off, we have made great strides.

What is apparently clear is that no one tried to box these leaders of the Asian tigers into time-frames, instead allowing them time to build their countries steadily was highly rewarding and wise.

And unlike most of them who “killed” freedoms for their countries to develop, President Museveni has instead been criticized for being too soft and patient. He has superintended over a country with total respect for all manner of freedoms.

In fact, the threat we face as a country is not lack of freedom but actually abuse of the same by those that want to make them absolute. While many western countries for example regulate media platforms including social media, here in Uganda it’s been a free ride in a highly liberalized industry.

In Britain for instance, government is strict on content on social media platforms. UK mobile phone operators began filtering Internet content in 2004 when Ofcom published a “UK code of practice for the self-regulation of new forms of content on mobiles”.
This provided a means of classifying mobile Internet content to enable consistency in filtering. All major UK operators now voluntarily filter content by default.

The whole profile of Museveni’s 30 years achievements is too much a volume for anyone to enumerate easily in such small space. But let me focus only on five key representative sectors of; security, economy, education, roads and health to demonstrate the true story of a fundamental change.

I pick on these five because they form the foundation for a stable state and also are the spur for growth and development.


In a new book, “Black Hawks Rising”, New Vision Canadian-based columnist and scholar Opiyo Oloya makes a damning admission. In 2007, before the UPDF deployed in Somalia under the AMISOM banner to try and restore sanity in a country (or what was left of it) that everyone was giving up on, he penned an article predicting that the UPDF would not survive the first day in Mogadishu.

Nine years down the road, Oloya has written a book, whose motivation he says was: “In it (the book), I follow the background politics that led to the formation of AMISOM, and how AMISOM transformed what I imagined would be disaster into, arguably, the most successful African-led mission in the history of conflict interventions on continental Africa.”

In a nutshell, Oloya perhaps makes an admission that many have fallen victim to; the underestimation of the NRA, later UPDF, only to be shocked later by their prowess and success. Milton Obote termed them “bandits” only to learn too late about the folly of his judgement.

And yet perhaps Obote’s pessimism was understandable. How could a handful of people with only 27 guns actually hope to overthrow a government? Five years later, the answer was made available. Discipline, support of the masses, correct ideology with clarity of purpose and vision helped the NRA to grow from strength to strength as a national army worth its salt. It is these tenets of a correct pro-people Ideology that enabled  the UPDF to sustainably guarantee Uganda’s  stability. The defeat of all rebel insurgencies is  testimony to  the  strength of our National army.

If there is any important ingredient of a functional state is the strength of its national army and how capable it is. The UPDF has achieved on nearly every front. It is no longer just the guarantor of Uganda’s stability but that of the entire region.

From Juba to Mogadishu, the UPDF is playing a key role in ensuring peace and stability.  This was possible because of leadership.

In 2001, with meagre funding to the defence sector and with military operations highly constrained, especially the army’s compromised ability at the time to fully deal with pockets of resistance in northern and western Uganda, President Museveni provided leadership to government and prioritized defence funding in the Budget.

As usual his perennial opponents and their foreign backers were up in arms. However, few years down the road with Uganda being peaceful   from border to border, including the Karamoja cattle rustlers disarmament, one can only nod in agreement with President Museveni priority decision on defence.

The recent attempt at unrest in the Rwenzori and Sebei regions and how quickly they were nipped in the bud is proof of how efficient the UPDF has become. The UPDF continues on its journey of professionalism looking at bettering itself in technology use while upping its officers’ and men’s skills but there is no doubt that they have created the right foundation on which a new Uganda is being constructed.


The most confounding aspect of President Museveni’s lengthy stay in power therefore, is NOT the length of time he has been in power, but Rather, what he has been able to achieve for his country. The aspect of longevity alone distracts us from asking relevant questions like: how has the country fared since Museveni came to power? What are Uganda’s strategic challenges? How are the socio-economic indicators of growth in all sectors doing?

Let us attempt to answer these questions and therefore assess scientifically the performance of the Museveni administration, political biases of his opponents notwithstanding.

The NRM government has managed over the years, to steadily maintain a positive rate of sustainable economic growth in terms of real GDP.

Since 1992/93, fiscal policy in Uganda has entailed very strict budgetary discipline. Government has kept firm control over its own expenditures to ensure that it does not have to borrow from the domestic sources to finance budget deficits.

Fiscal discipline has been absolutely essential for the control of inflation. In turn, low inflation is a prerequisite for the higher levels of private investment that have sustained rapid economic growth in Uganda.

For all this long, the main macroeconomic objectives of Government that have been steadily pursued without any policy reversals or deviations have been: to ensure rapid real GDP growth, to keep consumer price inflation to five percent or below, to maintain a prudent level of foreign reserves, and to ensure that the real exchange rate is compatible with a competitive external sector.

Maintaining low inflation is an especially crucial objective of economic policy because high inflation has a number of harmful effects on the economy. In particular it increases uncertainty about future economic variables and thus discourages investment.

Low and stable inflation is a prerequisite for private investment in long term productive assets. It is very difficult to make long term forecasts about the commercial viability of an investment project in conditions of high inflation, because the future prices on which the viability of the project will depend are very difficult to predict when inflation is high. Hence inflation makes long term investment much more risky. High inflation also erodes the real value of money and thus discourages savings. It often leads to shrinking of the financial system, as happened in Uganda in the 1980s.

For these and more reasons, the control of inflation has been and still is a central objective of macroeconomic policy, and an objective which the NRM government has succeeded in achieving since 1992/93 to date because of being able to maintain strong budget discipline at the aggregate fiscal level.

Another indicator of a well-managed economy is the way how a government manages its borrowing in order to finance its fiscal deficit especially for a developing country like Uganda that was characterized by long periods of civil strife and general economic collapse.

If the Government runs a fiscal deficit which is too large to be financed from donor funds, it must borrow from the domestic banking system, which generally entails borrowing from the Central Bank.

When the Central Bank lends money to Government it creates credit – which means that it prints money. When Government borrows from the Central Bank there is an injection of high powered money into the economy, which money is not backed by production.

Furthermore, excessive Government borrowing from the banking system usually leads to the crowding out of private sector borrowing. The private sector is squeezed out of credit markets as the Central Bank tries to counter the effect of Government borrowing on inflation by tightening monetary policy.

If the private sector is squeezed out of the credit markets by Government’s demand for credit, there will clearly be adverse effects on real activity in the private sector, and therefore on the economy’s growth prospects. Our government has been sensitive to these effects of excessive borrowing and has tried as much as possible to mitigate them.

This however, does not mean that Government cannot run fiscal deficits – it actually does– but it ensures that the deficits are financed from non-inflationary sources, such as donor grants and soft loans after seeking parliamentary approval.

A favorable tax policy has been pursued over the years and Uganda remains the only one in East Africa with the lowest rate of tax contribution to GDP averaging about 13%. Despite pressure from the IMF and World Bank to raise the tax rate contribution to GDP the government has moved cautiously not to hurt the growing private sector.

In the last five years alone and despite the inevitable external challenges mainly, like loss of some of the regional markets like juba, the economy   has been growing at various rates of 3.4%, 6.0%, 4.7%, 5.3% and 5.8%   in financial years 2011/2012, 2012/2013, 2013/2014, 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 respectively and is projected to grow at 6.5% for the next five years. Inflation has been kept at 2.7% from a record high double digit of 30% in 2011/2012. Total tax collections are projected at Shs. 13.884 trillion 2016/2017 up from Shs. 11.333 trillion in 2015/2016. Our tax to GDP ratio is expected to grow from 13.7% to 14.9%.

The increase in the tax revenue is majorly due to; improved tax policy measures implemented this year, improved tax base and expansion of the tax base.

Government has already embarked on the process of capitalizing UDB to reduce interest rates and try to accumulate funds for long term lending.

In the financial year 2014/2015, government capitalized UDB with Shs. 120b. There are plans to increase this money to Shs. 500b by 2017. This is to enable agriculturalists and manufacturers to access credit at less than 15%. This will boost production and increase exports. Increased exports will eventually stabilize the dollar and as well create more jobs.

Government has developed a ten year tourism master plan and a 5 year sector development plan to guide implementation of critical activities to drive tourism growth in the country. Visa costs for tourists have been reduced with the introduction of the single tourist visa to promote tourism through easing cross boarder transits within East Africa.

This will increase foreign exchange inflows and enhance employment potential of the tourism industry. Also, regional tourism clusters have been formed to diversify tourism products based on communities. Regional tourism clusters were formed in Buganda, Busoga, Kigezi, Bugisu, Bunyoro, Toro, Northern Uganda and West Nile.

A host of these domestic initiatives coupled with the regional initiatives under the Nothern corridor projects will automatically quicken and enable Uganda to attain its  middle income status sooner rather than later.

I am dwelling much on good economic management because it’s a variable highly dependant on the nature of the country’s Political leadership and it can therefore be a good measure in assessing governance credentials of any regime. No wonder the first alarming signs that come with effects of instability or bad governance in any country are inflation levels. This should be the yard stick in my opinion to evaluate Museveni and his long service, biases notwithstanding.


President Museveni’s focus and that of the NRM government has been more about the preventive approach to disease management. The thinking is that if prevention and primary health care is emphasized, up-to 50% of the disease cases would not arise and therefore the disease burden among communities will diminish.

It is for that reason that the government has so far built 185 Health Centre IVs, 1,063 Health Centre IIIs and 2,461 Health Centre IIs, which have greatly increased access to health services for the ordinary ‘wanainchi’.

That said, several strides have been made in the health sector considering the following statistics:

– Between 2006 and 2014, infant mortality has reduced from 76/1,000 to 54/1,000 live births while under five mortality reduced from 137/1,000 to 90/1,000.

– President Museveni has been at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS fight. Infections have reduced from 147,000 in 2011 to 137,000 in 2013. In the early 90s, national prevalence which now stands at 7.3% had skyrocketed to over 30%.

– Number of Health Centres offering Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) have increased from 2,138 in 2013 to 3,248 facilities in 2014.

– Number of HIV infection in new born children has reduced from 28,000 in 2009 to 8,000 in 2014. The number of people dying from Tuberculosis (TB) has reduced from 9,900 in 1990 to 4,700 thereby achieving the MDG number six.

It should be noted that Mulago National Referral Hospital is currently undergoing a  $80m rehabilitation which will see its services attain world-class standards once the works are completed. Nine other regional hospitals are getting a face-lift too.

The remaining challenges that the government will tackle in the next five years is work attitude, improved remuneration and staffing of the health workers. Routine inspections and monitoring will also be intensified in health facilities to fight drug thefts and staff absenteeism.

Field staff (RDCs, Disos and Caos) have been strictly tasked on this. The recent surprise visit to Mulago hospital by President Museveni was one of the many yet to be undertaken.


The NRM policy from the onset has been mass education as opposed to education of a few privileged. This has been manifested through UPE, USE, free vocational and technical education programmes among others.

As a result the literacy rate has increased from 43% in 1986 to 75% in 2015. Also, primary enrollment has grown from 2,203,824 pupils in 1986 to 8,437,069 pupils in 2014, Secondary enrollment from 123,479 to 1,247,437 of whom 46.2% are female and University enrollment from 5,390 to 150,000. Number of primary classrooms has increased from 28,000 to 105,958.

The NRM Government remains committed to enhancing access to quality education and skills development. It has increased the Capitation and Schools Facilities Grant. Government is also enhancing the skills development programme by injecting additional funding into the Skilling Uganda project. Government has also increased salaries for primary teachers and lecturers in all public universities. There are ongoing works on the construction of the National High Altitude Centre in Kapchorwa and Akii-Bua Olympic Stadium in Lira.

Road Sector

Since 2006, the NRM government has emphasized spending on infrastructure development as a stimuli for economic prosperity of all rather than consumption. Since then, the budget for the ministry of works has increased from Shs. 374.15b in 2006/2007 to Shs. 3.328 trillion in 2015/2016.

The mileage of tarmac roads has increased from 1,000km in 1986 to over 4,200km in 2015.
In the financial year ending alone, a total of 167km have been upgraded from gravel to tarmac out of the annual target of 250km. In addition, 129km of national roads were reconstructed/rehabilitated out of the annual target of 170km.

In Kampala alone since establishment of KCCA, over 1,207km of the city road network have been constructed, rehabilitated or regularly maintained and more is planned for. And with the formation of the metropolitan physical planning authority recently approved by cabinet, the planning and infrastructure development of Kampala will now be integrated with that of the neighboring metropolitan districts (Wakiso, Mpigi and Mukono).

An American engineer and statistician Edwards Deming famously said: “In God we trust, all others bring data.”

Indeed the data on Uganda after 1986 says it all. The foundation has been set. The process might have been slow and painstaking but we are finally getting there as a country.

In the next five years, Uganda will join the class of the lower middle-income countries. What was shambles and ruins 30 years ago, is finally a respectable nation that has taken its rightful place at the “table of men”.

For someone like President Museveni who has overseen this turn-around, it is only fair that judgement is passed based on the task he had and not the years spent at the helm. In other words let us choose fact to fiction in this conversation about Uganda and its unstoppable journey. Let us choose real democracy  and  not just democratic symbolism.

Democratic symbolism is not any democracy to talk of.  It is the rhetoric of ‘appearing to be’ what actually one is not and the tendency to emphasize what is secondary while paying little or no attention to what is primary -real democracy and development. Yet real democracy should not only preach rhetoric of mere political appearances but rather work to entrench the actual fundamental prerequisites that enable democratic cultures to thrive.

What community can talk of rights when its people are impoverished and insecure?  Gross violation of human rights starts with poverty and insecurity.

Fortunately, NRM has never worked for mere political appearances but rather for real causes even when a certain amount of a high price has had to be paid.

Any country worth being called a democracy therefore, should be judged on these parameters and Not on Questions of longevity or short stay of leaders.

What is crucial is the path that the leader navigates a country through and the policies he adopts. In fact, if the policy instruments are excellent as is the case for Uganda, longevity becomes very significant.

Conversely, regular change of leaders is no guarantor for good governance. If that was to be the case, then post independent Uganda, would have taken off much faster as a super democracy in its early post-independence period, given the fact that between 1962 and 1985 alone, Uganda changed 8 Presidents . So why didn’t a democratic culture then take deep root?

Was the problem then leaders who had overstayed?  Certainly Not. The problem was the collapse of the entire political structure without anything in place to support the evolution of democracy.

For God and my country.

Frank Tumwebaze, MP
Minister in charge of the Presidency and Kampala


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