When this decade started in 2001, Museveni had been in power for 15 years. As it ends, he is the only regional leader still in office who was in when it started. The events that ensured that climaxed at 3:10 p.m. on Tuesday July 12, 2005.
At that moment Uganda’s parliament was involved in what historians like to call a defining moment. It marked the end of an arduous process to amend Article 105 (2) of the constitution to remove presidential term limits.
On that day, Jacob Oulanya, the burly man with a penchant for wearing sharp suits complete with pocket handkerchief and bowtie and whose thick moustache appears to block out his nose whenever he speaks, broke his silence. The amendment, he said, had been coached not to dwell on the principle behind term limits. Rather the arguments had “zeroed down on those who like President Museveni and those who hate him.” Oulanya was at the time the MP of Moro County in Gulu district and chairman of the Legal Committee of parliament which scrutinised the amendment.
The removal of term limits on the presidency marked the maturation of political corruption. Efforts by prominent Museveni ministers against the third term campaign did not change Museveni’s determination to have article 105 of the 1995 constitution repealed. Instead, ministers Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, Eriya Kategaya and Miria Matembe were dropped from cabinet. In the end, Shs 5 million was paid to each of 222 MPs to let Museveni have his way. Only 37 MPs voted against the bill and two abstained. Did the MPs realise that his personalisation of a momentous question of principle marked the defining political moment of the last decade?
Sometimes to understand such an unfathomable question one needs an anchor in something less speculative.
In my case, it was an article by BBC Washington Correspondent Steve Kingstone on October 2, 2010 that spurred the thought. It was titled `How President Lula changed Brazil’ and it started with the paragraph: “I used to tell visitors to close their eyes as I drove them into Sao Paulo from the airport. That was seven years ago, when the first impression of South America’s biggest city was a pot-holed motorway running parallel to a stinking river…”
Does that sound familiar? Possibly yes.
At the heart of the debate was whether President Museveni could ever democratically relinquish power.
The events of July 12, 2005 have become even more poignant as the decade ends. They make 2005 the defining year of the decade. In that year, Uganda’s founding President Milton Obote died, and leading opposition politician, Rt. Col. Dr Kizza Besigye was arrested on a trumped-up rape case, Uganda ditched the Movement system for multiparty politics, and a military commando squad known as Black Mamba besieged the High Court in a flagrant re-arrest of treason suspects that had been granted bail.
Those events are comparable regionally, only to the fallout from the death in a mysterious helicopter crash of the legendary leader of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), Col. John Garanga, and the deployment of Ugandan army troops in Somalia.
They eclipse even Museveni’s election victories in 2001 and 2006, the government of Uganda peace talks with the LRA in Juba in 2006, the 2007 Kampala Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and its entrenching of corruption, the 2009 Buganda riots, and the 2010 signing of the East African Community Common Market Protocol.
Yet some of the events, like the rift between Buganda kingdom and the central government, corruption and conduct of the February 18, 2011 general elections are already impacting on the new decade.
The Brazil story has a happy ending. Kingstone was there to cover the election in which, in November 2010, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva passed on the baton to his anointed successor, Dilma Rousseff. In power for only eight years, Lula cleared the pot-holed motorways, pushed 29 million Brazilians into the middle class, created 2.5 million jobs in 2010 alone, eradicated hunger, improved education and health and transformed Brazil from a borrower from the IMF to a lender. On December 16, he proudly presented a review of his eight year in power to his cabinet in six volumes and is leaving office when over 80 percent of Brazilians approve of his work.
Walking along the Upper Kololo Terrace, just after the swanky Protea Hotel in the high end section of Kampala city, one easily notices a new row of bulletin billboards exhorting passersby to vote for Museveni in the Feb. 18 presidential elections.
They are professionally erected low at car windshield level to catch the driver’s eye and with just a few words. Next to them on the same road, in the section just above Kololo Airstrip, venue of national celebrations is another row of neat bulletin billboards. These ones are for MTN Uganda, a subsidiary of the South African telecom giant. The placement is possibly coincidental but very apt: Museveni’s brand colour, like MTN’s, is yellow. Going forward, it appears the fate of the most important engine of his success, big business, will become more intertwined with the fortunes of the most powerful person in Uganda, Museveni.
The decade started well enough for Museveni.
In March 2001, he trounced a pack of five to emerge with 69 percent of the vote in the presidential elections. Optimism was high. He had promised it was his last term and most voters looked forward to a peaceful transition with a new face at the top in 2006. It did not happen. Museveni clang on and as the decade ends, it makes more sense to assess what the future will be like under him than speculate on when he will quit.
Meanwhile, corruption has grown exponentially. When the decade began the biggest scandal was the Shs 11 billion purchase of four junk Mi-24 helicopters by the UPDF that was before the Justice Sebutinde Commission of Inquiry in 2001. This was followed closely by a similar probe in the Uganda Revenue Authority in 2002.
However, the money involved is laughable compared to what is being swindled today. As the decade ends, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament chaired by MP Nandala Mafabi has just completed a probe into the squandering of Shs 500 billion meant for hosting of CHOGM. Two years ago, there was the case of Amama Mbabazi allegedly influencing NSSF to buy his 400 acre land in Temangalo at Shs 11 billion.
And the impunity has burgeoned. Just as only Emma Katto, the fixer, was the fall guy in the Sebutinde junk helicopters inquiry and just as Sebutinde’s report on URA was quashed by court as her fellow commissioners, Fawn Cousens and James Kahooza, disowned it, PAC’s CHOGM report was defeated on a technicality in parliament and Mbabazi walked scot-free from the Temangalo scandal.
Many people close to Museveni are tainted. The British jailed and deported Museveni’s aide; Ananias Tumukunde for stealing Shs 117 million from the government of Uganda in inflated procurement bills. On December 9, 2009 the British handed a cheque for the amount to the IGG at a public function in Kampala. But Museveni kept Tumukunde.
As the decade ends, a WikiLeak of US diplomatic cables reveals that the US Ambassador in Kampala, Jerry Lanier wrote that two ministers, Hilary Onek and Amama Mbabazi took bribes from an oil company in what could mark the first cases of the so-called `oil curse’.
As the decade ends, oil might not be the only big business that Ugandans are to watch with trepidation.
Uganda’s biggest telecom company is losing market share in a volatile market. Its market share is down to an unconfirmed 60 percent due to competition from new entrants and its Average Revenue per User (ARPU) is the lowest in the region at US$ 5. As a result, the only good news at the MTN Towers is the 5 percent increase in subscribers to 6,215,000 by Q3 of 2010.
This gloom is in sharp contrast to the excitement at MTN at the start of the decade. The year 2001 was the second that MTN Uganda, which had been in operation for two years, made a profit. At the time, it had about 150,000 subscribers and controlled over 75 percent of the mobile phone market and 60 percent of the whole telecom market. Thomas Bragaw was the MTN Uganda Chief Executive Officer at the start of the decade. Just three months before the New Year, he had a launched the first ever fibre optic cable in Africa. It linked Kampala City’s business district and industrial area.
But big business could suffer more as big money believed to be ill-gotten has been discovered in government official’s homes instead of banks. Damian Akankwasa, a National Forestry Authority managing director had Shs900 million in his house and another Shs500 million was found in the family of Museveni’s brother, Salim Saleh.
Regionally, on July 11, 2010 Kampala witnessed twin bomb attacks that left at least 76 people dead and scores injured. The Somali-based al-Shabaab claimed responsibility arguing that it was punishment for Uganda’s involvement in the affairs of their country Somalia. As the decade ends, the referendum in Southern Sudan promises self-determination for John Garang’s people. But there is apprehension that it could ignite another regional conflict.
The 20 year-long war of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army is quiet but not quashed. The butcher of the north is somewhere in the jungles of Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Southern Sudan. Can he return to haunt the north? Some say, possibly not.