President Museveni has addressed the country at least six times since the August 13 Arua fracas and is expected to do it again later today at State House Entebbe.
The President issued statements on August 15, two days after the killing of Yasin Kawuma, the former driver of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, and arrests of citizens including MPs in Arua, on August 16, 19, 20 and 22.
Relatedly, the President also responded to Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga in a letter that has since become public on the events that transpired in Arua and thereafter.
Outside these, the incumbent has, of course, had other engagements in and out of the country, including a trip to China to attend the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation.
The trip broke the flow and frequency of his missives to Ugandans.
The violence that ensued in Arua and other places cannot be separated from the ongoing political question in the country and this is expected to top the issues the President will focus on in his address today.
At least five people have so far been confirmed shot dead and many more have sustained bullet wounds in demonstrations in Kampala, Gomba and Mityana districts arising from the Arua fracas.
What are the issues?
On August 24, while presiding over the pass-out of 3,958 UPDF recruits at the Kaweweta Military Training School in Nakaseke District, President Museveni hinted on the issue.
He said: “We have just three issues to solve: Crime in towns, which we are addressing by installing cameras in Kampala; political indiscipline like we saw in Jinja East, Bugiri and Arua and finally corruption.”
President Museveni has been in power for more than 32 years and, naturally, the list of his government’s priorities and those of the entire country cannot be expected to remain constant. Whether they form part of his address or not, Ugandans have varying views on where the country should focus.
Mr James Ogoola, the chairperson of the Elders’ Forum and former Principal Judge, says peace and stability should be the cornerstone for any discussion on Uganda’s future.
Asked what he considers to be the most important issue for the country right now, he said: “I have two words, peace and stability. Those are the two very important issues that are on everybody’s mind right now. The country has been through so much anxiety, pulling, pushing, pain, crying this and that. I think we need stability, certainty, genuine peace, not these things of not fighting wars but peace internally in the country, in the families, in the communities, in different categories of people.”
Topping the list of veteran politician and former Inspector General of Government (IGG), Mr Augustine Ruzindana, is for the country to build an economy “that works for all the people in the country”.
“The most important issue for every person is the economy – what is in your pocket – that is the most important thing. The next thing is stability of the country,” Mr Ruzindana says.
It is on the political question that Mr Ruzindana, a founding member of Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, says the differences are rooted and must be addressed.
“The political arrangements include such things as security, elections and electoral processes and of course the other things that have been happening in the country [such as] by-elections, especially the Arua one and the ramifications of those by-elections. They have generated a number of things. There are court processes and hospital processes. Any political leader should be addressing them now,” Mr Ruzindana adds.
Ms Perry Aritua, the Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) executive director, also lists the political question as paramount, especially what she terms as “the transition”.
“The most important issue is political. I think he [Museveni] needs to start thinking about transition because in my opinion in many countries when young leaders emerge it is an opportunity for them to be nurtured so that they can take leadership after the current leader goes,” she says.
“He has done his part and there is still a lot that has to happen in the economic sector. Opportunities are very few, so you can see the frustration particularly for young people because of lack of opportunity, and they are not seeing anything new in terms of ideas,” Ms Aritua says.
“The ideas seem to be the same. The leader, especially who is in the Executive, is the controller of the public purse. He or she is the one who makes decisions on the budget; what needs to go where; and provide new ideas to his or her team where the country needs to go. We have been here for years and nothing seems to change. The issues are the same, the diagnosis seems to be the same. The frustration in my opinion is growing because people are not seeing new ideas to address their social and economic issues and that emanates from political leadership. Let us start discussing transition,” she adds.
For the leader of Opposition (LoP) in Parliament, Ms Betty Aol Ocan, Ugandans are most bothered by insecurity and poor social services.
“He [President Museveni] is always telling us about economic growth but we don’t know where the economic growth is going. Our people still live in abject poverty without social services in health, education. We need to see democracy and good governance really working,” she says.
By the end of his current term in office, President Museveni will have ruled Uganda for more than 35 years. With both the age limit and the term limits out of the Constitution, the incumbent can contest for elections and if he wins rule until such a time when he is unable to do.
The issue of transition from President Museveni to another leader has preoccupied the country for a long time, right from 1989 when the decision to extend the interim period of Mr Museveni’s then new government was made. President Museveni had indicated to his lieutenants that he was comfortable with ruling for four years after the Bush War and pave way for an elected leader, although much of the country still thought that he needed to continue in power to fully stabilise the country.
The second time Mr Museveni was expected by some of his then colleagues to leave power was in 1996 after a new Constitution had been promulgated in 1995.
Since his re-election in 1996, he made several promises to leave office and fairly often referred to leaving power and retiring to herding cattle at his rural farm in Rwakitura.
But Mr Museveni continued in power, even the two term limit that had been set in the 1995 Constitution was removed in 2006, paving way for his continued stay.
More acrimony has since been brewed by the recent deletion from the Constitution of the 75-year age cap for presidential candidates, which many see as licence for President Museveni to run again in 2021, aged 77.
The 2014 national census found that 58 per cent of the population in the productive age bracket of 14 to 64 years, about 10.4 million people were unemployed. The number of the jobless has perhaps only worsened. Unemployed youth are world over looked at as a danger to sitting governments because they are easy to mobilise by political agitators.
COST OF LIVING
School fees, rent, transport, food and other bills that Ugandans have to foot increase at a faster rate than incomes. This is compounded by a high dependency ratio, with working Ugandans having to support many younger, elderly and non-working individuals. According to World Bank rankings, Uganda ranks 179th out of 184 countries regarding the number of young people and the elderly that every working person has to support. Japan is ranked number one, as the country with the most ideal age dependency ratio. With so many mouths to feed and incomes not growing as fast yet other costs are rising, working Ugandans are feeling the pinch.
Economists estimate that a developing economy needs to hold steady at around 6 per cent annual growth rate for long periods if it is to transform, but Uganda’s has been below that for almost a decade.
The projections are optimistic that the economy may grow at about 6 per cent this financial year, however.
Of all the five East African countries, the International Monetary Fund estimates that in 2018, Uganda’s economy will only expand faster than Burundi’s. The IMF estimate is that Uganda will grow by 5.2 per cent and Burundi’s will grow by a paltry 0.14 per cent.
Rwanda’s economy is projected to expand this year by 7.2 per cent, Tanzania by 6.4 per cent and Kenya by 5.4 per cent.
Reports of rampant killings have reduced across the country but the issue of insecurity remains a top concern for citizens. On June 20, President Museveni addressed the country in what has since been dubbed the “state of security address”. He suggested measures including scanners to cover all containers coming into the country, locating identity of all users of social media, revival of the 999, and Flying Squad, modern forensic laboratory, security cameras with thermal sensors to capture the body temperature, banning jacket hoodies, installing electronic number plates and gun finger printing. It is not clear how much of these have been implemented with the exception of the deployment of the army on the streets.
A report by the Parliament’s Committee on National Economy for the 2016/17 financial year estimates that Uganda’s public debt to GDP ratio stands at 31.8 per cent. However, Uganda continues to borrow to finance major infrastructure projects in energy, transport and provision of other social services. Some of the borrowed money, critics say, is lost to corruption and other forms of theft of public resources.