KAMPALA – Africa’s political instability is conventionally attributed to the manner in which leaders sustain themselves in power. Leaders across the region hold onto office by purchasing support through the distribution of state resources.
When NRM came into power in 1986, Ugandans breathed a sigh of relief that at last a regime that promised clean and rational leadership had taken over. That bureaucracy was to be based on meritocracy. That political patronage was going to be a thing of the past. But alas, the curse of political patronage and, therefore, underdevelopment has continued.
The effects of economic and political reforms on patronage in Africa remains unclear. In particular, there is much disagreement about whether structural adjustment programs and democratization have helped to make patronage less pervasive in African politics.
Democracy, which is characterised by regular free and fair elections and active free participation of citizens in public affairs and the government, is assumed to lead to political accountability, efficiency and effectiveness. Ironically political competition in Uganda has created incentives for the regime in power to resort to using its vantage position to use public resources to reward or punish political support or dissent respectively. Such regime political behaviour leads to inefficiency in economic development and service delivery.
As we approach the 2021 general elections it is important for us to recognize how far Uganda has come in 58 years. Uganda is no longer the pariah state that it used to be in the 1970s and 1980s, whether Magendo or economic. In addition there are many negative practices that persist, chief among them is the phenomenon of presidentialism. Key among the features of this phenomenon remains the informalization of politics whereby governments operate in an informal, personal and non-institutional manner.
State institutions in Uganda have long been the source of patronage and clientelism. This has meant that more resources are spent on maintenace of the regime than on service delivery, infrastructural development or progressive change.
In his book Andrew Rugasira notes that weak political institutions in many African countries frustrate and undermine the innovations and creativity of their entrepreneurs. Poor institutional capacity leads to poor delivery of services, poor infrastructure, poor governance and poor law and order, which means that governments are not creating the enabling environment for private sector growth.
For a very long time the President has been seen giving out cash to a section of Ugandans, many times this money is seen being transported in sacks and distributed to the people. Many Ugandans have questioned whether this money is the president’s money or public money? When, where, why and how this money is given is very significant. Usually, it is at a public function, after a mass or service, or at a mauledi, or following the handing over of cycles or other physical gifts. It is also important to note that the number of envelope-giving events multiplied in the run-up to the election; Instead, Museveni’s ‘sacks of cash’ have become an increasingly standard way of tying constituencies into the regime. Many members of parliament especially the NRM incumbent have continued to use physical gifts such as bars of soap, salt and cash in order to convince their voters to vote for them in order to retain their seats in parliament.
Government programmes such as NAADS noe Operation wealth Creation, youth livelihood fund, capital venture fund and the new one of emyoga are highly politicised and therein lay their poor performance. Local and central government tenders and contracts are awarded based on the criteria of political support and therein lies corruption and poor service delivery. This is because some people in government are untouchables. Some of these people who get tenders are the gatekeepers of votes and political support for NRM in their districts and if you touch them you lose votes. As a result political patronage has permeated our body politic from top to bottom and hence underdevelopment.
The above political attitude, system, and behaviour as depicted in President Museveni’s political doctrine of “vote opposition and commit political suicide” and don’t give contracts to the opposition, leads to underdevelopment. As a result the local masses are always worried that if they dont vote for Museveni the war and misery of the 1970s and 1980s shall come back. The young people who always given mere handouts have also meant to believe that President Museveni and the NRM are solutions to their problems which is very far from reality.
Ahead of the 2021 general elections 78% being young people, it is high time the majority population takes a stand on which direction they want their future to be. If young people can ditch their mentalities of waiting for handouts from political leaders and focus on issues and encourage masses to actively and meaningfully participate in the elections new and bright future will be on the way.
The writer is a Lawyer and Advocacy and Communications personnel at Youth Line Forum