By Stephen Lwetutte
LONDON-UNITED KINGDOM/NEWSDAY: When you consider the level of the delegation to the DubaiExpo20 led by none other than President Museveni himself, the eye-watering expenses and the quality of the Uganda pavilion after 35 years in office, it is not hard at all to understand why the country with such massive potential has instead regressed.
Mr Museveni, since fighting his way to power under the guise of liberating the country from previous dictators, has instead presided over an oppressive and corrupt government machinery that is totally incapable of resolving crucial and decisive governance concerns. Instead a cabal comprising family, political and military allied has been formed and deepened its grip on power, effectively forming an oligarchy. This regime has no history and capacity of delivering economic progress, which in the context of the global Village, is driven by foreign investments.
President Museveni’s attendance at the DubaiExpo20 and the tax payers’ expenditure for that purpose would have been justified if he was able to influence and drum up investments for Uganda. However, after his long and widespread international reputation as a dictator worse than the late President Idi Amin, the likelihood that he would be able seal serious and decent investment deals for Uganda is very remote.
The most solid investors to grace the Ugandan economy are the usual extractive industry players, whose image in places they have operated in the past leaves a lot to be desired. Companies like Total come immediately to mind. The other investors are small-time briefcase investors with suspect origins and declared portfolios in for a quick buck in connivance with well-connected kleptocrats, before exiting with their look when queries start arising.
Suffice to have a glance at the latest Transparency International Index for 2020 to appreciate that the levels of corruption into which Uganda has sunk on President Museveni’s watch, tantamounting to kleptocracy, is no exaggeration. Out of the the 162 countries assessed, Uganda ranked at 141 position, with a note that the corruption had worsened and the countries rank gone down by two positions from the previous index. And this is after 35 years of one man, his family and the military holding Ugandans hostage to threats of civil war should the regime ever lose power.
In a determined effort to cling onto power amid growing and intensifying dissent of the population, the regime has concomitantly intensified its oppression methods, to include inculcating fear and terror among the population, by conducting Broadway light abductions, extrajudicial killings, torture and imprisonment of opposition members, supporters and officials. To date, the world is still demanding the promised reports of investigations into the massacres of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators mowed down, as a BBC documentary beamed to the world, demonstrated with incontrovertible evidence in a couple of incidences.
Believing he is very clever and smart, President Museveni has oscillated from outright denial, as expected, that the security services did shoot any one innocent, to condemning his security services and promising investigations and punishment for those found culpable, when confronted with hard evidence. The disquiet, dissent and anger about how President Museveni has run the country for 35 years are almost palpable.
As everyone knows, serious investors are risk-averse and sensitive to political, governance and economic factors, and evaluate these before a firm decision to invest is taken. I can confidently state, without fear of contradiction, that no such investor can take the risk of investing in Uganda in the current climate.
The country is, therefore, currently doomed for lack of investments and will remain so and backward as long as President Museveni remains in power, since he is incapable of changing tack and democratising this late in the day. Even the few brave investors that had bitten the bullet and invested are making a hasty retreat in their droves.
Dubai, although still authoritarian, is what it is today because it acknowledged and utilised the power of foreign investments when it established the Jebel Ali Free Zone in 1979. The Freezone offered companies the possibility of unrestricted import of labour and repatriation of capital, which attracted so many global companies.
President Museveni has tried the same trick, but he must be advised that unless and until he solves the governance issues, Uganda will continue to lag behind, while our neighbours record new successes, far beyond the middle income economy status that they have. Uganda is still years away from such a status.
The trip to Dubai by that high-powered delegation, led by a leader derided and despised in Western capitals, was a waste of tax payers’ money. As opposed to being an asset, President Museveni is a real liability to attracting foreign investments. The earlier he did the needful, the better.
The writer is a Multilingual Human Rights Practitioner, formerly at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London for over 20 years and now Legal and Human Rights Consultant.
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