Uganda’s mixed fortunes after 27 years under Yoweri Museveni’s leadership
President insists corruption is being tackled and Uganda is not reliant on aid
Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni (left) is welcomed by his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, at a meeting of leaders from the Southern African Development Community in Pretoria this week. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
For many Ugandans, Yoweri Museveni is the president who brought democracy to a country reeling after decades of dictatorship and went on to steer it towards strong economic growth. For other more critical voices, however, he is the leader who, after almost three decades in power, increasingly looks like Uganda’s president for life.
Museveni has been president for 27 years. Rumours abound in the capital, Kampala, over whether the man once hailed as part of a new generation of African leaders will run for a fourth term in 2016.
Sitting in the relatively modest villa that forms the centrepiece of his cattle farm in southern Uganda, Museveni insists it is up to his party to decide if he contests the presidency again but he hints it is a possibility – because, he seems to suggest, there might not be anyone else up to the job.
“My plans are determined by the tasks we face. What tasks does Uganda face and which of our cadre can manage them? That is how I have been involved all this time,” he says.
“If those tasks were not there, I would be very comfortable to go and retire.”
Museveni proudly details Uganda’s successes. In addition to healthy economic growth rates, the country has surpassed the millennium development goal of halving the 56 per cent poverty rate it recorded in the early 1990s. Like other African countries, it has attracted investment from China in recent years. Chinese companies are working on several major infrastructure projects including roads and dams.
But per-capita income hovers around $500 (€374) and economists warn that Museveni’s much-vaunted goal for Uganda to become a middleincome country by 2017 is overly ambitious. Its population is strikingly young – almost 60 per cent is under 20 – but with youth unemployment estimated at 62 per cent, it is a demographic that presents challenges as well as potential.
In 2011, Ugandan youths were at the forefront of street protests – violently quashed by security forces – over rising commodity prices and crippling government corruption.
Uganda’s graft problem seeps into almost every conversation in Kampala, and many believe it is getting worse. A recent report by Human Rights Watch accused the government of failing to hold to account senior officials implicated in the theft and diversion of public funds.
“No high-ranking government official, minister or political appointee has ever served a prison sentence despite investigations into numerous corruption scandals over many years and an impressive array of anti-corruption institutions,” it said, noting that Museveni’s “promises to tackle corruption have proliferated while officials responsible for graft at the highest levels go free”.
Last year Ireland and other donors suspended millions in aid after Uganda’s auditor-general discovered that funds from several European countries had been siphoned into the private bank accounts of officials in the prime minister’s office.
The money had been allocated for development projects in war-scarred northern Uganda and Karamoja, the country’s poorest region.
Ireland responded by suspending more than €16 million of assistance due to be channelled through Ugandan government systems. While Uganda has refunded the €4 million of Irish aid misappropriated, the Irish Government says it will not lift the suspension of funding until it is confident internal financial controls have been strengthened and the officials involved in the fraud have been brought to justice.