Wednesday, January 14, 2015


It started much earlier but let us use January 26th 1986 as a reference point to chart events and place the events surrounding our most recent headline grabbers, Amama Mbabazi and General David Sejusa’s, in a bigger context.

When the rag-tag National Resistance Army overran Kampala, the city’s state of disrepair was emblematic of the general state of the nation. Electricity supply was intermittent or non-existent for most of the capital’s residents, roads were in such a sorry state as the normal traffic rules were suspended, bread, sugar, paraffin and even bar soap were a luxury.

In a sign of how things have changed since, there was a threat of strikes in 2011 over the high cost of sugar, not that there was any shortage.

There were two immediate challenges, to restore security to the country and to resuscitate the economy, whose life blood were the unkempt coffee bushes dotted around the countryside.

Unfortunately these challenges could not be tackled sequentially, one after the other.

"The young government’s hold on power was still unsure but its enemies would not give them time to settle down. Wars cost money and war couldn’t wait, so where was the new government to get the money to finance the war?

The ratio of tax to GDP was under ten percent. The size of the economy was a paltry $2b.

In the currency conversion of 1987, government slapped a 30% tax on all cash holdings, they printed money like it was going out of fashion before finally stopping to solve fundamental questions of generating real economic activity through ceding the business to the private sector. They dismantled  produce marketing monopolies and privatised state owned parastatals.

Meanwhile rebellions in the east and north, flowed and ebbed and were prolonged partly because the army was still in guerrilla mode, in its outlook and practice – informal, reactive and erratic. Inspite of its growth in size to combat threats within and outside our borders, the army’s development as an institution was put on hold.

But as the economy grew more resources were funneled into security to the point that, it is argued, the army now is the most effective public institution, which is not saying much given our general public sector inefficiency, but it is something.

"One of the outcomes of this modernisation of the army is that the bush-time veterans are no longer in active service or at least are not in major command positions. In fact “the modernisation of the army” has been driven by a newer generation of soldiers for who the bushes of Luwero are military folklore...

General Sejusa’s latest fallout with the establishment was a thinly veiled protest against the way this process was being handled. The good General once complained about the ignominy of saluting officers fit to be his grandchildren.

And now the reform has swung around to the National Resistance Movement (NRM). 

The ejection of Amama Mbabazi as secretary general is symbolic of a break with the past informality to a more systematic organisation.

In an organised party the secretary general is not unlike the managing director of a company, who handles the day to day operations. His undivided attention on the job is critical to the smooth running and success of any party.

The appointments of the next generation– secretary general Justine Lumumba and deputised by Richard Todwong, is probably the final stage of reforms in the biggest drivers of this country’s fate – the economy, security and politics.

"The success of these movements will be tested soon enough with elections around the corner. Mababazi’s will not be the last stand by an older guard trying to stall the handover of this country’s most powerful political institution to the next generation...

In fact the strength of the NRM will be tested in coming months as it tries to simultaneously reorganise itself while competing in 2016. Of course, the sheer depth and breadth of the organisation can paper over many ills but it will be interesting to watch in coming months.

On the other hand, that the party can risk such an upheaval barely a year to the campaigns, is a sign of supreme confidence in itself or points to a lack of a credible external threat. 

The changing of the guards was inevitable, the question was always how it was going to be handled.  The final pieces are falling in place, despite push back by historical members who feel that they are being passed over.

The consequences of this transition, for better or for worse are what we are going to live with for generations to come.

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