The much anticipated cabinet reshuffle came and went with the usual brouhaha, commentary of the event tended towards criticism of the regional mix and the average age of the cabinet.
There was a powerful subtext, which suggested that the purging of former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi loyalists was complete.
The chattering masses were barking up the wrong tree.
The need for a broad based government, with players from different political shades and parts of the country, was embraced as a means to patch up a country divided by civil strife along mostly religious lines. There was some tribalism but, even now, we do not hold a candle to the Kenyans on this.
It also served to co-opt established political bases into the NRM’s project. At the time the NRM fresh out of the bush, while militarily superior was politically thin on the ground. So riding on the desire for national unity they bolstered their support with the use of the broad based government mantra....
But in terms of service delivery regional or tribal considerations should not be a criteria for choosing minster neither does it necessarily enhance the lives of the people from which the respective minsters come.
Do a poll of all Uganda’s finance ministers, the official holders of the country’s purse strings, it would be hard to argue that the people from their districts – beyond a small elite around the minister, have benefitted.
In fact the biggest pushers for balanced regional representation in the government are the political elite and their allies who stand to benefit. Mama Barungi or Akello might jump on the band wagon to clamour for a minister from her area but if the security works, the roads are a passable and social services work in her area she couldn’t care less whether she had a minister from her village or not. Which is as it should be.
Let us be honest, this whole regional balancing thing has passed its sale-by date.
Secondly, there seems to be a misunderstanding about the competences required of a minister. A minister need not be technically proficient in his ministry’s core business, but he must have leadership competence – the ability to form and work with teams towards achieving a goal.
Granted the attorney general must be a lawyer, as must the speaker, but beyond that, it is hard to see how specific proficiency would beat out leadership ability as key to running a ministry.
So we have it wrong when we insist health ministers must be doctors or energy or works ministers be engineers or agriculture ministers be farmers. The technical competence is best found in the technocrats who work under the minister.
Which brings us nicely around to the issue of age.
Howls of derision were heard in bars around Kampala with the appointment of Philemon Mateke, a minister in the Obote II government – 30 years ago, and NRM minister and more recently Kisoro district chairman.
He is also 79 and looks it.
But no one seems to have anything bad to say about him apart from harping on about his advanced years.
Not to compare any of our leaders with legendary investor Warren Buffett, but this year he will have led his $200b conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway for 50 years, with no sign of slowing down. His age, 85, is only a concern when the issue of who will succeed him “when he is run over by a bus” arises but not as an indictment on his competence to continue leading his company as CEO/Chairman.
There are two motivations at play in forming a government, which need not be mutually exclusive.
On the one side are the citizens, we want better service delivery, which the ministers are responsible for. For the ruling party, in addition, cabinet appointments are a tool to maintain hold on power. The appointing authority rewards allies and dangles the prospect of ministerial appointment in front of difficult regions (which swallow the “we must have a minister” mantra) to get them in line.
The formation of the cabinet has always been and will always be a power play, to see it as otherwise is to engage in an exercise in futility...
It is a counterintuitive argument, but maybe if the cabinet was even more biased, service delivery nationwide would be much better. Because in a democracy in order to hang on to power, since one tribe or region had all the ministries the government would fall all over themselves to deliver services. Service delivery would actually be a tool of regime survival.