This material belongs to: The Observer.
Longtime politician Aggrey Awori, a former minister of ICT and MP for Samia Bugwe North, says President Museveni has to rein in corruption and ethnic favoritism that characterize his government because Uganda risks disintegrating.
In a wide-ranging interview with Baker Batte Lule about NRM’s 32 years in power, Awori, who spent over two decades opposing Museveni but later joined him, said the imbalance between the north/east and central/west is so glaring that both the private and public sectors are dominated by the same group.
This, he said, has capacity to trigger a genocide as the marginalized groups try to fight against being left out in the national cake sharing.
How would you describe Uganda before 1986?
Immediately after independence Uganda was a fast-developing country. We had inherited a very vibrant economy from the British; yes there was low development in infrastructure but people were managing life. Coffee, cotton and copper were booming especially during Obote I.
But when Amin came, things started turning around. There was mismanagement of the state; the economy took a nosedive. When Amin was deposed, there came a new phase of governance as everybody thought they were the right candidates to lead.
After the 1980 elections, the group led by Museveni didn’t accept the results and went to the bush and ushered in a new phase of political turbulence leading to the 1985 coup of Tito Lutwa and Bazilio Okello. But this somehow energized the NRA who within a year took over Kampala.
In your view was the 1981-86 NRA bush war justified?
I have heard Museveni say that he went to the bush because elections were not fair; that they were rigged by UPC led by Obote. But some of us who knew him before he went to the bush didn’t think he did so because of elections.
The 1980 elections were just a trigger point for his ambitions to become president and also see Uganda run in a certain direction. So, I would say whether it was justifiable or not, there was a lot of personal ambition on the part of Museveni.
If there hadn’t been problems in the UNLA/F, I doubt whether Museveni would have come to power by 1986. Those of us who monitor political happenings closely, the infighting between the Acholi and Langi leaders triggered the overthrow of the Obote II government.
When did you first meet Museveni?
I first met him in 1969 when he had just completed his studies in Dar es Salaam. He came to the government and joined the president’s office and I was running Uganda Television at that time.
Some people were saying that Museveni was a spy, that he was part of the General Service Unit but I doubt. General services Unit covered a very big scope of pure academic research and intelligence gathering but it was more of an academic research than intelligence. He was more inclined on the preparation of the 1971 elections which had been promised by Obote.
How would you describe the Museveni you saw in 1969?
A lot of young people at that time liked him because he leaned towards socialism; he was an uncompromising Marxist and that created for him a following. In the 1980, you could see a state determined to stop him from winning.
Why on earth would UPC try to facilitate a DP candidate, Sam Kutesa, to defeat Museveni, a UPC-leaning candidate? So, frankly speaking, Museveni had already been identified as somebody to be eliminated politically.
Do you think Ugandans got a better deal with the coming of the NRM?
The Movement system that the NRM introduced looked like it was a compromise between various political actors. It had only one distinction that you were not allowed to show your true party colors.
It was a no-party government but obviously it was a one-party state. I believe the intention was to kill other political parties. In the sixth parliament, we agitated for the return of political parties but when they did, many people didn’t go back to their previous political parties except some of us who were UPC at heart.
After the return of political parties, that’s when we got a proper NRM government. The North and part of the East resisted NRM; we had several groups fighting. I must say that was the beginning of the undoing of northern Uganda.
Up to now, the north is still suffering from the aftermath of the war between the NRA and ruminants of the previous regimes. When you compare with previous regimes how does Uganda fare; I would say that the north has suffered serious economic and political setback. I must say that this thing became ethnic Bantu versus Nilotics, the Baganda-Banyankole versus the Luo north.
That’s why you don’t find many Luo-speaking people in this government as some people jokingly put it; what we have in Uganda is a Bantustan.[Apartheid-era concentration camps in South Africa] The north and the bigger part of the east have been left out and the recent economic survey attests to that.
What do you think is NRM’s biggest failure in the 32 years?
Corruption. NRM has failed badly in combating corruption. They have to do something and if they don’t, it might cause genocide between the haves and the have-nots. The [issue of] haves and the have-nots has really now become an ethnic issue because the richest people in the country come from the west and the central and the poorest people in the country come from the east and the north.
This is not just a political allegation but it was proved this month by an economic commission. It is also beginning to show in the social sector in education and health. Schools in the north and east are doing very badly and yet in schools doing very well in the central, teachers come from the east. Look at the distribution of permanent secretaries. Virtually all DPCs (District Police Commanders) in the country are Banyankole; this is dangerous.
Does it matter where somebody comes from or we look at his capacity to serve?
It matters a lot. You have to understand the people you do the work with. Number two, when I skip you and give the job to another person simply because he belongs to my ethnic group, how does it make you feel like? Ethnicity influences a lot of service delivery, maybe this explains why the north and east are left out because their people are not part of the decision-making.
What can you point at as NRM’s most successful story?
I must compliment Museveni because he has grabbed the international economic situation to the advantage of Uganda. He has made it possible for investors like those in ICT to come and invest in the country.
We now have things like mobile money. He has made the environment conducive for this kind of investment. He has also done his best in terms of infrastructure like roads and now we have more electricity although I’m hearing people murmuring that what is the point of giving them a tarmac road in an area where there is no economic activity at all?
Why don’t you put that money in other social services? But when you analyze, you see that the two move together; you need health centers as much as you need a good road.
You spent over two decades opposing the NRM at a time when many say it was at its best in serving the interests of Ugandans. But you accepted to serve the same government. What influenced your decision?
You cannot influence things unless you’re in a position of influence; you can’t. You join the cabinet where you can speak for your people. For example, I was able to secure a municipality for my area. Just like I joined the sixth parliament to influence the granting of Busia district. So, when you are in government you can influence a lot of things.