President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) government are celebrating 28 years in power , the longest time in the history of all Uganda’s post independence government tenures combined.
28 years ago, leading the National Resistance Army (NRA), a ragtag force of thin-looking but very determined rebels, Museveni stormed Kampala and overrun the junta of Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa on January 25th, 1986. He would install himself President of Uganda the next day. He had spent five years in the bushes of the current Luweero, Nakaseke and Nakasongola Districts following the disputed general elections of 1980 that returned the former Ugandan President Milton Obote to power for a second term. 28 years has not been a simple journey; and that’s why many will always wonder what it is that has kept the NRM at the top for nearly three decades.
In this analysis we bring forward what we believe are the secrets, the tricks- if you like- behind this President’s 28-year record hold on a country that had had many years of instability since independence in 1962. From our informal contacts within the former fighters and present rulers, you will discover that the three decades of NRM have been a function of strong will, wit, tact, absolute force and sheer luck.
When President Museveni and 40 other young men declared war on the Obote II government on February 6th 1981, President Obote made a toast of his favorite whisky with his close military aides and declared he would follow Museveni into the Luweero jungles and leave him there.
“Mucebeni is bush mee..n,” Obote declared in his characteristic accent. “We shall follow him in Luweero and leave him there,” he promised at a rally at Kololo airstrip.
And true to his word, in the few years that followed, the Uganda National Libration Army (UNLA), the government forces then, gave Museven’s NRA rebels sleepless nights until the tragic death of the UNLA Chief of Staff and war machine, Maj. Gen David Oyite Ojok in a helicopter crash in Luweero. Following his death, the UNLA top command became divided under top the prominent tribes (Acholi and Langi). By 1985, the UNLA forces Obote had entrusted to leave Museveni in Luweero instead turned against him and removed him from power on July 27th 1985. Many of our sources we contacted for this story believe this might have had something to do with luck for the NRA. How else do you explain a strong force with government backing and resources just disintegrating like a park of cards? our sources wondered. And indeed, Gen. Okello Lutwa and Brig. Bazilio Okello’s coup gave the NRA/M a sudden and unsolicited upper hand on the frontline that ended up in the successful liberation of Uganda on January 25th 1986.
Since being sworn in as President on January 26, 1986, President Museveni has been in the driving seat up to the present day and is expected to continue another round of years depending on what happens during the 2016 general elections. So, how has he pulled this off? We asked our NRM insider sources for this special supplement:
Museveni: The smart strategist:
It should be remembered that shortly before NRA take over of Kampala, Gen. Tito Okello had invited all the fighting groups at the time to join his government. He had already engaged Museveni’s NRA in peace talks in Nairobi. In 1985, Museveni suddenly left the bush for Sweden, leaving behind his seasoned Gen. Salim Saleh in command of the entire NRA force. This force had withdrawn to the Western region. Saleh, who is also his brother, is now his adviser on the Military. Our informed sources tell us that Gen. Saleh almost accepted to join the Okello Junta but after consultations with his brother in Sweden, the idea was suddenly abandoned and instead, the NRA, which had relocated to the Rwenzori Mountains, planned to move and attack Masaka and Mbarara, barracks.
But the problem came when Gen. Okello managed to convince former Amin’s soldiers who were fighting the Obote II government to join his military Junta. Led by Gen. Moses Ali and Amin Onzi, the group which had been based in Southern Sudan (popularly known as Anyanyas) joined UNLA and was immediately deployed in Masaka and Mbarara to counter the advancing NRA rebels. In the Western Uganda of those days, you would hear locals whispering about how the NRA has encountered fierce resistance from “abanyanya” (the anyanyas). Indeed this group became a big problem at the frontline especially at the Katonga Bridge when the NRA was trying to capture Masaka. On realizing the huddle caused by Gen. Moses Ali’s forces, Museveni through the late Libyan Leader Muammar Ghadaffi invited Moses Ali in Tripoli and held one on one talks with him. Gen. Ali on return secretly influenced his commanders and who withdrew from frontline positions leaving the UNLA exposed to NRA attacks until the fall of Kampala. This might explain why Gen. Ali remains in the top echelons of the NRM leadership and is the only non-NRA army General. Our analysts believe that if the Anyanyas had not betrayed the Okello Junta, then the NRA victory would have extended into another month or even another year. The winner here might not have been the firepower but the skillful tact and wit on the part of this president, a sort of divide and rule method he deploys on his opponents to this day.
The RC System:
When Museveni came to power in 1986, political parties like the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) led by exiled President Obote and the Democratic Party (DP) of Paul Ssemogerere were still very strong at the grass roots. Museveni’s former Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) party, through which he had contested in the 1980 elections, had died a natural death. He could not attempt its revive it for use it to govern the country. After all, there was the NRM/NRA. He instead introduced the Movement system of government that was all-inclusive, non-partisan and broad based. This killer strategy helped his NRM rebel force to not only buy time and dig deep into the population, but also, render the old political parties irrelevant. By the time multi-party politics returned in 2005, the NRM had ruled not only for 19 years, it had probably become the most popular political party. The old political parties had since found it difficult if not impossible to challenge Museveni and NRM especially at the grass root levels. The UPC had lost its charismatic leader and the DP was full of senile pre-independence leaders running its current affairs. These parties had moved from being ‘cool and sexy,’ to becoming political dinosaurs.
In addition to this, when Museveni came to power in 1986, his political enemies took long to realize that the simple tool of Resistance Councils (RCs) worked miracles for the rather unknown NRA/M government. As they joined it under the umbrella system, the RCs contributed a lot in giving the revolutionary regime an edge over the counter revolutionary elements that had taken up arms to fight the NRM government. In very many areas across the country, it was not uncommon to find a former UPC or DP village chief implementing the NRM ideology. Through these RCs, people either governed themselves or were ruled by former government functionaries who were vehemently implementing the Movement ideology. The ordinary people continued to cherish their newly found self-role even in regions that were totally anti-Museveni and NRM. Additionally, the individual merit system in choosing leaders brought on board members of the opposition from traditional political parties like UPC and DP into NRM and with time the majority of them found themselves inside the NRM and it became difficult for these fellows to leave when the time came.
A good example was Dr. Paul Kawanga Ssemwogerere, the DP President General who was denied victory in the 1980 general elections. He joined Museveni’s broad based government in 1986. But when he tried to stand against Museveni on individual merit in 1996, he was defeated not because Museveni was very popular but because the silent killing broad base system had reached its tenth year dismantling his 1980 DP network through the RC structures. This had been nothing but a political tact masterpiece. The would-be DP voters were now NRM cadres. The country was already confused. They could not understand how someone so senior at the level of a Minister for Internal Affairs could turn around and start professing a different ideology from the existing one. By the time the Ugandan opposition resurrected to fight the now renamed local council structures, it was rather politically too late and the NRM had already spent almost 20 years in power, with kids born in 1986 joining university and others married with children; time long enough to consolidate itself in power for even more many years.
During his first speech as Ugandan President in 1986, Museveni promised Ugandans that his revolution was not a mere change of guards like the groups that had previously taken power in Uganda but was going to promise a fundamental change in the socio- political fabric of the Ugandan society. One of the key words was security. Museveni knew from the onset that the nation had gotten tired of insecurity and would clutch even at a serpent if it promised some peace of mind, security of person and property. True to his word, Uganda under him has for the last 28 years not faced a successful military coup attempt. Nearly 70% of the country experienced total peace for the first 20 years. It is probably under this administration that for the first time in the country’s history, you had a generally disciplined army and police. Our sources tell us Museveni has been able to contain and discipline all the would-be plotters in time using his myriad secret intelligence networks within all Ugandan armed forces (UPDF, CMI, ISO, ESO and etc). Despite individual errors and omissions by some of the armed officers and men, the general view is that the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces has metamorphosed into a disciplined, formidable African force capable of handling any professional mission nationally and internationally. Every recruitment stage is usually oversubscribed, an indication that young Ugandans may not be running to a force they despise. This would not have been achieved if President Museveni had not kept around for sometime, projecting himself as the sole guarantor of peace and security. It should be noted that instead of concentrating on training and development, the UPDF first spent a lot of time fighting internal insurgencies like the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). During this period, anything outside the provision of security was carefully and skillfully projected as a diversion. The Ugandan peasants (civilians) who had faced the wrath of UNLA forces naturally supported Museveni and NRM because time and space placed him at the centre of ushering in the much-needed peace, security of life and property.
When President Museveni read out his Ten Point Programme for his new government in 1986, what was on his mind was how he would turn around a nearly failed economy. The country was only collecting 44 Billion shillings in taxes. 28 years on, the figure stands at nearly 8 Trillion. A weak economy at the time meant that the people had little faith in the country and would not lose anything even if it were plunged into another turmoil. So, reviving the economy became the central idea around which to rally the country. He knew that once he made the citizens busy in their shops, and freely accessing foreign exchange to trade, this would automatically result in their increased stake in the country, upon which they would never allow it to slide back into chaos, lest they lost their wealth.
Thus, Museveni quickly detailed his strategy on a unique economic path. The economic recovery initiatives in the first ten years were instructive for once critically analyzed, they take us into the mid of someone who knew he would be around for sometime and what he needed to actualize this were a few tools to turn around the economy. For example let’s take a look at the following;
1. In May 1987, Bank of Uganda made a steep devaluation of the shilling by 66%. We got two zeros knocked off the shilling during the currency reform. This came with advantages. The years between 1986 and 1996 are known in the NRM history as having been ‘Boom’ years; as having been the years when the country was at its best. It means that with the currency reform, our exports became competitive for they were purchased cheaply. There was increased international demand for our coffee and cotton. Which means there was increased economic activity in the countryside, hence new jobs and growth within the private sector economy. That foundation, however minimal, must have set the stage towards increasing the nation’s citizens’ stake in the economy. Like I argued before, when more and more citizens gain increased stake in the country’s economic activities, they will have less time for political agitation, leaving the one in charge intact.
In 1990, the NRM liberalized foreign exchange system with introduction of forex bureaus to allocate non-coffee foreign exchange receipts. In 1991, Museveni created the Uganda Investment Authority to facilitate local and foreign investors. The Uganda Revenue Authority was also created in the same year. Then in November 1992, Treasury Bills issuance was decentralized to facilitate quick access. In 1992, Bank of Uganda allowed commercial banks for the first time to set their own interest rates in a bid to create more competition in the banking sector. In 1993, Bank of Uganda again instituted the inter-bank foreign exchange market to replace weekly forex auctions. With these and many more interventions, by 2006, 20 years after 1986, the IMF, World Bank and the African Development Bank under the multi-lateral debt relief initiative (MDRI) had slashed Uganda’s foreign debt from US$4.6bn to $1.6bn.