Apart from the surprise in the press, the leak about talks taking place between President Museveni and his erstwhile opponent Col Kizza Besigye is welcome news. First the talks removed primitive exercise of power around Besigye’s home in Kasangati, images of which have tainted Uganda’s global image. In categories of authoritarian regimes, police states rank much higher than military states. In a police state, civilian organs assume paramilitary functions and every individual begins to police each other, from spouses to supervisors and foremen. In a military state, leadership of key offices of state is military but most civilian tasks remain civilian.
Second the talks will give Kampala some wriggle room to manage the current economic mess that is causing a lot of distress. It is taking a lot of courage for Bank of Uganda and the Ministry of Finance to start publishing correct economic figures. While the economy continued in a free fall from 2013, the reported macro-economic growth did not fall below five per cent. True figures put it at about one per cent. All the symptoms that come with a recession were ignored; high unemployment, falling output, shuttered businesses and empty storefronts, etc. If you are still an optimist; the service sector is starting to adjust to the sad economic reality. Major employers like banking and telecommunications are about to start throwing workers on the street.
In the centre, President Museveni’s government enjoys an overwhelming majority in Parliament a healthy cushion of more than 100 seats. About 80 per cent of the independent MPs lean NRM. The Opposition from different angles has entered into cohabitation with NRM. If you look at how parliamentary business is transacted you may get the wrong impression that it is an active multi-party Parliament, the reality is that the co-optation is necessary to give these institutions a modicum of credibility especially when dealing with the outside world.
Any major decision will require higher doses of reality and the President cannot afford another round of hostage taking, street protests in Kampala which contributes more than 75 per cent of national economic output. There is not much that can be done on the revenue side. Uganda’s tax rates are already some of the highest in the world. IMF support which has stabilised the Shilling since late last year has put major constraints on expenditure and requires government to put more towards servicing its debts. This is reducing the domestic resource envelope. In 2017/2018, government is proposing major cuts in the health sector, and with approval of Parliament is also cutting expenditure in works and infrastructure. The securitisation of oil revenues to facilitate more borrowing is a red-flag as repayments will start in a period where oil revenues are projected to remain flat through 2023-2025.
Enter Besigye and his group. Besigye and Museveni may not end up in the same party; there will hardly be any need to do so. That question has already been answered in the last two electoral cycles. But Besigye can help Museveni where he needs most help, providing cover for another Museveni run in 2021. Both the people’s president and the official President have their eyes set on a rematch in 2021. The rematch makes little sense in broader reality, Uganda’s hopelessly gerrymandered constituencies have Opposition seats squeezed in a ratio of as high as 10:1 in terms of population that elects a single opposition MP. A Besigye re-run minimises a risk of a boycott causing a major upheaval.
In any deal, Besigye and his people remain alive for another fight. In the most unlikely event that a presidential vacancy exists, a peace framework will ensure that the remnants of the Opposition don’t develop strange ideas to have the Movement underbelly chopped up for breakfast. This is less of Kenya where Moi in handing over power to Mwai Kibaki was simply laying the groundwork for his protégé’ Uhuru Kenyatta’s rise to power. As Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said in Parliament last week, the karayi with pilau already landed in one part of the country, it can only turn to feed the ones around it.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate. email@example.comTalks about talks: Is Uganda returning to a one-party state?