Uganda: My Long Stay in Power Is Good, Says Museveni
In an unscripted remark during his three-hour State of the Nation address yesterday, President Museveni said 30 years in power have helped him get the necessary experience and knowledge to steer the country in the best direction.
Museveni went off script to respond to persistent direct challenges and interruptions to his speech from mainly opposition MPs.
“Being president for a very long time is not a bad thing. That is why I am experienced…. Even if you woke me up at night, I will tell you what is happening,” Museveni said in response to taunts from MPs over his longevity in power.
Museveni has been in power for 31 years now and there are schemes from within his NRM party to amend the Constitution to remove the 75-year-presidential-age cap. At intervals, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga tried to bring the MPs to order but in vain.
“If you want to be a leader, you should avoid prejudice because prejudice can make you live with envy; you will end up getting high blood pressure,” Museveni said after opposition MPs led by Joseph Ssewungu (Kalungu West), William Nzoghu (Busongora North), Samuel Odonga Otto (Aruu South) and Robert Centenary (Kasese Municipality) loudly disputed his statistics on the Bujagaali power dam in- vestments.
Museveni’s address, which marked the opening of the second session of the 10th Parliament, was to a country that is reeling from a wave of violent crime and insecurity. The president was keen to reassure the population that his ruling NRM government was committed to securing the country by “closing the [loose security] gaps” that still exist and led to the killing of high-profile people like Andrew Felix Kaweesi, the former police spokesperson.
“These gaps put a lot of burden on the CID [Criminal Investigation Directorate] to discover the one who committed the crime depending on eyewitnesses and other clues. The cameras would hasten the identification of anybody who commits a crime in the towns or the highways. This is a gap I have given instructions to close,” he said.
For the first time, he acknowledged the public sentiment that many of the people arrested after the murder of Kaweesi may not be the real killers. Museveni, however, said some of these suspects are guilty of committing other capital offences for which they have never been tried.
He queried: “Why, then, were they still in circulation? That means somebody was not doing his or her work.”
Yet in his speech, the president did not address directly the issue of torture of the suspects. Though he dropped hints that he had written about it in a statement, yesterday he said the matter was being handled administratively.
Museveni blamed police and intelligence forces for not acting on information provided by the public. He said while the force had some good and highly educated cadres, there were still some criminal and corrupt elements that must be weeded out.
Turning to youth unemployment, Museveni said the large numbers of jobless youth was an opportunity, and not a challenge as some people believe. He ordered the police not to arrest any youth on charges of being idle and disorderly.
“This must stop completely. Some of the youth are idle because they do not have jobs. Why arrest them for that? The revolutionary should be like fish in water. A revolutionary should never be fish in no water. You should never talk harshly to the people. Always maintain a harmonious relationship with the people,” Museveni said.
He said he started relating with youths in Kampala in 1968, in Katwe, a suburb of Kampala. The president said land had been secured at Abayita Ababiri, along Entebbe road, where an industrial park will be established for youths involved in furniture making, metal fabrication, weaving and knitting and other jobs that involve hand skills.
Museveni renewed his vow to fight corruption within government and public service.
“We must purge out all the corrupt officials in UIA, ministry of Finance, Nema. They are the ones that have been delaying and frustrating investment. How shall we know them? We shall know them by their fruits. Their actions will tell us who they are,” he said.
The speech was not only heavy on government plans; it was also high on humour. Appealing to the opposition to work harmoniously together with government to achieve economic development, Museveni pointed out that in the past, his government had worked closely with Cecilia Ogwal, the Dokolo Woman MP, who is a staunch opposition figure. Ogwal’s firm once supplied maize flour to the army.
“It is not Cissy Ogwal who made a deal with me. It is me as a manager who had to separate politics from the economy. I want her to succeed; if she is engaged in wealth creation, in job creation, even if she is against me politically, I don’t mind. I can struggle with her politically. Meanwhile, her factory is providing jobs for Ugandans,” Museveni said before Ogwal interjected that the grain processing factory had collapsed.
Museveni then jokingly blamed her for being a bad manager and promised to bail her out.
“I will bail you out because when I bail out her factory… the factories don’t belong to individuals. They belong to the country. If a factory makes $100 million a year, the owner may get only 15 per cent of this as profit. The rest goes back into the economy,” Museveni said.
While he was willing to bail out Ogwal, Museveni bragged that he had accumulated his wealth without anyone bailing him out, in- cluding commercial banks. He told the MPs about the donations he had made to various youth groups around Kampala and Wakiso before the MPs asked to know the source of his money.
“Is it from loans?” an opposition MP inquired, to which Museveni was quick to respond;
“I am not a loan man. I deal with cash. If you go to the bank, you will not find that Museveni has a loan,” he said.
This is when another MP cheekily wondered whether the president was using his salary to make the donations.
Museveni responded, “My salary is Shs 3.6m [but] I have cows…If you go to the IGG, you will see my wealth declaration.”
Sensing that the MPs were not about to give up, Museveni referred them to his entitlement in the donations budget.
“Haven’t you heard of an office called the president? If you read the Constitution, you will find that it is a very powerful office,” Museveni said.
Yet in many ways, the speech was not much different, in tone and focus, from many of the addresses the president has made over the years.
Like in many of his speeches that draw parallels with the situation in 1986, Museveni continued with this trend yesterday. He mentioned that in 1986 Uganda was producing 200 million litres of milk per year compared to two billion litres of milk per year today.
Still, he said that since the number of Friesian and cross-breed cows is more than one million, milk production needs to go up to at least six billion litres a year.
In last year’s address, three weeks after his inauguration, Museveni lamented extensively how Uganda had become a big supermarket for goods from China, India and Europe. He said then the size of Uganda’s economy would be larger than $27 billion that it was last year, if the country exported more than it imported.
Yesterday, Museveni posed a number of questions to illustrate that by importing finished goods from abroad while exporting close to nothing at all, Uganda was exporting jobs and wealth to the developed countries.
“How much furniture does Uganda import from China and Dubai? How many pairs of shoes does Uganda import from outside? How many metres of textile does Uganda import? How much pharmaceutical units does Uganda import? How much vaccines for humans and livestock does Uganda import?
How much glass, how much fertilizers, how much steel? How many automobiles, how many motorcycles? How many, even, bicycles? How much processed coffee and processed fruits? Is it a wonder that many of our young people neither have jobs nor wealth?” he wondered.
In the same vein, like he has done time and again, Museveni also mentioned various ongoing infrastructural projects that he said would lower the cost of doing business once complete.
By Edris Kiggundu & Sadab Kitatta Kaaya