Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Friday, March 4, 2011
“Look at him!” the emcee at celebrations to mark 25 years in power for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni shouts into a mic. “Look at him! He is very fit!”
The former rebel decked out in his usual – and fairly unique – floppy hat and suit combo ambles down a grass slope and waves cheerily to his supporters.
“Look!” she shouts again. “You can even see from the way he is walking!”
Moments later, a pick-up truck draws alongside the 66-year-old and he slowly clambers up onto the back to continue saluting the crowds.
“Oh…” she pauses for a moment before quickly gathering herself.
“He is in a car now!” she booms. “That is the modern way! He needs that vantage point to see you. He is a kind-hearted man who wants to see you!”
A nice bit of quick-thinking there from one of the party faithful all too aware the Ugandan opposition wants to portray the famously shrewd operator as past it.
That shrewd operating was plain to see as “Sevo” was careful not to make the bash about himself — rather it was about Uganda and its progress.
Reading out a list of 551 war heroes and parroting statistics about growth and exports didn’t exactly make for a great party but it got the message across: I care about the people. I rely on heroic Ugandans. I have made things better.
Few Ugandans would deny that. The country Museveni took hold of in 1986 decked out in his fatigues had become something of a sorry husk after years of civil war. He quickly made it stable, got it growing convincingly and became an example for other African leaders — the oft mentioned 90s “new breed”.
But, for many in the country and outside, something’s gone wrong.
And it hinges on one of his most famous quotes.
“The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power,” he said when he took the helm.
A quarter of a century later, he’s still there.
As he spoke about a new road at his celebration, a Ugandan leaned to me:
“120kms of road is what he’s boasting about after 25 years?! Big deal,” he said.
That opinion was reflected to some extent on radio phone-in shows and on social networking site, Twitter, as the country tried to make sense of his tenure.
A man identifying himself as Jeff called into a radio show and said: “The liberators have grown fat. And the people they liberated have grown skinny.”
That perception, right or wrong, that Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement have been feeding at the trough, is particularly damaging and anger is growing. An anger that was reflected on the radio, on the TV and in Kampala’s bars.
On Twitter some were equally scathing, especially after I tweeted from the party that Museveni had said, “We have recovered. We are now going to take off.”
“Huh!” journalist Evelyn Lirri replied. “It’s taken 25 years to recover. We might need another 20 to take off.”
There were others, though, who had nothing but praise for Museveni and were unconvinced that any of the opposition leaders could do better – an opinion seemingly shared by the U.S. as revealed in a cable obtained by Wikileaks.
The opposition are “fractured and politically immature,” the dispatch said. “It is by no means clear (they) would improve governance in Uganda in any way.”
For some, despite the marathon stint in power, Museveni is still the country’s best bet.
So what do you think? Is he still fit for power? Or is it time he took a rest?"
That old Africa oil chestnut is being discussed again: is it a blessing or a curse?
When it comes to Uganda, nobody really knows which way to bet yet and its people often shrug their shoulders when asked what impact it will have.
One reason for that, and a cause of concern for some, is the secrecy surrounding the deals the government has struck with the foreign firms in the country and a lack of transparency around much of the planning ahead of production next year.
The Pearl of Africa discovered oil reserves, now estimated by some to be 2.5 million barrel’s worth, in its Albertine rift basin near Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006.
I visited the shores of Lake Albert this week and found some locals had a vague hope things would improve for them when the oil starts pumping, while others said they would hate the oil companies if their lives did not change.
Elections on Feb. 18 will decide whether long-standing President Yoweri Museveni or his bitter rival Kizza Besigye will be the one to oversee the beginnings of a windfall that could haul the country into middle-income status. Foreign oil firms are watching closely — they have had their problems with the strong-headed Museveni but know little about Besigye.
As with others in the Africa oil club, graft is the big worry.
“The system of governance in this country is corruption,” Besigye told me recently. “It will be a disaster if that oil comes on to the market under the corrupt system we have today. I think it will be much better if the oil didn’t come than if it came with that kind of corruption.”
Museveni, in power since 1986, said last year he would personally sign every oil deal to stop corruption, which just made some analysts worry more.
It hasn’t helped confidence either that he has given his son, who heads an elite special forces unit in the country, responsibility for oil field security.
Wikileaks caused more jitters when one of their U.S. cables revealed the U.S. Ambassador had proposed travel bans on two Ugandan cabinet ministers after claims by Tullow that they were bribed by Italy’s Eni.
Tullow now expects to start producing oil and gas some time in 2012, a significant delay on earlier plans due to the tax row – perhaps another reason for companies eyeing another round of licensing this year to hesitate.
Some analysts plead patience, saying Uganda is naturally having a few growing pains but that its ministers and officials privately express a pretty fierce determination that theirs won’t be another Black Gold curse.
Bad examples of how to handle an oil windfall sadly aren’t hard to come by in Africa, with Nigeria the real dark spot. The West African country’s much bigger reserves have triggered internal conflict, corruption and the paradox of plummeting living standards for millions of its people.
Congo Republic and Angola have fallen prey to oil wars and rights groups say Chad spent its oil cash on weapons. In Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, the petrodollars have often fuelled the selfish extravagance of small elites.
New kid on the rig, Ghana, has set a better pace.
One of Africa’s example economies, it has delayed creating a legal framework setting out how to use the proceeds from overseas sales but it has taken advice on how to manage the sector from countries like Norway and has worked hard on making the business more transparent than elsewhere.
Unlike the Gulf of Guinea, that some analysts see supplying a quarter of U.S. oil by 2015, this side of the continent remains largely untapped and Uganda is something of a test case for East Africa and the Horn region. Neighbouring Kenya is stepping up exploration in the hope of finding oil.
What kind of example Uganda will set for its neighbours is not yet known.
Over to you. How do you think Uganda’s oil future will play out?"