2018/02/10 – The British PM Theresa May was in Africa to cultivate economic partnerships with Africa in what she called “Shared Prosperity.” This is ahead of the UK’s Exit from the European Union. Premier May visited Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. Her visit was followed shortly by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. Again, business and economic partnerships were high on the agenda.
None of these leaders deemed it fit to include Uganda on their itinerary, in spite of the country being touted as a regional “anchor State”. This, therefore, begs the question, what do the leaders of the free world and the largest and most advanced economies see in those other countries that they do not see in Uganda?
The answer lies in what those African countries have in common, and that is solid democratic credentials. For starters, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa have presidential term limits! On the other hand, Uganda did away with term limits in 2005. They also have strong institutions and respect for the rule of law! Gen Museveni has relentlessly weakened institutions, sometimes even threatening Parliament because it was debating torture of citizens by the security forces. The move by some of the strongest global leaders should be bad news for Museveni, who has been in power for more than three decades.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is finalising his five-year term as Nigerian leader, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa is just a new kid on the block and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta is in his second and last term in office. Checks like term-limits ensure political predictability and stability both of which are necessary for attracting investments of the calibre May, Merkel or Emmanuel Macron would like to promote. This is because regular change of government keeps corruption in check, accelerates progress as every leader works to cement their legacy. To investors, this is political certainty that their investment cannot be caught up in violent political upheavals, hence safe and secure.
NRM spin doctors have always told Ugandans that Museveni’s long stay in power is beneficial to Uganda. He is called an experienced leader who is needed both locally and internationally. But May’s stopovers in Abuja, Nairobi and Pretoria – capitals known for progressing democracy, institutions and economies.
Secondly, May’s selected destinations is an approval and pointer to serious investors that those are the countries to invest in. Western governments tend to protect their companies against investing in countries that are volatile and politically unpredictable. Uganda has invested a lot in cultivating ties with China and North Korea in recent times. But North Korea is under UN sanctions and it is no longer possible to do business with them.
China’s involvement in Africa and elsewhere tends to be skewed towards former’s insatiable appetite for resources, never a win-win outcome. This includes exporting cheap Chinese labour into the country even where local indigenous skills would suffice.
While chatting with a Ugandan businessman who was dealing in hides and skins, he told me that NRM’s tax policy puts them out of business. Taxes were increased from 10 per cent to 25 per cent making our hides and skins more expensive on the world market compared to Rwanda’s with zero tax and Kenya and TZ’s with far lower taxes.The rationale for the increase in taxes was to compel businessmen to export tanned skins. These factories are too expensive to establish and when they start running, it is expensive to stop yet the local supply of skins is still low.
I was told that the government subsidised some foreigners who export skins, but they never bring back the “foreign exchange” they earn. One Pakistani businessman who is in the same business exports skins, but brings in rice instead. The government’s economic policy has produced two situations – collapse of local business and reduction in the inflow of foreign exchange. Runaway corruption is the icing on the cake.
Thirdly, the British premier was unlikely to visit any country embroiled in a self-inflicted constitutional instability. Ever since the last constitutional huddle to life presidency, the age limit was removed, there have been violent human rights abuses. The youth, who make up a bigger percentage of population and were hitherto apolitical, were only looking forward to a peaceful change of government had Museveni respected the 75-year-age limit clause in the Constitution and prepared for his exit in 2021.
No British leader, therefore, would put themselves in a position that could be construed back home as endorsing these blatant human rights abuses as they would have political ramifications.
Daily Monitor / Sahel-Elite