May 27th, 2013 9:00 AM UTC
By Katri Kemppainen-Bertram
If you received a second chance at life, what would become precious to you?
This is a question that UNAIDS asked seven people from across Africa who are alive thanks to antiretroviral treatment.
At ONE we were thrilled to read that today, more than 7 million people across Africa have access to lifesaving HIV treatment. And we also loved reading these seven personal stories that were profiled in last week’s UNAIDS Update on HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Love lists? Share your own Top 10 Things I Can’t Live Without in the comments.
But first, get some inspiration from Janet Aligha and Dr. Steven Watiti.
May 14th, 2013 11:38 AM UTC
By Ben Leo
This post was originally published on CNN World.
Global Public Square recently published a thoughtful piece on how global poverty rates are falling fast. It argued that one country in particular is almost solely responsible for this dramatic trend: China. Meanwhile, it said progress in the rest of the world “has been much, much slower – if there’s been progress at all.”
Here’s the problem. There are 62 other countries across the globe that are also slashing extreme poverty rates at a remarkable pace. And many of them are located in Sub-Saharan Africa. So, the more important question is – how do we accelerate the progress being made in places like Ethiopia and Uganda while simultaneously jumpstarting it in places that are lagging behind, like Nigeria and the Congo?
It’s true that China’s case is remarkable – both in terms of its sheer scale and speed. It has lifted 680 million people out of poverty in a single generation. That’s amazing. It’s every poverty fighter’s dream. But the global story isn’t just about China. It is also about countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, Cameroon, Ghana, and Senegal that are also witnessing dramatic declines in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day.
According to a forthcoming ONE Campaign report, 63 nations are on track to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015 (compared to 1990 levels) – including 16 in Sub-Saharan Africa. And their progress has further sped up over the last decade – particularly as African countries have turned the corner on HIV/AIDS, cleared unsustainable debt loads and made strategic investments in their social and physical infrastructure. The difficult and traumatic decade of the 1990s is receding in the rear-view mirror.
Bono mentioned 10 of these African trailblazers during his recent TED talk. Let’s look at two of them:
– In absolute terms, Ethiopia lifted an estimated 10 million people out of extreme poverty in just over a decade (from 2000 to 2011). During that time, the Ethiopian government focused nearly half of its total budget on poverty fighting sectors like health, agriculture, and education. And donors like the U.S. and Europe provided significant support alongside it. If the current trend holds, extreme poverty can be virtually eliminated by 2030.
– Uganda lifted nearly 3 million people out of poverty in four short years (between 2006 and 2009). Overall, the percentage of Ugandans living on less than $1.25 a day has fallen by nearly half since the early 1990s. It, too, could virtually eliminate it by 2030.
These dramatic results have inspired many world leaders – like President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and Malawian President Joyce Banda – to declare that the world can virtually eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. Not to mention the World Bank president and a certain Irish rock star to boot.
To get there, several things will have to happen. There is risk in this story, just as there is promise. First, developing economies will not only need to keep growing at a healthy clip, but that growth will need to reach and benefit their poorest citizens. On that, I couldn’t agree more with the Global Public Square article. Conversely, a global growth shock that deals a direct blow to poor nations would be catastrophic in the fight against extreme poverty. Second, governments need to implement targeted policies that address growing rates of inequality. Fortunately, countries like Brazil have shown that this is possible. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.
Third, and perhaps most challenging, is the tough nut of states that have been governed poorly must be cracked. In Africa, this means places like Nigeria, Sudan, and the Congo. These are the populous nations that are holding down regional progress. They largely explain why Africa’s overall growth rates aren’t even more compelling than they are. One country like Nigeria can overshadow five like Uganda or two like Ethiopia simply because of its size.
Truth be told, nobody has a magic elixir that will transform these places into the next China or Ethiopia. Long running domestic instability, or even conflict, takes time to address. Then again, people said the same thing about China in the 1970s and Ethiopia in the 1980s. Or even Uganda in the 1990s. They were hopeless cases then. But look at them today.
So, going forward, let’s expand the global poverty discussion beyond a singular focus on China. While this tendency may be natural given China’s absolute numbers, it does an injustice to smaller nations that are surging alongside it. These success stories demonstrate that the elimination of extreme poverty is possible well within our lifetime, perhaps only a decade and a half away.
Look out for our 2013 DATA Report, released on 29 May, which looks at how donor and African government spending is linked to progress.
Dec 18th, 2012 10:49 AM UTC
By ONE Partners
What can we do to fight corruption? One of the most frequently asked question Transparency International got when we published the Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 last week.
The question is especially pertinent in Africa, which only has five countries in the top 50 countries on the index, where lower scores indicate a greater perception of public sector corruption in 176 countries. 90% of African countries on the index score less than 50 out of 100, with Botswana in 30th place showing what can be achieved in the fight against corruption, and Somalia in last place warning what happens if you don’t.
Corruption is a daily burden in Uganda, which ranked 130th out of 176 countries, and has recently faced a major aid scandal. The situation is particularly tense in the health sector. Our research has shown that less than half of staff were available at health facilities. The absence of health specialists inevitably exposes people to paying bribes if they want preferential treatment.
Indeed, 24 per cent of health providers we surveyed acknowledged that taking informal payments in exchange for services is common. 44 per cent reported that service users sometimes offer gifts to health workers. (Our colleagues in Zimbabwe face a similar challenge: nurses once fined women for screaming during labour).
The situation is aggravated by the lack of transparency and accountability, making it harder for citizens to tackle the problem. None of the lower level health facilities we looked at had complete financial records, and most facilities did not have updated drug stock registers.
In 2010 we set out to address corruption problems in healthcare and farming by rolling out several development pacts in central Uganda, similar to those tried by our colleagues in India.
We told communities to pick their own development agenda, then asked local politicians to commit to fulfilling that agenda. People were able to pick the issues that matter to them, and clearly described what they expect their leaders to deliver.
Some of the leaders refused, some signed up. Not surprisingly, more of the latter were re-elected than the former.
Photo: A regional politician signs a pact.
After the pacts were signed, citizens set up committees to monitor progress. Politicians and officials now often give the committees access to their offices to get information.
The result was relentless community pressure for better services. The committees personally counted drugs as they were being delivered. The list of drugs received is posted on notice boards. More staff have been hired, more mosquito nets delivered and more people are visiting the health centre. Parents have learnt to monitor budgets, and are now tracking school budgets too.
The people from my village are happy because they can receive all the basic drugs prescribed to them by the physician at no cost and drug shortages have become history in the health centre – A member of the Kyebe sub-county community
Another priority was government funding for subsistence farmers. The government provide funds to support farmers. Under the scheme, local authorities are supposed to use funds from the state to buy seeds and equipment for local subsistence farmers. The problem is they often buy sub-standard seeds and machinery and keep the difference.
We held review committees attended by both local politicians and government representatives. In the past, politicians had always blamed the other for failings. But when they were all in the same room, it suddenly became harder to duck responsibility.
Photo: Transparency International and community members witness the pact signing
We have managed to give farmers more control over the process. The criteria for selecting farmers who receive support was made simpler and more open. More farmers joined the government support programme, having been made aware of their rights and the selection process was made more open.
Our work continues.
In the north of the country, we are now helping citizens report problems in health care by sending SMS text messages. For example, they warned that malaria nets are not being distributed despite the fact that a health centre that recently received a delivery from central government. Read more on this here.
Oct 15th, 2012 10:07 AM UTC
By Guest Blogger
My name is Agnes Kalya and I am a farmer in Mukono District, Uganda.
For years, I struggled to grow enough food to provide for my family. Then one day I learned about a new crop of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, specifically bred to thrive here in Africa. Developed using natural, traditional plant breeding techniques, the sweet potato is loaded with nutrients such as Vitamin A, which help give children a healthier start in life.
Thanks to the training I received I am now able to sell my orange sweet potatoes and, for the first time, can help support my family and ensure my children attend school. As a mother this makes me so proud.
I haven’t looked back since.
Innovations like the vitamin A rich sweet potato can make a huge impact in fighting hunger, but we farmers need the support of world leaders to make these and other nutrient-rich crops more widespread.
Please join me and add your name to ONE’s petition.
The petition reads:
Dear world leaders,
Please make measurable commitments to reduce chronic malnutrition for 25 million kids by 2016 so they can reach their full potential.
I am now working myself out of poverty and helping others in my community with what I have learned. But we need your help. Ahead of World Food day on October 16th please join me and help us grow a better future.
Farmer and ONE member
Sep 12th, 2012 3:17 PM UTC
By Guest Blogger
This post by Agiroi Thomas was kindly provided by Restless Development
In my culture, cattle are very important. They can be used for food, trading, as a dowry or as a status symbol. My life and that of my family is dependent on cattle. As this is the case it is common for clans to raid each other’s lands and steal cattle. I became involved in this when I was younger with a few of my friends. We were young men who wanted to get married and needed cattle to pay the dowry and we knew there were people in our village that had become rich from such raids. I took part with my friends and fellow tribesmen and ended up with 20 cows.
However, raiding is a risky business. People aren’t exactly pleased when we turn up trying to take their cattle! Lots of my friends were killed in the raids and I was lucky to survive. As you can imagine, my wife was worried. She told me to stop. “I do not want to be a widow when I am still young.” she said. I’ve told my friends that my raiding days are over.
It is sad to see it come to this. In my parents’ day there were plenty of animals, people lived in harmony, raiding was less common. More raiding has resulted in less cattle and everyone is less well off because of it. Nowadays we have turned our hand more to agriculture. Instead of relying on animals alone people can grow their own vegetables and sell enough to feed their entire family. This has meant that there is less raiding; cattle are still very important, but they are not everything. I want to be able to engage in the selling and buying of animals as well as that which I have grown. Then I will be able to support my family and send my children to school so that they might one day become better educated and better leaders.
In order for this to happen we need better investment in agricultural skill development and start up capital.
I believe certain forms of contract farming can provide important benefits to the farmers, allowing them to be supported by investments without depriving them of access to their land. At best, in such a scheme, the buyer has a reliable source of supply, the farmers have a reliable buyer for crops, and the land rights are left untouched.
I therefore encourage world leaders to do two things:
Increases in agricultural productivity can be key if these increases benefit small farmers, who are the poorest and are still in the rural areas.
Certain investments in public goods probably need to be done by the state, because there is no – or only a weak – incentive for the private sector to step in. For instance, Uganda should develop extension services, rural infrastructures and agricultural research. They should encourage farmer field schools and support the organisation of farmers in cooperatives.
As far as investment from the private sector is concerned, it is important and can complement public investment. But it should not take the form of large-scale acquisitions or leases or land, which can cause tremendous social and political disruption and are a step backwards in improving access to land for the poorest farmers, who are often poor in part because they have too little land to cultivate.
The Karamoja region of North-Eastern Uganda has been devastated by decades of armed conflict, cattle raiding, extreme poverty, instability, drought and weakened state authority. Poverty has brought with it extreme vulnerability to HIV and AIDS risks. In an initial study in 2009, only 7% of young people reported using condoms the last time they had sex. This is alarming considering that 6.3% of the population are living with HIV and AIDS.
Also, with 78% of Ugandans younger than 30 and 84.6% living in rural areas, rural youth are the group most affected by poverty and development issues, yet they are consistently excluded from the development and decision-making processes affecting their lives.
Lutokoi’s involvement in the youth group is a great example of how young people can and will drive the development in their own country if they are given the opportunity to do so.
Featuring contributions from African citizens who are living in communities affected by extreme poverty, ONE’s African Voices series will follow their progress to give a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges they face and also to track changes that occur over time. Find out more at one.org/africanvoices.
May 18th, 2012 5:57 PM UTC
By ONE Partners
As world leaders meet in the United States for the annual G8 summit, Lotukoi Peter, a young man from Karamoja, Northern Uganda tells the youth-led development agency Restless Development about his message to the G8.
Photo: Restless Development/PCI
I was born in Lorukumo village and my parents took me to Lobuneit Primary school where I went until I was 11 and then dropped from school due to lack of school fees. I started idling around the community, taking alcohol from morning or involved in cattle raid planning and activities.
I abandoned cattle raiding as now I know the importance of peace in the development of my community. I used to participate in
cattle raids but now I have learnt that raids are bad. Many young people used to die during the raids and I am now involved in commercial vegetable growing with my fellow group members and this project has been very helpful to me.
When Restless Development volunteers started working in Kidepo parish, they mobilised young people into a group which I joined. I started learning about issues of sexual health, how to make a living and peace. I enjoyed the sessions and committed myself to the group in which I gained more knowledge in supporting my family and the community.
Through the sessions delivered I learnt about vegetable gardening, I went ahead and established a commercial vegetable garden. The garden has helped me in getting household income, for example when one of my family members gets sick, I use part of the money saved from the sale of vegetables to provide treatment. Besides part of the savings from the sale of vegetables is use to buy more seeds for replanting and expansion of the garden.
I learnt that the use of locally available resources like manure can help to improve vegetable growing because each time I grow the vegetable they do well when I have spread it to my garden therefore, it has become useful for me and has expanded the vegetable growing that has also enhanced me to go into commercial gardening.
The biggest challenge [to start the business] was getting start up capital to run my business. Pests have been disturbing a lot by destroying my crops like cabbages, tomatoes, sukumawiki (spinach), cowpeas among others. Also the thieves uprooting my vegetables at night.
What are your hopes for your business?
Better incomes for these rural poor means that they will buy more from local producers and service providers, with important multiplier effects on the local rural economies and also for the benefit of the manufacturing and services sectors in the country people will be able to buy my produce if it expands.
I hope to expand my business and also become an entrepreneur in the community. I now want to diversify my income by setting up another new project. I plan to expand my business to set up Turkey poultry because very many people from town do buy them expensively.
My business will aim at making sure that my children do go to school, receive medical care and I also buy a car of my choice that I will be using for transporting my goods to the markets.
What issue would you like world leaders to focus on that would have a direct impact on your life?
Encouraging access to finance and business development services that will be instrumental in developing young farmers like me. The leaders should also focus on skills development related to the jobs that we doing in the community.
This week eight of the most powerful leaders in the world are meeting for the G8 summit. What would your message to them be about what their priorities should be?
The need to focus on young people’s engagement in Development processes in order to have improved livelihood. They should understand poverty dynamics and develop interventions that are conflict sensitive and can improve the lives of young people in Karamoja.
One of the topics the leaders will be discussing is agriculture & farming and how to break the cycle of hunger and poverty. What do you think should leaders focus on in order to improve agriculture and tackle hunger in your country/community? Skill Development and provision of start capital to boost the agriculture.
What would you like ONE members to know about your country/community?
My Community is currently guarding peace existence among ethnic groups jealously to avoid setbacks through reporting and timely response to criminal acts by young people. With the current peace level in the region, we have begun producing peacefully, our run away children have began returning home and we also appreciate that they have come with new ways of living. Though the situation has improved, there are still cases of isolated cattle theft going on yet people today are hoping for sustainable livelihood. The statement is true because the Karimojong have a duty to choose to be alive, respect others and their property and to have peace as a state of perpetual love. I Seek peace if not I may join death. Living completely in the past is escaping realities.
Restless Development is an agency that places young people at the forefront of change and development. It works in Africa and Asia to empower young people to take their lives into their own hand and trains, educates and inspires young people to be part of the solution. Find out more at www.restlessdevelopment.org
Mar 12th, 2012 1:49 PM UTC
By Malaka Gharib
ONE co-founder Bono commented on Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” film and campaign in Ireland’s edition of the Sunday Times yesterday. The campaign, which aims to raise global support for Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony’s arrest, has caught the attention of the world over the past few days, and the filmmakers have urged public figures to speak out in response. Here’s is Bono’s full comment on the campaign:
“Having just been in Gulu with Edun and Jolly, this is particularly pertinent for me…Spreading like wildfire, and sparking a heated, fascinating, much needed debate, this is brilliant campaigning. Not only does the public now know about Kony and his most despicable atrocities, they also know what a huge range of experts think about it, even if they all don’t agree. I salute a strategy that generates this much interest if it¹s targeted towards lasting meaningful solutions owned and directed by the people of the region on their journey from the trauma of these atrocities towards stability and development. Is there an Oscar for this kind of direction? Jason Russell deserves it.”
You can read the full Sunday Times article here:
Bono backs Kony video campaign
U2 singer says YouTube film on Ugandan militia seen by 80m deserves Oscar for highlighting atrocities, writes
Harry Leech: 11 March 2012
Bono, the lead singer of U2, has given his support to the Kony 2012 video campaign which has become an internet phenomenon in recent days. The video calls foraction against Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a violent rebel militia in Uganda accused of murder, child abduction and sexual enslavement.
Bono described the video, which has been seen by almost 80m people on YouTube, as “brilliant campaigning” and saluted its creator, Jason Russell.
“Is there an Oscar for this kind of direction? Jason Russell deserves it,” he told The Sunday Times this weekend. The campaign has drawn several celebrity endorsements, including backing from Angelina Jolie, Rihanna and Oprah Winfrey.
The rock star and human rights campaigner recently returned from Gulu in northern Uganda where he and his wife, Ali, spent time with Jolly Okot, a director of Invisible Children, the charity behind the YouTube hit. Okot features in the Kony 2012 video and is a survivor of LRA violence.
The couple’s Edun clothing brand purchases some of its cotton from a co-operative which is part-managed by Invisible Children.
“Having just been in Gulu with Edun and Jolly, this is particularly pertinent for me,” said Bono, adding that the video was “spreading like wildfire, and sparking a heated, fascinating, much needed debate”.
The video was uploaded to websites YouTube and Vimeo a little over a week ago by Invisible Children Inc, an aid organisation and advocacy group based in theUnited States.
While it garnered only four hits on its first day, by Saturday it had been viewedalmost 80m times and has been discussed extensively around the world in print and on television.
The 30-minute video highlights the alleged crimes of Kony, whose arrest the campaign has called for.
Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 12 counts ofcrimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes.
He has survived repeated attempts to capture him. The ICC warrant states the LRA “has established a pattern of brutalisation of civilians by acts including murder, abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, as well as mass burnings of houses and looting of camp settlements” and that “abducted civilians, including children, have been forcibly recruited as fighters, porters and sex slaves and to take part in attacks”.
While reaction to the film has been broadly positive, the campaign has attracted criticism, including questions over the amount of money raised that is sent to Uganda, how much was spent on making the film, and whether or not capturingKony is achievable.
The movie has also been accused of attempting to over-simplify a brutal 25-yearconflict, with regional experts pointing out that Kony is no longer in Uganda and is thought to be hiding in the Central African Republic.
Some criticisms are more basic: one Ugandan journalist pointed out that while the country is described as being “in central Africa” in the video, it is actually in east Africa.
Responding to criticism of the campaign, Russell, who directed and starred in the video, said that Invisible Children is “committed to be 100% financially transparent and to communicate in plain language the mission of the organisation so that everyone can make an informed decision about whether they want to support our strategy”.
He asked the public to study the organisation’s website, which outlines its goals, describes its programmes in Uganda, and details where funds are spent.
Not all of the comment has been critical, however. Last week Maria Burnett of Human Rights Watch said: “What it leads to remains to be seen, but the goal to bring pressure on key leaders, to protect civilians and to apprehend LRA leadership is important.”
It’s a view that Bono agrees with. “Not only does the public now know about Kony and his most despicable atrocities, they also know what a huge range of experts think about it, even if they all don’t agree,” he said.
“I salute a strategy that generates this much interest if it’s targeted towards lasting, meaningful solutions owned and directed by the people of the region on their journey from the trauma of these atrocities towards stability and development.”
Mar 11th, 2011 4:04 PM UTC
By Joseph Powell
Development is accelerated when a country is able to use its own resources effectively and efficiently. When foreign companies and governments conspire to prevent this happening, justice is not being served.
That is why the decision by the UK government, with France and Germany, to support reform of obscure European Union rules on financial reporting for oil, gas and mineral companies will have such far-reaching consequences. In Uganda, campaigners for greater transparency and accountability in the oil industry are already preparing for the day when they will have access to all legal payments made by oil companies to their government. In a letter sent on Thursday to David Cameron, over 200 of these activists make clear why this is so important, saying, “the only losers would be those who plan to steal the revenue”.
Last year civil society in many resource-rich developing countries celebrated as the US passed the Dodd-Frank Act, which contained the first ever “publish what you pay” law. This means that from April all companies listed on the New York stock exchange will have to report their payments to the governments of the countries where they operate, and even break down the payments to the level of individual projects. This will empower millions of people by giving them access to the information they need to hold their leaders accountable, demanding greater social and economic results, and reducing levels of corruption.
However, Uganda – which has large untapped oil reserves – will not see the benefits of the US law since the companies operating here are all listed on European stock exchanges. Tullow Oil, for example, is registered in the UK. Uganda is the perfect example of why European leaders need to swiftly implement these reforms. In his 10 minute-rule bill last week Anas Sarwar MP highlighted this by referring to the Ugandan shadow finance minister’s recent video message calling for UK leadership.
It is estimated that at peak production the oil reserves in Uganda will generate $2bn a year in revenue. To put this in context, the last national budget is $3bn billion, and $1.7bn has been coming from foreign aid. Clearly this oil money has the potential to drive economic development in Uganda, yet the early signs are not promising.
The production sharing agreements between Kampala and the oil companies have been kept secret by the Ugandan government despite repeated attempts by MPs, journalists and activists to access the contracts. A section of one of the agreements, which was leaked by a whistleblower, showed that the terms were not consistent with international norms as the government claims.
Currently, there is no provision in place for publishing the payments received once production begins. Ugandans are nervously looking across to neighbours in the Democratic Republic of Congo and wondering if they are heading down the same road, where natural resources have been a curse rather than a blessing.
Of course, transparency itself cannot deliver perfect oil governance – it is a means to an end. It is vital that once published, the information is used in the right way. Those working to improve aid transparency have voiced some concern that people in developing countries do not feel sufficient ownership over aid to hold donors and governments to account, even with greater transparency.
Natural resources do not suffer that problem. Citizens are demanding their fair share of what they know to be theirs. Civil society, supported by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, is tooling up to provide the checks and balances on government. The Ugandan activists are clear: “We stand ready to hold our leaders accountable, but we require your support to do so even more.”
The importance of extractive industries to African development cannot be understated. In 2008, exports of oil, gas and minerals from Africa were worth about nine times the value of international aid to the continent ($393bn v $44bn), and over 10 times the value of exports of agricultural produce ($37.9bn). Yet most of Africa’s natural resources remain in the ground. The economist Paul Collier estimates that only a fifth of sub-soil assets have been discovered in sub-Saharan Africa.
In Uganda, where over 7 million people still live in extreme poverty, harnessing the newfound oil wealth is a one-off opportunity to accelerate social and economic development at a previously unthinkable rate. With transparency and accountability acting as a vaccine against corruption and poor leadership, the new revenue has the potential to lift the country to middle-income status. Europe must do all it can to empower the people of Uganda to make sure this happens.
This blog was co-written by Winnie Ngabiiwe – chairwoman of Publish What You Pay – Uganda,
Mar 8th, 2011 6:40 PM UTC
By David Cole
Each year around the world, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8, with thousands of events occurring not just on this day, but throughout March to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women.
As the world marks this special day ONE spoke to Winnie Ngabiirwe, Chairperson of Publish What You Pay Uganda and Executive Director of Global Rights Alert, on why transparency in the extractives industries will benefit women in Uganda and other countries.
Winnie leads the effort to make sure revenues received for Uganda’s recently discovered oil are not wasted, and are put towards social and economic development programmes.
As Winnie says:
“Once governments disclose how much they are receiving from oil and mining companies it creates a conducive environment for debate in which women’s issues can be put into consideration. And that debate can translate into beneficial investments in sectors like health and education… so if investments of the monies that come from the extractive industry are invested wisely then the status of women will improve.”
Find out more about International Women’s Day and sign our petition to the UK Chancellor, George Osborne, asking him to support laws that will require oil, gas and other extractive companies to declare exactly how much they are paying foreign governments.
Feb 25th, 2011 3:58 PM UTC
By Joseph Powell
This piece was first published on the Royal Africa Society website
For a country whose President sits 7th in the league of longest serving African leaders (and could have climbed to 6th by the time this is published), Ugandans appeared remarkably relaxed about awarding Yoweri Museveni another five years in office. The election campaign was largely peaceful, a welcome change from the violence and intimidation inflicted on his main opponent Kizza Besigye in 2006, and the result was decisive. On a significantly reduced turnout of 58% Museveni took 68% of the total, winning by over 3 million votes – a figure predicted almost exactly by an independent opinion poll three weeks out.
The opposition have predictably cried foul, with legitimate complaints about the massive use of state resources to support Museveni and National Resistance Movement candidates. What they lack is an Election Day ‘smoking gun’ to explain Museveni’s wide margin of victory. There was relatively little evidence of the NRM’s favoured rigging methods: ballot box stuffing, pre-ticking and ghost voters.
Instead the election will be remembered for money. In total Museveni used $350 million to bolster his campaigns, most of it state funds. Some of the spending was in the form of crude vote buying, with the undignified sight of Museveni handing over brown envelopes full of cash to local luminaries a daily occurrence. In January the NRM-dominated parliament passed a $250 million supplementary budget, much of which was funnelled into the campaigns. Parliament also awarded each MP a $8500 grant 3 weeks before the election, effectively a campaign donation to boost incumbent candidates.
Other methods were less obvious, but just as effective. Veterans had their arrears cleared, local councillors received a facilitation fee for the first time in several years and government building projects across the country conveniently kicked into action.
It would be wrong, however, to underestimate the value of Museveni’s political genius in this election. As he toured the country he perfected the art of putting himself on the side of the people he was addressing. His stump speech would list all the money his government was allocating the various districts for agriculture, health and public services. ‘Have you not seen it?’ he would ask, before calling up the relevant local government official and lambasting them in front of the crowd for failing to deliver on his programmes. In this way he insulated himself from complaints of corruption, and reinforced his popularity with the rural and less educated people. It is a paradox of Ugandan politics that the areas which voted most heavily for Museveni are the poorest that have benefited least from his government. The educated middle-classes and elites, who have tended to prosper under his laissez-faire economic management, continue to lean towards the opposition.
Museveni also showed himself adaptable to new methods of campaigning. On the eve of polling his party used ‘robocalls’ to phone up millions of Ugandans with a recorded message asking them to vote for the ‘old man with the hat’. SMS messages were also sent out offering $3 of free airtime if the recipient forwarded the NRM’s official line to seven of their friends. Infamously, Museveni also tried his hand at rapping in his native Runyankole language, much to the delight of his younger supporters. The ‘rap’ was subsequently remixed and released as a hit single. A plane spent the days before the election traversing the Kampala sky playing the song in an unusual ‘get out the vote’ method.
Conversely, the opposition failed to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. They took for granted their previous electoral base in the North, which allowed Museveni to capture the region with a message of peace, stability and promises of better services if they voted ‘wisely’. The opposition failed to find a message which truly resonated, instead pitching the same ‘time for a change’ mantra they had used in 2006. A lack of coordination also hurt them. Despite a formal inter-party cooperation agreement there were seven challengers to the incumbent.
The parliamentary races were more competitive with 19 government ministers losing their seats, although the NRM easily held control of the house. Many of the ministers lost to independent candidates who had been defeated in the NRM primaries and will now largely vote with the government.
So what next for Ugandan politics? Besigye’s attempt to call people onto the streets to protest against the results appears to be falling flat. There is little appetite amongst his supporters to test the formidable army and police deployments in the country’s urban areas. The political analyst and journalist Andrew Mwenda compares the state of the opposition to the tough new political realities the UK Labour Party faced in the post-Thatcher era:
The lesson of Museveni’s 2011 victory is similar. There has been a major change in public perceptions about politics. The old message of attacking Museveni for the corruption, nepotism and incompetence of his government is stale. It still finds passionate support amongst his most ardent critics; but its effect is to appeal to the base without growing it. It seems that many Ugandans have moved on; for Museveni’s greatest triumph has been to make these failures banal, routine and normal.
As for Museveni’s future, close watchers of his career will tell you to never second-guess the master tactician. However, you will struggle to find anyone who believes ‘the old man in the hat’ will not be on the ballot paper in five years time.
The International ONE Blog is a daily log of the anti-poverty movement. The site is operated by ONE staff, with guest contributions from ONE volunteers, members and allies.
The content of each post and each comment represents the views of that author and does not necessarily reflect the views of ONE. ONE does not support or oppose any candidate for elected office, and any post expressing support or opposition for a candidate is not endorsed by ONE.