When President Museveni took oath to serve another five years on May 12 last year, a kilogram of maize flour was retailing at Shs 1,200 while the dollar was trad- ing at Shs 3,350 against the shilling.
Twelve months later, a kilogram of maize flour costs Shs 3,000 while, as of last evening, the dollar was trading at Shs 3,690 against the shilling. Many businesses have gone under, some companies have restructured and the World Bank said last week that the economic growth rate may not reach 4.5 per cent this financial year, the lowest the economy has grown over the last 10 years.
The economic downturn has been the most defining feature of the president’s tenure so far, obscuring his vow that this is kisanja hakuna mchezo (tenure for serious work) and jeopardizing his ambition to take Uganda to middle-income status by 2020.
Government officials and Museveni’s close aides maintain that there is no need to panic. Don Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary, told The Observer yesterday that the current economic squeeze is not restricted to Uganda. He cited Kenya, where prices of essential commodities have rapidly gone up.
“Things will get better once we lay down the fundamentals. That is what we are doing,” said Wanyama. “The contractions within the economy are just not only unique to Uganda. If you look around the region, the trends are similar.”
Yet Kenya is visibly trying to do something. President Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces a tough re-election battle, announced a raft of measures to ease the situation and cushion consumers. These include reallocation of funds from other sectors to subsidize farmers and provide relief aid to the affected people.
Museveni’s situation has not been helped by the fact that the country has faced one of the worst prolonged droughts in decades. The drought led to crop failure and famine. There have been cases of deaths of people and animals as a result.
Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a political historian at Makerere University, told The Observer on Wednesday that the current economic atmosphere is nauseating.
“The country has not done well, as the president had promised. In the last one year, one cannot point out one outstanding thing that government has done well. Agricultural production is down, local businesses are limping... there is nothing to show,” Ndebesa said.
While some of the promises Museveni made during the campaigns, like the tarmacking of some roads are to be implemented in the medium term, there are those he pledged to put in effect after one year of service.
The most prominent of these was provision of sanitary pads to school-going girls, hand hoes in West Nile and scholastic items such as mathematical sets, which will start the coming financial year.
However, the president also promised that government will set up funds like the women fund, the youth fund and innovation funds. Each of these funds was to be given Shs 254 billion to spur innovation amongst the youth and to fight unemployment.
From the budget estimates for next financial year, there is no indication that these funds will be availed money. David Bahati, the minister of state for Planning, while presenting budget estimates before the Budget committee in parliament recently, said government had to lower the budget from Shs 30 trillion to Shs 28 trillion.
He added that this means that some items that had been budgeted for will have to wait until the economic situation gets better.
Wanyama said the president intends to fulfill all his campaign promises.
“When the president is campaigning, he campaigns for a five-year term; so, some of these promises will not be met in the first year because at the time of the campaigns, the budget process had already started. But I am sure the promises will be met,” he said.
Besides the wobbling economy and unfulfilled promises, there have been challenges on the security front. The first flare-up happened soon after the election when a group of armed people invaded police stations in Gulu and Kapchorwa districts.
In November 2016, a standoff between the government and Rwenzururu kingdom led to a violent confrontation, which left hundreds dead.
There was the early morning killing of Maj Muhammad Kiggundu, a former ADF rebel leader who had denounced rebellion.
The nadir point came in March this year when Felix Kaweesi, the police spokesperson, was brutally murdered metres away from his home in Kulambiro, Ntinda.
Although some people have been arrested in connection with these murders, the cases have not been fully resolved.
In addition, last month a wave of crime perpetuated by criminal gangs hit various parts of the country, especially in the districts of Masaka, Wakiso and Kampala.
Yet one area where Museveni had tried to walk the talk is the fight against corruption especially at the top level. Senior government officials, including Herbert Kabafunzaki, the minister of state for Labour, were arrested and arraigned in court over graft-related charges.
Ndebesa said Museveni had also “succeeded” at weakening the opposition by conscripting some members of opposition parties into his government.
Overall, Wanyama said President Museveni has performed excellently over the past one year given the challenges.
But on the other hand, Ndebesa feels the situation has become bleaker after one year.
He said, “Ugandans should pre- pare for hard times.”