Ending Human Rights Violations in Uganda

Press Statement

United Democratic Ugandans (UDU), an umbrella organization of parties and organizations at home and abroad opposed to the NRM government led by President Yoweri Museveni, condemns in the strongest terms the breakdown in the rule of law and violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms that have intensified since the fraudulent presidential and parliamentary elections in February 2011. The international observer team declared that the electoral process lacked a level playing field.

The NRM government came to power in January 1986 after a five year destructive guerrilla war. Through its ten point program and other policy statements the government promised inter alia democracy, rule of law and free and fair elections; elimination of sectarianism, corruption and misuse of power; respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and ending the long suffering of the people of Uganda through an economic model based on public and private partnership. It declared that sovereignty resides in the people with government as their servant. The military would defend the nation against external invasion and the police would protect human rights and fundamental freedoms inside the country and maintain law and order. The independence of the judiciary and separation of powers were guaranteed. No Ugandans would be above the law.

In mid-1987, the government changed course. It abandoned the popular ten point program in favor of stabilization and structural adjustment program (SAP). The invisible hand of market forces and private sector (laissez faire capitalism) would serve as the engine of economic growth and the benefits would be equitably distributed to all regions and classes through a trickle down mechanism. The state would virtually have no role in the economy, implying, inter alia, privatization of all public enterprises that would generate government revenue to build institutions and infrastructure thereby creating an enabling environment for private sector development. Through improved efficiency, foreign direct and domestic investment, export diversification, liberalization and deregulation of the economy, Uganda would enjoy rapid economic growth like in China and Asian Tigers, job creation and poverty eradication.

Sadly, in practice developments have turned out differently. Economic growth has fallen far short of the 8-9 percent annual growth rate as a minimum to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 including reducing poverty and hunger in half. The benefits of economic growth have not trickled down. Instead they have bubbled up in part though indirect taxation, making the rich richer and the poor poorer. For example, in the 1990s, the economy grew at an annual average rate of over 6 percent (it reached 10 percent in mid-1990s). Yet two-thirds of the population remained trapped in absolute poverty. According to UNDP’s 2010 Human Development Report 51.5 percent of Ugandans still live below $1.25 per day. Thus, over 50 percent of Ugandans live in absolute poverty after 26 years of NRM government that has received over $31 billion in foreign aid. The current general level in the standard of living is nowhere near the level attained in 1970.

How can this failure be explained? Rampant corruption, sectarianism, cronyism and mismanagement have diverted huge public funds that would have been invested in social sectors, infrastructure and institutions as well as in environmental protection such as reforestation and restoration of wetlands. Consequently, the social sectors of education, healthcare and housing have been starved of funds and are on the verge of collapse. Deteriorating human conditions can be deduced from functional illiteracy, sprawling urban slums and the re-emergence of infectious diseases including meningitis, cholera, dysentery, plague and human sleeping sickness. Poor housing and lack of shoes are reflected in the multiplication of jiggers that disfigure and cripple the body leading to death. Maternal mortality has increased from 527 in 1995 to 920 per 100,000 live births in 2005. Some forty percent of children are malnourished, constraining their physical and mental development and their ability to learn and become productive members of society.

Uganda is also experiencing high levels of under-employment and unemployment especially among the youth. In 2007 youth unemployment stood at over 80 percent. In 2005 the urban population living in slums stood at 67 percent. And poor quality education has resulted in too many functionally illiterate and unemployable graduates, necessitating hiring foreigners to occupy skilled jobs. Labor flexibility has resulted in workers paid low wages, hired and fired at will and working in conditions that are not decent particularly for domestic workers. Desperation has resulted in human trafficking and sacrifice. Alcohol consumption and traffic accidents have increased. In a recent report, a United Nations Specialized agency warned that if drastic steps are not taken quickly, Uganda will turn into a desert within 100 years which is a very short time by historical standards. The failure of the government to support provision of school lunch adopted by NEPAD has resulted in many children dropping out of school and becoming teenage mothers and together with a liberal immigration policy has contributed to population ‘explosion’. As we know, poor people, and Uganda has over 50 percent of them, produce more children than rich ones. Finally, brain drain in search of greener pastures or political safety has deprived the nation of well qualified and experienced Ugandans.

These political, economic, social, demographic and ecological failures made worse by rising prices especially of food and fuel, neglect of agriculture, small holder farmers and rural development in favor of a highly labor-saving service sector concentrated in the nation’s capital City of Kampala (producing some 70 percent of GNI – Gross National Income – with a population of about 2 million out of a total of 33 million) and largely foreign owned and de-industrialization or manufacturing performance well below installed capacity as well as government allocation of land for large scale development without consent of owners – witness the Amuru women incident – have caused the opposition at home and abroad to criticize the NRM government and to recommend corrective measures. For example, UDU has prepared a National Recovery Plan (NRP) widely shared – and well received – with development partners and the NRM government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an alternative plan to turn the economy, society and ecology around. Peaceful demonstrations have also taken place at home and abroad to draw to the attention of the NRM government and the international community the gravity of the situation with a view to finding quick solutions.

Unfortunately, the government that has rhetorically claimed in international conferences – and is now a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council based in Geneva after serving two years as a member of the United Nations Security Council in New York – that it respects the rule of law, human rights and freedoms including the right to development has responded to peaceful demonstrations with indiscriminate brutal force. Ugandans including women and children have been killed and many others including pregnant women wounded, political leaders have been targeted including a recent incident of humiliating police brutality meted out to Ms. Ingrid Turinawe, a member of FDC leadership. Many Ugandans have been arrested and detained and some charged with treason punishable by death for exercising their right of assembly and freedom of speech. Notwithstanding government repression, the majority of Ugandans want to solve the country’s challenges through peaceful dialogue with the NRM government. Thankfully, religious leaders from all faiths have joined in. And senior police officers have resigned or been fired for opposing excessive use of force.

To complement national efforts in reversing the deteriorating situation and avoiding war which some Ugandans are demanding, UDU appeals to the international community at bilateral, multilateral, intergovernmental, non-governmental and media levels to condemn in strong terms and openly what is happening in Uganda and take appropriate action to restore the rule of law, presidential term limits, independent electoral commission, separation of powers and respect for inalienable human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Eric Kashambuzi

Secretary-General, UDU

© 2011 United Democratic Ugandans. All Rights Reserved.