Friday, 19 August 2011

How the greed of the few visited suffering on the Shilling

The Uganda shilling is the worst performing currency in the world. That is no longer news. The economic turbulance is hitting Ugandans hard. Most families especially in rural areas, hardly touch money. The urbanites that have been pretending things are OK, are now begining to see the real economonic mismanagement and its consequences. The corporates that were blinded by their salaries and benefits like health insurable cover, free airtime etc are now noticing that without food and with high fuel costs, a real problem is within the vicinity.
The lifestyles are being negatively affected. Job uncertainity is on the rise especially as the dollar becomes expensive. But even all that is not news.
The news is that the shilling is partly being weakened by the petty greed of a few privilledged chaps in government and business world.
This is their trick. When the US and other European powers tightened on money laundering, our chaps went to plan. They had been siphoning stolen money out of Uganda to European capitals with ease. But with the stringent measures in place, that became risky.
Instead, they became international business gurus mainly re-exporting imported goods.  By so doing, they managed to open business and personal accounts in several countries in the region. But when money is deposited into those accounts, its never withdrawn and injected into our economy.
Goods are re-exported not for mere profit motive but to enable them stash away money. These callous Ugandans now own fat bank accounts in countries like South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania without anyone raising suspicion because they have masqaraded as investors in those countries.
Those accounts are of course in dollars.
This explains why the Uganda shilling is the weakest in the region, infact, even in economies that are poorer than Uganda like Burundi, Somalia and  South Sudan. By  UPDF soldiers being in Somalia, Uganda is earning but its unbelievable that the Somali shilling is stronger than the Uganda shilling.
The reason is that those economies host Ugandan money. In other words, the Ugandan economic hit men are aiding other economies in the region by fishing out dollars.
Secondly, the practice in Uganda is the dollars are cashed over the counter. Several of these hitmen draw thousands of dollars in cash, stash them in their socks, pockets and bags then take it away to the neighbouring countries. They are trying to avoid the bank transfers because the  US will take note.
But the way dollars are withdrawn at Orient Bank and others, only makes one to wish Uganda had caring leaders.
Sources say the dollar flight is provoked by the fear that is taking over the hit men. They have made quick bucks but the majority of the citizens are in dire need. Social services have collapsed. They are not sure whether keeping their money in Uganda is safe. The sneaking away of money is an attempt to find a safety net in other countries.
So, while we can talk about poor balance of payment affected our economy, it could also help if the greed and selfishness of the priviledged few is checked. They are surely suffering from inadequacy of integrity and humility. Can someone out there tell them to return the money into our banks?  If not, let a serious government simply welcome any amount of dollars into the economy but tighten its removal out of the economy.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

New Mabira forest debate shows panic in Museveni, Saleh eyes timber

Mabira forest is back to the headlines. President Museveni has ressurrected the plan he had in 2006  to give part of the forest to Mr Mahendra. N. Mehta, the sugar baron based in Lugazi.
When the plan first became public, it elicited furious response from the public. The riots that followed, claimed some lives including that of an Indian.
The matter then went silent. Why is it back?
President Museveni is in panic. Sure? Yes.  Why?
Anyone who has cared to study President Museveni, will agree that he is an illustrious coward who works hard to conceal his fears.
His behaviour is more or less like Chinua Achebe's character called Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart.
Okonkwo was born to a lazy  and poor father named Unoka. His father's failures inspired Okonkwo to try things his own way and be different. And indeed, at a young age, Okonkwo made some achievements and positioned himself in society.  He made some wealth. He was a good  and courageous wrestler. To demonstrate his courage, he even went against the advice of his community and killed a young boy [Ikemefuna] who had grown up calling him father.
Mr Okonkwo understood the folly of killing Ikemefuna but deep in him, he did not want to be seen as a coward.
But beneath Okonkwo's courage, was a hidden sense of fear---the fear of failure. At the end of course, Okonkwo ended up like his father--, poor, dead and buried under embarrassing circumstances.
That is more like Museveni in this Mabira issue. Mr Museveni has elevated himself as the only man with a vision in the country.
His interest is to industrialise the country not because he cares about the welfare of ordinary people, but because he wants his name in Uganda's history as a man who performed wonders.
He has preached properity for all in vain. The guy has tried since 1986 but poverty and hopelessness still define the country under his rule. When preaching prosperity, Museveni has been watching those close to him loot without shame. In this Mabira saga, reports suggest that actually while Mehta wants to expand cane growing, Gen. Salim Saleh, the younger brother of Museveni is eying the timber. Salim Saleh ahs apparently "won" a tender to supply electricity polls to electricity distribution company under the rural electrification program. As of now, Saleh is busy cutting forests in West Nile for timber. These guys smell money and can do anything to get it.
And for Museveni, he has also made a personal fortune since he became President--owns a ranch in Kisozi, a palatial home in Rwakitura. Rumours abound that he has interests in several hotels around and abroad. His family members are stinking rich without clear jobs unless children of Presidents are paid salary for being children.
With enormous wealth at their disposal and age not favouring him anymore, Mr Museveni is in a personal crisis on what will befall his empire if many Ugandans continued to live in abject poverty forced on them by the corrupt few.
For this reason, he is trying to see wealth is spread hence his pet subject of industrialisation.
To industrialise, Museveni has been forced to dance to the tune of anyone who masqauarades as an investor.
This has most times attracted to him conmen. And when some seemingly serious investors like Mehta give a proposal however stupid it can be, Museveni is usually the first to buy into it.
These investors have over time learnt the trick. They extend some financial help to Museveni's re-election efforts and in return seek favours. In fact, in this particular case, talk is that Mehta needs his pound of the flesh. He scratched Museveni's back during 2006 campaigns and he nows wants his turn.
But the force in Museveni's tone is mainly dictated by the fear deep in him.
Its not that he is unaware of the value of mabira forest. Museveni sees a much bigger problem to his ego and family wealth--the problem of poverty to many Ugandans yet a few are priviledged. To him, it could translate into real anger by Ugandans against him. Moreover, many Ugandan educated class are increasingly getting tired of walking the streets looking for nonexistent jobs.
This army of jobless  graduates are a threat to his plans to enjoy what he has amassed. It is now clear that people are in dire need; no functioning transport system, dilapidated hospitals, demeaned education etc yet in all these, a few people get unexplainable wealth overnight.
But in trying to wriggle out of the dilemma, Museveni instead unveils new trouble unto himself as is the case with Mabira.
In fact, those close to him say the man is increasingly becoming miscoordinated. One day he will say Uganda will industrialise when the country gets enough energy supply. To get enough energy supply requires more dams on River Nile which gets its water from Lake Victoria which also benefits from Mabira forest.
By cutting Mabira, Museveni is saying sugarcane is now more important than hydro electricity which the same sugar factory will need. He doesnt believe it but he is in a fix. Because he is in a fix and his ego is super inflated, Museveni reacts with an aura of a man unwilling to admit failure. He now sees anyone with an alternative view as a traitor however good the idea is.
The solution is to either let him cut the whole forest and accelerate his departure from power or those whom he listens to should pamper his ego and tell him he is still a demi-god even if Mabira forest remains intact. Otherwise, Museveni is a leader who has run out of options but is trying to maintain relevance by provoking his opponents to complain then he finds reason to crush them with military might.
It could also be important to point out to Mehta that if he cares about the future of their business, they should listen to the majority voice or they are forced to replant the forest when Museveni leaves power. Because of Museveni's domineering style, some investors have been duped into behaving like Uganda will end with Museveni. Someone needs to tell them that different governments run business differently, therefore; only businesses which stay away from political controversy, last longer than the regimes.
Otherwise the Mabira saga is a case of Museveni being trapped by his own sins and looking for a way out but unwilling to listen to the counsel of others. There can only be one sure end--failure.  And when a coward fails, he drags many more along.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Prof. Baryamureeba could have escaped being raped

I have never encountered a salacious story that instead of wetting the appetite of readers sends them into shock. Such is the Prof. Venacious Baryamureeba  rape story that has been in the news for the past one week. Why it took that long in the news pages despite its glaring loopholes baffles me even more. But again, nothing baffles in Uganda anymore.
When the story broke, my first instinct was to see Prof. Barya [ as he is fondly called by his peers] and direct my verbal artillery—the only one I own—at him calling him a disgrace to the academic world leave  alone the mighty Makerere University.
But when I recollected my investigative instinct, I opted to watch the coverage of the story by our mighty media houses which are sometimes worse than the NRM party in decision making. Let me not dwell on the media lest I find myself jobless for freedom of expression of thought and opinion, these days, is only stated not practiced; someone bigger [ read in big position]  than you must first be happy with what you say.
 I was wrong to first of all imagine that Prof. Barya had disgraced Makerere University. Makerere has disgraced itself enough. In fact the absence of scandals makes Makerere University’s learned people uncomfortable that they must always think of how to create some salacious news just for the institution to be in the news.  Seriously though, it’s a sign of collapse of this country called Uganda. The jungle law which was presumed to be a preserve of the primitive political class is what reigns even in academic institutions like Makerere. It’s the law in the so called corporate world. Sex, intrigue, malice and fitina [jealousy] defines life in the corporate world.
At Makerere, Prof. Barya could have underestimated the power of intellectuals who have suffered the economic fantasies. He could have underestimated the power of people who have failed to attain self-actualization.  He should have learnt that you can manage one jealous person but when they are in numbers, their power is enormous.
So, when he sauntered into such an institution as young man in his early forties, Prof. Barya appears to have forgotten than envy is only human and that one of the most important things a leader must prepare to deal with is human envy.
One day, Barya is in a Mercedes benz. Another, he is in a Land cruiser. Most evenings he is either in Serena or Sheraton. By the way, not on Makerere University cost but personal.  The young man had achieved a lot in a short time. A lot without theft!  That is what I admire about it. But his colleagues are battered by daily city nightmares. It’s only human that some of them have to become envious. The sad commentary is that the envious group has abdicated their responsibility to keep Makerere as a centre of knowledge.
They have turned the Ivory Tower into any other institution in Uganda where there are no rules of the game. Shame! Shame! Pettiness!
So, one mid-morning last week, I enter into an office of a senior bureaucrat. I find there a Makerere University Don. The guy does not recognize who I am. The owner of the office does not alert him.  I hear the lecturer roar: “You people should support us to get him out of Makerere. He is the image of the university because he is Vice chancellor.
“I am going to ask the alumni and other people to start writing in newspapers that the he should leave office as investigations continue.
“ I will try to convince some members of Muasa to demand that we discuss it in our meeting tomorrow.”
Then the owner of the office finally breaks the news. “Mr…. let us talk later. We shall try to see how NIC pays the lecturers their money.”
The lecturer retorts: “That is Ok sir but I beg your support to get this man out; he is a disgrace.”
“Ok  ...Ok... let me attend to the journalist,” said the officer. “Eh! I hope this man does not misrepresent us; these journalists are unethical these days,” the lecturer said.
Clearly, if a senior lecturer at Makerere University where we at least expect fairness or at least a pretense of it, campaigns to throw out his colleagues without even allowing due process, what do we still expect in this country?
It’s a pity that Makerere University is no longer a place for academic freedom. It’s no longer a factory of knowledge neither is it national pride. It’s a place for chasing personal interests. Several Masters and PhD students are made to suffer to graduate just because a lecturer feels unhappy that someone else is trying to become better. Many people are by the way scared of doing further studies in this institution because of the uncertainty of completing studies without someone witch-hunting you on purely personal grounds.
The real point I learnt from the Prof. Barya rape story is that the young successful academic was supposed to be raped by political forces in Makerere but he escaped the rape after his would be rapists chose Tracy Ninsiima to orchestrate the rape. I also learnt that Uganda is headed to more trying times because a culture of persecuting economically successful people is now entrenched.
Because Barya is in acting capacity, someone must bring him down. Because you can’t use performance as a reason; you must concoct a rape case!
Of course Prof. Barya is free fellow who reportedly loves to vibe a beautiful girl. Most men with money do. But to say he raped Ninsiima means that this lady is financially superior that she needs nothing from the Professor. But I am told she begs lifts. Without demeaning women, where does Ninsiima get the power to ignore the sexual advances of a young rich Professor? Knowing our Kampala women today, they can fall over each other just to shake such a man’s hand.
And to be used as a pawn in a Makerere University game makes Ninsiima’s a burden unto herself. I was shocked to read her saying: “I will bring him down.” She didn’t say she needed justice to be done.
Bringing down Barya, a man who rose from nonentity into a global entity on merit gives me sleepless nights. How many young men can toil as orphans today and rise into becoming Professors? In the days when Uganda was a meritocracy, that was possible.  In the days of UPE and patronage, that is a distant dream. If only to stay as a symbol of personal struggle, I would ask Barya’s rapists to leave the young man alone. He has beaten the odds in society to become what he is. One randy woman should not be used to undermine this story of humble beginnings. And let us all not get consumed by envy. Some brains should stay sober especially in universities.  To sack Barya would require sacking all those others who give marks for sex. Wow! It would call for closing of Makerere University!