On 28th January 2018, several civil society leaders, under the umbrella organization Uganda National NGO Forum came together for a press conference where they shared their vision for 2019 as well as the key areas they intend to focus on this year. This gathering is an annual event that looks at the previous year wholesomely as well as sets strategies in place to go forward in the new year.
They listed a failed land governance regime, the failure to effectively tackle climate change, the failure to build an economically inclusive environment, the hefty national debt burden, corruption, delayed justice and the abuse of freedom of speech and expression as some of the major challenges that must be tackled in 2019.
“The rapidly growing domestic debt that has risen by 178% since 2003 is simply too big to dump on ourselves and our children. While Government continues to justify excessive borrowing as unavoidable in its pursuit of mega infrastructure projects, it has not demonstrated the necessary frugality and financial discipline to mitigate the negative impact of debt on the economy and the current and future taxpayers. There is also no evidence of a country that has ever borrowed itself out of poverty,” said in regards to the national debt that continues to cripple the economy of the country.
They noted that the government was sinking the nation into a deeper hole as they continued to borrow in the hopes of for once and for all dealing with poverty and underdevelopment
They also cited the continued detention of Dr. Stella Nyanzi who is incarcerated for disturbing the peace of the person of the president, and the obstruction of music shows and political rallies by Uganda’s artists and in particular Bobi Wine as the war against students and leaders of staff organizations at Makerere University by the Vice Chancellor were grave abuses towards the freedom of speech and expression that every citizen is entitled to by the constitution of Uganda.
The CSO leaders also shared their concern for the issues that were affecting not only Uganda but the East African region like the recent terrorist attack in Kenya; they also addressed the recent election process in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the freshly signed peace agreement in South Sudan.
Below is the statement shared by the CSO leadership.
FULL PRESS RELEASE
This Moment…Our Future!
Equal Opportunity, Dignity and Prosperity for all Ugandans
A 2019 Civil Society New Year Message
Fellow citizens, the Leadership of Civil Society congratulate you upon completing a productive albeit challenging 2018. We wish all Ugandans a Happy New Year 2019. We pray that this year is filled with health, happiness and prosperity for all Ugandans.
As we were preparing this statement, we learnt about the tragic terrorist attack at 14 Riverside drive complex in the Westlands area of Nairobi, Kenya on January 16, 2019 that left more than 20 people dead. We want to join Kenyans and the whole world to condemn this heinous incident. Our hearts and minds remain with those who were injured or lost loved ones in this heinous act of cowardice. We stand in solidarity with the people and government of Kenya knowing that our commitment to a safer world stands in sharp contrast to those who commit crimes against humanity.
We congratulate the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for holding general elections after more than two years of impasse arising out of attempts to manipulate the constitution and change the electoral calendar. In spite of the contestations around the management of the elections and the outcomes, the resilience showed by our sister and brothers and the mediation role played by the catholic church in ensuring dialogue to resolve the impasse provides a glimmer of hope for other countries seeking to overcome political gridlock.
We congratulate the people of South Sudan and the religious leaders who played a critical role on pushing for the signing of the September 2018 revitalized peace agreement. Again, making progress towards achieving sustainable peace and ending the extreme violence against innocent people, women and children in South Sudan must remain our collective purpose and responsibility as African peoples in general and as Ugandans in particular, especially as we reflect on our continually changing political situation here at home.
As we do each year, we also take this opportunity to reflect on the past year and most importantly recommit ourselves to work towards building a strong democracy, an inclusive and just economy and a peaceful and prosperous Uganda.
- POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS
Below we highlight some of the positive developments of 2018 that Uganda should celebrate.
- Progress of the Uganda National Dialogue Process: On December 18, 2018, Ugandan organizations and the government of Uganda announced that the launching of the long-awaited Uganda National Dialogue will take place before the end of March 2019. Given the political, economic, social and leadership challenges we face as a country, we look at the Uganda National Dialogue Process as a great opportunity to harness our collective wisdom, diversity and unity to shape our future and the future of our country. We therefore applaud the efforts of all those that have helped the process come this far. We call upon our respective religious leaders and our senior citizens under The Elders Forum of Uganda who have remained the driving force in pursuing the process of dialogue as our pathway to the future to stay the course as we work to build a better Uganda.
- Citizen’s resilience in the face of adversity: In 2018, Ugandans displayed exceptional resilience in the face of various adversities. In Apaa in the Acholi region of Northern Uganda, citizens came together in defending their land rights in the face of consistent failure by Government to find a final solution to the conflict. The bizarre case of land grabbing in Lusanga area where failure of state institutions to predict and prevent hostile land grabs and takeover by private sector often backed by elements within state agencies is clearly evidence, over 300 citizens are standing together to fight back. In the aftermath of Arua by-elections, Ugandans came together in unprecedented bipartisan solidarity to condemn electoral violence meted on political leaders and ordinary citizens.
- Exceptional Science, Sports and Culture Achievements: In 2018, Ugandans engaged in different professions, carried our flag high and demonstrated upon the horizon will be born a new nation with a people that win and celebrate together and celebrate each other. Among the many: we celebrate 24-year-old Brian Gitta who won the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. We celebrate the Uganda Cranes and the She Cranes victories in CAF and Netball World Cup. We celebrate Denis Onyango for being crowned the best African football goalkeeper; Miss Uganda Quiin Abenakyo for being crowned Miss World Africa; Ms Harriet Anena as the joint-winner of the 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa; Joshua Kiprui Cheptengei and Stella Chesang for flying our Nation’s flag high by winning medals at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia. To all these we say congratulations and thank you for making Uganda proud.
- Completion of signature infrastructure projects: During 2018, a number of signature infrastructure projects were either completed or brought to near completion. Notable among these are: Entebbe Expressway easing access to our only International Airport; Kiira Bridge opening up a second access across the River Nile and Isimba dam with the potential to increase our Nation’s hydropower generation capacity. As we pursue this aggressive and legitimate infrastructure agenda, it is important to remain conscious that great nations are not built on highways and bridges and power dams. Prosperous and peaceful nations are built on the quality and strength of their human capital and strong institutions. We therefore have to do everything to ensure that we leverage all the benefits of this infrastructure for citizens wellbeing.
- The Merger to Government Agencies: Since 2008, Ugandan civil society has advocated for reform of Government to remove overlapping institutional mandates, cut down the cost of public administration, reduce wastage, enhance efficiency in public service delivery while at the same time strengthening vertical and horizontal accountability. Ugandan taxpayers are the direct victims of a bloated government. We therefore welcome government decision to merge agencies and commissions. Conservative estimates indicate that Ugandan taxpayers may be saved spending an estimated 2.2 trillion shilling meant to facilitate these agencies. However, we challenge Government to demonstrate its commitment by ensuring progress on this process and holding itself accountable to the citizens in implementing time bound actions in this regard. We also challenge Government to go beyond statutory agencies and bundle up administrative units and electoral areas to cut down on the administrative and electoral units that are an increasing burden on Ugandan taxpayers.
- Extension of National ID registration to the sub-county level: We applaud Government for extending the ID registration exercise to the sub-county level. A National ID is an instrument that every government should guarantee its peoples. A national ID is increasingly becoming an important instrument in transacting all kinds of business such as opening bank accounts, registering for school admissions, and voting. We therefore take this opportunity to call upon every citizen who may not have obtained a Nation ID to take advantage of this opportunity and obtain a national ID.
- KEY CHALLENGES AND PROBLEMS AHEAD
While we commend the progress made, we are reminded that this progress is not enough to offset the challenges and problems that continued to deter our development as a nation. Our internal reflections and discussions amongst civil society leaders across the country reveal that many Ugandans are still in a state of despair, apathy and frustration — a direct consequence of the economic and political downward spiral that characterized the previous year. Key among the challenges include:
A failed land governance regime – as a country, we are confronted with a failed land governance regime: a legal system that clearly does not work for majority Ugandans; failed institutions that are unaccountable and lack the capacity to predict and address macro and micro land conflicts; and increasingly distressed communities that are under attack from individual and corporate land grabbers that have overt or tacit approval of elements within the state agencies. More than two decades after the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution which articulated a minimum consensus on land governance in the country, it is apparent that a new consensus is needed to lift ourselves out of the evolving quagmire. A new consensus that creates a balance between community harmony, economic security of all citizens and communities, and national economic development is an absolute necessity that must be pursued with the fierce urgency of now. As civil society leaders, we are committed to support those efforts and actions that will help us overcome the current brokenness in order to create a new dispensation that enables us to come together is search for this new consensus on land governance and land justice.
Confronting the challenge of climate change – as a nation, we must remain focused on confronting the phenomenon of climate change. Unpredictable weather partners and extreme weather events largely induced by a wide range of human activities, the failure of government to enforce strict compliance with our environmental laws, and greed by individuals that continues to drive them to engage in activities that disrupt our ecosystems such as degradation of wetlands and forests are putting our communities and our country at immense risks. The events of 2018 landslides in Buwali, Bukalasi, Nalwanga and Bibiita sub-counties of Bududa district that led to the death of more than 60 citizens are a warning shot about the potential calamity that we face as a nation. During 2019, we must all collectively work together to adopt and implement actions that help mitigate the potential social, economic and environmental costs associated with climate change.
Building an inclusive economy – For more than three decades since President Museveni came to power, Government pursued policies that helped resuscitate a nearly collapsed economy, restored basic public services, increase revenue collection, invested in public infrastructure and opened up new sectors for growth. However, this growth remains unevenly distributed. Beyond poorly delivered patronage schemes such as Youth Livelihood Programmes or Operation Wealth Create (OWC), Government has not demonstrated the political commitment and economic discipline to pursue policies that promote inclusive growth and bring about shared economic prosperity. The growing unemployment among our Nation’s young people (educated and uneducated) and thousands of young people living in our ghettos are a potential time-bomb that need to be diffused not by harassment and patronage but through programmes that empower them and create new opportunities that give them hope, self-esteem and dignity. This is our moment to acknowledge the limitations of our Government and therefore take full responsibility as citizens to come together and agree on the range of policy and other measures necessary to trigger economic growth and development that create opportunity for every citizen.
We can’t borrow ourselves out of poverty and underdevelopment – The rapidly growing domestic debt that has risen by 178% since 2003 is simply too big to dump on ourselves and our children. While Government continues to justify excessive borrowing as unavoidable in its pursuit of mega infrastructure projects, it has not demonstrated the necessary frugality and financial discipline to mitigate the negative impact of debt on the economy and the current and future taxpayers. There is also no evidence of a country that has ever borrowed itself out of poverty. As civil society leaders, we intend to put more focus on the issue of debt and provide more workable solutions on how to increase efficiency in the absorption of borrowed funds and strengthen domestic resource mobilization to often excessive lending that is highly predatory.
The search for political common ground – We entered 2019 when our politics are increasingly broken. The ruling party seems completely fused with the state as evidenced by state agencies that work for ruling party candidates during elections. Political dissent is increasingly criminalized as evidenced from the wide range of cases against political leaders as epitomized in the Arua 34. Government and Parliament have failed to make any progress on electoral reforms and hence the country runs the danger of conducting another election under a broken electoral system and a partisan electoral commission. There is clearly evidence of political polarization and accumulated public anger driven by growing political intolerance, political discontent and political manipulation. We are convinced that an executive leadership driven by ego and a partisan parliament where the majority negotiate deals over our national constitution do not provide legitimate platforms upon which we can forge a new political consensus. As a nation and a people, we must come together in all our diversity and push for a new political common ground that redefine the rules for those who seek to engage in our nation’s politics. As citizens, we must be the ones to set the rules for each one of us rather than leave rule setting to those who have vested interests in the outcomes.
Freedom of Speech and Expression – The year 2018 ended when the rights to freedom of speech and expression were under attack by the incumbent regime. The attack on journalists by both uniformed security officers and plain clothes criminal elements that appeared to operate with the acquiescence of security personnel, the continued detention of Dr. Stella Nyanzi, and the obstruction of music shows and political rallies by Uganda’s artists and in particular Bobi Wine, the war against students and leaders of staff organizations at Makerere University by the Vice Chancellor reflect a worrying trend that need to be arrested before further escalation. As civil society leaders, we will double our efforts of solidarity with those under attack while at the same time pursuing constructive engagement actions that expand spaces for – free speech and expression
Justice delayed is justice denied – In this 2019, we need to demand for justice for many Ugandans who have become victims of our broken politics and dysfunctional justice and judicial systems. More than two years after the Kasese Palace Attack that led to the death of more than 100 Ugandans, there is no report from Government on what happened, exactly how many people were massacred and who is accountable. More than 100 women and young people are being held in our jail houses as hostages without a hearing. The Nation’s custodian of our rule of law Attorney General and the Nation’s Director of Public Prosecution should not remain conspicuously silent – Ugandans are keenly listening to this silence. Ugandans need explanation why women and young people remain in our jails without trial and without bail. But the case of Kasese attack detainees only epitomize a sick and broken justice and judicial system that cannot give hope to the victims of state inspired violence. The suspects in the murder of the Nation’s Muslim clerics, the late Joan Kagezi, the late Susan Magara as well as police officers like Kale Kayihura and his co-accused should be subjected to the full force of the judicial process. We cannot be a nation that acts like a jungle and at the same time claim we are making progress.
- THE PROMISE: SHAPING THE FUTURE TOGETHER THROUGH AN INCLUSIVE NATIONAL DIALOGUE
The progress made towards the launching of an inclusive citizen Uganda National Dialogue process is our opportunity to build the future together. For the last 56 years since independence, we as citizens have become accustomed to successive governments promising to do everything for us. Governments claim to know all that we want, and we are expected to be passive recipients of Government programmes. Politicians assumed the responsibility for fixing all our political problems.
The Uganda National Dialogue Process promises to change this relationship whereby we as citizens claim the promise of the 1995 Constitution which declares that power belongs to the people. This declaration means that before we are politicians, or civic leaders, or religious leaders, or soldiers, or teachers or farmers, or any of these labels, we are first and foremost citizens.
Through the National Dialogue, we have the opportunity to harness this diversity and come together agree on how to confront the challenges highlighted above that stand in our way to building a country where there is sustainable peace, social justice, respect for human dignity and shared economic prosperity. We therefore pledge our commitment to work with Government and all the convening organizations to ensure that the Ugandan National Dialogue remains a non-partisan and inclusive process that mobilizes us as citizens to take full responsibility for the development and transformation of our country.
We will reorganize our programming to ensure that on all the 8 themes of the Dialogue: national values; harnessing diversity; political consensus; constitutionalism and the rule of law; land, land justice and access to natural resources; an economy that works for every citizen; minimum standards for service delivery; and implementation modalities – citizens are fully engaged in the dialogue so that the final outcomes fully respect the aspiration and dreams of the citizens. For God and My Country