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Do not be duped by patronage appointments

Do not be duped by patronage appointments

 One of the great myths that have taken hold in Uganda is that high profile government appointments benefit the communities of the appointees’ origins. People react to the appointment of an ethnic kinsman with joy and declarations that God has remembered them. Religious thanksgiving celebrations follow, complete with speeches that proclaim the appointment to be a reward to the community. 


Should the holder of a high office die, lose an election or otherwise be relieved of their job, some of their kinsmen demand that the position be ringfenced for the previous holder’s geographic area or ethnic community. Some less fussy communities do not insist on “retaining” the exact post by a kinsman. They demand an equivalent post, in their subjective judgement, to be given to one of their own. One hears statements to the effect that they consider it a punishment or being sidelined if “the appointing authority” looks elsewhere for a replacement.  


There have been appeals by some Banyakigyezi that the new Governor of the Bank of Uganda (BOU) should be a Munyakigyezi, given that the late governor was a son of the mountains. This is wrong and must be rejected. No region has a monopoly on ability. No region should have a monopoly on any national post or program. 


I have no doubt that there are Banyakigyezi who would merit consideration for appointment as governor of BOU, minister of finance and other equally weighty dockets in the country’s financial management. Tumusiime Mutebile was not the first genius from the highlands. He will not be the last. However, they should be considered only because they are able and among the best candidates, not because they come from Kigyezi. 


Interestingly, advocates of this ringfencing of jobs inadvertently justify the exclusion of their kinsmen from posts that have been similarly ringfenced for other regions or communities. This ends up being a disservice to able and qualified Ugandans from the excluded communities. The result is an erosion of merit-based growth of the public service sector and promotion of incompetence and mediocrity. 


I am a strong believer in meritocracy. When we blind ourselves to ethnic, religious, partisan, and regional considerations, we end up appointing leaders and managers that represent the true demographic face of Uganda. This is not rocket science. There are outstanding professionals from nearly every ethnic community in every field of expertise in Uganda. When subjected to impartial, objective interview processes, the best candidates emerge. The country gets a beautiful multi-ethnic quilt of professionals and other leaders at the high table and the boardrooms of the land. 


Now let us look at the argument that a person occupying high office brings benefits to their kinsmen or region. To his credit, President Yoweri Museveni has appointed many Banyakigyezi to high office. In the last 36 years, we have had (from Kigyezi) two prime ministers, very many cabinet ministers, a few ambassadors, justices of the courts, parastatal organization heads, key department heads, public bank CEOs, a governor of the BOU, commissioners in many ministries, vice chancellors, chancellors of universities, permanent secretaries, presidential advisors, and so many other powerful appointees. When I wrote down a list of some of them off the top of my head the other day, I came up with 78 names. I intend to attempt a complete list for the interests of posterity 


There is a feelgood emotional benefit of knowing that one’s kinsman holds or has held a desirable office. However, this is a transient illusion that is completely inconsequential to the majority of the appointees’ kinsmen. What matters is whether these powerful appointments materially transform lives other than those of the office holders themselves and their families. 


Let us look at Kigyezi again. One of the absolute necessities for regional economic transformation is an all-weather tarmacked highway. A person who last visited Ankole two decades ago will be impressed by the development that has been spurred by that region’s excellent all-weather highways. It is an excellent job that President Museveni and his government has done for the residents of that area.


On the other hand, there are parts of Kigyezi, especially Rukiga and Kanungu Districts, that are clearly driving in reverse due to awful roads that discourage trade and investment. Yet, in addition to the two prime ministers of Uganda, Kigyezi has been home to a minister of works, transport and communication, a minister of finance, ministers of state for finance and a vice-chairperson of the National Planning Authority. The current managing director of the Uganda National Roads Authority is a Munyakigyezi. 


For the record, two of the four tarmacked highways in Kigyezi were successfully fought for by opposition party leaders. The Ntungamo-Rukungiri highway was a result of Kizza Besigye’s promise to tarmac it if elected president in 2001. President Museveni rightly embraced the pledge, got Kizza Besigye Highway done, and rightly shared the public’s approval with his opponent. 


The Kabaare-Gisoro-Bunagana highway was fought for by Philemon Mateke, a one-time stalwart of the Uganda People’s Congress and de-facto king of Bufumbira.  Museveni’s unfulfilled promises during the election campaigns of 1996 and 2001 to tarmac the road triggered the Gisoro District Council, led by Mateke, to pass a resolution to demonstrate in protest. Sensing political danger, Museveni announced that the road would be done, starting a year before the crucial 2006 presidential election. Mateke Highway was completed in 2008. 


The Ntungamo-Kabaare highway was tarmacked in the late 1960s, a project that was pushed by, among others, Mr. Seperiya Mukombe Mpambara, after whom some of us have informally named the road. The 24-km highway between Kabaare and Katuna was tarmacked as part of the “East African Northern Corridor.” Credit for that short stretch is righty claimed by the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA), an agency that dates to 1985. 


This is just one example of what we need to do to interrogate the claim that “our big shots” are responsible for the little public development that has occurred in our communities. This is not unique to Kigyezi. For example, Busoga, the home of a former vice-president, a speaker of parliament, a deputy prime minister, several key ministerial appointments and such, is a region that continues to lag in its development. Busoga, one of the richest regions in Africa, may well be the key evidence against the myth of “it is our turn to eat.” 


My hypothesis is that we confuse political patronage for individuals with community benefit. However, this is a matter that deserves thorough audit by the brains at the Makerere Institute of Social Research. While I await their findings with interest, I urge fellow Ugandans to stop being duped. 




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