NRM’s loss in the hotly contested Jinja East constituency by election to Forum for Democratic Change’s Paul Mwiru, Kyadondo East Member of Parliament, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda reportedly referred to the NRM as “a dead government that needed a successor”. Kahinda Otafiire, a prominent NRM party member, also Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs reportedly said support for his ruling NRM party is fading, citing poor leadership, corruption and patronage in the government. These political remarks are not entirely new to most Ugandans. Over the last few years, Uganda has been confronted with several challenges, among them are; high inflation rates, soaring oil prices, lack of food, poverty and not to mention, corruption and embezzlement. In light of all these challenges, many Ugandans have questioned whether President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) party have done enough to make life better for common Ugandans. The NRM has ruled Uganda for over 26 years but critics argue that there is very little the NRM can boast of. There is increasing criticism of NRM’s poor governance from both within and outside the party prompting some to refer to it as a “Cartel’’ whose main goal is to profit its members using State resources. Since NRM came to power in 1986, it has changed in many ways; very little respect for constitutionalism or other laid down government policies and procedures, widespread corruption, restriction of the media and freedom of expression and intimidation of opposition parties. Hitherto, it has become the dominant party and evolved into a “cartel” like organization. According to a recent report on political parties in Africa by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), dominant political party systems impede competitive politics, which leads to political apathy. Such parties dominate the legislature and monopolize law-making processes to promote their own economic and social interest, the government is less accountable to the legislature or the opposition and is irresponsible to citizen demands. NRM has not been any different from what this report describes. Some people may ask, is the NRM a “cartel political party” or a political party that is struggling with leadership and governance issues? According to some scholars, NRM has similar characteristics with a cartel political party. Cartel political parties are characterized by; excessive control and monopoly over State organs and functions, weak grass root branches but very strong party in the central office, most party income is from State subventions and the party has the generosity to offer resources or gifts in exchange for votes during elections and exert strong control over the media. The IDEA report noted that a cartel party uses State machinery to acquire financial resources for the party, sometimes through bribes from individuals or companies with private interest. NRM critics cite the suspected bribery in the oil sector involving Hillary Onek, Amama Mbabazi and Sam Kutesa as a classical example. The opposition political parties in Uganda have accused NRM for its symbiotic relationship with the State. They argue NRM largely depends on State resources for its survival. The opposition parties have cited the corruption in the regime as a way through which NRM party elites connive to guarantee themselves and their party reliable flows of State resources. These critics argue that there is an organized infiltration of State institutions by the party and allocation of favors through the State. Whether these allegations are true or not, at least they point to the level of distrust and suspicion on the NRM by Ugandans. NRM needs to conform to new realities and deliver to Ugandans the promises they have failed to do for the past 26 years and president Yoweri Museveni needs to respect the will of Ugandans. Ugandans expect a political party that forms a government to fight corruption, develop good infrastructures, improve on social service delivery and create economic opportunities and wealth in the hands of poor people. These expectations are yet to be met by the current NRM regime.
Alex Okello Ouma
The writer is a development professional and political analyst based in the north of Uganda