By Alain Mucyo
This week, social media users were taken aback at images of overcrowding and neglect at Uganda’s national referral hospitals in Kawempe and Mulago, which then went viral.
The pictures depicted the dire situation of some 120 newly born babies struggling for space in cribs and incubators designed to handle just half that number, while others were squeezed in beds improvised out of plastic chairs normally used to sit guests at low-cost public functions. In other pictures accident victims lay in pain on the bare floor of the casualty ward at Mulago Hospital.
Speaking later and in typical Ugandan fashion, a seemingly unbothered Dr. Byarugaba Baterana, Executive Director of Mulago, blamed the crisis on a surge in deliveries. For Ugandans that for three decades have with growing frustration watched the gulf between the promise of liberation and the reality of political mismanagement only grow wider, the crisis at Mulago is emblematic of the decay of the Museveni regime.
For a man who is used to blaming others for his own failures, Museveni could not have been in more urgent need of new enemies. Without an Obote or Amin to contrast his own dubious record with, the political opposition, and, increasingly, neighboring Rwanda have lately come in as a convenient bogeymen.
As he entrenched a system of corruption and nepotism that mostly benefited his clan and inner circle, Museveni has always exploited external factors to explain away his failures at home. For two decades the insurgency that consumed northern Uganda – partly because of the incompetence and corruption of his forces – provided Museveni with the perfect cover to explain away why his government could not deliver on services.
So vital was conflict to Museveni’s sense of relevance that whenever one theatre appeared to be settling, a new one was created through provocation. Military adventurism has always come in handy for Museveni.
In 2007, two years after the apparent routing of the Lords’ Resistance Army from Ugandan territory, Museveni surprised everybody when without seeking parliamentary approval he singlehandedly deployed the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces to Mogadishu.
He just insouciantly placed thousands of Ugandan soldiers in harms way. But this single act, which gave him a new lease of international relevance as it opened the way for a UN led intervention in the country, is also wearing thin. Somalia is stabilizing while the international community, weighed down by crises in Syria and North Africa, is keen to douse the embers of conflict.
In South Sudan, the man who sees himself as a modern day Napoleon has had his hand stayed by IGAD as Kenya and Ethiopia take a more assertive posture against him. The Democratic Republic of Congo where Museveni wreaked havoc for long is now a no go area after he shortchanged his proxies there.
Back home economic mismanagement and growing repression has re-energized opposition to his misrule. In a desperate search for scapegoats Museveni has been brazen enough to blame the electorate in opposition strongholds – who are missing out on national programmes – for voting for opposition MPs. Never mind that such statements are actually criminal because they fall afoul of the anti-sectarian laws he initiated decades ago.
Foolish as they may sound, such utterances actually fit into an established pattern of externalizing failure. Right from the days of the bush war that brought him to power Museveni has projected himself as infallible, always blaming others for what goes wrong. But now, after being at the centre of almost everything that happens in the country, he can no longer dissociate himself from the mess that Uganda has become.
His obsession with retaining power at any cost has decimated the capacity of the Ugandan state to provide for and protect its people. The security forces have been given carte blanche to behave anyway they want, including entering unholy alliances with criminal outfits.
Fuelled by greed, these informal formations are behind the reign of terror that pervades Uganda. Abductions and disappearances of citizens akin to the days of Idi Amin are all the norm. Members of the security forces have been cited in the murders of foreign investors whom they’ve robbed of money.
Local Defense Units whose members were recruited from known criminal gangs are now a law unto themselves and a terror to citizens. Increasingly reliant on a corrupt security system in which thugs are deliberately co-opted, Museveni has no explanation for his failures to citizens except to invent external enemies, increasingly obvious that Rwanda is the favorite fall guy.
The framing of Rwanda as the new enemy is premised on a simple gamble Museveni expects Ugandans to believe him when he presents Rwanda as the sophisticated enemy that is the source of this intractable security problem.
As the tide rises against him and the situation goes from bad to worse, one can only expect anti Rwanda rhetoric to go a notch higher.