January 26 , the NRM liberation day, offers yet another occasion for President Museveni to recite Uganda's "economic miracle." So last Sunday we predictably heard that in 1986 our total wealth (Gross Domestic Product) was a paltry $1.5 billion but is now an impressive $24 billion . Accordingly, our economy has expanded a remarkable sixteen times. But these figures are at variance with data from other sources. For example, the World Bank data base, arguably the most widely used, shows that Uganda's economy was about $4 billion in 1986 and $20 billion in 2012, meaning it expanded five and not sixteen times. The same figures are reported in the World Fact-book complied by the US Central Intelligence Agency . The most up-date-data from the world economy outlook, by the International Monetary Fund , show Uganda's 2013 GDP at $22 billion . The $24 billion the president cites is actually a projection for 2014. But assuming, for argument's sake, the president's figures are accurate, what does a $24 billion economy mean to the vast majority of Ugandans living on the margins? Not much, I bet. Uganda's economy has grown since the late 1980s (not for 28 years as we are told) but the growth is quite modest, averaging about six per cent. This is not spectacularly different from the performance of other economies in the region and on the continent. In fact some economies have done better. But the real issue for Uganda is not so much getting the right macroeconomic policy framework for short-term growth as the sustainability of growth over the long haul. For growth to have any meaningful impact on the majority poor, it must be rapid and sustained for several decades. And for this to happen, the most important prerequisite is political certainty and predictability, which we don't have at present. When many African economies hit hard times in the 1970s/80s, Ivory Coast was a star performer, registering impressive economic growth. Then the country politically imploded in the late 1990s. As a result, while its 1986 GDP was almost three times Uganda's (in 1986), today the two countries are comparable. The president says the economy could have done better but for saboteurs. Yet he seems blithely unaware that he is easily the foremost "saboteur" and this is for at least two reasons. First, he is presiding over a rotten system but is unsure how to clean up the mess. At one point we were told the police force, under an intrepid criminal investigations director and a battle-hardened cadre IGP was the magic bullet. Before long, not much is heard about Ms Grace Akullo , the CIID director. Secondly, Mr Museveni has inflicted unnecessary political uncertainty and anxiety on the country. Will Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the first son, salute interim President Edward Ssekandi in the event that the random course of nature claims the president any day soon? And given the Sejusa saga, shall we see unanimity among the armed forces in upholding the current constitutional order, at least in the interim period? We would most likely not be asking these questions if Museveni stepped down in 2006. Amending the Constitution for one mortal being to rule for life was by far the single most regressive decision in Uganda's recent history. The case of Ghana is quite instructive. Former Ghanaian president, Jerry Rawlings , Museveni's contemporary, served out his two four-year terms, 1992-2000. Before, he had been a military dictator for ten years. Then in 2000, the Electoral Commission in Ghana , appointed by Rawlings, declared John Kufuor of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), the winner. Kufuor defeated Rawlings' vice president and anointed successor, Prof John Ata Mills . Mills stood for president again in 2004, and again lost to incumbent Kufuor. But he had another shot in 2008 and this time won. But before Mills emerged the eventual winner in the second round, there was a stand-off after the first round did not produce a clear winner. The NPP initially rejected the call for a re-run, instead asking for a re-count. Outgoing president, Kufuor, had to exercise his statesmanship, imploring his party to respect the EC's decision. After all, the same EC had declared Kufuor the winner, twice! Mills was up for re-election in 2012. Unfortunately, he died suddenly shortly after defeating Rawlings' wife in the party primaries. Vice-President, John Dramani Mahama , was promptly sworn-in to complete the remainder of Mills' term during which time he also contested and won the 2012 elections. The NPP's losing candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo petitioned the Supreme court. The court upheld the election but sections of the NPP wanted to turn violent. The party leadership, again with the influence of Kufuor, intervened and told their supporters there was another chance up for grabs in 2016. Ghana is no paradise. It's as poor as Uganda and the politics remains problematic. But no one can remotely worry that the country will have a problem if its current president dropped dead tomorrow. This is what Museveni has denied Ugandans and that's why he is the biggest obstacle to progress. Without him, even the current Kiggundu-led EC can deliver a credible and acceptable election. The author is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Northwestern University , Evanston/Chicago-USA .
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