Since the end of the Cold War, Western nations have usually been
quick to condemn African leaders who mess around with the
fundamentals of democracy. Although Uganda has banned political-
party activity for the past 14 years, President Yoweri Museveni is
praised by Western politicians, including President Clinton, as one
of the new breed of African leaders.
Mr. Museveni, formerly a firebrand socialist, has wholeheartedly
embraced privatization of state-owned enterprises, encouraged
foreign investment, and reduced trade tariffs. He has also
championed a massive hydroelectric dam project on the Nile River -
the largest foreign investment in East African history
And that is enough to win favor from Western diplomats. Many
admit that they go somewhat easy on Mr. Museveni when it comes to
upholding democracy and human rights since they're so fond of his
liberal economic ways.
More leeway for Uganda?
"There may be a little more leeway granted him because the
economic policies are in our judgment the correct policies," says a
Since embarking on its privatization and public-enterprise reform
program in 1992, the government has privatized 62 state-owned
companies, 20 of which were sold to foreign investors, according to
a recent report by the World Bank.
In the next five years, Uganda plans to privatize another 39
industrial and commercial state-owned corporations, with assets
topping $600 million and employing 23,000 people. These are mainly
big utilities - telecommunications, electricity, water and sewerage -
but also enterprises involved in transport, manufacturing,
construction, agribusiness, tourism, and trade.
Those in favor of the privatization push breathed a sigh of
relief last month after Musevini's no-party National Resistance
Movement system received a 90 percent endorsement in a national
referendum. The vote was considered as much a measure of Museveni's
popularity as a referendum on political systems, so the result bodes
well for his success in next year's presidential election, and the
continuation of the privatization drive.
But critics say the West is guilty of double standards when it
comes to Museveni, says Ali Wako, research and planning chairman for
the multiparty referendum committee. "If you don't have political
reform, how can you carry out economic reform?"
The biggest foreign investment in the works is a $450 million
hydroelectric dam to be built along the Nile River by an American
conglomerate, AES Corp. It is such a big deal that when Uganda's
Parliament demanded a parliamentary investigation because of
allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the project, outgoing
American Ambassador Nancy Powell hinted that killing the power
project would harm relations with the United States.
Nonetheless the privatization process has not been without its
hitches. Until now, net proceeds from the sale of state-owned
enterprises is just $69 million. …