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African countries need more transparent and accountable governments

Recently I was quoted in The Cornell Daily Sun as having said, in response to the talk by Dr. Speciosa Wandira, former vice president in Uganda, that what Uganda needs is democracy and better and more efficient use of her resources. I would like to clarify both statements, and to hopefully contribute to the debate about the situation in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many African countries are now on a democratic path, and we need to keep this tempo and this momentum going. Uganda had her first democratic constitution only as recently as 1996. Tanzania and Kenya just had their first multiparty elections in 1995 and 2002, respectively. Rwanda is recovering from genocide, Angola from the effects of the cold war, while apartheid was ended in South Africa only 11 years ago. A peace treaty was only recently signed in Burundi, and a landmark Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Southern Sudan in 2005. Sierra Leone has just had elections that were won by the opposition, while Liberia just elected, for the first time in Africa and in the world for that matter, the first female president through a regular election. I could go on and on with these inspiring stories.

Democracy is inevitable for transparent government and for holding leaders accountable for the decisions that they make and the resources that they spend. In Uganda we prepared, through a very lengthy and costly process, a new constitution in 1995. That constitution had many wonderful provisions, including a two-term presidential limit. In Uganda we specifically inserted that clause because since independence in 1962, we have had nine changes of government, none of which was through legal and constitutional means, but mostly through military coups.

After the promulgation of the new constitution in 1995, we unsurprisingly made tremendous progress in job creation, economic productivity, HIV/AIDS awareness and many other successes for which we were proud and for which Uganda received much acclaim. But since 2001 when we had a violent and unfair election that returned President Yoweri Museveni to power, and especially since 2005 when various constitutional provisions, including the removal of the term limits clause, we are seeing erosion of these successes -- a very painful and disheartening process to watch.

And this is why I react very negatively to anyone who works to undermine the pace of democracy in my country or Africa for that matter, and toward Dr. Wandira, who, in my opinion, is with President Museveni in undermining this democracy. Uganda generates quite a bit of resources on her own and receives a large amount from Western countries. But much of this money does not reach the people in the villages; it is instead spent on patronage politics and political bribes, especially since 2001.

Patronage politics is the main reason for the expansions of the size of our cabinet from the constitutionally recommended 21 to an astronomical 62, with big salaries and many other perks, all at the expense of ordinary poor Ugandans. This is just but one of the examples of resource misuse and waste that we are opposed to and which I invited Dr. Wandira to join, instead of sticking with President Museveni.

Prudent and efficient resource use is inevitable in the fight against poverty and hunger, which was the subject of her talk the evening of Nov. 14. Surely her argument that we should focus on increasing the amount of resources rather than on efficient use of the little that we have lacks in logic and only serves the politicians who are currently in power.

Daniel Lumonya, a graduate student in development sociology, is from Uganda.

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