The Politics in M7’s Appointment of Kagina to UNRA

On Thursday last week, we argued that President Yoweri Museveni’s appointment of the former Commissioner General of Uganda Revenue Authority to the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) as head was to help fix the rot in the roads sector.

In the first part of this series ‘Why Kagina Took Over UNRA: The Inside Story (Thursday 30, 2015),’ we observed that out of the 21,000 kilometers of roads that UNRA was supposed to fix, it has only managed to pave 3,500 kilometers in a period of eight years. The remaining roads (about 17,000 kilometers) are mostly in the periphery of the main towns and the rural districts. In here, therefore, lies the other reason why Ms. Allen Kagina has been sent to UNRA.

2016 & M7’s Legacy

The forthcoming 2016 poll is an election largely about President Yoweri Museveni’s legacy. He will exactly be 30 years old in power when voting takes place around February next year. With Museveni knowing that quite a number of people who will be looking for a balance sheet in key areas such as security, infrastructure, health, industrialization, energy, education and jobs are the young generation that has been brought up under his system, he cannot take chances anymore on these.

He is also aware that a large number of the voting population are children who were born around 1980, the year that preceded his launch of guerrilla warfare which brought him to power. There are also many others that were born thereafter and have known only one president. These realities are key.

Museveni therefore wants to deliver a credible election. An election in which he can fully testify with statistical data in areas that affect the transformation of this country. This is the reason why all government department heads were instructed by him in December last year to immediately start communicating government achievements in all media. In the roads sector for example, he wants to prove he delivered most of the roads, not just a mere 3,500 kilometers. He will need a winning team at UNRA which will not only absorb the money that has been allocated to them, but also be seen to be doing physical work and getting the road contracts moving. It is very possible that Museveni would have loved to see most of the remaining kilometers under construction by the time we move to 2016. In other words, seeing an entire country simultaneously turned into a road construction site would be a huge vote winner, not only as a demonstration that his government is delivering but also as an opportunity for temporary jobs for the citizens.

M7, the roads President

Over time, Museveni has positioned himself as a security and infrastructure president.

Roads have not only been a campaign issue, they form the core of his economics. He talks of value addition and markets. His political economy approach (some call it ‘Musevenomics) is a combination of factors such as production, markets, value addition, electricity, factories, security and then markets. To get to these markets so you can earn some income, you need roads. To crush the balkanization of Africa and create an extended market across the borders and within cross-cultural settings, you need the roads, the railways, the telephones, air and sea transport.

Roads are very good economic and social change agents. They open up areas such as the inaccessible countryside and also help to transport goods, information and services thus spurring instant economic fortunes.

In sending Kagina to UNRA, I see a president beginning to seriously think about his legacy as the president who connected the country to a reliable road network thus opening it up to economic fortunes in other markets. His predecessors had that one moment that outlived them and marked their transformational side.

President Idi Amin for example is credited for building barracks, bringing the first colour television on the continent, and the earth satellite communication at Mpoma in Mukono District. That facility is the only gateway to the country.

President Milton Obote is credited for building schools and hospitals. Museveni is not only credited for fundamentally changing the political and military landscape of the Great Lakes Region, he is going to be marked as a successful security, roads, industry and railways president.

Will Kagina Succeed?

There is something that Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and now Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) have in common. These institutions have two constant women at the helm and a strong backing for the president that has made them succeed.

When URA and KCCA had literary collapsed, Museveni sent two friends, Allen Kagina to URA and Jennifer Musisi to KCCA. The glaring successes registered in these two institutions imply that wherever he has had his interests and put his head, things worked out. KCCA is the sitting room of the country and therefore, critical to his government’s image. URA is a critical element in the economic transformation as well as economic independence of the country. Once you had these two improved, he needed another head at UNRA to deliver on infrastructure. What then will make Kagina succeed?

My prediction is that she will spend three years at UNRA before moving to the oil industry. The next three years are critical for UNRA in the following ways;

One, UNRA was quickly losing donor confidence through corruption and sloppiness. How do you explain to donors that you failed to absorb the money you asked for when much of the country is not opened up?

Two, she will have the president’s backing because where he has done it, the country has registered success. She will also have a lot of legroom to do what she wants without interference from the line ministers.

And three, she will succeed because this being an election year, with so many roads undone, the president needed someone of her caliber to explain to the electorate that things are now perfect and the roads will be made now that she is at the helm of the roads sector. There is a possibility she will appear on some of the rallies to give credence to Museveni’s promises.

Her only undoing could be that because she’s a psychologist, technical hurdles in the roads sector may bog her down. She might spend more time trying to learn the sector in order to understand how contractors and UNRA technical officials collude to inflate the cost of roads in the country.


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