WE SHOULD SERVE OUR COUNTRY- JANET MUSEVENI
Moses Sserwanga interviewed Mrs. Janet Museveni ,the Minister of Karamoja and MP for Ruhaama constituency to get her views about transforming a hitherto isolated ,neglected karamoja region and what motivates her to serve in her various roles. Below are excerpts of the interview conducted at State House Nakasero .
1. Ques : Hon.Minister it’s a year since you were appointed a full minister in charge of Karamoja by President Yoweri Museveni. What are the major challenges you have confronted in your concerted effort to develop the region and how have you overcome those challenges?
First Lady :The major challenges we have met since I started my work were; first the state of hopelessness among the people. The people had sort of given up hope -to ever improve their lot and that alone made it difficult to have anything done in Karamoja. They didn’t believe anymore that anything could possibly be done to make their lives better.
Secondly the poverty levels were very high that drove the population to resort to stealing cattle which was the only source of wealth they know. In time they got into trade in guns and small arms which brought the security situation into a full blown war. Therefore, nobody wanted to go to work in Karamoja either in Local Government administration or to take contracts on road network or education or Health sector. Therefore everything bad resulted into another and the situation was as bad as it could be.
Since I started working there, with God’s help we have worked with UPDF and Police to try to re- establish sanity in the region. The President, Yoweri Museveni had already launched the Disarmament exercise which was ongoing and we brought on board the elders of Karamoja to help in the sensitization of communities on peace and how important maintaining it really is for the rest of the work to begin.
I am happy to tell you now that peace is 90% normalized in Karamoja. Even though we still get some thefts here and there of one or two cows, perhaps of household items such as plates, cups, jerrycans and basins etc but major cattle rustling and loss of life will soon be a thing of the past. Because of that, its becoming relatively easy for people to go to Karamoja to work. The Local Governments are now recruiting civil servants. In Education we are building classrooms, In the Health sector we are training nurses and midwives and slowly we think those problems which were roadblocks to development are getting tackled and serious work is being done in every sector.
2. I was in Karamoja recently compiling information about government performance that was published in the Local Government handbook . The Karamoja local leaders I interviewed were generally grateful for your service to the region . What motivates you to offer leadership in transforming a region which has until the NRM regime, been neglected for so long?
I’m motivated to work in Karamoja because I know that Uganda is my homeland. It’s the only home I have on the face of the globe. And it’s my duty -just like I believe that it’s a duty of every Ugandan to improve every part of Uganda. We must work to ensure that Uganda can become an interesting place to visit instead of us admiring other countries and thinking that our own country is not interesting, it’s not developed.
If we don’t do that work ourselves, Uganda will never become better. Besides, those countries we look at and admire have been beautified by their own people. So it’s up to us to work and ensure that Uganda becomes better and that means every part of Uganda, every corner of Uganda- so that the next generation which will come after us will find a better place to live and work.
And the fact that Karamoja has been isolated and left behind makes me know somebody has to be willing to take the lead because, it needs our support. So if there is anything that I can do to make Karamoja a better place then I must do it and that’s what motivates me.
3. What do you consider to be the major problem that has impeded development in Karamoja for all this long and what are your recommendations to resolve this problem in the long term?
The problems that I have highlighted above . People looked at those problems and thought they could not be solved . But this government was determined to change every part of Uganda and give our people a chance to prosper and that’s why we have also tackled the problems of Karamoja.
As you can see, with God’s help, Karamoja has changed and it’s going to give a chance to the children of Karamoja to become proud of where they come from and to also know that they are part of Uganda. But it will take dedication, determination and a lot of hard work. I think Karamoja is on the way to change for ever and it will not be referred to as that place which is unreachable or inaccessible and hard to reach.
Yes. We shall continue to have some challenges but as we continue to build on the foundation we have laid -I think Karamoja will become a better place. If you think about building a house you must always start with a foundation. We have now put in place that foundation and on it we continue to build every year. And that’s how every nation develops. When you know that you have a strong foundation ; you know you have security , that people have food , you know they have water for their animals and that they can live and work- then every year you improve on what you are doing and life continues to get better.
4. As Minister for Karamoja Affairs, what has been your contribution to the development of that region, what is the impact so far and what pertinent challenges remain?
I believe you hear about the pastoralist life-style of Karamoja but pastoralism is not synonymous with nomadism. The nomadic way of life has not only been about the Karamojong. There were many cultures in this country that had that same lifestyle in the past. And Kiruhura district in particular had a similar culture – the people lived a nomadic life. They were purely cattle keepers also but they changed.
They settled down. They built homes, they send their children to school ,they grow food and they changed the breed of cattle they keep so now they have diary animals and along with them they have milk to sell for income and their life has changed forever. Now they are aspiring for modern farming which is what happens in all other parts of the world.
Karamoja therefore, can also change and that’s what we hope to see in future. Now if the Karamojong have pasture and water for their animals and safe water for their own domestic use; they don’t have to roam around to get those resources. In the past they were justified to move in search of pastures for their animals and water in the dry seasons and being fed by World Food Programme and other agencies and there was no way they could settle down in one place.
But now there are valley dams which have been built to provide water for animals and boreholes to supply clean water for domestic use. We are also working with the Ministry of Agriculture to train veterinary doctors who will be available to treat animals; we are also working with them to grow their own food. So we think that now the people of Karamoja have no reason to move around. They can now settle down, allow the children to get education. In time they can even learn the modern methods of saving hay for their animals in the dry season instead of burning it down. So that animals can be assured of pastures all the year round, and that way communities will prosper.
We are also piloting on a project to build modern manyattas (small permanent houses). These do provide secure dwelling places for the people. Instead of the grass thatched where thieves would enter at leisure now the Karamojong know that really in order to talk about peace, recovery and development (PRDP) then they too need to be able to sleep at night in peace without anticipating some night time raid and loss of life. The Karamojong are excited about building these homes that cement their hope that truly peace has come at last and come to stay.
So we think that’s the way to go. And don’t forget the movement government’s strategy of prosperity is all encompassing. It includes all parts of the country, all cultures of Uganda. Every human being has that human need to lead a decent life. And of course it takes a lot of hard work. It takes time but if we all work towards that goal, we believe that all our people can prosper and that’s what we are doing in Karamoja.
5. How would you describe your working relationship with the leadership in Karamoja especially the MPs about the Karamoja development strategy?
Our working relationship is good. You may have one out of ten members of Parliament who is unreliable, undependable or erratic. But the nine out of ten are good people. We are cooperating. We know that we are all called to serve and we are doing exactly that.
6 .There are also some claims from the general public that the region is over subscribed- in terms of the government development programmmes because of your position and that some of the money being channeled for development activities in the region has been stolen by government officials –what’s your take on that?
I think that is not true. People don’t know that Karamoja is a big region. Many people who have not been to Karamoja think that it’s just one district. Karamoja region has seven districts and we spilt the little resources we get in all the seven districts.
We have had if you like, some affirmative action from our development partners. They are also building on the government efforts to develop Karamoja. But when people see so many people going to Karamoja to help with the development work we are undertaking, they think it’s oversubscribed - but that’s not true.
We must always acknowledge that Karamoja is coming from way way back in time and in order for Karamoja to come close to where the rest of Uganda is , it requires affirmative action in every sector. And so, I’am grateful if we can have additional resources but it’s not so much more than elsewhere. And Ugandans should really begin to wish Karamoja all the blessing it can get because it deserves it. And about Government officials stealing some of the money, yes of course even in Karamoja the cancer of corruption is there but we are fighting it just as we are doing everywhere.
7.How would you describe the efforts of the government in which you serve towards improvement of maternal health to meet the recommendations of the Millennium Development Goals?
I know that we still have many challenges in that area of maternal health. But I also know that a lot of work is going on and a lot of campaign is being made to help women in rural areas have health facilities where they can deliver their babies, to have antenatal care, have more midwives and sufficient doctors etc. . So it is true that we still have these challenges in our pursuit for better services but we are working on it.
8.The people I talked to in the region were particularly happy about your personal -down to earth involvement in addressing issues that directly affect the ordinary wanainchi –such as provision of safe water – we now have dams in the region and mobile education learning clinics – in your view how long will some of these government interventions bridge the development gap between Karamoja and the rest of the country?
I think it will take us maybe a decade to get to a level where we can compete with the rest of Uganda or to be at the average level with the rest of the country. Because as we speak, the poverty levels are still very high in Karamoja. The nutrition levels are very low, malnutrition levels are very high. The sanitation levels are very poor and so we still have a lot of work to do. And some distance to go before we can catch up with the rest of the country.
9.What strategies does government have for ensuring the development of the girl child , women and other vulnerable groups through affirmative action in Karamoja region ?
Well, education in Karamoja has not been successful because of the nomadic way of life. Children could not go to school in the past. But even now, children cannot easily go to school even when we have Universal Primary and Secondary Education. In Karamoja, given the high level of poverty, children couldn’t get the basic requirements from their families like uniforms; scholastic materials to enable them go to school. It’s been a challenge to them.
And if they attempted to go to school they could not stay there for long. So what we have decided to do, is to try out a pilot project with some schools both primary and secondary. We are turning them into boarding schools and equipping them with the basic requirements like uniforms , beddings and scholastic materials and anything else that a student would ideally need both from their parents and the schools.
We believe this approach to education in Karamoja will empower children to go to school and stay there. And this program is for both boys and girls. So we are going to pilot it and see how it works and if it’s successful we shall then spread it out to the rest of the region.
9.Can you share with the rest of the country how in this relatively short period of time you have managed to create a positive impact in transforming the lives of the people of Karamoja?
We prayed as if there was no other option . We worked extremely hard and we involved all the stakeholders in the region. A combination of those three has helped us reach to a level where people are noticing the positive change in Karamoja region.
10 .What do you have to say about the development partners who have stood by us to ensure pacification and improving the welfare of the people of Karamoja?
Our partners in development –those who work along side us , I salute them. I salute them on behalf of our people and government . And I tell them that we are building a global village in today’s world . I encourage them to continue with their support to create a positive impact in our communities.
11.In which ways has your involvement in active politics shaped your vision for Uganda? Do you see the country differently from the way you saw it before seeking political office?
When I joined active politics I confirmed my suspicion that Uganda is not as poor as some people wanted us to believe. If we can be honest and we put all the resources we have to right use, our country would be far in terms of development.
12.What legacy do you want to leave once you are out of public life? (how do you want to be remembered?)
I want to be remembered as someone who made a difference in people’s lives wherever I served. That’s my prayer.
13.And how do you balance your four major roles as minister , Member of Parliament , First Lady and your extended family ?
That’s a good question. I Plan for all that I do. I always have a programme for my week’s work in order to ensure efficiency in any role I am called upon to play: I strictly keep to that programme and I always leave the weekends out for my family. Even though I know that I cannot seriously say that I have sufficient time to distribute around but then who does?
14.Your last word ?
God bless you. But wait, we must thank God that He has given us the energy and life to serve our country. I thank you for the work you are doing to provide positive information for the people of Uganda to know the good things happening in their country. I think this is a calling for all of us. Your generation and the next ones; you must seize this unique opportunity to serve your country -to make it a better place for all Ugandans.
I’m a Development Communication ,Media and Legal Consultant specializing in good governance and development communication . I’m also a human rights, Commercial and Environment lawyer. I have served as Editor at Saturday and Sunday Monitor and Advocate of the High Court with 10 years of
governance and development consultancy work;16 years of reporting and editing and 11 years of providing legal advocacy services, respectively.
I have initiated and participated in capacity building programmes as
a Promoter of good governance and rural development communication , peace and respect for human rights in war affected areas . I have worked as a Trainer, Presenter, Rapporteur and Resource person at different fora. I have written widely about issues of media and communication ,law reform ,human rights, gender balance,public policy , national development , good
governance and the rule of law and environmental protection in Germany and Uganda.