Good Policies, Bad Politics

By Regis Hijnekamp

Banerjee and Duflo discuss the divergence between politics and policies.[1] They state that “the real problem in development” is ensuring good policies.[2] This, obviously, can be done through ensuring good politics, because “if the politics are right, good policies will eventually emerge.”[3] Yet, there is another route as well.

On February 20, 2016, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni extended his 30-year rule with a next presidential term.[4] European and Commonwealth observers criticized the handling of the election.[5] There were “lengthy delays in the delivery of polling materials, outbreaks of violence, and a government shutdown of social media.”[6] The “lack of transparency and independence” at the Ugandan electoral commission undermined the polls too.[7] The atmosphere was “intimidating (…) for both voters and candidates.”[8]

Entering his fifth term, Museveni faces serious criticism. The president “is accused of presiding over corruption, personalizing the country’s institutions, and buying weapons to retain power.” [9] [10] It is feared that Museveni wants to uphold power – something that reminds Ugandans of the traumatizing Idi Amin dictatorship, Museveni’s predecessor.[11]

Yet, Banerjee and Duflo argue, “policies are not completely determined by politics. Good policies (sometimes) happen in bad political environments.” [12] Then, good policies might break through a vicious circle of bad politics and bad institutions. [13] So far, Museveni’s policies have resulted in “remarkable strides in the fight against HIV/Aids, an end to active conflict in most parts of the country, and economic growth fuelled by liberalization and direct foreign investment.” [14] Over the last 25 years, poverty rates have fallen from 56% to 19%. [15] Since his first election in 1996, Museveni has brought peace, security, and impressive economic growth. [16] These ‘good policies’ might drive out ‘bad politics,’ Banerjee and Duflo argue. [17] “Good policies can also help break the vicious cycle of low expectations: If the government starts to deliver, people will start taking politics more seriously and put pressure on the government to deliver more, rather than opting out or voting unthinkingly for their co-ethnics or taking up arms against the government.” [18] Only the future can reveal if Uganda can distance itself from ‘bad politics.’