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Monday, 20 October 2014 09:07 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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An inside look at why the US has deployed its military to fight Ebola and Western media coverage of this “rescue mission”

Over the last month, efforts to fight Ebola in West Africa, especially Liberia, have dominated the news on all international cable and satellite television. United States President Barack Obama has even deployed the American military to save Liberians from the scourge of this disease. The Atlanta based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gives daily press briefings about its efforts to save the people of West Africa from this epidemic. Missing in the big Ebola story are efforts by West Africans (and other Africans) to save themselves.

The story is depressing because one wonders what the governments there are doing themselves to save their citizens. This is especially so because Liberia and Sierra Leone are often praised for being “democratic,” managed by responsible governments that care about their citizens. It is possible there are many efforts by these governments to save their people but the avalanche of self-congratulatory news-reports by Western journalists and their media outlets obscures these efforts. However, that Ebola has lasted this long and has claimed well over 4,000 lives is very revealing.

This is not the first time Ebola has struck. Uganda has been hit by Ebola four times over the last 14 years. The first time was in Gulu, northern Uganda in October 2000 (where 393 people got infected) and it spread to Mbarara (five infections) and Masindi (27 infections) making a total of 425 infections. There were 224 deaths and the epidemic was declared over within three months. In December 2007, Ebola struck again in Bundibugyo, infecting 149 people with 37 deaths but it was done away with in two months. Ebola struck a third time in Kibale, infecting 24 people and killing 17 but was over within a month. The last time Ebola hit Uganda was in November 2012 and it infected only 15 people, killed four and was over in a month.

 
Monday, 13 October 2014 06:44 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How Britain’s leading institution has lent its services to the deniers of the genocide against the Tutsi

And so it was that after a couple of text messages I decided to spare an hour to watch a documentary by the BBC titled “Rwanda: The Untold Story”. Everything the documentary claims to “reveal” in this “untold story” has been told before.  Critics of President Paul Kagame and the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) have made these allegations for years. What was intriguing was the audacity of the BBC to give a platform to these allegations.

BBC is expected to be fair and balanced – or at least pretend to. Yet the documentary collects well-known genocide deniers and fugitive former Rwanda government officials for its cast. There is Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian academic who helped the Juvenal Habyarimana administration write its constitution. He is presented as the “world’s leading expert on Rwanda.” He is a well-known critic of Kagame and has not been in Rwanda in 20 years.

Others in the cast include Kayumba Nyamwasa, a renegade general living in exile in South Africa; and his friend Theogene Rudasingwa, a former director of cabinet in Kagame’s office. Kayumba even says Kagame “is a serial killer who enjoys killing his citizens.” Never mind that this “serial killer” is the only president of a poor country that has given nearly all his poor citizens medical insurance cover – oh, what a way to enjoy killing your citizens! I know how BBC works. It would never allow such a sentence to pass its editorial eye. So why did BBC allow this to pass against Kagame?

 
Monday, 06 October 2014 05:51 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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If Mbabazi plans to challenge Museveni for the presidency of Uganda, he has begun on a wrong footing

Since he was dropped from cabinet, speculation has been rife about what former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is going to do. Will he challenge President Yoweri Museveni for the leadership of the NRM and/or the presidency of the country?

Let me be philosophical here. The American historian Will Durant said that philosophy is an attempt to develop a broader perspective on a subject. One can achieve that by studying “objects in space” (science) or “events in time” (history). Durant wanted to understand human nature. He understood that objects can be taken to a laboratory and tested. But human social behaviour can only be appreciated through the study of history. Durant called himself “a philosopher writing history.”

Many analysts of contemporary Uganda ignore this approach to explaining the character of Museveni and the NRM. The NRM is a revolutionary movement that came to power after five years of a protracted armed struggle. This struggle was based in the countryside and mobilised elites and ordinary masses to slowly build capacity to overthrow the government. Having captured power, it reshaped significant sections of the state, fusing the political and security functions. This way it restructured state-society relations in a way that allowed it to penetrate society deeply.

 
Monday, 29 September 2014 05:38 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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I spent the first week of this month in Dubai. Now I first visited Dubai in 1996. It was, I thought then, a big city. I have since visited this desert town almost every year since 2002. But compared to today, the Dubai of 1996 was a small well-knit city, cozy and personal. You could literally walk the streets window-shopping from one shop to another and feel connected to it. There was an occasional shopping mall or arcade, but one could count these on the fingers on one palm. There were also many hotels within walking distance of each other.

Walking down any street you could accidentally bump into many Ugandans visiting the city and walk down to a nearby to café to gossip about President Yoweri Museveni’s schemes to keep power, corruption in the government, and institutional dysfunction in our country. Dubai airport itself was beautiful but familiar – not different from other airports around the world in size or grandeur. But one felt that the place was different, that something big was happening. It was all in the air, a beehive of activity.

Compared to now, Dubai of 2004 (a decade ago) was a little town. Today, Dubai is not just a city. It is a mega city, a sprawling metropolis with a jungle of sky-scrappers, twelve lane streets, air-trains, flyovers, shopping malls, all clans of the most expensive cars, golf courses, tennis courts and the world’s tallest building, the world’s most expensive hotel etc. The old city is almost dead. The new one is impersonal, connected only by technology. Although it looks magnificent, today’s Dubai also feels artificial. It lacks character – like many North American cities. Today’s Dubai may be flash with money but it lacks the kind of taste one finds in Paris, Brussels, and Rome.

 
Monday, 22 September 2014 05:37 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Why American media should listen to the views of Rwandans about freedom in their country

A month before the Africa-America Summit in Washington DC, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda shuffled his prime minister (who was from the same Rwanda Patriotic Front political party as the president) and replaced him with another from a different political party. It was not big news in Rwanda because power-sharing in that country has been entrenched in the constitution.

Indeed out of the top four positions in Rwanda, Kagame’s RPF only holds the presidency of the country; the Social Democratic Party holds the presidency of the senate and the prime minister slot while the Liberal Party holds the position of speaker of parliament. While such coalition governments are common in Europe and Israel, there aren’t any examples in most of Africa.

This political arrangement has taken the heat out of Rwanda’s electoral process. For example, during election campaigns, competing candidates in Rwanda do not attack each other in an adversarial manner. Campaigns tend to be soft and boring. This has led some observers to claim there is limited political contestation in the country. However, it should be obvious that the power-sharing arrangement in the constitution creates an incentive structure that discourages competing politicians from being adversarial. This is because politicians do not want to antagonise their opponents too deeply given the likelihood that they will serve in the same cabinet.

 
Monday, 15 September 2014 06:06 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Six reasons why Pastor Martin Sempa and his army of religious homophobes go against the teachings of Jesus

Since the Constitutional Court declared the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) unconstitutional in a case where I was a petitioner, there has been a lot of hate mail against me on Facebook. Some people claiming to be Christians have even usurped God’s power and sentenced me to hell. Critics recite the Bible chapter and verse to justify the necessity for the AHA. I am keenly aware of how people instrumentalise the Bible, the Koran and other religious teachings to justify their personal prejudices and hatreds.   For example, a gentleman came to my office after the court ruling looking distraught. He told me in a sincere manner that: “Andrew, my Christian teachings do not allow me to accept homosexuality… That is why this law is absolutely necessary.” Now I know this gentleman to cheat on his wife almost daily (adultery) and lie about it without any feeling of remorse. He reminded me of a Muslim girlfriend when I was young on Kampala’s dating circuit. She would come stay a weekend with me making love (fornication). But she would refuse to eat pork saying her Islamic teachings forbade her to do so. But then she would drink alcohol. Many critics of homosexuality commit myriad sins daily – fornication, lies, envy, greed, drunkenness, etc. But they sound holier than thou when condemning homosexuals.

However, the particular hostility to homosexuality by many Ugandans who use Christianity to justify their stance cannot be found in the teachings of Jesus Christ. First, Jesus teaches us to hate sin, but to love sinners. The Christian response to homosexuals would be to help them find spiritual salvation, not to send them to jail for life. It is an abdication of their responsibility as Christian shepherds when pastors like Martin Sempa fail (or refuse) to help homosexuals find salvation through the church and try to use the state to punish them.

 
Monday, 08 September 2014 06:00 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How adherence to public procurement is inflicting high costs and creating a disaster for the country

When David Jamwa was appointed Managing Director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), he found the Fund in the final stages of procuring a contractor to build a 29-floor Pension Towers on Lumumba Avenue. Roko Construction won the tender of Shs $21m. The structure did not optimally utilize the land and its value as its rate of return was estimated at 18%.  Jamwa asked the architects to design a new structure to maximize returns from the plot.

The NSSF architect did a new design of 52 floors. It was given to a quantity surveyor who returned a sum of $55m as its likely cost, which would have increased the rate of return to 18%. Meanwhile, Roko were already on the site excavating the ground. Jamwa asked them to excavate according to the new design to create six underground parking floors instead of two as previously planned. They were willing to build the new design at the sum given by the NSSF quantity surveyor. Jamwa wrote to PPDA to give a waiver so that instead of re-tendering (which would last another two years), NSSF keeps Roko by single sourcing.

 
Monday, 01 September 2014 05:34 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How adherence to public procurement is inflicting high costs on the taxpayer and creating a disaster for the country

Public procurement procedures have become a noose around the neck of Uganda. Over the last 16 years, nearly every major government contract or tender has violated some procurement procedure. This often leads the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Police, State House, security services, PPDA, Parliament and the press to intervene and investigate. Once this happens, the contract gets bogged down in endless quarrels and recriminations. The State is paralyzed to act while citizens are denied the service. By the time it is resolved, it is five or six years later and the contract sum has tripled or quadrupled.

Many Ugandans think that violation of procurement procedures is a sign of a corrupt intent. This leads them to believe that adherence to the rules is a sign of an honest and transparent procurement process. Both these assumptions are only partly true. Formal procedures can be used to create opportunities for corruption. For instance, a public official can frustrate a government contractor by being excessively proceduralistic in the hope of a bribe to speed things up. The counterpoint is that violating a few rules may not always (and necessarily) be motivated by a corrupt intent but by mere pragmatism. This is because rules can sometimes be stupid, arcane and mutually contradictory.

 
Monday, 25 August 2014 05:22 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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The opportunities and risks China faces as it begins its transition from middle income status to a rich nation

I spent the whole of last week in China literally flying from one city to another – sometimes covering two cities per day. The speed of change in China is mind boggling. I had not visited Beijing since 2008. In just six years, I could not recognise it. Even cities that I had visited in 2011 have expanded so rapidly I could not recognise them either. Skyscrapers grow like mushrooms even in rural areas where small towns are building high raised apartments to accommodate the mass of people leaving farms.

In 1984, Beijing was a city ruled by bicycles. From the video documentaries of that age that I have, you can hardly see cars on the streets. Today, China has overtaken the United States as the largest car market in the world. During rush-hour, it can take someone four hours to drive the 40km from the airport to Tiananmen Square in spite of the impressive investments in rails, highways and flyovers. Even in the small cities and municipal towns I visited, like Wei Hai and Qingdao, China’s success is evident.

 

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