Monday, 15 December 2014 06:05
By Andrew M. Mwenda
Why African elites sound angry and frustrated though continent’s economies grow faster than rest of the world
Over the last decade and a half, Sub Sahara African economies have been growing fast and creating prosperity for many. Today, our continent is exporting and importing more and our governments, investors, and consumers are spending in per capita terms. Yet many African elites, especially the chattering classes on social media, sound angrier and frustrated.
This is partly because growth and the accompanying increase in personal incomes, comes with rapid urbanisation and expansion of education.
As I have written in this column before, urbanisation and education are liberating influences. They expose people to the world, expand their horizons, and grow their ambitions. The effects of growth, therefore, are first felt in cities and among the educated. Cities offer opportunities for trade, jobs, and a good life. This pulls more people to partake of the opportunities. However, the rate at which people migrate to cities is always faster than the rate at which the economy creates opportunities.
The initial resulting mismatch between growth in aspirations and growth in available opportunities creates social frustration.
Monday, 08 December 2014 08:33
By Andrew M. Mwenda
Lessons for Africa from the daily killings of young black teenagers in America at the hands of racist police officers
The ink had not yet dried on the grand jury decision that exonerated police officer Darren Wilson for the cold-bloodied murder of 18-year old Micheal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri when another trigger-happy police officer, Timothy Loehmann, shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland Ohio. The little boy was playing with a toy gun in a children’s park. And it took the officer only two seconds upon arrival on the scene to shoot and kill him. In both cases, and in many such cases on a daily basis in America, black male teenagers are killed by white police officers for no reason except the colour of their skin. And in almost all the cases, these white police officers get away with it in this supposedly democratic country.
The subjugation of black people is a deeply entrenched aspect of U.S. social and political life – first in form of slavery, then apartheid under Jim Crow laws, and now the criminalisation of blackness. If there is anything like democracy in America, its institutions stand in promotion and defense of this injustice. The “democratic” process – with its free media, consistently promotes the narrative that a criminal is a black male. So effective has been the mass media propagation of the image of a black person as a criminal in the U.S. that most Americans subconsciously equate crime to blackness. This has led many otherwise well meaning white Americans to tolerate the gross injustices promoted against blacks by law enforcement institutions.
For example, study after study in America shows that whites use drugs more than blacks. Yet when, in 1995, a study was done in America asking people to close their eyes and imagine and describe a drug user, 95% of the respondents pictured a black drug user. These results were greatly at odds with reality because blacks constitute only 15% of drug users in America. Whites constitute the majority of drug users yet almost no one pictured a white person when asked to imagine what a drug user looks like.
Monday, 01 December 2014 06:43
By Andrew M. Mwenda
As NRM climbs down from idealism to reality, the FDC may need to learn something about its own utopias
On Dec. 15, a special National Resistance Movement (NRM) Delegates Conference called by President Yoweri Museveni will be held at Namboole National Stadium. The main purpose is to amend the party constitution to ensure that the Secretary General is not elected by party members but appointed by Museveni; the chairman. It is a sad but illuminating reversal of a canonical principle of the founding philosophy of the NRM i.e. that a political party should be built on democratic principles and its leaders elected.
For President Yoweri Museveni, this must be a painful step down from the pedestal of utopia to the solid ground of hard reality. For many years, he criticised former President Milton Obote for undermining this principle in the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC). Obote had clashed with two of his previous elected secretaries general – John Kakonge and later Grace Ibingira – over control of the party. To avoid such problems, UPC decided that this position become appointive. Experience had taught them that in the specific circumstances of Uganda, having two powerful elected leaders in the party was a recipe for ruinous power struggles.
Like his critics today, Museveni did not pay attention to the objective political conditions in UPC that shaped this dynamic. Instead, he blamed it on Obote’s personal greed for power. NRM became officially a political party in late 2005. In December of that year, it held a delegates conference in Namboole. Three of its top politicians sought the position of Secretary General – Cryspus Kiyonga, Kahinda Otafiire and Amama Mbabazi. Museveni wanted to avoid this clash of party titans. To calm down the party he called a breakfast meeting with the trio at State House Nakasero during the Delegates Conference.
Museveni explained that historically, especially in the East and Central African region, the job of an elected Secretary General tended to generate a clash with the party leader. It was the case between Obote, Kakonge and Ibingira in Uganda, Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya in Kenya, Julius Nyerere and Oscar Kambona in Tanzania, Kamuzu Banda and Kanyama Chiume in Malawi, and Kenneth Kaunda and Simon Kapwepwe in Zambia. In all these cases, this simmering tension was resolved by amending the constitution to ensure that the Secretary General is not elected by party members but appointed by the party chairman – clearly an undemocratic decision.
Museveni reasoned that to sustain democratic practice while avoiding a clash resulting from having two elected bulls in one kraal, the party needs to elect a Secretary General who is very loyal to the party chairman and, therefore, with whom they can work smoothly. He said he preferred Mbabazi for this reason and asked Kiyonga and Otafiire to pull out of the race. They refused upon which Museveni joined forces with Mbabazi to defeat them. Now we know that even this solution could not and has not worked for Museveni or the NRM.
In many ways therefore, Museveni’s almost three decades in power have allowed him time to unlearn many of his utopias on which he criticised Obote. He has had to live in the reality of practical politics as Obote had and has been humbled by experience. Today Museveni is older and wiser and therefore more realistic. I am not sure whether he realises that on nearly every single issue that he criticised Obote – tribalism, corruption, “desire” to stay in power etc – he has over time tended to gravitate to the same position and worse. And this has little reflection on Museveni’s personal character. I think it has a lot to do with the circumstances he confronts.
There are many political problems in our country. In Uganda (and elsewhere in the world) our natural instinct is to always look for a villain, some human agent to blame for all the social failures around us – a president of a country, a chief executive of a company, or a mayor of a city. This is not an entirely incorrect position to take, but it is nonetheless an overly simplistic one. Thus Museveni saw in Obote the villain who made everything fail in Uganda. Today, Museveni’s critics see him as the source of all our problems.
However many public policy decisions often fail to meet our ideal expectations because reality is much more complex. Ideals have to be tempered with sweet reasonable-ness in the interests of reality. For example, many Ugandans do not recognise that corruption in our country has grown hand-in-hand with democratisation – not just as a negative side of this process – but actually the fundamental and inevitable driving force behind it. In Museveni’s case, he has learnt that a purely democratic process stripped of context can produce the breakup of a political party – and worse.
This experience of NRM can also be seen in what is happening to the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). Seeking to distance itself from the seeming authoritarianism of the NRM, FDC deliberately wrote a highly democratic constitution. It limited the terms its president can serve to only two. Kizza Besigye, the founding president of FDC, is without doubt one of the most democratically-minded Ugandans. His struggle and sacrifice for freedom and democracy in Uganda is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring acts of leadership.
He served two terms as party president during which he came close to winning one election (2006) and lost the next one (2011) badly. After that, Besigye did the “right” thing a leader in Britain, Belgium, or Norway would have done – he resigned leadership of the party. Mugisha Muntu, one of the finest human beings our country has produced, won the election to succeed Besigye. I am a supporter of Muntu. But I know that immediately after his election, he took FDC to bed, covered it in a blanket and sent it to sleep.
May be the best thing for FDC may not have been to have term limits on the president of the party. May be young parties like that formed around a strong and charismatic leader need that leader to hang around for long to allow them to grow and consolidate. It is possible that if Besigye had stayed at the helm of FDC, there would be greater energy in the party for 2016. I am very critical of Besigye’s style and approach to opposition politics. However, I now do recognise that for FDC, it is better to help him adjust his style than remove him. NRM’s about face therefore is a lesson FDC may need to consider.
Monday, 24 November 2014 06:35
By Andrew M. Mwenda
What the governor’s statement tells us about what will happen in 2016
Bank of Uganda (BoU) Governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile recently revealed that during the 2011 presidential elections, the government approached the Central Bank for large sums of cash to finance a supplementary budget. BoU obliged.
Mutebile said this money was “used for electioneering” and plunged “the economy into chaos.” He then promised that next time the government attempts to raid the Central Bank during election campaigns, he would not allow it.
Many people may denounce Mutebile for compromising the independence of the central bank and see his promise not to do this again as hot air.
But I see another problem; that he does not have choice in the matter if he wishes to continue defending the independence of the Central Bank. Had he refused, his contract would not have been renewed. And the next person appointed may have been a worse alternative. Therefore, the best way to defend the institutional integrity of BOU in such a situation is to make the tactical compromise he made. It enables him to retain his job and ensure macro-economic stability.
Sunday, 16 November 2014 21:53
By Andrew M. Mwenda
How the fight against corruption is actually the way this evil has grown and consolidated in our country
Two weeks ago, President Yoweri Museveni forced the minister of Finance to reappoint Richard Byarugaba as Managing Director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). The president argued that since Byarugaba achieved and in many cases exceeded his performance targets, his contract should have been renewed automatically. Museveni also warned that if successful managers are fired instead of being rewarded, it would send the wrong signal to the market that government does not reward good performance.
But as Byarugaba plans to return to NSSF, Geraldine Ssali who has been acting MD recently revealed that management at the Fund spends 20% of their time answering queries from different state institutions assigned to investigate them.
As I write this article, the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Auditor General (AG), Uganda Police, and Parliament are all investigating or have just finished investigating the Fund. It is possible that Internal Security Organisation, External Security Organisation and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence are moving inside NSSF pretending to investigate as well. Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) in the tens have been making their voices heard in denouncing corruption at NSSF and calling on government to act. And of course we in the mass media are doing our job of “investigating” in order to “inform the public” about the goings on in the NSSF.
Monday, 10 November 2014 05:46
By Andrew M. Mwenda
What creates enduring political institutions that can ensure peaceful transfers of power from incumbents to new leaders?
Two important events happened in Africa last week that provide important insights into our continent’s political evolution. First, was the death of the president of Zambia, Michael Sata. This was followed by a constitutional and peaceful transfer of power to his vice president, Guy Scott. The second was a mass uprising in Burkina Faso. Angry mobs marched down the streets burning down cars and buildings including parliament. This led to the forced and ultra-constitutional removal of President Blaise Compaore, who had ruled that country for the last 27 years.
Why did Zambia have a peaceful transition but Burkina Faso a violent one? May be it was in the way these presidents gain power and exercised it. The first president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, ruled that country for 27 years like Compaoure. But he had been an elected founding father. But when demands for multi-party politics became loud, Kaunda rose to the occasion and accepted political reform. He held a free and fair election which he lost. And Kaunda gracefully conceded.
Under Kaunda’s successor, Frederick Chiluba, Zambia introduced two-term limits on the presidency. Chiluba and his allies sought to remove this clause but were stopped by peaceful demonstrations. Again, Zambia managed this major political landmark in a mature and peaceful way, a factor that young nations find difficult to achieve. Therefore, in spite of his long rule (Kaunda) and in spite of his polarising politics (Chiluba) both bequeathed unto their nation a political tradition that makes that country manage political transitions peacefully. The defeat of Kaunda and Chiluba also demonstrated that the political balance of forces in that country favoured peaceful transitions. Thus when Sata defeated incumbent president Rupia Banda in 2011, the transition went without a hustle.
Sunday, 02 November 2014 21:54
By Andrew M. Mwenda
How the discourse on press freedom in Rwanda has missed the promising developments in that country
Last week I attended President Paul Kagame’s lecture at Chatham House in London. It was without the usual hecklers i.e. mindless anti-Kagame fanatics. It attracted the more refined minds of British intellectual society. So the discussion was calm and reflective. Later in the week, I spoke at the universities of Oxford in England and Bremen in Germany – again before audiences of the sophisticated, thoughtful type. In all events, some people raised the issue of press freedom in Rwanda, saying that is Kagame’s worst score.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what is happening in Rwanda’s media. The human rights Taliban have distorted the discourse because they treat democracy as a religion. Religion does not need “pre-conditions” – you can plant the seed of Christianity or Islam in any society regardless of its level of development and it will germinate. But even here it takes generations for people to completely abandon their traditional superstitions.
Democracy, as a system of government, needs structural foundations; and it takes time to build regardless of the intentions of leaders. Governments can write high-sounding constitutions promising freedom and equality. However, if the structural conditions for it are missing, little will be realised in practice. That is why it took America 90 years from independence to freeing slaves. Yet the American constitution clearly stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are born equal…” This self-evidence certainly did not apply to poor white men, all blacks, women and other ethnic minorities – each of whom gained rights at different times.
It is a product of poor incentives rather than lack of professional competence
The usual response of the international development community to public sector incompetence in poor countries is obvious – and makes sense. First they advise that we should put in place institutions of accountability like parliamentary oversight committees, a free press, an ombudsman etc. The second is to give financial aid to pay salaries of public officials, furnish government offices with modern technology gadgets – computers and cars etc. The third is technical assistance in form of skilled foreigners to perform tasks.
These interventions have been employed across our continent for over 50 years with little to show for all the money and effort. Yet they continue to enjoy broad support among the international development agencies and African intellectuals, “civil society” activists, politicians and journalists. I have grown increasingly suspicious of these solutions to the point of exhaustion. Today I can hardly read a book or an article in a newspaper or even listen to a politician or academic speak. They just parrot the same talking points without reference to our reality.
In 1998, my friend gave a car dealer he trusted Shs5 million to import for him a car from Dubai. The guy took the money and disappeared – apparently, he had gone broke. My friend reported to police. He then spent the next four months visiting the Central Police Station (CPS) headquarters in Kampala almost daily. Nothing came of these efforts. One morning I linked him to a Criminal Investigations Department (CID) officer to assist locate the car dealer. He gave some “facilitation” to the CID officers and within two hours they called us back to CPS and we found the man there – arrested. With a threat of throwing him in jail, his family refunded my friend’s money and the CID officers took a small percentage of it.
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.