Monday 27th of April 2015 04:34:35 PM

You buy the Truth, we pay the Price

Sunday, 26 April 2015 21:32 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How the flaws in the post-apartheid political settlement have shaped the current anti-immigrant sentiments

Last week, “popular” anger in South Africa exploded into a new wave of violence. Youths wielding machetes and looking like Rwanda’s interahamwe in 1994 roamed the streets burning and/or slashing their victims without pity. The violence was both saddening and illuminating. It was saddening because it reinforced the stereotypes about Africans as being of barbaric disposition. It was illuminating because it demonstrated the fundamental flaw in the political settlement in post-apartheid South Africa.

A lot has been written about how Nelson Mandela crafted South Africa into a democratic society whose cornerstone was respect for diversity – hence the term “rainbow nation”. And there is a lot of truth in this narrative. For example tensions between whites and blacks have been held at bay in spite of high levels of inequality. However, the drive to elevate Mandela to super human, almost godly, status tended to over-simplify South Africa’s reality, exaggerate the results of his work, and push under the carpet glaring pitfalls in the political system that replaced apartheid.

Mandela is rightly credited for helping craft a democratic constitution for South Africa. But the discourse that has been sung loudly by Western leaders, mass media, scholarship, and regurgitated by many African elites has always focused on the rituals of democracy even when these did not serve any democratic function. For example, in negotiating the end of apartheid, Mandela allowed white South Africa to retain (almost intact) the economic structure of apartheid.

Apartheid was essentially an economic system. Its aim was to keep the “native” Africans poor so that they can provide cheap labour to the white industrial aristocracy that owned the commanding heights of the economy – finance, mines, manufacturing, etc. The “democratic” constitution of South Africa entrenched a regime of “rights” to protect privileges that were accumulated through racial oppression. It paid only lip service to the demands for social justice and equity that had animated the struggle for independence.

Sunday, 19 April 2015 21:56 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How improved performance of the two companies tends to attract increasing hostility from parliament and the public

The Members of Parliament in Uganda, supported by a loud section of our chattering elite class, seem determined to hold to wrong things dearly even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Last year, a select committee of parliament recommended that government terminate a concession agreement with electricity distributor, Umeme. It provided considerable grist to the anti Umeme mill. Then two weeks ago, another select committee recommended that then-minister of Finance, the chairman of the board and the managing director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) are punished for buying shares in Umeme; a company they claimed is “making losses”. Again, the anti NSSF-Umeme coalition went wild in celebration.

Yet the complaints raised by parliament against NSSF buying shares in Umeme cannot stand even mediocre scrutiny. They claim that NSSF did not seek clearance of the Solicitor General (SG) before buying the shares. To be fair to the legislators, this is based on the evidence given by the SG to the committee. Yet the parliamentary committee should have invited NSSF officials and hear from them as well – a basic principle of natural justice. It turns out that NSSF actually sought clearance from the SG office. In a reply dated October 28, 2013, the SG advised that this request was unnecessary since in buying shares on the stock market there was no legal contract, agreement, treaty or document to sign, which needed such clearance.

Sunday, 12 April 2015 21:14 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How the debate on amending the Constitution to remove term limits is evolving in Rwanda and the issues to consider

President Paul Kagame recently said he does not want Rwanda to amend the constitution to remove term limits. But I do not think this will stop calls by ordinary citizens who want him to stay. If I were not conversant with Rwanda, I would have thought this is an argument by the president’s courtiers telling lies to retain power. Whoever underestimates the amount of pressure on Kagame to stay should try a referendum. Indeed Kagame has rigged the debate by taking a position. This places senior politicians and military and security chiefs in a difficult position of having to openly disagree with their boss. But even this may not stop the momentum that has begun at the grassroots.

It is possible the removal of term limits will stimulate secondary political contestations that will lead Rwanda back to instability. This is because the biggest challenge facing developing nations, is how to ensure peaceful transfer of power from one president to another and one ruling party or government to another. Kagame’s greatest contribution to Rwanda would, therefore, be his ability to midwife a peaceful transfer of power to another president as Julius Nyerere of Tanzania did. Then he could retire to mentor and nurture this new political culture behind the scenes.

The likelihood that Kagame’s stay will stimulate instability is premised on the fear that if people realise there is no way the president can be removed peacefully, they may resort to violent means. And if removal of term limits diminishes Kagame’s national prestige, he may retain power only by buying favours from elites; hence corruption and likely instability. Here we need examples of presidents in Africa who tried to cling to power by removing term limits and thereby stimulated instability. To my knowledge none of the countries that has removed term limits has collapsed.

Sunday, 05 April 2015 19:37 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How Uganda’s politics cannot create a government that delivers public goods and services efficiently

Last week, I proposed the need to rethink the role of the state to fix our education system. I argued that we should separate the financing of education from its provision. The state should retain a role in financing and wherever possible outsource provision to the private sector. I proposed that we do this by giving vouchers to poor parents to send their kids to good private schools.

There were many and legitimate criticisms to my proposals and I admired the insights offered. But there were no creative recommendations. The only suggestion was that the state should pull up its performance socks and eliminate corruption and incompetence. This is too banal. A better suggestion would have been to remove the current government in the hope that a new one may improve things. Yet I think the problems of our public sector have more to do with our politics than with President Yoweri Museveni personally and his NRM party organisationally. Many may suggest that I am creating an excuse for our president. But I think that finding a villain to blame for our problems may not be completely wrong but it is overly simplistic. In any case, what if regime change doesn’t happen?

Regime change is good and Uganda needs it. But that is not what is most likely going fix our education system and other problems that bedevil our public sector. Let us examine the specific reality of Uganda’s politics. To build a successful electoral coalition, political parties win over powerful elites from our different ethnic and religious groups. So Abdul Katuntu and Salam Musumba deliver Busoga to FDC while Hillary Onek and Jacob Oulanyah deliver Acholi to the NRM. So these elites act as the bridge between the party and their co-ethnics! The exchange relationship in this bargain is actually a trade in private goods, not promises of public policy. How?

Sunday, 29 March 2015 20:45 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Unhappy with their officials, what the two presidents are asking for is a return to the past, not a leap to the future

Three weeks ago, President Paul Kagame; during a government leadership retreat, expressed disaffection with top officials for delaying government projects unnecessarily. Then last week, President Yoweri Museveni, during Uganda’s leadership retreat, expressed a similar sentiment about his ministers.

Kagame and Museveni’s frustrations provided considerable grist to their critics’ mill. I received many cheeky messages saying: we have always told you that these governments are not working; now the two presidents have admitted it themselves.

I have interacted with both presidents and their governments for over a decade now. It is clear that both Museveni and Kagame are complaining because they have been successful, not because they have failed. Indeed, their frustrations are going to increase, not decrease. This is because power to implement government projects has gotten increasingly institutionalised. If the presidents want things to move faster, they may have to retreat to personalising the state and ruling arbitrarily. This may be contradictory coming for me especially on Uganda since I have always accused Museveni of personalising the state. But the reality is more nuanced. Here is how.

Sometime in 2003 while a reporter at Daily Monitor, I visited Museveni at State House Nakasero and spent a quiet evening with him. He told me that in early 1986 after NRM had taken over power, Uganda was facing a crisis of soap. The president instructed his aides to fetch businessman Mukwano who was the manufacturer of soap. Museveni said that when Mukwano appeared in his presence, he looked terrified, perhaps fearing he was going to be jailed or even killed because he had been close to the government of Milton Obote.

Sunday, 22 March 2015 20:17 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Why government should separate financing of education in order to allow poor families access quality education

On Sunday, I attended a global education forum in Dubai. Sheik Mohammed Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda were there as well as former presidents, Bill Clinton (USA), Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria), former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair and education ministers of several countries and cities. The main challenges were: how do we increase access to education? Is this possible without compromising quality? How can education be made affordable? What curriculum can best prepare students to face the challenges of modern life; like employment? What should be the role of governments, the private sector, parents, churches, and citizens in increasing access to education and improving its quality?

I have been involved in education for most of my life through observing my father’s obsessive interest in it. He spent a large part of his life helping in building schools, churches, and clinics. He looked at education as a tool for liberating society from the hold of tradition and its many accompanying superstitions. But my father also believed that the greatest education a child can have is not at school but at home; and is best organised by the parent, not teachers. For most of my primary and secondary education, I spent less than 20% of my time on the official school curriculum. The 80% was spent on reading books at home – reading ancient and contemporary philosophy, literature and history.

Sunday, 15 March 2015 21:26 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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What Batooro have failed to do about the kingdom and how it forced the king to live in Buganda

In early March, David Kijanangoma, a grandson of King George Rukidi III announced that he had overthrown King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba’Iguru Rukiidi IV of the great Kingdom of Toro. He said he had decided on this coup in large part because his cousin; Oyo, has abdicated his duties as king. He charged that Oyo is an absentee king who lives in another kingdom, Buganda, only going to Toro as a visitor.

Kijanangoma, with an eye to history, also said that in Toro tradition, when a king fails to perform his duties, his brothers (certainly not his cousins) are entitled to challenge him for the throne. It happened when Toro’s second king, Kazana Ruhaga, spent most of his time in bed and failed to attend to his duties. His brother Nyaika plotted and through deceit deposed him.

I am a cousin and strong supporter of Oyo. I also agree that, theoretically, every king should be resident in his kingdom. But we need to understand why Oyo lives in Kampala.

Previously it was explained that he was studying and Fort Portal lacked good schools for him. But now that he is no longer at school, why does Oyo still live in Kampala? This issue raises fundamental questions about the monarchs that the NRM government “restored.”

Sunday, 08 March 2015 21:39 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How U S uses the language of freedom and human rights to undermine the cause of democracy in other countries

Almost a month ago, Fareed Zakaria hosted Barack Obama on his CNN show, GPS. Zakaria asked the U.S. president why America supports dictatorships like the ones in Saudi Arabia and Jordan when it is supposed to promote democracy around the world. Obama said he has to deal with the world as it is, not as he would wish it to be. America needs (and has) allies but some of them do not share its values. Yet he has to work with them to promote America’s interests. He said he cannot force these allies to adopt American values but he can (and does) try to influence them to reform through quiet diplomacy.

This is of course common sense. Yet Washington harshly criticizes many governments- Bolivia, Iran, China, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Russia, etc -for being authoritarian. It finances efforts “to promote democracy” in them.

America finances human rights groups, political parties,and uses local media and its own media to seek to undermine the authority of these governments.This way it turns these “institutions of democracy”into Fifth Columnists for its imperial ambitions.

This forces and even justifies these governments into cracking down on these supposed democratic institutions. In some countries; such as Libya andIraq, America has directly invaded or bombed them;and in others like Syria and Nicaragua it has sponsored terrorist organisations in order to democratize them at gunpoint.

Sunday, 01 March 2015 21:17 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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The pathologies of Uganda’s LC system and the need for a new conversation on how to reform it

On the temple of Apollo at Delphi is inscribed the motto “meden agan” (nothing in excess) in honour of the ancient Greek statesman, Solon (circa 638 to 558 BCE).  Solon understood that too much of anything is always bad. For example, if you disperse and constrain power through myriad checks and balances, you make it dilute and ineffective. If you concentrate it too much, you make it arbitrary and destructive. In designing a constitution for Athens (594 BCE), he balanced the power of popular assemblies with property qualification. Aristotle understood Solon and saw both democracy and aristocracy as dangerous extremes. So he favoured a timocracy i.e. rule by honour – a mixture of democracy and aristocracy. This insight was lost when the NRM was designing the current LC system.

In 2000, Frederick Golooba-Mutebi finished his PhD at the London School of Economics titled “Decentralisation and Development Administration in Uganda”. It is a stinging indictment of the depredations of a misguided faith in grassroots democracy in a poor country. Golooba-Mutebi’s thesis is that the NRM failed to balance the aspirations for popular participation with needs for administrative functionality.

Before the NRM came to power in 1986, the lowest levels of local government in Uganda (the village, parish, sub-county and county) were governed by state appointed chiefs as administrative heads. Prof. Mahmoud Mamdani has criticised this structure as a “clinched fist” – the fusion of administrative, judicial and legislative power in the chief – which he refers to as “decentralised despotism.” And he has a point: The chief had power to assess you for graduated tax, to collect that tax, decide the punishment if you failed to pay, and execute it by detention or a fine or forgive you. There was no check or balance on the powers of the chief.


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