Stealing public funds. About 80,000 children die of preventable diseases each year in Uganda because public officials have stolen money for immunization
Two weeks ago, I said on the NTV News Night show that the existence of corruption in a country does not automatically impede its ability to develop, thereby letting loose the dogs of intellectual (actually mostly emotional) war on twitter, with some accusing me of endorsing corruption. Yet many successful countries had high levels of corruption during their transition from poverty to riches.
Why the opposition is courting danger in seeking to field one candidate and the risks of a three horse race
Last week, the opposition was involved in skirmishes regarding the selection of a joint presidential candidate under The Democratic Alliance (TDA). The alliance seemed biased on selecting Amama Mbabazi to lead the fight against President Yoweri Museveni. But the most fanatical supporters of the opposition prefer Kizza Besigye. It will be extremely difficult for TDA to convince all sides to field one candidate. Here are the underlying factors.
How Nyakairima took UPDF out of headlines and has left a professional respected military
Sometime in 2003, President Yoweri Museveni chaired a meeting of the army high command to discuss highly sensitive matters. The proceedings leaked to me. I was happy to publish a story about them in Daily Monitor, omitting the more sensitive aspects. The president invited me for breakfast at State House Nakasero over the story. He wanted to know my source. He said as a patriotic Ugandan I should know that officers who leak highly classified information are a risk to national security. “We will not harm this officer or officers, not even demote them,” Museveni assured me, “But we need to know so that we do not give them access to national security secrets.”
I told the president that I wanted him to trust me that when I give my word, I do not breech it. I had given this officer my word that I would not expose him. But, I added, the problem is not the officer but the institutional crisis in UPDF. Officers are bitter and do not feel confident the internal mechanisms can redress the institutional crisis; that is why they come to us in the press. Reform the army, I told him, and these leakages will go away. Museveni listened attentively and our meeting ended. I left Nakasero feeling the president was disappointed I had not revealed my source in spite of his courtesy. But I also felt he had taken something from our conversation.
Then in early 2005, I bumped into Gen. Aronda Nyakairima and then Brig. Benon Biraro at the Gazebo of then Nile Hotel (now Serena). Nyakairima was army commander at the time and Biraro his chief of staff. Soon we were involved in a discussion of the situation in UPDF over a cup of coffee.
Why opponents of removing term limits should listen more to Rwandan citizens than their own theories and the preaching of America
Last week, the United States issued a statement calling on Rwanda not to amend the constitution and remove term limits on the presidency. America carries a false sense of morality, believing its own myth that her political values are superior and should be the guide for other “lesser” nations. Yet it has one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional political systems in the world and has consistently failed to live up to its self-proclaimed values. But that is a subject for another day. For now, let us debate Rwanda.
There are strong and legitimate reasons why it should have term limits. Incidentally, Kagame shares many of these reasons. There are also strong reasons why multitudes of Rwandans would like Kagame to stay on as president. The challenge is how this should be decided? Some say it should be decided by reference to a verse in the gospel of democracy. Term limits are sacrosanct; every country, regardless of circumstances, should have them. I used to embrace this view, so I will criticise it with the humility of experience.
Others think Rwanda should keep term limits because Western nations, which have been supportive of the nation’s reconstruction do not approve of it. Appeasing Western public opinion is important to buy legitimacy for African governments in large part because they are client states of Western powers. When the master speaks, Africans need to take his counsel seriously. (Post genocide Rwanda rejects this colonial-slavish submission).
Why our frustration should'nt lead us to behave like a drowning man who clings onto a crocodile
And so it was that on the night of August 30, NTV treated us to a debate between Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) contenders for party presidential flag bearer, Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu and Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye. The fact that there is contestation for the leadership of FDC is a breath of fresh air compared to the NRM’s sole candidature syndrome.
I wonder why NRM does not concoct some semblance of competition within the party just to pretend to be democratic.
By allowing internal contestations, FDC (perhaps because it is not in power) exhibits a more democratic character. In spite of its poor preparation, the debate itself was symbolically important to our illusions of progress towards democratic politics. Even though my preferred candidate is Muntu (because of his values), I think the best choice for the opposition is Besigye (because of his electability). Besigye made this point. For all his noble qualities, Muntu fails to generate the enthusiasm among opposition supporters that Besigye does.
The choice facing FDC is therefore stark: should Besigye keep his word and not run for the presidency and the campaign loses momentum? Or should he breach his promise but bring enthusiasm back to the opposition campaign. From a purely idealistic view, Besigye should not run and should instead campaign for Muntu. But for real politic, FDC needs Besigye. Here I disagree with Muntu when he said that the votes Besigye got were anti-President Yoweri Museveni votes and will automatically go to any opposition candidate.
Ugandans seem unhappy with Museveni but they don’t seem to be willing to accept his opponents either. Here is why
We are exactly six months away from elections and recent opinion polls are already giving us a glimpse of things to come. The polls reveal that there is widespread voter fatigue with President Yoweri Museveni. His popularity has fallen from 68% in 2010/11 to about 51% now. This is a borderline position that if anything adverse happens, like we see the economy slowly slipping downhill, Museveni’s margin may go further down. Such a crisis can change people’s moods, thereby increasing voter turnout. This would force Museveni into a second round, a situation he can only recover from by employing a degree of violence that forces his opponents to pull out of the election.
So what has happened to reduce Museveni’s margin? Immediately after the 2011 elections, I wrote an article: “Why Museveni won and Besigye lost and what can be done for the future” which, if you read today sounds quite prophetic. I argued then that the main opposition candidate, Kizza Besigye, is able to rally his base but unable to grow it. This is because his message, even though powerful, has grown stale. His passionate attacks on the government for corruption and incompetence have become too repetitive to attract new voters looking for a more calm and sober alternative to Museveni. Since then, this new voice has emerged in Amama Mbabazi. But it has not made the fundamental difference I expected and I will explain why.
How corruption becomes a necessary vice for successful politicians who win elections by denouncing it
Here is a thought experiment. Imagine you are a presidential candidate for the 2016 elections in Uganda. You have all the good policies and ideas. And you want to build a winning electoral coalition. What is the most critical thing you need? It is building an organisational structure that allows you to reach all parts of the country.
Now, in most poor countries, modern institutions like political parties, farmers’ cooperatives, labour unions and other civic associations to link candidates and their programs to targeted voters are either weak or absent. This is especially so in those parts of the country where most voters are – rural areas. The solution in our context is to identify powerful pillars of opinion (influencers) in the different ethnic and religious communities as the building blocks of your organisational infrastructure. These include influential prelates, powerful traditional leaders and other pillars of opinion such as respected elders, successful businessmen, articulate youths, teachers etc.
I admit that because of rapid growth of the economy over the last 28 years, the explosion in education and the spread of access to mass and social media, Uganda has a large community of citizens whose primary identity is not religious or ethnic. These are the urbanised second and third generation middleclass citizens on social media. Many of these can be efficiently reached and mobilised through their hobbies like sports and entertainment, or through their professions (lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers), or occupations (small and medium scale traders in the informal sectors – boda bodas, barbers, vendors, kiosk owners, bartenders), etc. However, the vast majority of voters are still located in the religious and ethnic sphere.
This article was written for The Guardian
How regurgitating stereotypes and prejudice about Africa easily gets you audience in Western media
So I chanced upon an article by a one Patience Akumu (`Why Obama doesn’t understand the lust for power of our African leaders’, The Guardian UK, Aug.2). To Akumu, Africa needs President Barack Obama’s lectures because “his powerful words are the kind of inspirational tool we Africans – both young and old – need to lift our downtrodden and intimidated souls…?” The author also says that Africa was better under colonial rule than after independence.
Africans have been involved in struggles for the improvement of their political systems without Obama. Through street protests, civil wars, military coups, court battles, and mass media debates, Africans have always fought for what is good for them. True, progress has not been a constantly improving curve. There are always gains and losses, progress and reversals. But this is normal because political change is difficult to organise and results often come at a creep, not a gallop. The political history of Western European and North America over the last 200 years attests to this. In fact African nations are outperforming Western nations in the speed of our progress. None of the Western nations enjoyed as much democracy as African countries enjoy today when they had Africa’s current very low levels of urbanisation, industrialisation, per capita income, government revenues, education attainment, and small size of the middle class.
Why obsession with presidential term limits in Africa is a secular gospel based on faith than historic facts
US President Barack Obama excited a section of Africa’s elite when he denounced African leaders who rule for very long, some even dying in office. This seems common sense. But how long is long? The ancient Romans thought a year was long enough. When in 509 BC they abolished monarchy and established a republic, they created a senate that would elect two councils (later tribunes) who would serve a one-year non-renewable term. When in 132 BC Tiberius Gracchus attempted to violate this rule and run for a second term, senators led by Scipio Nasica accused him of trying to become king. They attacked him wielding clubs in the Forum and killed him. So by the standards of the ancient republican Rome, Obama’s eight years is a very long time for a leader to be in power.