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.
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?
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
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
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.