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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.

 
Sunday, 22 February 2015 21:58 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Why we should stop complaining about what our country has failed to do and ask what we can do

It is very hard to get things done, even at the smallest level. But it is very easy to sit and complain about things. Reading social media, one gets the sense that we have increasingly become a complaining nation, not a doing nation. Everywhere complaints abound of our failing healthcare and education system, of corruption and abuse of office. But one hardly reads a story of what those complaining are doing to change the situation. Are we waiting for intervention from God?

Two caveats: First, complaining is okay if you are doing something about the problem. As Kwame Nkrumah said, “organise, don’t agonise”. Second, accusing our elites of turning Uganda into a complaining nation may be an unfair indictment of our people since social media may not represent the majority of our citizens. It is possible that those who keep complaining on social media are idle (which is another way of saying they are doing nothing). So they have a lot of time at their hands to complain. By implication this means that people who are busy doing things don’t have time to quarrel, heckle, complain, and insult others on social media.

So it was with great inspiration that I read an article in Daily Monitor of January 28, 2015 by Silver Mwesigwa, the speaker of Isingiro district council. Mwesigwa, a holder of a masters’ degree was working with an international NGO and earning good money. He is widely travelled across Africa and the world. But each time he went to his home village, he was saddened at how bad public services were. In 2011 the district had produced only two students in First Grade; most pupils were failing PLE, if they had not dropped out of school. The local health center had little or no drugs while medical personnel were reporting for work late, if at all. There was no clean water.

 
Sunday, 15 February 2015 21:28 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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The obstacles to building an effective opposition and advancing democracy without “regime change”

Last week, the NRM and opposition leaders agreed on 43, out of 48 proposed electoral reforms. This is contrary to the doomsday scenarios its hecklers have been presenting that there is no chance in hell for NRM to accept reform. To deepen democracy, the opposition should talk to NRM. Negotiations would be one of its many instruments – others being using the mass media, organising rallies, street protests, using courts and lobbying powerful players inside NRM, donors and President Yoweri Museveni personally.

Such a multifaceted approach requires that the opposition adopt a less confrontational tone in its dealings with NRM. They need to behave like FDC Vice Chairperson, the indefatigable Salaam Musumba, who is emerging as one of the shinning pillars of mature politics. Many leaders of the opposition agree with this. However, they fear that being moderate towards Museveni will lead their extremist supporters to accuse them of selling out. Fear, not principle, is what has stifled the evolution of mature opposition politics.

The opposition can come to power by defeating Museveni thoroughly at the polls and inducing him to accept the people’s verdict. The other avenue could be a popular uprising, which forces Museveni to resign or flee the country. The first option is only possible if there is exceptionally superior political organisation; the second if there is a serious economic crisis that galvanizes vast numbers of people to take to the streets inducing the military and security forces into breaking ranks with Museveni. Both have not worked.

 
Sunday, 08 February 2015 22:02 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Why poor countries may need a more activist president, one willing to intervene to get them to work

Let me do what the Germans call Gedanken (a thought experiment). Political power in most of post-colonial Africa has tended to be personalised. We feel that this is bad and tends to undermine the ability of the state to serve broader social goals. Personalised power also tends to be arbitrary. But why don’t David Cameron and Barak Obama in the UK and USA personalise power? Could it be that over hundreds of years, power in UK and USA has been institutionalised so much so that an attempt to personalise it cannot be contemplated and that if anyone leader tried, they would not succeed?

For Africa, could it be that the personalisation of power is a result of the absence and/or poor development of institutions and therefore personalisation fills an institutional void? Alternatively (or even complimentarily) could it be that the institutions we inherited from the colonial state are not consistent with our social context? That the only way to manage our societies is to sidestep these institutions, a factor that underpins personalisation?

These questions came to me as I was listening to over 30 hours of autobiographical interviews I had with former President Milton Obote in late 2004. Obote told me that while making decisions regarding deployment and/or promotion of officers in the army, he followed institutional mechanisms left behind by the colonial state. He allowed officers to perform their functions without undue interference i.e. he delegated power.

 
Sunday, 01 February 2015 21:31 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How it has facilitated a politics that has undermined the ability of public institutions to serve the common good

To explain the dysfunctions in the public sector in Uganda, we need to understand how political power in our country is organised, how it is exercised and how it is reproduced. For example, how does President Yoweri Museveni build his electoral coalition? How do other elected officials – members of parliament and local councils – build successful political careers? Often, our debates tend to moralise, praise, pontificate and condemn but they rarely analyse and illuminate the salient issues that shape politics.

Uganda’s politics is managed through the institution of a winner-take-all multiparty system. Political competition takes place in the context of an ethnically diverse, less educated, superficially religious, largely poor agrarian society with a small but growing middleclass and private sector. What are the implications of this?

It means winning a presidential election requires pleasing powerful religious clerics, influential pillars of opinion among our different ethnic and occupational groups and by co-opting traditional leaders like kings and chiefs. Museveni does this by giving these leaders state jobs/money and some business deals or allows them unofficial opportunities to profit through corruption. In turn, these leaders mobilise their followers behind him. There is little reason to believe that any other leader in his position would act differently. However, this strategy has powerful implications on the performance of the public sector.

 
Sunday, 25 January 2015 22:08 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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African intellectual elites personalise their analysis even as they accuse African leaders of personalising the state

On Jan.1, I went to Nsambya Hospital in Kampala where my cousin was hospitalised. The hospital is owned and run by the Catholic Church. The buildings many of which were constructed in the 1960s are now old and murky, with little renovation since. The wards are crowded, nurses underpaid, the doctors struggling to meet pressure and the gardens are overgrown. This is the same thing I have witnessed in Mengo, Rubaga, and other non-government Church-led health facilities. Even at International Hospital Kampala (IHK) and Nakasero Hospital, owned by private investors and a bit better managed, I see many weaknesses and incompetence.

So what caused the collapse of Uganda’s healthcare system that in the 1960s was the pride of Africa? To many observers, including myself, this is because of President Yoweri Museveni’s mismanagement of the public sector. He has presided over the most corrupt government in Uganda’s history. Under him the public sector has been characterised by corruption, incompetence, indifference and apathy. His government lacks a collective vision. Instead, it has become largely (but I admit not entirely) a springboard for private profiteers involved in near anarchical grabbing of public resources.

But if Museveni is the cause of the collapse in the quality of the public sector, who is the cause of the collapse in the nongovernment health sector? Why is there little or no difference between Nsambya and Mulago? Why is Kampala International University actually worse than Makerere University? In the 1990s, government surrendered management of all church and mosque built schools back to their founders and continues to aid them – Mwiri, Nabingo, St. Leos, Kibuli, Mbarara High, Nabumali, Layibi, Nyakasura, Bukumi, Makobore, etc. But they have not transformed into the centers of excellence these schools were in the 1960s. Why?

 
Sunday, 18 January 2015 20:39 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Why the opposition should adopt a new strategy if they are to remain relevant and build their credentials as a viable alternative

An opinion poll by Daily Monitor published on Jan.12 has given President Yoweri Museveni a commanding lead of 57% against leading opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye’s 8%. Many in the opposition will likely dismiss the results of the poll, allege that Museveni bribed Daily Monitor or the polling firm; Ipsos, or allude to a mythical “fear factor.” Hiding behind these excuses has in the past denied the opposition an opportunity to critically assess the situation and conduct painful self-examination.

There is a lot of evidence that Museveni has presided over a corrupt and incompetent government. Many visitors to Uganda’s schools, hospitals and other public services are appalled by the levels of indifference, absenteeism, and apathy. The public sector no longer embodies a public spirit. Instead it reinforces a pattern of private privilege that is socially harmful. And the opposition has done an excellent job of criticising government for this.

But the opposition has also mistakenly used this to conclude that, therefore, the majority of Ugandans hate Museveni and his party, NRM. This has led them to mistrust empirical research and reject analysis that shows that in spite of these public sector dysfunctions (and perhaps because of them) voters still prefer Museveni. Consequently, the opposition has turned its back on science and retreated to believing its own biases.

 
Sunday, 11 January 2015 21:18 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How Museveni repeats the mistakes he accused Amin and Obote of and how we can begin a new conversation about it

Daniel Kalinaki’s book, Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution, is one of the most compelling pieces of writing I have read in the recent past. It is simply unputdownable. As a story about Besigye’s ambitions, ideals, aspirations, illusions and delusions, it is spiced with scintillating anecdotes of the infightings, competitions, manipulations and betrayals of Uganda’s politics. It is a feast for Uganda’s elite served by an unstinting host.But as an analysis of the ills and remedies of Uganda’s pursuit of some democratic ideal, I felt Kalinaki did little reflection.

I have grown increasingly suspicious of mainstream views about politics in Africa; views I have personally propagated for most of my intellectual life. This is because I have interacted so much with our politicians, soldiers, activists, business persons and citizens. So I have been thinking of how to use this wealth of experience to understand and explain our politics. I have become wary of the underlying assumptions and adjectives we use. For example, throughout the book, Kalinaki refers to “the Obote regime,” “the Museveni regime”. Assuming he was writing about the USA, would he use the expression “the Obama regime?”

Here is the outline of the story Kalinaki tells us largely relying on Besigye’s (and his wife Winnie Byanyima’s) lenses into the politics of Uganda where President Yoweri Museveni is the central antagonist.

 
Monday, 05 January 2015 05:51 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How the West has built a global incentive system that sustains a negative narrative against Africa

Steve Bikoonce said the greatest weapon in the hands of an oppressor is not his armies and arms but the mind of the oppressed. Antonio Gramsci had made a similar observation regarding forms of domination. He argued that a ruling class does not dominate subordinate classes simply through [its] state’s instruments of coercion and repression (as Karl Marx had posited) but through the development of a dominant ideology, which he called hegemony.

Hegemony refers to the sum total of beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values and mores that a dominant social group develops and subordinate social groups accept as the norm i.e. the normal way things are or should be. Hegemony is therefore the universally dominant ideology that justifies the existing social, political and economic status quo as natural, normal, inevitable and beneficial to everyone. Yet the status quo is actually an artificial social construct developed by and for the benefit of the dominant social group.

We have been brought up to believe that the social arrangements (economic systems, political institutions, and cultural norms) of the Western world are the global standard that everyone should adopt for their own good. The counterpoint to the assimilation of this ideology is the belief among African elites that our own systems are archaic and backward. Thus African elites are quick to condemn everything in Africa or African – our political leaders, our public institutions, our ways of doing things, etc. This is not always an entirely wrong accusation even though it is an overly simplistic one.

 

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