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?
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.
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.
How the West has built a global incentive system that sustains a negative narrative against Africa
Steve Biko once 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.
Monday, 22 December 2014 05:36
By Andrew M. Mwenda
How the renegade general’s antics demonstrate the poverty of opposition politics in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa
The return of Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza from exile in the United Kingdom on Dec.14 was sudden and, for most people, unexpected. Tinyefuza has been a consistent disappointment to those who believe he is worth anything. He blows hot and cold. He has a habit of raising hopes and then disappointing them at the very last minute. I admit that each time I have talked to him; I have found him a very intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful intellectual. However, it seems that all too often, his emotions overpower his reason. Consequently, his most important actions, even when driven by legitimate grievances and reasons, are influenced by a reckless impulse, a factor that renders them unproductive or even counterproductive.
For example, when he left Uganda last year, he made a series of outlandish outbursts and accusations against the government. At one time I wondered whether he was sane. How can a former chief of intelligence reveal the dirty laundry of the government he served so easily and lightly? Perhaps this was the reason the UK authorities denied him asylum; they recognised that he is not reliable.
In his bombast, Tinyefuza reflected a lack of political maturity. Street pundits and mobs on social media can cheer you for such reckless statements (even if they were true) but they reflect a lack of leadership qualities. If you were part of a government and occupying a strategic office, you don’t go yapping about its secrets so loosely. You behave like a man who is thrown out by a pretty girl he has dated for seven years and begins accusing her of having a smelly mouth. But why did he stay so long with her?
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.
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.