How the arrest of Rwanda’s chief of intelligence in London shows the British government projecting its behavior on RPF
Let us imagine a situation where a Spanish judge indicts 40 top Israel generals. The judge alleges that in 1933, Jews formed a terrorist organisation in neighboring Poland aimed at exterminating the German people. He further alleges that in 1939, Jews exploited circumstances of World War 11 to execute genocide against Germans. If there were any killings of Jews by any Germans, the judge alleges, it was spontaneous self-defense.
The Spanish government issues arrest warrants. It has an extradition agreement with the British government. Let us also imagine Jews liberated Germany from the iron grip of the Nazis. The Germans now live comfortably with Jews. Finally let us imagine that the head of the Israel intelligence was passing through London. Would the British government arrest him on such an indictment?
Why there was never a South Korean but a Congolese miracle
Let us present an alternative history of the world. The year is 1960 and we have two countries - Mexico and France - each with a per capita income of $100. Both countries have emerged from colonial rule, Mexico by neighboring Brazil, and France by Nigeria. Almost 70% of the people of Mexico are peasants; the figure for France is 99%. Both nations are ruled by military strongmen who want to industrialize their countries in order to raise the standard of living of their people.
There are differences between the two nations in what economists call “initial conditions.” Mexico has existed as a nation with a State for 2,000 years, ruled by a centralized bureaucracy. So the concept of nationhood and the idea of a central state have penetrated the social consciousness of its people. It has enjoyed a system of meritocratic recruitment into its civil and military service for 450 years. It has capable civil administrators and an army whose leadership even in the middle ranks is composed of university graduates from the best military academies in Brazil and in the world’s super power, India. Mexico has had a history of university education for over 500 years.
The total land area of Mexico is 100,000 square kms occupied by a population of 25 million. In 1960, Mexico has eight universities with a total enrolment of over 80,000 students. Its manufacturing sector alone employs 4,424 engineers, 31,350 managers, 5,025 sales executives, 13,660 white collar workers, 17,330 workers classified as “clerical,” and 404,735 skilled workers in industrial plants (blue collar jobs). Only 5.5% of all workers lack formal schooling. This is not to mention professionals in other sectors. Its exports as a percentage of its GDP were 70% by 1929. Mexico has cottage industries spread across its territory and technology is actually diffuse even in rural areas. Its people speak the same language, and its literacy levels and education attainment is higher than that of the world’s third-largest economy, Indonesia.
In challenging Museveni, Mbabazi may have made his boldest political move ever but equally the most fatal one
On Monday Amama Mbabazi declared his intentions to challenge President Yoweri Museveni for the leadership of the NRM and the country. The message launching his campaign was the most mature. He did not make scathing personal attacks on Museveni, accusing him of being a despot and of destroying the country. Instead he positioned his bid as a contest over the country’s future rather than a quarrel over its past. He acknowledged the achievements Uganda has registered over the last 50 years. His message was contrary to the militant and vitriolic rancour his daughters and in-laws have been spewing on social media.
So one hopes the NRM and Museveni will not drag Mbabazi into the mud to humiliate him but instead exercise the same maturity and civility. Yet this hope may be unfulfilled. Mbabazi has been Museveni’s closest confidant. He has been his director of external intelligence, his minister of Defence, minister of Justice and Attorney General, minister of Foreign Affairs, minister of Security, prime minister and secretary general of the ruling party. He is also the one person Museveni used to lend the presidential jet. Museveni will feel a deep sense of betrayal at Mbabazi for daring challenge him.
Now, the president’s handlers will read Museveni’s mood and therefore seek to humiliate Mbabazi in order to please their boss – well knowing that in whipping Mbabazi, they are nursing an inner emotional injury in the president. It is thus unlikely that Museveni’s and NRM’s response to the Mbabazi challenge can be civil. In any case, the dynamics of our politics make political success dependant on bare-knuckled tactics. If these tactics were not a tried and tested instrument of political success, it is very likely Museveni/NRM would not be employing them in every election.
Our continent needs to focus on its positive attributes and use those to inspire future generations
The definitive clash of wills during the Second World War that paved the way for the defeat of Nazi Germany was the battle of Stalingrad. Soviet leader Josef Stalin had ordered the Red Army to fight to the last man to stop the Germans from taking the city which bore his name. Any retreating soldier would be summarily shot. He sent in Nikita Khrushchev as the political commissar to enforce the order. Khrushchev implemented this order with unparalleled harshness. Propaganda stories in newspapers, television, and motion pictures showed scores of retreating troops being shot.
Many soviet soldiers fought desperately for the motherland but many others were giving up. Harsh punishment was not working as expected. One day, a very junior officer (perhaps out of naivety) told Khrushchev that harsh punishment for desertion (a negative incentive) was [maybe] necessary in certain cases. But he said it was not sufficient to win battle. In fact, he added, it was much more important to motivate troops with stories of soviet heroism.
“Let us not show our troops their failures but achievements,” the junior officer said, “Let us show them their heroes, not their villains. We must get stories of our soldiers’ heroism and spread them to inspire others to do great things as well. If we don’t have heroes, let us create them to inspire our men and women.”
Khrushchev embraced this advice. Soon, soviet media stopped showing images of deserting soldiers being shot for cowardice. They began showing images of courageous men and women of the Red Army destroying German tanks and shooting down German planes. Within a month, the tide was turning against Germany. Stalingrad turned into Adolf Hitler’s Waterloo.
Exposing the hidden bias behind our obsession with Western goodness and Africa’s dysfunctions
The greatest triumph of the colonial state was not the integration of our economies and social/political systems into the international capitalism system. That could have been achieved without colonialism and via free trade. Colonialism’s greatest triumph was the colonisation of our minds. Today we see everything Western through rosy lenses. Conversely we see everything African through lenses tinted with poisonous acid. We are so quick to cheer the good in Western society and blind to its political and social pathologies. We are equally unable to see the boundless goodness in Africa and quick to condemn every dysfunction we imagine.
Recently, Ramathan Ggoobi, a lecturer at Makerere University, tweeted a picture of British Prime Minister David Cameron on a train in England: “God! When shall my country get here? My president on a public train! (Pioneer Bus in our case and standing for no seat).” Then my friend Hashim Wasswa quoted the tweet with a quip: “Lol, not until you have a president with a middle or working class background – a generation or two down.” Someone else then commented: “Civilisation of the highest order. We are very far to reach here.” Soon it was a barrage of acidic attacks on leaders in Africa and their penchant for a good ride.
Ten years ago, I would have joined this condemnatory league. But I have outgrown this mindset because I realised it is actually a one-sided look at Western (picking only the positive) and African leaders (finding fault). So I tweeted to Ramathan saying that President Yoweri Museveni has previously travelled on a pick-up truck in Kabale in 1989, on a boda boda in Kampala in 2000 and in a minibus (matatu) in 2004. I forgot to add that in 2006 Mrs. Janet Museveni travelled by bus to Nairobi, not to mention when in 2007 she held a broom and cleaned the streets of Kampala for CHOGM.
What FDC needs to do to reinvent itself and generate morale among its supporters
After his defeat in this month’s elections, Ed Miliband did the honourable thing and resigned the leadership of the British Labor Party. Miliband followed an evolving tradition of unsuccessful political party leaders in the United Kingdom – Neal Kinnock, John Major, William Haig and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown – resigning after electoral defeat. This practice is good. Ideally, a political party leader who loses an election should give a chance to new ones to test their mettle and, hopefully, bring new ideas and zest to the party.
When I was young and intelligent, I would have recommended this to every political party in Africa. Now that I have grown old and stupid, I am not inclined to. This lesson sunk home in my mind slowly because of what has happened to Uganda’s largest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). Like many other parties in Africa, FDC has a constitution that requires its leader to serve only two terms. Kizza Besigye was the leader of the FDC. The most effective, courageous, and charismatic challenger to President Yoweri Museveni ever, Besigye resigned his leadership of the party in 2013 and was replaced by the noble Mugisha Muntu.
Although I am an admirer of Besigye (because of his courage and audacity) I am also critical of his strategy – or lack of one. His charisma, toughness, and strong will were vital in evoking passion and enthusiasm in his candidature and the fortunes of the opposition. However, while these qualities helped him solidify his supporters, they also undermined Besigye’s ability to broaden his base. He failed to moderate his political posture. This alienated him from many women voters, independents, and even wavering Museveni/NRM sympathisers who can be attracted to a message of change.
How the current crisis in Burundi is likely to ignite a regional conflagration
Pierre Nkurunziza wants to remain president of Burundi. His opponents don’t want him to. Nkurinziza says the constitution allows him another term in office. His opponents say the Arusha Accords, which formed the basis of the constitution, do not. The Constitutional Court of Burundi ruled in favour of Nkurunziza. His opponents reacted by organising mass demonstrations on the streets of the capital, Bujumbura, and beyond. This seemed to take the country to the precipice. Seeing vulnerability, some army officers staged a coup, which Nkurunziza’s spokesperson called a “joke.” He was right! The coup makers lacked sufficient support in the military and police. That sealed their fate.
Why does Nkurunziza want to remain president when his people “don’t want him”? Well he said that “his people” (he said 90%), want him to stay. He claims his opponents are a small but noisy minority who do not respect the constitution or the courts. We do not have a scientific way to determine who has the numbers. But if the opposition is strong, the cause is not lost. They should seek to defeat Nkurunziza at the polls. It is difficult for an unpopular incumbent to rig and win. If he does; he can stimulate mass demonstrations leading to collapse. Only effective control of the military and police can save a weak incumbent from defeat. Even then such success is rare.
What do we make of Burundi’s crisis? To his national confederates, Nkurunziza has won two rounds now: the constitutional court case and the coup. This places him in a comfortable position to face his opponents in the elections with a psychological advantage. Unless they mobilise new mass demonstrations and paralyse his government, Nkurunziza is likely to clobber them in next month’s election. In fact the defeat of the coup has now furnished Nkurunziza an opportunity to eliminate his opponents in the military. It has also provided him an excuse to use the military and police to crack down on his opponents – both violent and pacific.
Why elections in India select criminals for politicians but produce dedicated public servants in Norway and Sweden
I have argued before that the very specific way democracy has evolved in Uganda is injurious to the common good. I use the word “very specific” because I am aware that other countries have had a different experience. Yet Uganda is not unique. Last week, I concluded this column showing how India faces a similar crisis as Uganda. Indeed, many democracies in Africa may have faired better than autocracies. But they too have evolved a pattern of politics where the public sector hardly embodies a collective vision. Instead it reinforces a pattern of politics that confers privileges on a few at the expense of the many.
I have grown to doubt the view that democracy per se automatically produces improved governance. The commitment by incumbents in power to be honest, serve the common good,and be accountable for their actions may have little to do with elections and any regime of checks and balances.For example, the commitment of Kabaka Ronald Mutebi and his indefatigable Katikiiro, Peter Mayiga, to serve the good of Buganda is not based on them being elected. Rather, they have been socialised into Kiganda traditions that impose on them a sense of honour to serve their people well. This is the same experience I find in the gulf states of Dubai, Qatar and Oman. There, quasi-traditional monarchs serve their citizens diligently even without democracy.
I am increasingly of the view that being accountable and committed to one’s citizens and subjects is not a result of being elected. It has a lot to do with values, norms, traditions (i.e. shared cultural understanding) of leaders and the conscience of elites, etc. In those countries where checks and balances work, they are consequences of the search for, not the cause for the existence of, accountability.
How electoral competition eliminates public spirited candidates and increases the numbers of self-interested ones
Around election-time,many candidates for office from across the political divide come to me for advice or assistance. We discuss practical political issues: How do I raise money for my campaign? Who are the individuals (there are hardly any organisations) I can approach for financial contributions? Who are the political godfathers (in the church, state or business) I can court? What issues should inform my platform? Which political party ticket should I stand on? In answering these questions, one realises how far removed from theory our actual politics is.
What are the implications of a candidate’s electoral victory coming from courting an ethnic/religious base? What does dependence on political godfathers for electoral success imply on efforts to institutionalise power? What happens when campaign finance for candidates comes almost entirely from their personal savings and atomized individual contributions instead of organisations? How about lack of deeply rooted political loyalties?
In many of my conversations, a candidate will tell me they share the views of FDC. But their constituents are staunchly NRM. Running on FDC ticket is a losing strategy. But they want to go to parliament and make a contribution. What should they do?Besides, if you disagree with the corruption of NRM, politicians in FDC, UPC, DP etc. are not any better. Some are driven by ideals. But many are driven by the same base motivations as NRM. Kizza Besigye has told me his own disappointment at FDC politicians telling him they want to get into power and also eat (or loot) like NRM.