Why Rwanda should follow the judgment or misjudgment of its citizens rather than the dictates of theory
In mid-July, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Global Competitiveness Report where it listed Rwanda as having the 7th most efficiently ran government in the world. It was ahead of Switzerland and Luxembourg, the only two European countries on the list. In the same week the upper and lower houses of parliament in Rwanda voted by 100% and 99% respectively to amend the constitution to remove term limits on the presidency. In our “intellectual” debates, we would say the coincidence was because President Paul Kagame bribed the WEF for this rating.
The parliamentary resolution was not surprising because on almost every important indicator – rate of economic growth, decline in infant, child and maternal mortality, doing business reforms, improvement in life expectancy, fighting corruption, public confidence in government institutions, women representation, etc. – Rwanda is either number one or among the top ten countries in the world. And this in a country that had been written off as a failed state only 20 years ago! This explains why Rwandans want the leader who has presided over this miracle to continue in office. It is possible Rwandans are making a mistake. But they should be allowed freedom to try and to err; that is how Rwanda will learn and grow.
How political debate is divorced from our revenue and skills reality on state delivery of public goods and services
When I was in boarding secondary school in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we used to eat maize porridge every morning for breakfast, posho and boiled beans every lunch and supper. The same experience characterised our meals at Makerere University in the mid-1990s. My dad and his contemporaries have amazing stories of their school experiences in the 1950s and 60s. In those golden years, students in boarding secondary schools, but most especially at Makerere University, would have eggs, sausages, bacon, bread with jam and butter, milk and sugar at breakfast, rice and chicken for lunch etc. Professors Holger Hansen, Nelson Kasfir and the late Joel Barkan have recounted these stories to me as well.
In those days, salaries for teachers, nurses, doctors, lecturers and other professions were high, affording government employees a decent lifestyle without being corrupt. The public service embodied a public spirit and public sector workers pursued a collective vision. Many scholars argue that as economic decline and inflation eroded the value of the wages of government employees, corruption became the main source of sustenance. However, I have grown suspicious of almost everything written about Africa.
So recently I got my very brilliant son (in the African usage of that term), Ian Ortega Aliro, to compare the figures of 1960s and today. The data is diverse, but we can use a snapshot of it. In 1962, Uganda had a population of seven million people. However, there were 323 students enrolled in S5 and S6 and 800 at Makerere. Surely, the colonial government could afford to feed students in high school and at Makerere on sausages and eggs; it had very few mouths to feed. The Obote administration pushed the enrolment in S5 and S6 to 4,220 in 1970. By 1970, intake of Ugandan students at Makerere University had grown from 120 in 1962 to 870 per year, a humongous leap.
How Museveni and the opposition are likely to structure their campaigns and the risks and advantages of their likely strategies
The battle between President Yoweri Museveni and his erstwhile ally and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is likely going to be nasty. The president’s handlers are likely to brutalise and humiliate Mbabazi. Ironically, this is what Mbabazi needs to build his profile.
Mbabazi does not have a powerful message or a charismatic personality to excite voters. All he needs to do is provoke the state to brutalise him. That is what will win him sympathy. Museveni is likely to fall into this trap in part because he seeks security in brute force and in part because the benefits of this strategy may exceed its costs – if well executed.
On May 20, the American Congress held a hearing on the “deteriorating human rights situation in Rwanda”.
The timing was surprising because there have hardly been incidents of human rights abuse in Rwanda for a while. Instead the hearing took place against the backdrop of widespread demonstrations in the US against police brutality meted out against African American males.
Why would the US congress be bothered by human rights in Rwanda, a country 15,000 miles away, when many of its own citizens are being killed by a run-amok police while others are being sent to jail in droves? In the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s, the government of Rwanda used to be highhanded. It relied on the systematic use of force to consolidate power to a significant degree.
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.