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Monday, 08 February 2016 05:47 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How he has accepted the categorisation imposed upon him by a racial system that subjugated black people

US President Barak Obama calls himself a black man. Indeed, America and the rest of the world refer to him as a black man. Yet we all know he is actually a person of mixed ancestry. His father was a black man from Kenya, his mother a white woman from Kansas. If Obama had been born in Uganda, he would be called a “mucotera”, in apartheid South Africa, a “colored”, in Brazil, a “mulatto” and in mainstream English, a “half caste”. This teaches us that racial categories are not biological but social constructions.

Some would think Obama sees himself as a black person because of our patrilineal cultures where a child takes after their father’s identity. That is not the case in America. Even if Obama’s mother had been black and his father white, he would have been seen and treated by American society as a black man. This would also lead him to see himself as a black man. The categorisation of anyone with black blood, whatever the percentage, as a black person is a very American thing rooted in that nation’s slave history and the politics around it.

Slavery in America was based on race. To justify keeping a certain group of people in perpetual bondage, white supremacists developed ideologies that dehumanised black people. Blacks were referred to as sub human, or as animals in the category of monkeys and chimpanzees. This justified white people owning black people as private property – just the way one owns a horse, a cow or goat. Interracial sexual liaisons threatened to upset this social order because they showed that black people were as human as white people and therefore capable of loving and siring children with whites.

 
Monday, 01 February 2016 06:02 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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How journalists have allowed campaign rhetoric to obscure issues that are fundamental to the election

President Yoweri Museveni’s campaign strapline; `Steady Progress’ sounds like a slogan from a communist pamphlet, not a marketing sound-bite in a competitive election. With it, the President is not promising anything new or spectacular but merely more of the same. This reflects a severe lack of imagination in the President’s campaign strategy.

The leading opposition candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye, has the most powerful message that resonates with voters. Besigye claims that Museveni has mismanaged Uganda and points at widespread poverty and poor delivery of public goods and services, especially in health and education, saying they are a result of corruption and greed.

Besigye uses anecdotal evidence like Abim Hospital and Paya Primary School in Tororo to drive his point home. He uses these to call for radical change. Nowhere is campaign rhetoric more appealing (and dangerous) than where it makes use of (and abuses) undeniable truths. Ordinary voters want a simple message. And Besigye has it. The problem is Museveni, he says. The solution is to get rid of the president.

This is where journalism has failed Ugandans. Rather than explain, journalists have been carried away by images of Abim and Paya to propagate Besigye’s campaign rhetoric. For example, journalism should ask the question: has the Museveni administration been a disastrous failure? You cannot judge something you cannot measure. So what measurement can we use to confirm the validity of campaign claims?

 
Sunday, 24 January 2016 21:51 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Last week, we were treated to a televised debate among Uganda’s presidential candidates. Although we face an immense task of transforming our country from a poor and backward nation into a rich industrial society, our presidential candidates’ arguments fell far below what is required to achieve this task. For example, all the candidates talked about poor delivery of public goods and services. But they assumed this is due to corruption and the lack of care by those in power. Yet the real challenge of Uganda is that we are a poor country that cannot afford to pay for a large basket of public goods and services to the quality we desire.

The fundamental objective is to sustain a high rate of economic growth over a long period of time. This is critical because it will increase public revenues and thereby the government’s ability to pay for these public goods and services in an effective way. It was therefore intriguing that the “debate” did not have a single candidate mention economic growth.

The most passionate candidate was Dr. Kizza Besigye. Yet he defined his candidature narrowly as being against President Yoweri Museveni. He said if Museveni was not in the race he would not be in it either. He added that he only came to the debate because he had been misled by the organisers to believe Museveni was also going to attend. In personalising his struggle around Museveni, Besigye only demonstrated his lack of a vision of the Uganda he wants.

 
Monday, 18 January 2016 06:30 By Andrew M Mwenda
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Why Tanzania’s new president is doing the right thing the wrong way and why he may fail

Since early November 2015, newly elected Tanzanian president, John Pombe Magufuli, has captured the imagination of many African elites on social media by his brazen actions of cutting unnecessary government spending and firing “incompetent and lazy” government employees. He visited a hospital unannounced and after being appalled by its sorry state, fired management and the board right on the spot. He went to the port of Dar es Salaam, and seeing the mess, fired the entire management there and then. He cancelled independence anniversary celebrations and directed that the money be used for health services. He cut foreign trips by government officials saying ambassadors can do the work. The story goes on and on.

The hype about Magufuli on social media shows us how easily gullible human beings (most especially a particularly loud section of elites in Africa) are. Secondly, it also shows that this section of elites is ideologically confused and therefore does not know what it is always for and against. Let me deal with each of these issues (gullibility and ideological confusion) in turn. Some information from Tanzania suggests that Magufuli actually lost the election to Edward Lowassa (which in Africa means he won with less votes than was officially declared). But whatever the validity of this claim, it seems Magufuli came to office with limited legitimacy.

 
Monday, 11 January 2016 05:08 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Why we need to use the results of the referendum in Rwanda to think instead of relying on prejudice to judge

In 2014, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso sought to amend his nation’s constitution and remove term limits so that he could run for the presidency again. His citizens took to the streets in anger, burnt down parliament and literally chased him out of town and office. He now lives in exile in Ivory Coast. In 2012 in Senegal, President Abdoulaye Wade wanted to run for a third term. The opposition contested his aspiration in court saying he had already served two terms. Court ruled (I think correctly) that the constitution had been amended during his first time and could therefore not apply retrospectively. Wade went to the polls but was defeated.

In April 2015, Nigerians went to the polls and in expression of disapproval voted President Goodluck Jonathan out of office. Nearer home, President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi sought to run for a third term in mid 2015. The opposition said he had served both his terms as provided under the Arusha Accords. Nkurunziza argued term limits were introduced in the constitution during his first term and can therefore not apply retrospectively. The matter went to court and judges (again I think correctly) ruled in favor of Nkurunziza. However, his efforts to stay in office have stimulated violent contestations, an attempted coup and now a slow descent into civil war.

 
Wednesday, 06 January 2016 18:23 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 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, 21 December 2015 08:21 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Do the suffering people of Burundi a favour in their ongoing civil war; don’t help them

Burundi seems to be sliding into chaos. Innocent civilians are being killed in droves. News reports from the capital, Bujumbura, are both sickening and horrifying. Everyone wants the international community to do something. It is human nature to be revolted by such human suffering and desire to do something to save the lives of innocents who become victims of such madness. But this human instinct for kindness is rarely a basis for good policy. On the contrary, contemporary history is replete with examples of interventions to save human lives that make a bad situation worse.

In 2003, the U.S.government and her “coalition of the willing” overthrew Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein claiming (among other things) that they wanted to remove a dictator who was killing his own people and establish a democracy. This utopian dream collapsed on the blood-soaked streets of Baghdad in a brutal civil war that the U.S. allies lost. There was another foreign intervention to “save the people of Libya” from Muammar Gadhafi led by the UK and France with the U.S. behind them. Today the state in Libya has collapsed and anarchy rules that land. As I write this article, there is an outcry that the government of Bashar Al Assad in Syria is killing its own people. But foreign intervention to “save lives” has inflicted more death and human suffering.

 
Sunday, 13 December 2015 20:01 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Inside the struggle by Rwandans to get their president to run again in 2017

And so it was that on December 6, I was present at a Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) meeting to discuss the “third term”. Attended by over 3,000 party delegates, members wanted President Paul Kagame to pronounce himself – there and then – that he would be the presidential candidate of the RPF in the 2017 elections once the constitution is amended to remove term limits on the presidency. The meeting was charged. Delegate after delegate spoke with passion on why Kagame should be their presidential candidate.

From the way delegates spoke, it was clear that there was suspicion that Kagame would refuse their request. And the president was absent from the meeting attending to the visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister to listen to their pleas. So delegates directed their energy to the First Lady, Mrs. Jeannette Kagame, asking her to tell her husband not turndown the request to run. So intense were the demands on Jeannette that she declared she was attending the meeting as an ordinary party member, not as a First Lady.

 
Wednesday, 09 December 2015 07:00 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential candidate, Dr. candidate Kizza Besigye and his supporters claim President Yoweri Museveni has destroyed Uganda and their campaign is to save the country from catastrophe. Yet Besigye is making campaign promises that will require trillions of shillings to fund. If Museveni has destroyed the country and its economy, where is Besigye going to get the money? He says it is available in our treasury but is being misused on a bloated payroll of political appointees. Inadvertently Besigye is acknowledging that Uganda’s economy under Museveni has grown tremendously and is now able to generate enough revenues to pay better wages to public sector workers.

 

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