Why Uganda (like other African countries) keeps rotating around the same roundabout
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Last weekend, Kyadondo East Member of Parliament (MP), Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, held a “mega” Kyarenga (it’s too much) concert at his One Love Beach in Busabala near Kampala. Drovees of Ugandans flocked there to watch their new messiah sing his new song, “Tuliyambala engule” (we shall wear the crown). It is a song promising to liberate Uganda from the “dictatorship” of President Yoweri Museveni.
The event happened when I was re-reading John Gray’s book, `Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and other Animals’. In it, Gray, a professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics, argues that humans are deluded to think that they are different from other animals. The only difference between humans and other animals, Gray argues, is writing; which gives humans capacity to store information in permanent form. Many disagree, arguing instead that Gray bases more on logical consistence and less on “evidence”.
Gray’s argument appears fundamentally true. We humans think we are different from other animals because we are capable of “rational” as opposed to emotional actions.
But, as Jonathan Haidt, a professor of moral psychology at the Stern School of Business of New York University has shown in his book, `The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion’, human reasoning is a slave of human emotions.
Haidt researched human psychology and moral reasoning. His findings confirmed the ideas of the 19th century Scottish Philosopher, David Hume who had argued that people do not rely on facts and evidence to arrive at our conclusions. They rely on prejudices, biases, values, beliefs etc. We look for those facts and evidence that support our values, biases, prejudices and beliefs – what psychologists call “confirmation bias”.
Many of the Ugandans who went to Bobi Wine’s concert over the weekend, and the elites who were promoting it on Twitter, demonstrate how emotional human beings can be. It proved that our feelings, not our rational thinking, drive our actions as it does among other animals.
Indeed, after writing his eleven volumes of `The Story of Civilisation’, a 10,000 pages-long study spanning 5,000 years of human history, 20th Century American philosopher, Will Durant, compressed it into a book of 100 pages titled `The Lessons of History’. His conclusion: history is driven by human nature (our animal instincts), not human ideals. That is why many of us are gullible and short-sighted.
Thus, like a herd of antelopes, Ugandans converged on One Love Beach to buy another dose of ideological cocaine. Bobi Wine offered them the drug they are addicted to: denouncing Museveni and promising salvation – however vaguely.
For many Ugandans frustrated with Museveni’s long rule, Bobi Wine represents a breath of air into our politics. What is frustrating and depressing in this debate is the inability of the elite promoters of the One Love Beach mob to digest lessons from our history.
Museveni came to power promising liberation from the very evils he is being accused of orchestrating: corruption, nepotism, tribalism and dictatorship.
Museveni argued that these problems were a result of incompetence, selfishness, ideological bankruptcy and lack of patriotism by Milton Obote and Idi Amin. And Museveni was not alone. Practically every single leader in Africa has come to power accusing their predecessor of these ills. They have ruled or left office being accused of them.
More than half a century later and more than 300 leaders who have come and gone, one would expect a different discourse in Africa – one that looks beyond individuals and situates these problems in a broader structural context. It is from such an insight that we can craft a solution since one cannot treat a disease they have not diagnosed. Indeed, if Museveni has failed, it is because he misdiagnosed the disease by attributing a complex social problem to individual agency – Obote and Amin. Misdiagnosis leads inevitably to wrong prescription.
So we must ask: why do rational human being believe Bobi Wine is a solution to Uganda’s problem? In my few encounters with him and in my reading or listening to his speeches, I am appalled at how uninformed and shallow Bobi Wine is. He has a set of emotional feelings about the state of Uganda, and almost no idea of their cause (he thinks it is Museveni) or a plan on how to solve them. His only slogan is that Museveni has failed (he cannot even articulate on what) and we need change.
Is pointing out Museveni’s perceived failures sufficient to qualify someone to be president? (I use “perceived failures” because on the issues Bobi Wine attacks Museveni, the president has done fairly well). I have strong disagreements with opposition leader and activist, Kizza Besigye. But he is, even with his many limitations, a much more informed person than Bobi Wine. The fact that Ugandans, especially elites, embrace someone totally clueless about the problems and needed solutions for our country only shows why we have been changing leaders forever without ever altering the problems we accuse them of.
It is possible to argue that a leader does not need to be informed about the alternative policies needed to “liberate” a country – itself a hard argument to sell. But let us, for argument’s sake, accept such warped reasoning. The only saving grace would be that such a leader is backed by a coalition of people with progressive interests (I am thinking of industrialists, for example) and ideological clarity. Under this context, it matters less who the person at the top is because the middle and bottom of the power pyramid is composed of powerful and progressive interests.
Look at the interest groups behind Bobi Wine to glean what future portends for the government he will most likely preside over. These comprise international and domestic groups. His international backers are a coalition that can only help him promote the interests of multinational capital, which Museveni has done for the last 30 years with crippling implications on our country’s future development. So we are not changing the major influence on power but the personnel promoting it.
The second group supporting Bobi Wine is domestic – Uganda’s professionals and a hotchpotch of unemployed and underemployed youths. Both groups survive or seek to survive on salaried employment, largely provided by the state or by multinational capital. This domestic constituency can only reproduce a government that relies on patronage – the very bloated state employment sector we accuse Museveni of creating. How can this be a solution to our current problems?