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The challenge of state legitimacy

German sociologist, Max Weber

Government can only govern if people comply with its demands, but why do people comply?

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | The German sociologist, Max Weber, argued that if the state is to exist, the dominated must obey the authority claimed by the powers that be. Then he posed an important question: when and why do men obey? He identified three main types of legitimate authority: the first that is derived from the personal charisma of a ruler, the second derived from tradition, and the third derived from a set of widely accepted laws and rules that determine who should govern and how.

For Weber these three types were idealised abstractions not found in reality. The reality is that governments hold power through a dynamic mix of means and strategies. This mix is also fluid and differs from time to time and from place to place based on resources available, culture, and history. Yet in most writings today, these idealised abstractions by Weber are taken almost literally.

The Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, always quotes the remark of former Makerere University don, Prof. Dan Mudoola, during the days when the Constitutional Commission was collecting views about a new constitution i.e. that the central challenge of government is to govern. This is even more pronounced in Africa because of the artificiality of the state combined with its limited resources to perform even the most basic functions.

Government can only govern if people comply with its demands or, at the very least, do not challenge its ability to govern. But why would people choose to comply with government demands? There are many reasons we can speculate about. One of the sources of such legitimacy is the ability of the state to provide a wide range of public goods and services to all citizens. But as I have argued consistently in this column over the last three weeks, this strategy is unaffordable for most of the nations of Africa in large part because they do not have sufficient financial, leave alone human, resources to govern that way as happens in rich nations.

Therefore, if you are a president of an African country, you must use other strategies of legitimation that are affordable. One of them is patronage, which may or may not take the form of corruption. For example, a president may appoint an individual who commands the respect of a given community into cabinet. This individual may be a traditional leader, an articulate youth, a respected professional, a successful businessperson, a religious cleric or a well-regarded intellectual. This person will act as the bridge between the president (or ruling party) and his or her group.

However, there are many other strategies of legitimation. For example, people may support a government because the leader is charismatic or because he is seen as an effective champion of the values and causes they hold dear. People may follow a leader because the rules that they respect confer authority upon him – whether these rules come from tradition (as in monarchies) or religion (as in theocracies) or from political bargains (as in constitutional republics).

People might also follow a leader through naked self-interest because they are getting or expect to get specific personal benefits. They may also follow a leader because they fear punishment if they don’t or because they seek protection against real or imagined external or internal threats or because it gives them a sense of belonging and group identity. Let us call this “tribalism” and I will return to this later in the article to show why it is important.


  1. PATRONAGE just like CRIME(yes, crime) is supposed to be like breastfeeding; it should be for a short time and to give one a head start.No one breastfeeds or is spoon fed for life, except those who die in infancy or those who are disabled.UNFAIR as patronage may be at some point, the beneficiary is supposed to WEAN themselves off it.
    ONE of the prominent businessmen in town, it is claimed , got their initial wealth( capital) through a heist they carried out with a group of friends in the 60s. The friends were arrested and carted off to jail where they served time. HE on the other hand was not implicated in the heist and did not go to prison. He went on to ( wisely) invest the money and not only looked after the families of his partners, but he gave them their due share upon release. Today he is a respected and prominent businessman who has gone on to invest in several businesses.To the best of my knowledge, he weaned himself off the criminal activity, only that as they say certain things run in the blood, a younger brother carried out a heist with disastrous consequences and is either serving life or is on death row.

  2. A person whom I know has been able to wean themselves of patronage, at least in its raw form , is JOSEPH MUGISHA of FAIR CONSTRUCTION. Mugisha was a UPC operative who was allied to the MUKONO UPC chairman, Mzee WAKO. He was awarded a contract, post 86, to repair the KCC offices as it was known then. The contract was controversial then , as it was considered a large sum for what most claimed was just a painting job.He then went on to fortify his company and slowly built it into a fairly reputed company.He was involved in the war effort of the RWANDA war and was influential in raising funds including events some of which were held at LUGOGO and also his own funds. When the war ended, he was a beneficiary of patronage in that he could not only pick the contracts he wanted, but he almost named his own price as most were entered into without formal agreements. IN addition , he had a large horde of building materials obtained after the war, which he kept at a warehouse on a building belonging to FELICIEN KABUGA.
    HE went on to strengthen his construction company including building a state of the art office block and workshop and later establishing a premix concrete plant.
    Today, FAIR Construction is such a well established and run company that it can compete FAIR(LY) for any building contract without the need for patronage.

  3. UNFORTUNATELY for our people, they never go on to build enterprises that can survive without patronage.They continue to be beneficiaries, most times on state resources and of no benefit to the general public, sometimes even to themselves. Even the tick ( enkwa) which sucks blood from livestock, when it sucks and is full up, it drops off (weans).
    THIS is what happened in countries like South Korea, where some individuals/companies were beneficiaries of patronage but have gone on to build mega international companies, which are not only competitive in KOREA but have gone on to provide jobs and are earners and exporters as well as massive contribution to state coffers thru taxes, and are no longer a burden but an asset to the nation.
    IN UGANDA, a person who has been the beneficiary of patronage say financially , will be the same person who will benefit from state scholarships for his children, in addition to receiving money for treatment abroad when a member of the family falls sick.And in addition to waiver on taxes, winning or awarded contracts unfairly, they will mismanage the companies and will be in line for a bailout with government resources.
    ALL I am saying is that if M 9 for instance is a beneficiary of patronage at some point, use it to make sure that you develop your company into a viable entity, diversify and go into Rwanda, Congo, Kenya and even the UK or US, completely on merit and on your own steam and employ people and pay taxes and probably end up doing charity work, like you say rich people are wont to do.Once you are able to stand on your own feet people will conveniently forget that you were the beneficiary of patronage at some point, just like no one remembers or mentions or cares that the gentleman I mentioned has a shady past, it is all JUSTIFIED. THE END has JUSTIFIED the MEANS

    • This narration Ejakait deserves to be an input of an economics textbook. I admire the way you put it and the practical examples you allude to. Even Jacob (son of Isaac) from who present-day Jews claim ancestry conned his way to a blessing which lasted. My predicament is however a bit different from your and Mwenda’s present subject but nevertheless as important. Education of our kids is going to the dogs. I hereby reproduce part of the Independent which Last Word(ians) may at times overlook for lack of time,interest or both. I here quote: “Of all the 326,212 candidates that sat O’ level exams in 2017 sat for biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics, (under a government policy passed in 2004) the distinction and credit levels in physics and chemistry were below 21% and 40% of the candidates were unable to exhibit the minimum required competency to be graded.
      The results show in Biology only 0.3% managed to score a distinction. 25.8% scored a credit whereas 55.5% got a pass grade. In physics which is also the worst done subject of the year only 0.7% scored a distinction and 12.5% a credit. When it came to chemistry 2.2% scored a distinction and 18.8% a credit” unquote

  4. MY QUESTION IS: ISN’T THIS WORK OF OPPOSITION? Because they promised to do a Tubalemese, it is my suspicion that they: (i) colluded with the students to perform poorly(like Makererians did on the day Gaddafi visited to show him that Amin had destroyed the economy by attending his rally with torn and filthy clothes in 1975)or (ii) Tubalemese examiners setting too difficult questions or even outside the curriculum so any students who don’t cooperate become foxed or even (iii) Tubalemese markers awarding X even where it should be a V.
    I have suspected them also to be behind “criminal policemen” and maybe reckless drivers who cause deaths and injuries on our roads,suicides and foreigners deaths in hotels, drug overdoses, divorces and family fights,religious conmen and women cum preachers/prophets are nearly all opposition. Surely something patriotic should be done like stepping down and save these Tubalemeses before they do something weird like compeling schoolchildren to refuse to go to school and instead go to the oilfields in Bunyoro. They can do it and before parliament knows it all buses are headed for Hoima. It needs just one rumour.

  5. LIKE I have said before, I doubt that M 9 fully understands the things that he tries to argue.

    Examples abound where he has said one thing at one point, and then said the opposite, most times seemingly unaware of what he is saying. YES , one is allowed a change of mind.

    Take the case of using North Korea as an example of being able to do what they have done, despite having a seemingly small budget. Or the case of RWANDA. HE would very much want to praise KAGAME for the stellar job he has done, and one would get the impression that KAGAME is superhuman, something I am sure even he would not want to be described as. BUT on the other hand , he does not want to point out the flaws that M 7 has.

    M 9 is on record , and I tend to agree with him for the most part, that AID in the form in which it is given to developing countries, especially in AFRICA, has done more damage than good, and has effectively created a dependency syndrome which has greatly undermined our ability to find solutions to our problems.

    YET on the other hand he advocates and justifies patronage.What is the difference between AID and patronage? AID is mostly given by Western ( mostly white other than say JAPAN) to poor developing countries. Patronage is mostly , as practised in AFRICA, given to those that the state or the RULER wants to have on his side. LIKEWISE, AID too has been described as a means by the rich countries to keep the poor countries reliant on them, and also as a way of extending their interests. SO like many leaders have told the developing countries ( not that they actually mean it), they want TRADE rather than AID, the same it can be said the same leaders should extend SERVICES rather than rely on patronage.

    SO my argument is , if you despise and criticize AID, how can you justify patronage.

    • AID is giving a ‘personal car’ to a person who has been using ‘public transport’ with the aim of ripping him off in fuel prices……knowing from experience that he will even sell his most beloved of property to stay driving….then buy oil,tyres and other parts that wear over time. This will make a person who has been managing his finances frugally and humbly suddenly become spendthrift and boisterous incurring debts and enemies who have been friends.
      PATRONAGE on the other hand can be compared to giving a destitute kinsman a cow (or any other asset) whereby if he is as cunning as the guys a la Mugisha (you alluded to in your post) who will do essential husbandry multiplying the cow into a herd and then launder the ill-gotten into a respectable income and acceptable wealth. The difference between is apparent from my attempted differentiation. AID is so dangerous that it is a sugar-coated poisonous foodstuff. Few if any have ever weaned themselves from AID because it is a sort of Neo-slavery. However, all rules have exception. If aid was to give one a fishing line (not fish) and educate one how to catch,process and then sell the fish, it is good. The most poisonous aid is cash.

  6. 1.Patronage is key in the politics of developing nations.i know deep in the heart of UPC ,they regret having allocated jobs to their uneducated next of kin in the army and ignored deploying them in areas of economics and development.
    2.The death of 2 foreign nationals in tops hotels in Uganda has exposed 2 worrying trends in Uganda(i)Drugs abuse can be disguised as cause of death(ii) Expatriates have alot of hope in sex workers even if you book for them accommodation at Sheraton they will stealthily go to lodges.
    3.What is the hullabaloo about the PTA loan ?let me tell u what its about after the opposition lost the age limit vote to NRM,they now want to dump their anger on any govt official ;mbu the interest charged on the PTA loan is too high as if the issue of high interest rate is new to MPs;secondly the money was allocated to i improve services in social service sectors what is wrong with that?its like a man harassing his wife because she used some of money to do facials and manicure instead of buying food.

  7. RWASUBUTARE , as for your narration on the plight of our education system, usually you are very receptive and I have known you to pick up even the faintest of signals. I wonder though how you failed to pick up on this one.

    I am sure you do realise that M 9 has the ear of the old man M 7.

    YOU know in our villages how one person takes out the other for a drink. Then the person who has been taken out, pretending that he has really drunk a lot,uses the opportunity to say things that he could not ordinarily say about his benefactor, most of the things not very charitable. The benefactor would usually say thus ” kumwenge gwenkugulidde gwoliko kati kwonvumila”. HE is accusing this character of insulting him when it is him who has bought him the beer.

    NOW go back to 8th of January to an article titled “UGANDA’S (AFRICA’S) PARADOX and here is part of the text:
    “Here is a paradox: the Ugandans who hate President Yoweri Museveni most intensely and are most critical of the performance of his government are those who have graduated and cannot find jobs. They miss the point that they have benefited a lot from Museveni rule. They have been educated. Indeed even those with jobs are frustrated because they feel they don’t earn enough.

    This paradox has been confirmed by every opinion poll in Uganda: the higher you climb the education and income ladder and the closer you get to urban areas, the lower is Museveni’s support. The reverse also holds: the lower you climb down the income and education ladder and the deeper you go into rural areas, the higher is Museveni’s support. Rural agricultural poverty and urban indifference, not vote rigging, has been Museveni’s insurance against electoral defeat”

    IF, like the village person, you took out someone and instead of being grateful, they instead insult you, would you ever buy them a drink again.

    THIS is exactly what M 7 is doing, and for once I can confirm that M 9 conclusions about the voting pattern in relation to education or lack thereof among the populace is RIGHT.

    YOU and I know that the less educated and mostly rural based the people are, the more likely they are to vote M 7 , and also the NRM.

    SO why , if this were you, would you shoot yourself in the foot ( or the hyena’s anus).

    THIS , my brother, is what informs our miserable and pathetic situation with regard to the education system.

    • Isn’t this terrible? That all people are helplessly looking on as education and its standards go down the drain? The penal code will have to be revised in anticipation of a day when those (ir)responsible for the demise of Ug education are finally called to account. I envisage a learned (perhaps foreign)judge compelling them to refund (with interest) all the monies they were paid in salaries and emoluments during their period of misgovernance and miseducating an entire generation.
      Recently my nephew told me mercury is colourless and when I said it wasn’t she laughed at me and said, “You see uncle, your education and curriculum is ancient and outdated, even teacher told us so” and she looked at her cousin classmate with a knowing wink. That is when I knew our geese are fully irreversibly cooked. I have failed to know what it is that they were shown in their laboratory that they were told(by a chemistry teacher) , which is colourless, and will believe (till death)that it is mercury.

  8. RWASUBUTARE, my father, bless his soul, told me that there was nothing as terrible as trying to help some poor people.

    HE gave us this example. Say you have some old friend who you come to realise has fallen on hard times. OUT of compassion, you take some of your clothing(trouser, shirts,shoes), which may not be new,but are still in good condition, and may be because of a slight pot belly, do not fit you very well. Items that you would still be able to wear, given the chance, and sometimes even because of sentimental attachment, would not particularly want to give away. BUT because this is an old buddy, you bundle them up and give them to him.

    IMMEDIATELY he will go to his drinking joint, and tell his buddies how he has never been so insulted in his life. That what does this old friend of his think he is, just because he is from Kampala and he is a “my car”!!!!! If only they can see the rugs ( we call them INYAKINYAK) he has given me, not to mind that he is wearing rugs and probably no shoes.

    BUT, if you were to take the same cloths , say valued at 50k at the local market, and gave them to him, and told him you are selling them to him, but he should pay you say 10k, the narrative will change. HE will say ” do you know that friend of mine from Kampala, the one I told you we went to school together, and I was cleverer than him. I think he has gone mad. (he will now be wearing those clothes) How much do you think these clothes are? ( some will tell him 100k , some 50k). I think he is going mad!!!!!!!! Can you believe he sold them to me at 10k. I always knew there was something wrong with him, I wonder how he even managed to get a car.

    THAT is how some poor people think.

    • Your father (without telling you then because of your age) wanted to imply that the poor (both in mind and means) are very ungrateful. This is true for all time and they harbour a belief that whatever material possession another hardworking person has; they are entitled to share. He also knew that if your neighbour is a lover of the crude waragi and has cattle which are tick infested arising from his poor husbandry, you MUST wash your and HIS cattle together so that you save yours regardless of what it will cost you. He could have done it and perhaps got negative remarks for it but that is the hard cold facts of life. Ingratitude is the worst sin a gentleman can commit but you know who are gentlemen and who just subscribe to the name but are urchins in deed. Sadly, compassion such as your father described is a reflex action (by those who have it). You will insult, backbite, steal from and betray a person but if he is compassionate, he will still help you sub-consciously.

  9. Luttamaguzi Ahmed B

    Thanks Andrew….
    These are good views on legitimacy in Africa

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