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Crisis of the state in Uganda

Police officers search Action Aid office. COURTESY/PHOTO

How foreign interests have captured Uganda’s politics thereby turning our people from citizens to clients

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | Police recently raided the offices of some Non-government Organisations (NGOs) including Action Aid Uganda and Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS) and froze their accounts. The government accuses them of funding a campaign against the amendment of the constitution to remove age limits. Many Ugandans feel sympathetic to these NGOs. Yet, if the accusations against them are true, the government would be right to even shut them down.

Partly, this is because NGOs today constitute what is miscalled ‘civil society’ and are often presented as the vehicles for democracy. But these NGOs are bastardised civil society. Historically, civil society is supposed to comprise membership-based organisations. Citizens come together around a shared interest and in a voluntary fashion to form an organisation that promotes their interests.

In many cases, members raise money to fund the activities of their organisation. They elect leaders who serve at their pleasure. The leaders conduct the affairs of the organisation according to the interests, values and aspirations of the members. This is the basis of democratic politics.

On the other hand, the beneficiaries of the activities of NGOs, especially international ones, are not members of the NGO. Instead, the NGO is owned by individuals who solicit charity from abroad to serve those it chooses. Therefore what the beneficiaries get are not rights but charity. They are formed locally or internationally without consulting people they purport to serve. Many are funded from abroad. The beneficiaries do not elect the leaders of the NGO and neither can they vote them out of office. Instead, the leaders are bureaucratically appointed by a body the beneficiaries know nothing about.

The people who benefit from the activities of NGOs do not define the program, values, ideology and even activities of the NGO. Local leaders decide that, often based on where they know international donors will direct funding. The leaders, who are sometimes foreign, decide who, where, when and to what purpose money should be spent. It is this `power without accountability’ that needs to be curbed.

This kind of ‘civil society’ lacks the most basic democratic character. It is often a vehicle for Western powers to infiltrate poor countries and promote foreign interests. When they get directly involved in funding partisan political causes, as Action Aid and GLISS are accused of doing, they undermine democracy. This makes any government clampdown not only justified but also necessary. Can you imagine Russia being allowed to fund NGOs to influence elections in USA?

In poor countries like Uganda, however, NGOs displace and/or stifle the evolution of membership-based organisations that promote our people’s interests. So they reflect how the postcolonial organisations are disarticulated from the interests of citizens.

Ugandans today cannot pursue their interests in the way they did during, say, the immediate pre-independence period. In 1945 and 1949, Ugandan farmers rioted in demand for the right to form cooperative societies to promote their interest of collective bargaining for better crop prices.

At the time, the colonial state had restricted Africans to planting “cash crops” like coffee and cotton and forced them to sell only to Indian traders or the colonial state at a fixed price. Often, this was only about 15% of the international market price of their crop. The African farmer wanted that changed. They rioted and the colonial state conceded – confirming the old adage that power concedes nothing without demand.

Thus by 1951, Uganda had 401 cooperative societies under five unions with a total membership of 36,620 people. By 1961, these societies had reached 1,622 under 21 unions commanding 252,378 members. Given a population of 7 million people and assuming that an average farming family had seven people, this membership encompassed 25% of Ugandans then. Today, that would be equivalent to 1.4 million cooperative members and encompass about 10 million Ugandans.

Yet during the 50s, membership based organisations were not limited to farmers’ cooperatives. There were workers’ unions, traders associations, professional associations etc. They organised successful strikes and boycotts. They demonstrated real people power. These struggles, rooted in people’s livelihoods, became the springboard for the demands for independence, even giving birth to our political parties. Indeed, the first political party, the Uganda National Congress, was founded by Ignatius Musaazi, who had been leader of the Uganda Farmers’ Association. Hence the struggle for independence was rooted in actual challenges of our people’s livelihoods.


  1. “This kind of ‘civil society’ lacks the most basic democratic character. It is often a vehicle for Western powers to infiltrate poor countries and promote foreign interests.”

    Mr. Mwenda, no one serves foreign interests better than your boss and idol.

    • Mr. Emp—- ; I should you not rather argue about the subject matter of Mwenda’s argument : relevance of NGOs to local interests or other wise , rather than his character ? His argument
      sounds valid but it depends on the authenticity of its premises and context , if you may ,
      shade more light and enhance our understanding

  2. EMPAYIPPAYI, just like you have said, there is no one who represents foreign interests more than M7. The war we are fighting in SOMALIA is fought on behalf of and fully funded by the USA.
    OUR privatisation drive which saw the selling off of government owned assets as well as the destruction of the cooperative unions was done in order to let in foreign entities.
    No government in our short independent history has pandered to foreign interests more than the present one.
    THE closure of these NGOs just like the clampdown on political parties , just like the destruction of cooperative unions, is because the NRM can not stand other entities accessing these resources and creating ALTERNATIVE power centres .
    AS far as the NRM is concerned there can only be one BULL in the kraal.

  3. When you claim that the NGOs are facing a clampdown because they are not people driven and do not represent the interests of the masses, then what of BUGISU COOPERATIVE UNION which faced a similar clampdown just because it was headed by an FDC official.

    • Cooperatives, by their very nature, are difficult to steal from or sell to them stolen produce. They are also good to assess tax because every member’earnings are known. They are good but only if the government and the people governed mean what they say…i.e fair play. But if one party wants to steal from the other , say gov to steal from people, the cooperative must go….. or was it why they were removed?

  4. i gotta say that I like the way you write, you get to the point. Well articulated and concise to the point. Your argument is very strong. Uganda still lacks legitimacy to democracy.

  5. Andrew, Andrew , Andrew!! When are going to stop grasping at straws and just accept that this government you are trying to defend is a gross abuser of human rights and brutal suppressor of free speech. And yes there are very many non-profit organizations in America that promote what you might think is Anti- American, such as White supremacists–with backing from NeoNazis in Europe, Black supremacists , American communist party etc etc so your straw man argument that a foreign power cannot fund a non-profit in USA is false. Actually it is the oppressive Russian government of Putin( whose playbook M7 uses) that will not allow such things. They have now shut down all churches. The point is Andrew, just like NGOs the GOU is funded by western donors. if you think your regime is not a puppet just let your beloved M7 fallout with them like Gaddafi or Sadam and you will know that its not only action Aid dancing to the tune of pipers in USA and UK. They can have Museveni gone in weeks with his hollow pan africanist mantra and apologists like Mwenda

  6. 1.Any one can open up an NGO and attract sympathy from the 1st world coz Africa sells best in the international media when there are calamities and wars.
    2.Most owners of NGOs are people who were dying to work for UN but they failed they still have that hangover of working in UN so they end up in their shabby NGOs.
    3.What do NGOs gain by protraying M7 as a bad man?If Acitvits and Terrorists are not crushed in time, they are going to cause the 3rd world war.
    4.NGOs are duplicating the roles of recognised and well established UN agencies like FAO,WHO,UNESCO,WFP,ILO; can’t they be sued for Plagiarism?Under the UN agencies there are departments that monitor Trade,Environment,Governance,Energy,Arms so whose attention are NGOs trying to attract?Actually most of their recommendation are not acted upon coz they are not recognised.
    5.NGOs and activits organizations are normally managed by big headed people who were sacked from their former jobs its a bad idea to marry someone who works for the civil society coz they spend most of their time in lodges with different women and men.
    6.Why is Kadaga regreting the decision she took during the melee in Parliament?She has even forgotten protocol to follow during communicationl;i mean how does a junior staff ask their boss why they took decision x or y Couldn’t she have called the CDF or IGP to explain since they supervise the armed forces?
    7.I did not see Nambooze during the melee in parliament i suspect she is not sick may be she just wants to get money for completing her projects.The SFC were real gentlemen they did not mishandle any female MP.

    • Mbu she was accosted in a corridor, punched and kicked by two commandos for three minutes…where there were no press men and cameras. I suspected she is feigning myself but feared to say so lest I be lynched. You know I live in her constituency.

      • @ Rwsubutare you mean people live in Mukono for real?i dont anyone who lives there.are you able to take an evening walk without being hit by thugs?

  7. NOBODY relies on the misfortune of the populace to solicit for foreign funds like the government – read the Uganda government.
    The government is torn between two situations, on the one hand , it wants to create the impression that it is in deed working, or that its policies and interventions are working.
    so you will hear that the rate of HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB etc is coming down.
    Then shortly afterwards you will hear that the rate of HIV/AIDS, malaria etc is going up.
    So they want praise, but not too much that they miss out on funds like GAVI etc which are brought in and then shared out by the government officials.
    M7 has a jet and goes around the world for the sole purpose of begging.

    • ejakait, pardon my ignorance on this matter….but it is a habit I acquired in Nyangole to politely accost a more bright fellow and ask “could kindly enlighten on this matrix matter”? and the fellow (even Ogwang the bully) took it upon himself to explain the matter until you understood. I owe a lot to such guys. So kindly tell me: When it is said that the rate of HIV/AIDS has reduced, do they mean all the previously infected and infectors are dead or healed? To my understanding, it is not logically possible for HIV/AIDS infection to reduce,fall or minimise unless the infected infectors are dead and burried… kindly enlighten. I have heard it said not only by politicians(perrenial liars) but also by medical professionals. I have remained confused for a long time but feared to ask; thinking I will come across an explanation but wapi.


        It is the rate of new infections and the total number of infections as a percentage of the population .
        If for instance at any point in time there are 100 new infections, the number can reduce to 50 or can increase to say 150, though also just like crime figures it may just be an increase/decrease in reported cases rather than an actual change .
        That is why we have to be very careful with statistics.,
        In the UK for instance, immigration which is a contentious issue, different parties use different parameters depending on whether they want to portray immigration as coming down or going up.
        I hope I have done as well or better than Ogwang(it means fox or wolf)

        • From my observation of 4 decades plus; assuming HIV/AIDS is sexually transmitted as they claim, 99% of humanity above 10 years old is infected. I don’t need lab tests; unreliable,confusing and misleading as they have proved to be over time.

  8. M7 knows very well what foreign money can do and his war was fought using foreign money. At the death of the late director of ROKO construction, he alluded to the fact that the said director and ROKO in effect, who were at the time, during OBOTE 2, constructing Bank of Uganda offices among many government projects, financing a war against a government for which they were doing work.
    M 7 is also known to have been close to Tiny Rowland , the then Chairman of LOHNRO who was well known for financing either governments or opposing organisations with a view to positioning himself to exploit those nations. MOIS son Mark Too was the chairman of LOHNRO in KENYA at some point.

    • It is a commercial tact to serve more than one master as long as none is God. all businesspeople do it because you never know who will win once a gun-fight has started. And remember a businessperson is like a taxi-driver. all are his passengers; both men and women.


        All I’m saying is that M7 knows that game better than anyone and being the old FOX or is it HYENA , he can not take any chances.

  9. 1.@ Ejakait: It seems you are mixing up the roles of charity organizations,development partners and investors have you ever seen M7 traveling abroad to visit the CEO of Oxfam,Save the Children?M7 only lobbies for investors. Its NGO’s that portray us as desperate people. you think Trump’s visit to Asia is for sight seeing?he is also begging for investors.
    2.M7 is desperate to see Uganda attain the middle income status.Its only lousy Ugandans who think he is on a begging spree?
    3.I dont know whether you have ever traveled out of Uganda coz you seem to have no idea of the inconvenience one bears while traveling e.g you can miss a flight coz of delays( can you imagine M7 being unable to deliver his speech at the UN coz his flight was delayed?) Mbu his luggage is misplaced; do you want M7 to go thru all that bambi we have no apologies for buying him a jet. It costs an ordinary Ugandan about 9M traveling in Economy class From Ug to USA on Emirates Airline (That is the cheapest) and while you are on transit,you spend about 4 hours in Dubai doing nothing.
    4. I dont think HIV is declining in Ug coz those infected dont want to die alone.

    • 1.By the way Winnie, I have it on authority of Dr Yusuf Mpairwe that HIV does not cause AIDS and I wholly believe him. HIV is a co-factor among many other factors that contribute to AIDS. Retroviruses, to which HIV belong were abundant in humans in the 1930s yet AIDS became common in 1980s so HIV is the wrong culprit.
      2. M7 wants Uganda to be middle-income state but his method of work is reverse. The only way that can make Uganda become middle income is through Cooperative societies…. not lone-wolf greedy exploitive system as currently practiced. A village cooperative society can own a Secondary school, shopping mall, cattle dip, piggery, milling machinery and whatever else one exploiter has been owning to suck blood out of them collectively.
      3. Noone objects to a presidential jet…alternatively it gives prestige to the Head of state and country. What is nauseating is the inflated price they attach on it when procuring. It costs like 3 other similar jets. Then its maintenance costs like another jet etc… so it ends being a liability.
      4. Investors or infestors or exploiters call them what you wish are like treating a symptom instead of the underlying reason of the poverty. No externally generated wealth can cure poverty even in a century. Sell what you produce,buy what you need, teach relevant curricullum, tax heavily corrupting and luxurious imports, maintain fiscal discipline, restrict parasitic immigrants,bill neighbouring for their refugees and punish thieves severely using a mob not court; then teach youth to care about needs not wants from TV ads and other useless fancies from foreign lifestyles….then poverty will be history.
      5. NGOs should be local or forever stay whence they originate. Which man worth the name can accept a foreigner to clothe his wife?

  10. The author of this article (Mwenda) reminds me of the cooperative societies and unions which Uganda had before the Museveni-NRA disaster struck the country. Whose interest was Museveni’s goverment advancing by demolishing cooperative societies and government parastatals ? Have the exports of cotton, tea, coffee, meat etc, from Uganda to the outside world increased over the last 30 years?

  11. Is “The Independent” an “NGO” for the Rwandan government? Whose interests is it serving?

  12. So Mr. Mwenda, how much were you paid for writing this?

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