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The false gospel of governance

FILE PHOTO: African leaders at an AU meet in Addis

THE LAST WORD: How Africa’s obsession with ‘governance’ issues is too much ado over little or nothing

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | Let me articulate a heresy: the argument that Africa’s failure to prosper economically is fundamentally due to “governance” i.e. that our leaders are greedy, selfish, corrupt, dictatorial and power hungry is baloney. These ills may be morally repugnant but they do not automatically impede economic development.

Today’s rich countries had leaders with similar characteristics and in spite of them (and sometimes partly because of them), their nations transformed from poor agricultural societies to modern industrial nations.

The United States industrialised alongside genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of black people, which became convict leasing; a system of conscripting labour of prisoners that was actually worse than slavery. During its most intense phase of industrial transformation (1865 to 1900) America did not allow its women and black population to vote. Corruption was rampant, in fact legal. Votes were bought and sold on the open market. The U.S. overtook Great Britain as the world’s largest economy in 1890.

Yet during that period, U.S. politicians were in the pockets of big money cats and political parties auctioned government jobs to their financiers (like they still do today). It had no competitive bidding. During this phase of its history, the U.S. never recruited a single civil servant through an open competitive exam. Indeed, there was no requirement for professional/technical competence or qualifications for a job in the civil service until the early 1900s.

America was not alone. European powers industrialised in the mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries against the backdrop of officially sanctioned corruption called prebendalism, cruel labour practices (read Karl Marx’s critique of early capitalism), and voting restricted to a few adult males with property. Many argue that it was possible to undergo industrial transformation in those days with such ills but today things have changed; that today’s realities demand honest government that is liberal-democratic with checks and balances.

This is sentimental hogwash. The most rapidly industrialising countries of today – China and Vietnam – are saddled with high levels of corruption. Both are ruled by single party dictatorships and no organised forces in civil society hold them to account. China’s human rights record is appalling. These factors may be morally repugnant but they have not stopped China from rapid economic progress.

Just next door to Africa are the gulf states of the Arabian Peninsula. Dubai is the most rapidly transforming mini-state with oil revenues only contributing 4% of its budget. It has no elections, no elected parliament or free press and no political parties or any form of competition for power. Instead it is ruled by a traditional monarchy with absolute authority and no term or age limits.

There is hardly a distinction between the private property of the ruling emir and the public property of the state of Dubai.


  1. M7 vs M9, interesting! Andrew could very well be French, with this scepticism about an over reliance on FDI as a driver of the economy. As a case study, the current dispute between France and Italy about the “Chantiers Navals”. I rather suspect that this is less about Italy than it is about China towards whom Italy has not shown the same attitude about takeovers. Of course, the French government wants to protect jobs in the region, but this is a strategic industry and Macron who failed to get his EU-wide protectionist policies through aimed at curtailing the Chinese advance, is using his powers to keep them under French control. Britain appears to be a lot more relaxed about FDI, celebrates them where France generally bemoans them. I for my part believe that certain strategic industries must have government stake in them. I think that so long as foreign corporations comply with the law of the land, they should be actively encouraged to invest. This should not detract from supporting local talent into becoming industrialists too. A balance of foreign investment and local ownership is a good mix, because multinationals are rather footloose, so Nations must have their own brands and local champions. I think that in rural areas of Africa where multinationals do not necessarily invest, national champions could emerge. This can be funded via diaspora investments if governments are stretched or via local philanthropy. Let the Dysons, Fords, Samsungs of Africa, those who will solve Africa’s dilemmas emerge. Maybe M7 is the realist when he says that BUBU should be about jobs provided to Ugandans, more so than nationality of the owner. Still, Magufuli threats or enactments of nationalisations should not be rebuked either. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating: coming out of poverty and reliance on foreign aid.

  2. Andrew, responding,

    I am some what un easy with quoting because of the way it’s abused by all and sundry, many Times it captures your idea more than any thing you can imagine. And so Karl Marx said ‘philosophers have interpreted the world in many different ways, the point however is to change it’

    There’s another concept called cause and effect.

    So ladies & g/men, why not direct thought, debate, effort – – -, towards the
    Desired socio – Economic state by scientifically identfying the causes of the Desired changes?

  3. M9, there you go again.
    So as far as you are concerned, when AMIN is alleged to have killed his wife, we should have just looked the other side and said, look , King Henry the 8th killed two of his wives and look where Britain is.
    When corruption and all these bad practices took place in the UK and the US, the said countries or states were the direct beneficiaries of those bad practices. Today when a ruler embezzles the countries resources it all ends up in Swiss banks , houses and flashy cars in the WEST.
    When corruption leads to the winning of a tender and the multi national makes a huge profit, it is all repatriated out of the country and these multi nationals are the beneficiaries of the slave labour they use and as was the case with TULLOW, they try to cheat any country they can.
    The fruits of the corruption in the west are there for all to see, it was used to develop their own countries, King Leopold looted Congo and all the wealth ended up in Belgium, Mobutu looted even more and all of it still ended up developing Belgium and Switzerland and the West.
    Therein lies the difference.

    • You have completely missed the point. Mwenda is not justifying corruption and dictatorship etc. What he is saying is those are sideshows to Africa’s real problems – we spend a lot of time on governance (see our politicians on TV – Matembe etc) rather than focusing on how to get people produce value add products that we can trade to prosper.

  4. Between me and you bwana M9 , I do not know if you are paid or not paid to do and say what you say and do.
    Equally of the two- whether you are paid or not- I do not know which is the greater or lesser evil, just like I would not be able to make the same judgement of a person who has sex wantonly either for money or for nothing.
    What I do know for instance is that people are paid money for their votes, others are not, but all these people are victims to a lesser or greater extent of the bad actions of those they elect.
    Likewise there are people like smokers who are willing to pay for the very thing that is going to kill them.
    As for you , whether you are paid or not, whether you have a conscience and a conviction is a matter between you and yourself- if you get my drift.
    Likewise, fanatics are not paid, instead they pay for the privilege, and the world does have its useful idiots, whether you are one or not, only time will tell.

    • Mr Engoraton, it is a matter of public record that Mr Mwenda has been (at least in the past) retained and paid by the Governments of Rwanda and Uganda.

      • Paid or not is he not factually correct? Present alternative facts if you think he is wrong. Name a formerly third world country that has developed with democracy, term limits and so called good governance.

        • So Obama could not become US president simply because there had never been a black president before.Like one person said, the end of this world is most likely to come from a keyboard!!!

        • Rwasubutare, what mind altering substance is this character on or are these the UPE products.
          Has he heard of something called records, the ones that are made n broken. Can he tell me a government that had come to power before M7 thru an internal guerrilla war.
          Have they ever heard something called ” the first time”
          As WINNIE would say while summing up, I rest my case

  5. The IRON LADY once said that an economy and by extension nation, was like a household, in her case , that the books had to balance.
    To a certain extent, a nation also has to balance certain things like you would have to do in a family.
    We have a lot of broken families today because we concentrate all our efforts in the pursuit of financial and career success in the vain hope that once we are successful in business or at work , all else will fall in place by magic.
    In a few cases some people have succeeded indeed to have good family life because of or in spite of success at work or business, but this does require hard work and discipline at the same time.
    In most case though, it has not been the case and financial or career success has come at a heavy cost to the family.
    This is not any different from a nation where there has to be a balance between financial/ economic success and other factors , how you strike the balance is not for me to say.

    • priorities ejakait we were taught from childhood. food came first, clothing followed and then shelter. I was shocked recently when I heard some leader say a road is more valuable than food…and that he was saying to a starving people in Katakwi. What frightened me most is that there were many other leaders who agreed with him. we are indeed old and I here admit it…if that is the modern prioritising of the times. it still pains me though i was quite far from the famine.

  6. Mr Mwenda, you are battling a straw man when you claim that Africa has been sold a gospel of governance. It has been sold no such thing. Governance is a very simple concept; successful institutions are run by competent and diligent people. Africans have not, in the six decades of independence, generally accepted this.

    African opinion makers have over these decades adopted a lot of sure-fire solutions to the question of development. They have included things such as African Socialism, Africanisation, African Unity, Panafricanism, Authenticity, “War on indiscipline” etc, to which you now add “national control and direction of our economies”.

    The solution of “hard work by leaders who know what they are doing” is just not sexy enough.

  7. Good governance is a consequence of development, not a cause of it…you must protect this sentence Andrew if you are its initiator. …it is at the centre of the paradigm shift needed in Africa. You already know I agree with you on the need to fight corruption, bad governance etc without getting carried away
    from the need to rapidly meet the infrastructure deficit, achieve agrarian and industrial revolution whilst continuing to participate in the service industry as a player, not a bystander.
    Let us bring diaspora into the game…50 pounds a month fund to lift up Africa rural areas…and turn them into wealth creation …great initiative by Uganda government speeding up dual citizenship process.

    • Sasha, are you and Mwenda on the same side when it comes to fighting corruption n can u ps kindly remind me which side that is because it seems I have been away on another planet
      Some of your reasoning has migrated south since M9 promised you that drink, is that all it takes to compromise someone!!!!!!
      You disappoint me or were my expectations too high

      • Well, my dear, I urge you to read again what Andrew writes about corruption. Many are deliberately distorting his stance to make it look like he is in favour of corruption. He is making a historical analysis. People are free to disagree, but this load of baloney and hogwash ? constantly streaming from his critics is quite funny. They know he is making sense but in a controversial manner, so they use his proximity with power so as to ridicule his stance. As for the beer, this was just a joke I am sure. Andrew is tee_total lool. I disagree with Andrew on many issues, he just hasn’t written about them. Also, I have been puzzled by his silence on the women murders. I am at a loss to understand this series of murders but I am sure Uganda Police will rise to the occasion. If not, I trust Uganda civil society to ramp up the pressure and rightly so

      • who does the dual citizenship benefit? the foreigner in Ug or the Ugandan in a foreign land? what do you sincerely expect from a naturalised foreigner which they wouldn’t do without the naturalisation?

        • This should benefit people like my WINNIE who as she claims , she did not have a choice as to where she was born.She is a British citizen by default ( on her part) rather than by design and her Ugandan citizenship should be automatic unless she chooses to renounce it.
          The procedure used to be that once a child was born outside the country, all was required was the one of the parents to go to the High Commission/Embassy with proof of their citizenship to register the new born.
          This as WINNIE will bear me out, still applies to the British. I have friends who are British, who have kids born in Uganda, and these kids have acquired British citizenship without stepping a foot in the UK.

  8. Compatriots,
    I am not sure that I should come in at this moment but one side of me pushes harder than the other.
    For M9 – first of all, welcome aboard!! You are now getting of age: in your youth, you were a loud, noisy, fast talking apologist of what you are arguing against today. And the world being ‘casual’ and ‘excitable’ by such noise as it normally is, listened and ‘praised’ you. Those of us who called for ‘realism’ then were either ignored or – for then M7 supporters – called ‘sycophants’ and ‘regime apologists’.
    My little concern however with your today’s analysis is failure to point out that all those countries you mention, either had or developed a crop of citizenry hungry to advantageously harness whatever nature bestowed them with. We, today’s Africans, must develop such crop irrespective of our different governments.
    To your adorer Sasha and the like in the diaspora, the fundamental issue is NOT MONEY or FDI really. It is ‘KNOWLEDGE’ to harness what is before us. For those who don’t know, I have in the past had the privilege of working for and with western multinationals on 3 continents. I can categorically state that it is NOT FDI through them that will help close the development gap between the West and Africa.
    What enlightened Africans – whether on the continent or outside – should do is ACQUIRE the KNOWLEDGE by HOOK or CROOK from wherever and bring it to bare on the objective conditions at home.
    And this business of emphasis on foreign trade: I see many elites including M9 falling for it. You see compatriots, we, in our nascent technology development stage, cannot realistically and meaningfully compete in other people’s markets! Besides, our emphasis ought to be to make products and services that directly help improve the lives of our people. That way, we develop our home markets as they also help us improve on our technologies. I do not care whether the likes of comrade Ejakait call it ‘going back to stone age’: the fact of the matter is that even in some of Africa’s universities today, there are people who wish they knew how to make fire the traditional way!!!! (For avoidance of doubt, I have a ‘primary source’ recording of that conversation).
    In a different forum, I will discuss some (and more) of these issues at length . But for now let the other part of me have its chance.

    Cheers compatriots.

    Dr. Eng Kant Ateenyi – Cape Town (so that my good brother Ejakait does not wonder who the writer is)

  9. Simply changing a name or adding or taking away letters before or after your name does not change the content of your reasoning.
    If your reasoning was good when your were Dr Eng it won’t change simply because you have added or removed something.
    Our leaders as you say, are obsessed with exporting not realising that first n foremost you must create local/ internal consumption.
    The US didn’t reach where it is by exporting, it was it’s own biggest consumer/market.
    This also goes for things like tourism, where the locals must be tourists so that the providers can test their services as well as to cover the lean periods.
    The person who produces coffee is not bothered whether his coffee is sold to Costa or Starbucks, they just want a good price even if the end consumers are Ugandans.

    • You couldn’t be more right on countries creating/ being their own countries- China comes to mind, the fordist years just after the first world war is another. Africa has faced so many calamities that one thinks it will pounce at least at one, however, these opportunities are squandered by individuals rather than the greater good. I have seen blame being attributed to IMF, World Bank for the structural adjustment programmes (saps) that ran in this country in the early 90s. Truth be told, the privatisation process was turned on its head when our leaders saw it as an opportunity to amass wealth for themselves. How did the East African Foods and Beverages turn into the hands of the daughter of one powerful man yet she didn’t have any working record? How was the milk dairy sold off for one U.S dollar? As Norbert Moa would remark, ‘you can’t make a good omelette out of bad eggs. Our politics is wrong so is our economics.

  10. SASHA, the last time I checked, M9 was not a satirical writer, he says it as is and he has said in writing and gone on to defend even on talk shows, that he sees nothing wrong with corruption.
    Why else would he go on to quote how developed countries got to where there inspite of corruption n to spit fire at nations/ entities which point the finger at corruption as one of the causes of our woes.
    You and I probably read different articles but I’m sure other people will bear me out.
    Can not a person who is a teetotal not invite a buy someone a drink and what is your understanding of drink!!!!?

  11. Drinks are what friends have together. I meant that if we ever had drinks, it would not be a beer as I don’t like beers and Andrew is a teetotaler. Of course, I look forward to drinks with somebody whose brain fascinates me so much. As for corruption, I saw Andrew on NTV, I read most of what he writes. Even in this article, he once again stated that corruption and bad governance must be fought. I am more of a provocateur than Andrew because I go as far as saying that there are still very high levels of corruption in the West…they do not stop the economy from functioning…or else, how do you interpret how Bernie Sanders and Trump did well in the American election? They were coming up against the swamp. Brexit is the same insurgent movement against a corrupt and bureaucratic EU (Recommend: Why Vote Leave by Daniel Hannan, reads like a thriller and exposes the EU swamp). As for France, suffice to read about Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy in order to make an assessment of the land of liberté-Fraternité-Égalité. When it comes to blighty; perusing through the twitter handle of the Labour Party tends to give you an insight into the road not yet travelled by the Mother of All Parliaments …not to say that he himself is a perfect politician; but being in opposition means that his party currently carries the burden for evidence of malpractice. We are all in a fight as a World for better governance, capitalism which takes a long hard look at itself and reforms, and to eradicate poverty and corruption together.

  12. I loved whatever I heard came out of Trump’s meeting with African leaders. America first will not bully you to become a Western type democracy and there is a security and business type of emphasis in the relationship. It may not be pleasing to the ears of the liberal elite living in unicorn land, but Trump is being honest. Glad that the health support programs are maintained. In any case, there is always Macron and his promises which as is often the case with him do not really match France’s power, at least not at this moment in time. I am sure that the Africans who perpetually urge to be left alone to craft their own solutions, will have welcome Trump’s speech. If anything, intra African trade will gain momentum it should have long had. There will always be assistance between Nations, but uprivately, everyone should be self sufficient. Our Chinese and Indian brothers are showing us it is possible. In the new multipolar age, Africa should find it a walk in the park to unleash her dragon

  13. 1. Africa is in a dilemma because economics and politics are linked the situation has been made worse with the introduction of political activists who think that Commission agents,middlemen,brokers are thieves yet they are jobs.
    2. What areas should Africa invest in?Tourism,food processing and the manufacturing sectors are promising sectors.
    3. The introduction of ICT has lead to loss of jobs recently; i went to withdraw money from the bank and found the banking hall empty (at 1st i thought i was the only one with money but later on noted that there are so many online banking services; another example of how ICT has lead to loss of jobs are in the airline business there are fewer staff at counters cross checking passenger’s travel documents these days there are e passports,e checking in where one prints their boarding pass.
    4.Why is Africa facing the world so hard its coz the world can do without us we should have done ourselves a favor by allowing free entry and exit of investors in our countries but instead what have we done,we have set our investment policies and guidelines so high and trust me no 1st world country thinks that we deserve good investment policies we may end up with our minerals intact in the ground if we dont become flexible.
    5. I like the direction the age limit debate is taking the world now knows that its difficult to let go of M7.
    6.I dont know why govt institutions like hiring private lawyers yet they have their own lawyers who are on pay roll (its like they are not confident of their lawyers for me i am so confident when i was young i acted as Mary in a xmas play in London) BOU wants to hire Mpanga and Masembe to defend them in the Sudhir case how do you hire lawyers who dont know the meaning of conflict of interest mbu they worked for Sudhir’s companies and not Sudhir.

    • Winnie, I thought u’re a “loya”, let me tell u what “conflict of interest” means. Imagine u r a seller n’ u sell “kabozi” if your “client” past on, would u grieve as a “widow” at the funeral? If y’r answer is “yes”, then, change your business. I know it is unsolicited advice but it could be helpful. (sorry for my shorthand)

  14. Oh man from NYANGOLE, I salute thee.
    Nice to hear from you. Our African RULERS have from time to time, under whatever spell, been able to diagonise Africas problems. Like one did 30 years ago that rightly Africas problem was leaders who over stayed in power. Only that a few years later, just like in ANIMAL FARM he qualified his statement. He has gone from knowing what the problem was, to becoming the problem.
    Likewise , they have trumpeted this ” we produce what we do not consume and consume what we do not produce”. Why do we not then create the environment where we are able to consume what we produce. This simply means creating an environment and the means by which the population becomes consumers, two meals a day with a cup of tea thrown in twice a day will take care of most if not all the matooke, beans, maize , milk n sugar we produce.
    Decent clothing , bedsheets , towels, school, army , prisons uniforms will take care of all the cotton we produce.
    And when we choose to produce what we consume, how stupid is it that we think we should start with automobiles when we are not even producing nuts and bolts, washers , let alone safety pins for those with jiggers.

    • Inconsistency is the word ejakait. Saying this and doing its exact opposite. that is what the visionary leader has done; whether he knows it or not. he has time and again said ” I am a chameleon, I have no permanent friend or permanent enemy” How do you write , sign or enter into an agreement with such a person? Noone wants the leader to be truthful because that is like requesting him to fly with own wings BUT a leader should be consistent. stick by what you said and if necessary die for it.
      As for ‘producing what you don’t consume and consume what you don’t produce’ I beg to ask, has he said it is a handicap? While I personally heard him say “Rugunda’s people grew millet, my people grazed cattle. when Rugunda’s people needed butter and milk, they gave us millet and we gave them the butter and we lived happily together because we complimented each other’s needs” does he also deny he ever said that or that his people never traded with Rugunda’s or that his people never kept cattle or that Rugunda’s people never grew millet…. now such a person is very difficult to work with near impossible to work for and unlikely to serve a people because his goalposts shift hourly. How can you execute his orders/instructions/directives? ejakait, he visionary one has complicated simple things and should respectfully rest.

  15. We go on about this need to industrialize which has become an obsession even when we have not done the basic of having a well fed, healthy and educated population. How are you going to run industries, some with production lines manned by people who are sick every other day, or who are not fit enough to endure an eight hour shift.
    We can set up industries that are based on what we produce, which in our case is mainly agricultural and then thankfully we have the materials for some of the construction industry, like cement and we badly need housing which has one of the highest multiplier supply and employment factors.
    But we want to build cars and go to the moon.

  16. @ejakait; do you believe that in order to industrialise, you must have 100% literacy rate? Uganda has over 70% literacy rate, has Africa’S 3rd highest ranking university which churns out lots of innovation, infrastructure is being invested in so as to make the path of industrialisation easier.
    Diaspora like the one of India and Israel before can support government’s efforts and this way; more infrastructure will be built. Including hospitals, schools etc.
    Furthermore, Uganda is an open economy, so win win partnerships can continue to bring in FDIs. Those ones should bring in extra employment, tax revenue and support local enterprise as supplier. This is Africa’s hour for industrialisation. And to continue to innovate in order to adress the challenges of her development. Optimism even enshrined in realism should help achieve this. Yes, governance needs to improve, corruption needs to continue to not be tolerated, but none of those issues are an excuse for Africa remaining underdeveloped. In fact, China and India have put Africa in the spotlight. They prove that underdevelopment, being in justly portrayed by the West, having experienced invasion, colonisation etc are no excuses for underdevelopment. Whilst Africa has already achieved a lot since independence, pressure is really on. 18 million jobs a year. Or seeing the youth fall for extremism or engage in illegal migration, neither of which we want.
    As soon as my adopted Uganda or the wider East Africa adopts a diaspora fund, I will participate in it. And hope that this scheme is espoused in West Africa too, my land of origin. Meanwhile, and until the next instalment of the Last Word, thank you everybody. I know how this forum has been used to gain further insight in my views. It is fair enough. I may write less here going forward, but I will always come to this place. Praying that Andrew and fellow African economists join in the debate which is now starting to take shape in the West around capitalism. In this age of multI polarity, how we redesign the World economy must bring in collaboration from the World…because tomorrow, those who would have excluded themselves from this conversation could not complain that the World is run contrarily to their interests.

  17. Most courts cases are handled by different structures of courts i dont know why contested presidential elections in Uganda and Kenya are handled by the Supreme court yet there is the constitutional court i am more contented with a ruling that has been handled by at least 2 independent courts i could see the CJ of Kenya trembling in shame coz he is single handedly causing a constitutional crisis.

    @Rajab have you ever heard of the term breach of fiduciary duty?In Law, conflict of interest interferes with the independent, professional judgement and assessment of case by a lawyer coz once a lawyer has ever represented his/her client, he already has access to information about him it does not matter whether the company he was once instructed to represent dealt in a different business for example,the case of Sudhir Vs Masembe and Mpanga(BOU):Basically conflict of interest is about relationship with a client.

    Let me thank the security organizations for nipping the chaos concerning lifting of term limits in time.Abiriga is over 70 years of age he is even more handsome than Ssemuju,Bobi Wine and Nsereko.

    • Winnie, beautiful Britishess, do you know Uganda has educated Kibaki,Kagame,Mwinyi,Mkapa,Nyerere? Which other country can claim to have educated 5 foreign Heads of State?

    • Winnie if say Omeros rapes you and leaves you tied tightly, then runs to police and report that “a certain woman (describes you and what you were wearing) took me at gunpoint and compelled me to sleep with her at pain of death f I refused. Being a good Christian, I could not commit suicide because 2 kanyama were with her fully armed with steel rods”. Then the police take the statement and send him for a medical report, what will be of the case? 2. Can a woman rape a man? let us hear your analysis.

  18. what is Winnie made of?

  19. Thank you Andrew. Informative and enlightening piece. It’s special that you’re more focused on the solution than the problem.

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