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Fashionable nonsense

It is fashionable across our continent to condemn governments for poor delivery of public goods and services like health

How the debate on governance in Africa is a toxic combination of high emotion and little knowledge

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | It is fashionable across our continent to condemn governments for poor delivery of public goods and services. This, it is argued, is caused by corruption, incompetence, and greed by our leaders. This is captured in the modern lexicon as “bad governance”. Yet in spite of many changes of government, and with the exception of post genocide Rwanda, no poor country can avoid this accusation.

I argued in this column last week that what we call “bad governance” is not only the most cost effective and cost efficient way of managing power relations in the context of poverty, it is actually the only affordable way of doing so. But first let me make a caveat.

My argument that poor countries have poor delivery of public goods and services because they lack sufficient funds to do better is a statement of fact, not a call for inaction. For every poor country (or even a rich one) there is always room for improvement. Allegations of corruption and greed are not false. But they are not the fundamental reason our nations perform poorly. The way our politicians manage our nations has very little to do with their character and much more to do with our context of poverty.

Imagine the profile of the median voter in a poor country. His/her income per year is about $700 to $1,500, lives in a mud house with rammed earth floor, has two poor quality meals a day, buys clothes twice in a year, eats meat once in a month and has limited access to poor quality education and health services. These circumstances give such communities a set of moral values and expectations of what better off people are supposed to do for them. Equally the better off in such communities have a clear sense of obligation when people come to them seeking personal favours.

Now imagine two politicians seeking the attention of this voter. Politician A is public-spirited and promises improved health and education services, water supply and better roads to constituents. Politician B is self-interested. He has sold his house or depleted his savings or even borrowed from the bank to run his campaign. He also promises improved public goods and services – because anyone can do that. But he goes a step further and also buys meat, rice or alcohol, t-shirts etc. which he distributes to voters.

Promises of public policy can only be delivered at a later date. So they are uncertain. And voters know from experience that such promises rarely materialise. This is largely because – even with the best of intentions – our nations are too poor to deliver on such promises. Politician B has added value to his campaign by addressing the existential needs of his constituents. So he has already delivered something. For many years, I have wrestled with the morality of such politicians.

For most people, Politician A is preferable. Politician B is corrupt because he “bribes” voters. Here is the moral dilemma: when Politician A campaigns at a rally of impoverished voters, many of whom are hungry, but does not address their immediate existential needs and instead promises them public goods and services, to be delivered at some later date, is he being moral? Whose morality are we talking about?

Contrary to fashionable attitudes, Politician B could be more moral within the context of a poor rural community. By giving voters rice, salt, and soap, he is actually addressing their immediate existential needs, something the state has criminalised. Why?

The morality of our political institutions is borrowed from Western countries. It is not rooted in the values of our people. Do voters consider a politician who gives them food during an election campaign, corrupt?  In any case, we know that it took very long for Western nations to outlaw voter bribery. They did so after the median income had crossed a particular threshold.


  1. Rwasubutare, have you noticed how the word MEDIAN has been smuggled into the narrative, a word previously unused, and a word/ term I tried to bring to your attention last week on the 8/9 th.
    NOW we are talking

    • My laptop,like its owner, is aging and was till yesterday in ‘hospital’. Like you aptly observe, M9 is again at it with his generalities. When he says ‘the median voter’ he wants readers and other any other gullibles to believe that the votes ‘reported’ are votes ‘cast’ as though there was no rigging…. as the learned judges have come to call it ‘insufficient to change the overall results’. M9 reminds of a legend(we used to be told in childhood) about a mukonjo and his wife and baby child who were coming from a wedding on a certain evening. When they were crossing Nyamwamba river at a known point where it was gentlest, the woman gave the man the child to hold in the hands and help cross with it. The man on account of having taken a gourd of tonto too many forgot to cross tactfully and a wave sent him sprawling separating him from the child…. He however managed to salvage baby strap (sheep skin) but the merciless river flowed on with the baby. The man and wife went home sad for the loss of their child but absorbed the shock because that same night, Nyamwamba killed other people. What is ironic is that the mukonzho was heard at another beer party narrating” if I had not been swift and tactful, even the baby strap would have gone”. That is exactly like my Mwenda…who I don’t blame much because he does not know our ‘those days’ term of VW beetle “kill the driver but save the engine” It amazes me how M9 and Winnie understand each other so well like twins…because they are made of same ‘these days material’ methinks. When I reflect, I look back and wonder why these young men a la Mwenda and Winnie behave exactly like another group I saw in the mid-Amin-era period of 1975 to 76 who improvised,rebranded and renamed things in order to make them acceptable.
      For example, we saw with our eyes tetron suiting fabric renamed tetrex and so displayed. After a some time we accepted it as so because the sellers were insistent. With time, tireless Mwenda will eventually convert many to his thinking (or is it manipulation) like the ancient Cicero whose oratory Mwenda might even surpass. The reason we are resistant to his ‘alternative facts’ is because some of us are immunised by timeless facts of those wonderful days when quality was quality.

  2. Dan Morris Tumusiime

    Honoring Men-in-Uniform is a Pre-requisite to Modernity
    By Dan Morris Tumusiime

    Dykema Gossett PLLC, which is among the Top 5 Law Firms in Michigan, USA,was my legal representative for my political Asylum case of 2008 – 2012.So, I would often travel by public bus and train from Freedom House, the refugee shelter on Lafayette Boulevard in Detroit city to Dykema offices in Ann Arbor city. As a researcher, I surely enjoyed those bus & train cultural-shock journeys through the many States I toured.

    Now, Americans worship Men-in-Uniform! Men-in-Uniform is a term for men and women who serve in the military and police.

    When one or more of these men enter into a bus that is already full and are supposed to travel standing, the seated civilians literally feel pride as they stampede to offer seats to them.Such gestures of honor are a common sight in the cultural fabric of most developed countries, especially the US.

    At first, this bus stampede scene appeared weird to me until when I enquired from one of the Samaritans. While explaining, a young lady said, “What on earth can you offer to show honor and gratitude to someone who daily risks his/her life for you and your country?” She added, “apart from my life and my peace, I know that the wealth and the superiority our nation has over the world are entirely built by these guys.”

    Later when I moved out of the black dominated Detroit to reside in the countryside dominated by whites; I also discovered this Men-in-Uniform glorification in restaurants and other social centers. In fact, most restaurants and bars offer 30% discount to Men-in-Uniform including the veterans.

    Most interesting is the special favor employers (both private and government) give to applicants who have ever served in the military. Many times I witnessed fellows who just had average qualifications but out-competed the better qualified civilians simply because they had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. This entire honor and worship isn’t a law but a culture.

    I had married a white lady whose father and grandfather had served in the US military. My ex-in-laws were very friendly and my ex-mother-in-law had a special sense of humor. She loved me more when she learnt that I was an artist and had also coordinated an armed rebellion in Africa…so, we would chat a lot together.

    “Why did you marry the soldier in Mike?” Mike was her husband.
    “If he can be trusted to protect a nation, he can probably protect me,” she answered,

    Psychologists think that women descend towards men-in-uniform because their uniforms denote purpose, bravery and commitment. Personally I think that soldiers are the modern-day knights in shining armor, able to face all danger and deal with life’s troubles, leaving ladies to feel like the fairytale “damsels in distress.”

    As a boys scout during my secondary school in Rukungiri district, we encountered many NRA soldiers, we would often imitate them and try to assimilate in all manner and style, yet we weren’t ladies. That was then when the liberation pride was still fresh. This something special about men-in-uniform is vanishing in Uganda primarily because we have either forgotten or are unacquainted with the NRA/UPDF continued contribution to our peace and development.

    It is said that after the American Revolution through 1800s and 1900s, it was on vogue for women to date soldiers and policemen. I had never thought about it too much until recently when I drafted the Seven-Points for the Mindset Revolution and I chose to make “honoring men-in-uniform” the number-one-point before honoring God or Jesus whom majority have never encountered or simply don’t believe.

    Some peers have tried to rebuff this point until I explain how psychologists affirm that “if you give respect to someone, soon that person will respect himself also.”

    After all, Uganda is increasingly trusting to channel important development projects through the military for no other reasons but discipline, loyalty and allegiance which are vital values in reducing corruption. History places catholic fathers and nuns behind soldiers in terms of dependability and allegiance.

    It takes a whole militia to annoy me. Recently however, just one bodaboda young man [motorcyclist,] triggered the dead nerve. It all happened on the Mawanda road junction near Mulago. I was walking along as I usually do when an exhausted traffic police officer signaled to the young man to stop but instead this sh*thole with all dishonor intentionally rammed into the helpless officer not once but twice before speeding off the scene amidst cheers from fellows.

    Volunteer researchers of my kind don’t have money but I thought I had to offer five thousand shillings to this police officer for both his therapy and my therapy too, because, my eyes had turned red after seeing that scene.

    Related to this incident, I pray that our nation develops faster to a level where we can afford every traffic police officer a pistol in addition to an electronic pocket-garget that has all data of every Ugandan ID, the one we call “endangamuntu,” Amen.

    Dan Morris Tumusiime is a researcher, artist & security expert at Cube Nine Ltd.

  3. 1.Of recent Africa has seen 2 presidents resign; what does this say about M7 who has been a president for over 30 years?you will note that Zuma and Desalegn were sent by their political parties thats why it was easy to hold them at randsome by party supporters while M7 is having a field day as a leader because no one sent him to liberate Uganda perhaps M7’s style of Mgt would perfectly suite Africa.

    2.The suppliers of traffic lights seem to have overstocked them i mean who installs traffic lights after humps and Zebra crossings?really were traffics necessary at Lugogo?

  4. It is very interesting to see how people’s attitudes on politics change overtime. For some of us who have been following Andrew from the early days at the monitor, wonder what is it that makes a man change his outlook on politics. To argue that the fundamental reason for Africa’s misery is poverty or lack of resources while at the same time showcase Rwanda ‘s tremendous achievements with the least resources is self defeating. Africa’s problem is not “poverty”, it is bad governance period.

  5. FASHIONABLE NONSENSE here is when people try to defend the INDEFENSIBLE and try to dabble in things that they do not really comprehend. People have this feeling that as long as they can tap a few keys on the keyboard, put a few words together into some sort of a sentence, then what they are saying is SENSE.

    UNFORTUNATELY it is not the case. As has been said before, we tend to think that if we state an untruth several times, it will become FACT.

    MWENDA has tried this over and over, and I do not know how much success he is achieving. I have told him on more than one occasion to keep clear of figures/statistics because he does not understand the subject, which of course is not a crime.HE has been caught out on his “alternative facts” as happened in his last article where he tried to say things about the USA that he had absolutely no clue about.

    BUT because it is/has become FASHIONABLE

    • M9 subscribes to ‘man-eat-man’ school of thought. The politicians request for votes with polite bows but with secret malevolence in their hearts. The bribes are just baits with which they lure the helpless voter in order to get the opportunity to attain the ultimate goal of power. With power they get much. I personally wouldn’t have any quarrel with that if it helps them to lead opulent lifestyles and other excesses which are despicable to cultured folk. My and everyone else’s concern is when they (i)stupidly start to damage the environment in cahoot with foreigners (ii) mortgage the future of the whole nation including the yet-to-be-born by incurring unnecessary debts (iii)neglecting youth and unwittingly creating a criminal society a la kifeesi and others (iv)neglecting public health giving rise to occasional epidemics outbreak (v)underpaying professionals leading to brain drain (vi)condoning and abetting corruption leading to inculcating theft as a habit (vii) failure to be proactive but only reacting when crime has spiraled out of control. (viii) being irresponsible,heedless,inattentive and negligent yet you are in-charge. These and many other shortcomings are not excusable at all despite M9’s moving in circles of ‘less resources vs big population’ equation instead of him digging deeper to explore the said resources’ mismanagement by handlers a la Kazinda. Does Mwenda know why when he was in school they had 3 streams per class? to manage effectively. If these guys and their women cannot govern effectively, it is because the class is too big, then devolve. But this will eliminate the quagmire and labyrinth in which it becomes easier to steal. No wonder, when you talk of federo, they rise in arms and shout crucify. There is enough resources and to spare. It is the management aka governance which is defective. Like I have said and say even now, you don’t have to industrialize Uganda. Agriculture and the good God-given climate, Uganda can feed all neighbours and export all sorts of produce to far-off lands. Uganda Agriculture can be locally developed and will solely feed the Middle East and earn ten times than polluting the lake and countryside mbu oil extraction; which oil they (knowledgeable people) are saying its (speculated)accruals are already half eaten.

  6. With deep sorrow, I announce the death of Frank Kato Kasule which happened on the 16/02/2018 at Nsambya Hospital after being hit by a speeding bodaboda along the Kampala- Masaka highway. He was the chairman school management committee at my school and also a teacher at Buddo Junior school where he has been teaching since 1984. It was with respect that we worked with him here at Loving Hands until his unfortunate death. May he rest in internal peace.

    • We all join you brother Kakyama in your sorrow over the departure of that wonderful educator. Those men and women are invaluable (as is their labour) and we sadly look on as they leave us as per their (and our) Owner’s summons;knowing however that we shall rejoin them when our own summons comes.
      This gives us one important and essential lesson,which anyone dismisses at own risk, is that we must always be at peace with Our Maker and with each other if we want a better future(in the hereafter) than our present slaving lifestyle. Educators are the glue that bound the learned. If it were not for them, we would each still be in their local environment, suspicious,fearful and isolated from each other. They are the special group (followed but not closely by medics and soldier) who humanity is eternally indebted. May he rest in eternal peace.

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