By Colin Barigye
In the past, you Andrew Mwenda gave your readers hope with your right hand, but of recent you have turned around and stolen the same hope with your left hand. I still willow in nostalgic reminiscence of the very many impassioned arguments that you often articulated in favour of freedom. I remember buying a copy of The Daily Monitor everyday and tuning in to the then Monitor FM (KFM now) every evening just because of you. In your resignation letter from The Monitor you wrote, ‘I can never betray the cause of liberty. Liberty is an ideal for which I am willing to live for, work for to see strengthened and if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die’. You made many of us (your ardent readers) believe that amidst us, people like you were ‘the true salt of the earth’.
Today, as I read your article entitled ‘Why Museveni pretends and Kagame acts (Issue of March 4) in The Independent, I realize you were never genuinely committed to the ideals of a free world in the first place. In what appears to be a sudden about turn, you have joined a highly suspicious but steadily growing new orchestra that has remarkable mastery in performing classic symphonies in praise for an icon of fear that also happens to be a great enemy of freedom – President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. While it is absolutely a personal decision for you to turn into a ‘Journalist of fortune’, it’s very disheartening for those that have grown to respect you as a champion of the sacred ideals of freedom and liberty.
In one of your choruses of praise to President Kagame, you credit him for taking tough action against officials suspected of corruption and personally ordering the arrest and detention of a number of government officials because, to use your very words ‘He does not tolerate abuse of public funds’. Is Rwanda his personal property? You further assert that every time you visit Rwanda, it seems another public official has been arrested on suspicion of graft. According to you, this constitutes to be ‘Rwanda’s way of accounting to its citizens’. There is a difference between ‘accounting to citizens’ and ‘sending shivers down citizen’s spines’. If you care to know, kindly be informed that ‘voice’ and ‘exit’ are defining ingredients of public accountability. Neither of which two ingredients exist in what you consider to be public accountability in your Mr. Kagame’s Rwanda. Indeed as you rightly point out, conventional analysis holds that governmental accountability derives from checks and balances on the exercise of executive power. You even proceed to demonstrate knowledge of the fact that the first checks are formal institutions of state. In Uganda’s case, the Inspector General of Government, Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority, parliamentary oversight committees and so on. The second are institutions of civil society; a free press, political parties and pressure groups. By admitting that ‘Uganda outperforms Rwanda on all the above’, you are actually saying that in Uganda, people have a ‘louder voice’ and more options for ‘exit’ than their counterparts in Rwanda.
This in effect implies that the government of Uganda is more accountable to its citizens than the government of Rwanda is to her citizens. The results of the ‘analysis’ made by comparing the obtaining realities in Rwanda vis-Ã -vis those in Uganda do not present a challenge to traditional democratic theory as you claim. On the contrary, your ‘analysis’ reveals just one simple fact. Namely that: ‘Ugandans relatively enjoy more freedoms than their Rwandese brothers and sisters’. What you want readers to believe is ‘a challenge to democratic theory,’ is actually a simple truism that stems from the fact that dictatorial governments generally have a high propensity for efficient service delivery. It is this simple fact that explains why Uganda ‘outshines’ Rwanda in conventional democratic ‘checks and balances’ but Rwanda delivers services more ‘efficiently’. Multiple checks and balances are not merely consequences of clean government but when in place, they largely contribute to clean governance; indeed things like a free press and lively civic associations are facets of a democratic polity, while freedom, liberty and rule of law are the underlying fundamentals. The Mwenda that readers have grown to respect is one whose arguments would be supportive of the fact that Ugandans and Rwandese are better off enjoying freedom amidst pot-holes rather than being slaves that drive along beautifully paved roads. After all, isn’t it you that once quoted Kwame Nkrumah. ‘We prefer self-government with danger, to servitude with tranquillity’. Isn’t it you Mwenda that resigned from The Monitor arguing that you would rather be jobless and penniless than drive a nice car and report to a job everyday that put restrictions on your freedoms and liberty to express yourself? What then is happening to you my brother? Why have you sold your soul and began singing praises to a leader in whose country your fellow journalists cannot enjoy even a fraction of the relative freedom you have as a journalist in Uganda? Besides, even if you have chosen to take the ‘praise orchestra’ path, please ensure to balance your instruments so that your music can be sweeter to the ear. For instance, when Rwanda’s Kagame undermines institutions, do not twist the tune and proclaim that ‘we need to think differently about institutional arrangements inherited from western democracies’; and then when Museveni does the same, then you tilt the tune to say ‘This is an era of personal rule in Uganda’; When Kagame orders the arrest and prosecution of officials suspected of corruption, you strike the violin and quickly lift your voice high in praise of ‘public accountability in Rwanda’.
However when ministers in Uganda are arrested and charged with corruption, this time you resound the bass guitar, lower your tone and say that ‘the primary driver was not a desire to check corruption but a scheme by the president to trim the wings of ministers he is afraid of’. It is in making unprincipled comparisons and misguided analyses that you attempt to disguise your ultimate betrayal to the cause of freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, the path you have opted to take, will never lead you to the levels of intellectual prowess required to challenge underlying principles of conventional democracy.