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Africa’s real intellectual crisis


Why Museveni is not the cause of the problems of Uganda but rather their product and reflection

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | Last week, I accepted to join a whatsapp chat group of Ugandan “intellectuals”. The administrator told me that it discusses “serious issues.” I therefore thought here was an opportunity to engage Ugandan intellectuals on the challenges facing our country and continent. Uganda’s ills are closely interconnected with Africa’s. Indeed the whole of sub Sahara Africa suffers a similar development predicament – a common condition of poverty and poor public goods and services. So discussing any one country’s problems in isolation does not provide a clear picture.

But alas, except for a few people, perhaps five or six, the rest of the posts were the usual pedestrian arguments. Our “intellectuals” explain every problem of Uganda as caused by President Yoweri Museveni. For activists and partisan political warriors, this is understandable. In politics, it makes sense to identify a villain in form of a person to whom one can attribute all the problems to. This is because the aim is clear – to get rid of him. Not for intellectuals.

For example, the problems that bedevil Uganda are common across most nations on our continent and Museveni is not president in all of them. Besides, a lot of the criticisms we make of Museveni – his penchant for militarism, the gross corruption and incompetence of his government, his nepotism and tribalism, suppression of his opponents, and his desire to cling to power till death etc. are the very ills he used to accuse our former presidents Milton Obote and Idi Amin and other African leaders of. How and why did he come to repeat the very ills he saw in his predecessors?

It is not only Museveni. Any one of the aforementioned problems has been recurrent in almost every government over the last six decades. Yet since independence our continent has had 278 heads of state and government in 46 nations. Governments have come and gone; political systems have changed from civilian to military rule, single party to multi party or no party, one strong man to collegial governments, revolutionary armed struggle to popular insurrectionist governments. But these problems have remained.

Almost every African leader – whether democratically elected politician, nationalist leader for independence, revolutionary hero of an armed struggle, successful civil insurrectionist, military coup maker or peaceful successor to the death of an incumbent president – has come to power promising to fight and end these problems. At the risk of being accused of painting Africa with too broad a brush, each one of our leaders, with a few exceptions (which are themselves contested by their opponents), has ruled and left power being accused of practicing them.

Therefore, the problem must be much more than the character or competences of individual presidents, the nature of the political system or the way leaders come or leave power and the length they serve. If only 20% of our countries for 20% of the time were characterised by these ills, we would say our continent has a political problem. If 30-40% of our countries for 30-40% of the time suffered from these ills, we could say Africa has a serious political crisis.

But when 85-95% of the nations for 85-95% of the time are burdened by corruption, tribalism, dictatorship, incompetence, nepotism etc. and when the problems remain persistent in spite of 278 changes of presidents, and when these problems seem impervious to changing political systems, then the causes must have deep structural roots.


  1. I like it when MWENDA tries to be disingenuous with his arguments. Of course he tries to couch this with his array of rather meaningless but pompous statistics. HE must be the only one who has not heard of the expression “which came first, the egg or the chicken” and the other one “the buck stops with you/me”.
    It is not only in politics, as you would want to suggest, where the person at the helm, or even the administration in general, where the leadership is blamed for the failure or praised for the success of an enterprise.
    M7 would want to credit himself for all that he imagines is the little good to have happened in Uganda and Africa for that matter, including peace in the last 500 years, discovering oil, etc etc, and yet the likes of MWENDA would not want any blame pointed in his direction for the many glaring failings.

    I would in this instance advise him or anyone to read the “theory of causation” if one is to learn the chain of actions leading to and resulting from certain actions.
    There is no point in trying to point out to people what happened in the US , KOREA etc because it is a very well known phenomenon that the same action in a different setting produces different reaction/ results, and just like the different actions can produce the same/ similar reactions/ results.

    Just because M 7 went to the bush with 27 men in 1981 and succeeded in toppling a government does not mean one can do the same , say in Kenya or even in Uganda today or even at some point in the future. The Ganda say ” tobukila muno wabukidde”, you do not try to jump where someone else has successfully jumped.
    The failings of UGANDA and the continent are many and varied as are the causes , but just like I have previously compared the nation or society to a family unit, the head of the unit, who it is assumed is well placed to offer guidance, has a lot to offer in determining the success or failure thereof. Yes , you can blame errant kids and the like, but you as the parent ultimately have a lot in determining the outcome.

    A nation is not any different.

    • ejakait, after reading how Change of Guard has been in post-independent Africa and the proceedings thereof, I am beginning to have a change of mind. My people have a problem and it is fatal,final and incurable.I have ceased to attempt let alone actively do any corrective measure to avert corruption. It is a norm and culture and to some people it is their survival.

  2. “But when 85-95% of the nations for 85-95% of the time are burdened by corruption, tribalism, dictatorship, incompetence, nepotism etc. and when the problems remain persistent in spite of 278 changes of presidents, and when these problems seem impervious to changing political systems, then the causes must have deep structural roots”. This assertion really hurts. I wish I was a spectator to just sympathise without being party to cause or effect or absorber or relative to both and all. My much thought out response to this conclusion of Mwenda is informed by the opening phrase of ‘NO LONGER AT EASE’ by Chinua Achebe. A certain head of civil service where Obi Okonkwo was working was talking to another white man after a tennis match and remarked ” What I can’t understand is why people like you refuse to face facts; The African is corrupt through and through.”
    Shameful that these colonialists found it out so long ago and Mwenda is repeating it now…. like scratching a septic wound. So I can authoritatively conclude that we are doomed. no doubt about it. I know how to advise my kids.

  3. A big kid advising small kids? Ok! That is a spectre. If I asked one simple question to a 1000 people and they all gave the same answer- The problem is with the question? So it was right for Galileo to be killed? I think Africa’s problem is with its self acclaimed sages who turnout to be presidential advisers.

  4. Mr Mwenda; the logic of your interlocutors on the Whatsapp group is simple: They are facing an immediate and personal problem in Uganda and that is what they wish to focus on. The broad overview of Africa that you offer is valid but that is not what an ordinary Ugandan focuses on. True, sub-Saharan Africa as a whole has systemic problems but these problems are not uniform. A Kenyan will be irritated by corruption and electoral uncertainty but the Somali next door is more than irritated: he lives in a lawless dog-eat-dog hell where the ideas of corruption or elections do not even arise. The conversation on a Somali chatgroup will differ markedly from that on a Kenyan one.

    The Ugandans on your chatgroup look at their immediate neighbourhood and see a parliament invaded by thugs, a terminally corrupt civil service, mothers dying unattended in hospitals, collapsing companies and dwindling savings in an economy that is collapsing before their eyes. And they fear, they fear that the future may be even worse. Uganda may not just stagnate in the genteel poverty of Malawi or Zambia, it may totally collapse like Zaire or Somalia; it may have a bloodbath like Rwanda. They see risks that are both personal and immediate. People who face immediate personal danger do not philosophes about general principles, they focus on the danger at hand. For Ugandans the danger at hand is a very real possibility of death, exile or total penury, caused by a collapse of Uganda. So don’t be surprised that they have no desire to discuss the problems of the whole continent.

  5. Mr. Mwenda, you’re right. We should not blame Mr. Museveni for the shitty system he inherited. The good news for Uganda is that Mr. Museveni will be able to sort out our messy system in the next 35 years. The period 1986 to 2020 will have been a learning phase for him. He will get down to serious business from 2021 to 2056. Who knows, Uganda might even achieve a quarter of what South Korea achieved many decades ago!

  6. Mr. Mwenda, you’re right. We should not blame Mr. Museveni for the shitty system he inherited. The good news for Uganda is that Mr. Museveni will be able to sort out our messy system in the next 35 years. The period 1986 to 2020 will have been a learning phase for him. He will get down to serious business from 2021 to 2056. Who knows, Uganda might even achieve a quarter of what South Korea achieved many decades ago!

  7. 1.The wave of intolerance and outright silliness is alarming in Uganda it appears that Africans/Ugandans are so destructive once granted liberty and freedom.
    2.The rate of poverty is so alarming coz no one guides the poor;I would have expected the Land Probe Committee to explain to the poor the benefits they would gain if they for example, they leased out their land to the rich;instead what has the committee done its encouraging the poor to comfortably claim their land and stare at it as the land stares back at them.Just imagine if a poor family with square acres of land signed a contract with an investor to lease their land at 50Million per year for 49 years ?
    3.An addendum should be added in the Constitution to supplement the presidential age limit and this should only cater for exceptional cases like M7’s superb performance over the years in areas like;foreign policy and investment.This addendum should read: A president who has reached the mandatory 75 years during His/her term of office and has served diligently with honor,should be(i) Granted 5 to 10 years to serve without being subjected to an election.This idea is similar to the HR policy in government and corporate institutions where contacts are renewed basing on appraisals for example; Professors in Public institutions are granted contracts the same applies to CEOs.
    4.You elites scared the hell out of M7 with your big mouth on the social media if you were praising M7 the way they praised Mandela he would leave power comfortably.( We shall see how you will send a 90 year old president to ICC)
    5.There is no critic of M7 who is good looking just look at Fredrick Tumusiime(@tufreo80) you can die of laughter when you meet him with his Musoga girlfriend(When they smile you real see a rat (amesse) instead of buying bundles for abusing M7 he should save money and buy a Brazilian weave for his girlfriend the weave she wears makes it difficult to tell whether she is an old woman or a young lady i dont think she can even twerk the guy had to celebrate his 10th year anniversary living in Kampala he can not believe he is in Kampala eating sausages with the Buganda.

    • Winnie, that suggestion of a provision to reward an incumbent with an electionless term(s) also called “akasiimo” is seconded. I also applaud you the way you so legally present it….but sadly our usual blind readers won’t note your invaluable second-to-none intellect. what say you my brother ejakait?

      • ejakait engoraton

        Are you trying to outfox me in that famous queue, the WINNIE queue!!!!!!
        Or is this a WINNIE Motion

        • no Ejakait, it is the Nyangole principle of “credit where it is due and immediately” If you remember, severally I have disagreed with Winnie but on this, she is hands-on and down-to-earth. As for queuing for Winnie, I wouldn’t be of much help; having retired from the mid-field some 6 years back after a long tiresome perpetual unceasing tireless crusade of 40 years. I can only look back and wonder whether present-day generation can perform even half as we did; we who were all-weather ploughmen….and sadly admit that the world is aging. Some call it environmental degradation; leaving out theirselves. See how an oldman is outfoxing them….. since 1986.

  8. The intellectual barrenness among present day Africa’s elite may have more to do with the kind of education we have been giving our youth and the nature and magnitude of rewards we have accorded to different occupations/activities since so called political independence. It is a long analysis but in summary, we seem to have relegated ‘hard’ and ‘honest’ work to history (read colonial and precolonial era). We seem to value ‘quick’ fixes to our problems. No serious and intense effort at looking at underlying issues/causes of our problems. So, whoever shouts loudest and/or entertains us best in her/his (mostly his) empty talk ‘wins’ the day.
    The lack of seriousness even in Africa’s schools and universities is simply disgusting. I’ll not mention countries but in some, academic terms/semesters are effectively half or less than in countries outside the continent! I was in China for a pair of conferences recently (New Energy Systems and World Education); the attitudes to work and attention to detail you see is not what one finds on our continent (and I have been to about a dozen of our little countries).
    Then you have the shameful apathy to the written word in Africa. It is a common saying that “if you want to hide something” from our kind, “put it in a book”. Late 2012 in a government office queue of mixed peoples somewhere on this continent, I was perplexed when I counted and classified people reading something (book/newspaper/magazine/etc). Of those who were reading, only one (my daughter) was of our kind: yet our kind were the majority in the hall.
    But even those of us who do read, we tend to be less critical of what we take in. It is common to find us simply regurgitating what others wrote – without an effort at contextualising the ideas or statistics (when we pretend to do quantitative analysis). No wonder, even among scientists and engineers, (to where some of you may be more comfortable to ‘dump’ me), there is hardly any creativity to tackle our problems. Yet Problems are generally thought to ‘mother’ scientific inventions.
    Well, guys and ladies, there we are: if we are not careful, this continent will belong to someone else in the next 50 to 100 years!


    Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi

  9. In my learning of the parts of the speech- the interjection was always an integral part of the sentence or story. That said, I find your comment demeaning of Ugandans. I find Ugandans an enterprising lot who are downplayed by the public policies and the politics.

    • Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi

      Hi dear brother:
      The interjection – thanks for pointing that out.
      As for Ugandans and their politics etc., I cannot demean them as human beings. I even acknowledge their enterprising spirit (by the way I am one of them), especially when compared to other Africans south of the Ruvuma. However, coming to Mwenda’s article, he expected to engage with the ‘intellectual’ group: In that group, I guess he was looking for the depth, breadth and originality of intellect in discussing our problems and charting a way forward. It is these three (breadth, depth, originality) that I (and apparently Mwenda) have issues with. Note that this is a very tiny group but if a significant fraction of it could get its act right, the situation in the country would improve faster.
      I am not into this business of expecting African politicians to lead the way out of our quagmire. It is a mirage – by virtue of the way our societies allow any big mouthed Owalabi, Sitholle, Apuuli to enter and lead in active politics. I would prefer the so called ‘intellectuals’ focused on thoughts and activities that would make the rest of society and its politicians feel materially and mentally proud to have them around. That is not the case for most of the group – and I think my earlier submission could contain some of the factors causing this anomaly.

      Cheers once again!

      • The mistake you and Mwenda (if you do not mind that association) make, is to have a “predisposition” or a bias that your way is the right way. The second mistake that you make that you always follow up your arguments with nothing tangible for show. So, as your readership we always wallow in the rhetoric and end with the usual white smoke- emptiness. As far as Mwenda’s articles goes- changing guards does not necessarily mean changing situations most especially if the guards keep doing the same thing over and over again- it will be shear madness to expect different results. Most African leaders have come through fighting “liberation wars” only to stage “one party” democracies later.

        • Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi

          Hahahaha Brother Rajab,

          Well my dear brother,
          I do not always agree with Mwenda: Even in this present article, I don’t agree with the aspect of expecting present day African politicians to lead us out of our mess. Whether that is right or wrong is a different issue but that is my considered view as at now. Someone else – including you – may have a different view and I fully respect that: only that you have to work much harder to convince me to your side.
          As for following up my arguments, I think if you googled a bit, you would probably find I am a practical man – more of a reflective pragmatist than an arm-chair theoretician. I base most of my contributions on real tangible work already done – not the other way round! And now brother and comrade, let us get more real – if the editors allow: how of considering a purchase of my solar water purifiers for Kampala’s or rural Uganda’s dirty water? Or – solar water heaters to help reduce on Umeme’s bills? Or my intelligent solar crop dryers for your coffee or maize? Can we talk if you please. Let us put this wolokoso aside for now.

          Cheers, comrade.

  10. For starters, my brain isn’t wired like yours.You seem to be a great “inventor”, if not an “innovator” if not a fabricator? Either way you’re doing just great. Your undoing just like many of the like, is that government won’t do a thing to help and advance your innovations. Last year, midway, as I was trying to have my school registered- local council approached me with tax documents! I could only wonder how they had “evaluated” my school which was not quite yet in existence? One would have thought of a “tax haven” or a “public – private” partnership. Our leaders seem to be more grounded in “guerrilla” warfare and lack the basic economic concepts. I have a feeling that one can readily extract answers from Museveni on who killed Kaweesi, Mayombo, Nyakayirima than if one was to ask as to what happened to: entandikwa, kulembeka, bonna baggaggawale, naads, operation wealth creation etc.

    • Brother and comrade Rajab,
      Accept my sympathies about those local council ‘blood sucking’ politicians.
      There are more points of agreement between us than immediately meet the eye. Even the ‘wiring’ differences are only complementary. Let us focus on commonalities; on complementing each other and suspend the aspect of expecting politicians to help us. If they ever do, that should come as a ‘bonus’.
      And by the way, let the same call go out to our other brothers and sisters on this platform. I note they have been quiet about our discussion.

  11. 1.@ Rajab:Which economic concepts does Besigye have i personally has never heard his thoughts on investments perhaps he has none that’s why he keeps mum.
    2.You talk of opening up a school will it be a girls school?.
    3.Businesses in Uganda collapse coz (i)Ugandans start them up out of desperation other than passion for a job(ii)The law on patent rights is still weak in Uganda.(iii)There are so many copy cuts in businesses for example;within a radius of 10meters there are 50 mobile money businesses,every youth has a rolex stall,saloons are all over the place do people who manage these businesses make profit and has any one bothered to carry out a research on their standard of living?
    4.In developed nations one has apply for a franchise to operate businesses like Shell,Total,MacDonalds,Woolworth,Johnson& Johnson,Toyota, why do they do this its because they want to maintain their brand while in most developing nations they compromise on standards alot.
    5.How should Africans balance their tradition belief with modernity especially with regard to land ?
    6.When should govt policy become a directive especially when govt wants to invest in big projects?
    7.When should govt ignore the views and concerns of the locals when making investment decisions?
    8.There are so many dairy and agricultural products produced by other countries in the world if Africa begins manufacturing such products wont there be surplus in the world market? for now we should forcus on our dear oil and other minerals that M7 discovered.
    9.The private sector is profit & result oriented ;they prefer employing few workers and rewarding them handsomely while the Public sector creates more job opportunities ,its more socially friendly and accomodative to all caliber of Ugandans e.g we have all characters in Parliament,a senior four dropout can get a job as a tea girl or shamberboy.(In short i am saying government is still the biggest job creator)
    10. I always hear Ugandans complain that there are few medical workers but most youth dont want to study chemistry the last time i was in a chemistry lab i mixed nitrogen and oxygen and got nitrogen oxide but the youth prefer wearing neckless/chains while making rolex.

  12. President Museveni may not be the cause of the problems of Uganda, as Mwenda writes, but his actions can and will exacerbate the problems of the country and the region. This is what I mean: Museveni is going to be in power for at least 40 years. Messrs Salvar Kill of South Sudan, Joseph Kabila of DR Congo, Kagama of Rwanda, Nkurunziza of Burundi will emulate Museveni and follow his bad example. We are going to have endless political instability and an exodus of refuges in the Great Lakes region. And I don’t see a situation where Museveni’s successor in Uganda can restore presidential term limits and rule for only 10 years! Museveni’s legacy is very dis-stabilizing to Uganda and the region.

  13. Read a book called IQ and Global Inequalty by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhennan. Also read the Bell Curve by Charles Murray.

  14. 1. Rajab and Kant’s discussion hinted on whether brains and money make a nation rich ; In the 1970s UAE was a backward country just like most African Nations they depended on rearing goats,camels and fishing but they were humble enough to admit that they did not have both the brains and money and needed help; they signed a contract with Conoco Philiips to drill and manage their oil business for 40 years.

    2. Let no one deceive Africans that Agriculture will develop their nations there is plenty of food in the 1st world they even expire in supermarkets we should instead be humble enough to sign contracts with the rich nations to commit ourselves to long term development contracts for example what would Uganda loss if it signed a development contract with China or Japan for 40 years ? i always tell people that it takes only 30 minutes to make a decision that will make wonders for Uganda.

    3. @Rajab:It makes alot of sense when the rich and famous open up orphanages but when people like you open them up we know its for business purposes why do you think organizations like UWESO are still operating?Its because their Patron is the First lady and donors trust that their money will be put to good use coz of her status.

    4. The closest Odinga came to being Kenya’s president was he stood with Kibaki for elections he should have petitioned court then he lost the golden chance and that was it.

    5. What if Odinga wins this election wont he regret instigating people to shun the elections?

    6. Odinga’s dad was Jomo Kenyatta ‘s deputy this means Odinga is meant to be a Vice President but not president i also feel Odinga thinks that since Uhuru Kenyetta is younger than him he can’t respect him.


  16. The usual shrill satanic of a heretic: democracy is bad, dictatorship and corruption are good. He is a polemist apologizing for oppressive, failed, failing and undesirable regimes. Democracy has nothing to with whether a country is rich or not. It stands on its merits. Only democracy can deliver progress over a long haul for centuries. The Kagames of Africa are temporary phenomenon, a flash in the pants.
    It is kind of odd that for one who is given to contextualizing he would treat global and national issues without context. There is no global government whereas there are national governments. The white farmers in Zimbabwe are protected by Britain, just like South Korea was/is protected by the USA against Japan who had lost the war. Even German, who lost the war, had their assets in the USA confiscated. In Africa they lost colonies: Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Togo and South West Africa (now Namibia).
    If he doesn’t know the structural problems in Africa then he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Asian countries are demographically homogeneous (more cohesive and easier to rule) whereas African countries are ethnically heterogeneous (less cohesive). That is a major structural problem. There are many others. Find them. It is an assignment.
    And the fact that non-democratic countries had to abandon their centrally planned economies in favor of liberal economies is a win for a democratic argument. Authoritarianism lost the economic argument and they will lose the power argument too. They are clinging to power (armed to the teeth) but that too will become democratized. It is just a matter of time.

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