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The dilemma Africa faces

African leaders after an OAU summit in 1963
African leaders after an OAU summit in 1963.


THE LAST WORD: Andrew Mwenda

The postcolonial state needs to transform not replicate existing social arrangements

Lately, I have been thinking about the postcolonial state inAfrica, and this column reflects these growing thoughts. Why do our states and their political leaders fail to do the things we expect of them? We need to stop regurgitating wornout statements that the state inAfrica is dysfunctional and its leaders are greedy and selfish. Africa has witnessed 278 changes of governments and their leaders over the last 50 years without any fundamental change in the governance strategies by successor governments and leaders – perhaps with the sole exception of post-genocide Rwanda. It would be more profitable to examine the structural circumstances that make these governance strategies obdurate.

I love philosophy because, as my uncle Prof. William Banage used to tell me, it helps one develop a broad perspective. And as Lord Bolingbrooke said, philosophy is history teaching by example. I learned from the philosopher-historian Will Durant that you can develop a broad perspective by studying objects in space (which is the study of science) or by studying events in time (which is the study of history). History is the laboratory of human behavior.

So I have been reading 19th and early 20th century history of Western Europe and North America to find out how they governed themselves when they had similar social structure as us (rural-urban divide and level of education of the population) and similar per capita income and per capita spending as our nations today. Without exception, and with variations in degree or detail, I find these Western nations and their leaders (were) governed just like ours are today; through a combination of repression and patronage.

So I have grown increasingly suspicious of the ideological and institutional foundations of the postcolonial state in Africa. In most cases it lacks the social infrastructure to govern in the prescribed form i.e. through an impersonal implication of public policy. It also lacks the technical skills and financial resources to perform the functions expected of it (universal access to public goods and services like healthcare, education, clean water, electricity, roads etc.).

The mismatch between expectations of the state and its abilities has led to self destructive social frustration. Listen to debates in traditional and social media. Almost without exception, African elites and their backers in Western media and academia say the state in Africa is dysfunctional and its leaders greedy and selfish. I criticise this view with a lot of humility because for many years I was an articulate advocate of it. But as a student of Socrates, I learned from this sage that philosophy begins when one learns to doubt, especially to doubt one’s strongly held beliefs, dogmas, and axioms.

So I have been rethinking the meaning of our struggle for independence. We must remember that this struggle was led by people who had been trained under colonialism. Colonialism claimed it sought to emancipate the African from superstition, poverty, and backwardness by introducing Christianity, commerce and “civilization”. Ironically the anticolonial struggle accepted this “civilizing” vision but argued that the colonial state and its alien personnel had failed to foster this lofty goal because they were racist.

So the struggle for independence did not seek to dismantle the colonial state and its underlying ideological and institutional foundations. Rather it sought to remove alien personnel and replace them with African elites. These elites claimed to be the best vehicle for colonialism’s “civilizing” mission. The postcolonial state was, therefore, to be modeled on the European state – with secular liberalism as the governing model and a state that could provide impersonally to everyone a wide range of public goods and services.

This desire to fulfill the colonial vision is today written in the postcolonial pursuit of “development”, “democracy”, “good governance”, etc. often funded by foreign aid – both financial and technical. These are claimed to be universal goals. Essentially the postcolonial African elites are seeking to make our nations and their people carbon copies of European nations and peoples. I am eclectic about whether this should be the future of every country. But I know it is difficult (and rare) to cheat social evolution. The European future we crave will come – if it comes at all – only after a long lag and through fits and starts.

Yet I believe that to secure that future (assuming it is desirable) we need the state to be an agent of such transformation. But the state in postcolonial Africa has attempted to be so many things to so many people and in too short a time. This has sapped her energies, hence the rampant corruption and incompetence. These side effects of over expansion have de-legitimised state action. Hence attempts by the state to be a transformative agent also tend to generate political contestations. This makes it difficult to get anything done.

This de-legitimation although most articulated by African elites has been given intellectual respectability by Western institutions – academia, media and diplomacy. I suspect Western scholars have a desire, perhaps subconscious, to demonise the postcolonial state and its leaders in order to reduce the guilt they feel about the brutality of their colonial forefathers. But it also works to justify Western efforts to meddle in our affairs for their own interests. The African elite are at once a beneficiary and victim of this meddling.

They benefit when they are in the rough terrain of an opposition politician promising the impossible. For then, Western media present such people as victims of corrupt and dictatorial rule. They are victims when they finally get into power and behave almost like their predecessors. This is the contradiction President Yoweri Museveni finds himself in after years of accusing Milton Obote of the very things he is repeating today. Kizza Besigye’s supporters, like supporters of every African politician have done over the 50 years, believe their man would behave differently. They are deluded and perhaps they need that to remain positive.

A state that is so de-legitimised cannot be an effective vehicle for a project of national transformation. On the contrary it becomes easy prey to foreign meddling.

To be a transformative agent, it needs to make many mistakes. That is always the cost of innovation. But the governance philosophy we have inherited from the high priests of development proscribes undertaking such risks. Thus rather than develop its own project of national transformation, the postcolonial state tends to keep responding to pressures from mobilised demand-groups. Consequently, it tends to replicate rather than transform existing social arrangements.



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  1. Mwenda is at it again; his basic message is “Uganda’s leadership is not rotten; it’s the country that is impossible to govern well”. This week and last week he attempts to prove that in fact developing a postcolonial state is impossible. Well, someone forgot to tell the leaders of Singapore, Malaysia and Botswana. Botswana has become a middle income country after independence, Malaysia has become an industrial nation and Singapore has ended up richer than Britain!

    As always, Mwenda claims to be well read, for instance <<

    This is a very superficial reading of Europe 150 years ago. Europe in the 1800s was developing the social, industrial and political structures of the modern world, but it was building them on a base of values, languages, and skills that were rooted in Europe and had been in development for centuries. In science and industry Europe had institutions capable of innovations that Africa has yet to dream of.

  2. One of Mwenda’s tricks is writing about a generic “Africa”. Thus the failures of incompetent leaders can be disguised in an intellectual essay on “Africa’s dilemma”. A glance at the picture of leaders from the 1960s tells a different story. There is a huge variation in the levels political skill, administrative competence, probity and basic decency in those leaders. And the history of the counties has reflected the personal qualities of the leaders. There is a huge difference between the stagnation of Zambia and the collapse of the Congo.
    Leaders who were basically decent (Nyerere and Kaunda) retired peacefully; their low administrative skill meant the countries have stagnated but civil peace has been maintained. Mobutu combined incompetence with personal greed his country collapsed totally and twenty years after his demise has yet to start recovering. Obote built a regime on pure brute force, in 1966 armed soldiers surrounded Parliament to encourage a certain vote, fifty years later the tactic is still in use.

  3. Mwenda is talking about “philosophy”, he’s talking about “civilisation”, he’s also talking about “colonialism. In short, Mwenda seems to be experiencing psychedelic episodes. But let’s try finding him a latitude on which he sits. He refers to himself as a student of Socrates. And that in the process he has “learned” (or “unlearned”) to doubt his strongly held beliefs, dogmas, and axioms. Socrates always wore cheap clothing, was usually barefoot, and never worried much about his appearance. He never taught for money, but he made his teaching known just by inserting his opinion in mere conversations. On the other hand, Mwenda (although I have never met him but watched him on You-tube) puts on designer pencil suits, he usually wears-on a trimmed face. He charges Ushs 5,000 (approximately $2) for every copy of ‘the Independent.’ I am reliably informed that he has ordered for repairs to his BMW
    (2015), worthy £ 10,000. If Mwenda claims to be a “student” of Socrates, he’s not only eccentric to conventional “African life style” but also a delinquent to his master.

    He persistently argues that the independence struggle did not seek to dismantle the colonial state and its attendant ideologies and institutional foundations, but only sought to replace its “alien” personnel with African elites. That this meant that the postcolonial state was to be modelled on an European state that could provide impersonally to everyone on a wide range of goods and services. That due to the urge of the postcolonial state to fulfil the desires of the postcolonial African elite, the state has turned out to be corrupt and incompetent. This reasoning would qualify Mwenda to be referred to as a “sophist.” Not in the sense that he’s a true student of Socrates, but in so far as making a clever but an invalid argument. I would like to borrow from his last week’s “boyfriend – girlfriend” analogy. Supposing, the girlfriend requested for a golden engagement ring from the boyfriend and the boyfriend was later found shoplifting it. Will it be justifiable for the boyfriend to defend himself that he was acting on the request of the girlfriend? Or will it point more to the behavioral character of the boyfriend (that old habits die hard), that instead of finding means and ways of convincing the girlfriend that he could not afford the desired ring, he resorts to his second nature- stealing.

    I have argued before (and borrowing from, David Landes: ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations’), that institutions are in some sense products of a culture. That because they formalise a set of norms, institutions are often the things that keep a culture honest, determining how far it is conducive to good rather than bad behaviour. I gave the examples of the two Germans (East and West), two Koreas (North and South), and the two Chinas (Inside and Outside.) I will today use the symmetric table to draw two personalities between 17th century Great Britain and Mwenda’s favourite country- Kagame’s Rwanda. A comparison between Britain’s scientist and Rwanda’s industrialist.

    Britain’s Isaac Newton Rwanda’s Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa

    Born in 1643, Woolsthorpe, England. Mr. Ayabatwa was born in Rwanda in 1940.

    Isaac Newton was an established
    physicist and mathematician.

    In 1662, King Charles II awarded the Royal
    Society of London its charter for Improving
    Natural Knowledge. The aim was to found
    an institution for the promoting of physico-
    mathematical experimental learning.

    In effect, the Society of which Newton
    became president- was a hub in

    the new scientific network.

    In 1669 and 1687, he published his most
    acclaimed work, Philosophiae Naturalis
    Principia Mathematica (Mathematical
    Principles of Natural Philosophy), which
    has been called the single most influential
    book on physics.

    In March 1727, when Newton died, his body
    lay in the state at Westminster Abbey, for four
    days. His funeral service was borne by
    two dukes, three earls and the Lord Chancellor.
    His funeral was attended by Voltaire, who was
    to remark upon returning to France, ‘I have
    seen a professor of mathematics, only because
    he was great in his vocation, buried like a king
    who had done well by his subjects.’

    It is therefore not accidental that three of the
    world’s most important technological innovations-
    James Watt’s improved steam engine(1764),
    John Harrison’s longitude-finding chronometer
    (1761) and Richard Arkwright’s water frame (1769)
    – were invented in the same country, in the
    same decade.

    Mr. Ayabatwa was born in Rwanda in 1940.

    His businesses have been able to provide
    employment for about 26,000 people who
    in turn support at least182,000 people in
    Sub-Saharan Africa. In1959, he moved to
    Burundi to escape the ongoing violence
    that Rwanda was experiencing against the
    Tutsi population and remained there for thirty

    In the early 1990’s, Mr.Ayabatwa believed in
    Fred Rwigema’s vision for the Tutsis return back
    to Rwanda. After the death of Rwigema Mr. Ayabatwa
    did not believe in Kagame’s vision.

    His main disagreement in those early years under
    Kagame during the struggle had to do with how he
    treated the young men (child soldiers) and he was
    unsettled by the fact that Kagame used child soldiers
    in the war.

    After the war, Mr. Ayabatwa disagreed the way the party
    started going into business by illegally seizing the
    businesses of those in Kigali. Although he was officially
    uncomfortable with the party, he played an advisory role
    in the party in order to promote business and
    investments in Rwanda.

    In 2008, Mr. Ayabatwa was summoned to President
    Kagame’s office where Kagame and his wife questioned
    both Mr. Ayabatwa and his wife about Jeanette Rwigyema
    (wife to the late Rwigyema.) He asked Mrs. Ayabatwa to
    denounce her relationship to Mrs.Rwigyema but she
    refused. When he was asked about President Kagame’s
    possible third term his response was: “A third term for
    Kagame will see Rwanda go from bad to worse.” Today is
    already bad because Kagame uses his position and
    power to obtain anything he wants by force.

    It is, therefore, not accidental that Rwanda witnessed
    three genocides in over a period of thirty years.
    Ayabatwa is currently a political refugee in U.A.E. (For some technical reason, I couldn’t draw up the table.)

    One might be agreeable to Mwenda’s attained view that post-colonial African elites were/are true agents of colonialism. However, I find his held views conflicting with his bodily reality. For instance, if African elites are an impediment to African development such a situation will require a complete new orientation if not a complete dismantlement of the African elite class of which he should play the agent of change. However and to the contrary, Mwenda wishes to see this African dominant class continue in their pursuit of glory and self aggrandisement to some of whom he has decided to offer advisory services often at the detriment of the larger dominated class. May be by claiming to be a student of Socrates, Mwenda was paying verbal homage to the sage and seeking a sanctuary so high and mighty from our usual down and dirtier souls. I, sadly find Mwenda comfortably seated atop ‘Eurocentrism.’

  4. 1.All the innovations that generate alot of income are in the field of; Science,Technology ,Hospitality Medicine & Industry thats why up to now, rich nations just need to modify their technology to keep relevant.brands like; Rolex,Nokia, Benz,Audi,Kenwood,Toyota are here to stay.So this raises the question;Can Africans innovate something new besides the iterms mentioned in the fields above?
    2.Why do Africans think that rich nations want to take something from them?Yes we have the land and minerals but lack the skills so how do we benefit from being so rigid and agressive towards investors?Why are we shy to ask for help?
    3.There should be a middle ground and compromises should be made during negociations of contracts in the oil and minerals industry.Investors pump in alot of resources and income during exploration; they risk alot while investing in Africa coz of uncertanity.
    4.Africans are so acustomed to ready made products they will always hide behind factors like; colonisation,democarcy and environmental concerns yet thier issues have more to do with primitivity & rigidity e.g in Nigeria Shell went thru alot coz the Nigreians would tamper with the oil pipes resulting to fires,they would kidnap oil wokers and demand for randsoms,now why wouldn’t the world be affraid of you??
    5. S.Africa has the same minerals that are found in the rest of the African countries why is it that they are a head of us?can you imagine the people from Mozambique,Malawi,Zambia also want to work as slaves in S.Africa?
    6.I am fed up of Africans being a laughing stock .Colonization ended 50 years ago its like we are accusing the rich nations for our failure and incompetence the land reform in Zimbabwe exposed us alot i hear the Africans began by eating all the cattle and crops they found in the white owned farms thats why they are in the financial mess they r in now.
    7. I laughed when i heard that Ugandans want to kick Chinese out of the malls down town.1st of all they shop from China what if China revenges?2ndly China has given us loans so we need to behave 3rdly, Ugandans are so smart in chineses clothes & shoes they are so affordable e.g if Musinguzi gives his wife 50k for shopping she will return with a suitcase full of shoes you wonder whether the shoes were bought in pairs or whether each side of shoe cost 1k

  5. Africa (some Countries) is on the rise. Stop your generalisations already. Come to Kenya and see real progress- go to Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa, Thika. Even Ruaka, a mere suburb cant be compared to Kampala road. Go to Rwanda and see a state and its people on the move. Come to Tanzania and see Magufuli move things. This leaves out Burundi and Uganda, who are in a self-destruction mode and the once sound journalists have joined the chorus of self-destruction. Uganda needs small tweaks in management of delivery of services to tick. So, stop this generalisations to hide the incompetent hand that is responsible for the long malaise in performamnce. Ati agricultural extension services under the military. You land at Entebbe at night and darkness greats you all the way to Kampala- a road the so called leader uses almost everyday for more than 30 years! Many of these leaders in failed or failing states are mere profiteers in their Countries’ failure. Do you see Jomo Kenyatta airport or you close your eyes when you land there? Rwanda just ordered procured an airbus.The ugandan comedians are launching rolex chapatis. Twala twala eri.

    • Musinguzi wayaaga? Let us not look at the beautification of cities as development. Museveni or Kagame can wake up one morning and put up a trillion structure in the middle of their cities, will that wash away our troubles? Let us look at the form as much as at the substance. I wouldn’t care much about the rolex if it gives value to our basic consumables thus spurring consumption, however, it would be foolhardy to come up with an automobile company if it lacks the necessary facilities (policies) to ensure sustainability (continuity). I think the developments of some of our neighbors are recommendable but will they stand the test of nationhood?

      • Rajab, planning, execution and maintenance of projects is a higher order of sophistication. This level sophistication is an indicator of development in itself and its distribution in governments is to be found in diffrent amounts. If you can’t implement projects, how will development come about, fall from the sky? Indeed you see this failure allover- Naguru-Nakawa, Namanve industrial park, kasokoso, former Shimon demonstration land, dysfuntional water fountains in Kla, street lights don’t work, eye-sores of Kalerwe-Bwaise-Katanga-Katwe and no concrete plans for upgrade etc. Please drop this line of thinking already, it is an argument for the incompetent. I don’t understand when you ask whether these developments in neighbouring countries will stand the test of nationhood. Have you met a Kenyan that is not inspired by their new airport, Thika super highway, the SGR or a Rwandan not inspired by the new airbus, the Kigali convention centre, or clean and orderly Kigali? Nation building is also about creating things that pull the nation togther. No? The only thing that bring us together- the ug cranes- is also allowed to be mishandled by FUFA! Uganda is very functional at private level but needs a stedy hand to direct our collective direction and interest. It is completely absent at the moment.
        That said, can these nations also do more? Of course. No Continent for instance I know, ever developed and created enough jobs for its people consuming only other people’s goods. Its a strategic bottle neck the continent must face head-on. As nations, we need to start to pull together too. Rwanda has demostrated its ability to manage an airline. Let us buy shared into Rwandair and support it and in return, Rwanda buys shares in our oil refinery etc.
        Lastly, Winnie, I am a village boy and will forever be. I however moved out of the village to town for things like power/energy for without them, communities are not empowered or energised to develop. so you will forgive me for staying true to reasons for my migration. Countries develop because leaders make proper SWOT analysis and work accordingly. Each Country is unique but there are cross-cutting conditions.

        • Musinguzi, I am not absent to the fact that planning, execution and maintenance require a certain level of sophistication, to the contrary, I was considering that such should be followed by a higher level of political orderliness. I know you are not short of examples if we looked at how Ivory Coast had come, Gaddafi’s Libya, Egypt, Zimbabwe etc…Maybe such examples show how less sophisticated we are politically.

          • I agree and when I said there is a lack of a steady hand to direct things in our Country, I meant political leadership only that I didn;t want to sound overly politically charged!

          • Rajab, meant to say that in fact political ordeliness shd precede the rest as it is a potent threat and impedement to other levels of sophistication even when planned, as we know too well in Uganda. Boda-boda presence in Kla is a result of political contestations and opportunism, Kasokoso mess as Winnie said was allowed to flourish because of political machinationations etc. Yet,even when M7 backed off kasokoso, that didn’t stop from losing Kla. I would rather he proceeded with Kasokoso devt, boda-boda clean up, given Katwe to Japanese for development of local metal fabrication centre, Katanga land given to Sudhir for development of low cost high rise building for MUK students and Mulago users etc. M7 ‘s resolve is terribly wanting; the current opposition too opoortunistic. I wonder where a third force will emerge from for we don’t deserve the current two

  6. 1. @Musinguzi we r in 2016 & you still think that well lit streets r a sign of development u must have spent alot of your life in the village.
    2. M7 found a slow coach so what do you want him to do? Africans r so gullibe thats why pyramaid schemes & sports betting centres are making alot of dimes.2 years ago some man approached me marketing some pyramid scheme called Quest net at first i thought it was an extension of the Quest Busines programme on CNN but waapi mbu its a bio disc that can prevent diseases ….i asked him why their products were are not in hospitals if indeed they r meant for sick people we parted ways with him claiming that am so difficult i said to him its ok. how do you join something you dont even understand?.
    3. Just imagine it has taken M7 only 20 years to devlop Ug just imagine if we had not wasted time with Obote & Amin? Its hard to tell why some countries in Africa are developing at a fast rate e.g Bostswana,Nambia,Ethopia,Nigeria i know Musinguzi,Rajab & Adhola will rush to conclude thats its coz of democary & good governance.
    @Rajab i am razor sharp obaa its coz am a Lawyer.

    • Sometimes we say things subconsciously, (you could have been sleepwalking (or writing, for that matter)). I complimented your work basing on your previous posts through the years, the incoherence this time was minimal. As a teacher, sometimes you compliment the work of a weak learner not because of an excellent performance but you feel he/she went out of their depth. Prove me that you’re not a somnambulist.

    • Winnie, no two countries share exactly similar SWOT as far as development is concerned but as long as the Country’s leaders burn midnight oil thinking about their SWOT and how to move its people inspite and because of the SWOT, progress/development will eventually come, and at varying paces depending on the pull and push factors on the development process.

  7. @ Rajab if you want something from me just say it instead of beating around the Bush.
    @Musinguzi when it comes to development Ugandans just develop cold feet.The example you have given of Kasokoso and Katanga are a hotspot for votes for Besigye & Lukwago who does not know that NCHCC wanted to develop Kasokoso but failed coz of cheap politics?Who does not know that the fountains have failed to work coz Lukwago’s supporters steal some parts?who are you threatening with SWOT Analysis?

    • Unfortunately I am out of circulation. I am so sorry.

    • What is government for that can’t enforce a decision meant to serve a public good? Who is Besigye or Lukwago when we are talking matters development? Crush them and let public good prevail. You asked why Rwanda and Ethiopia are moving? No cheap politics in place of development. I had no intention whatsoever to threaten u by mentioning SWOT. My sincere apologies.

      • 1. I beg your pardon Musinguzi, don’t you know that Ugandans gossip a lot for them every project either belongs to Kuteesa or the 1st Family thats why any development project is rejected.The Kasokoso guys even said they were so comfortable living in their Muzigos. KB & Ssemujju indeed acknowledged that they were comfortable.
        2.It seems you want me to elaborate more on how SWOT analysis is supposed to work in Ug.These are the strengths of Ug;Good Climate,Administrative structures(both Political,social,Legal & Economical)The Weaknesses include;Big headed guys,the opportunities include;Tourism,Industrialization and the Threats include Besigye,Democracy & Corruption.

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