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Losing my innocence


FILE PHOTO:  Tanzania’s Magufuli (right) confers with Uganda Museveni (left) at a African Union meeting in Addis last year. African countries cannot be governed using strategies Western governments employ to govern their societies.

THE LAST WORD: How my hubris to become president of Uganda pulled me from the trees of utopia to the hard rock of reality

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | I want to continue with a line of thought from this column last week i.e. that African countries cannot be governed using strategies Western governments employ to govern their societies.

Government legitimacy in the West is based on many things. But one critical source of legitimacy is the ability of the state to provide all its citizens with a large basket of public goods and services. Sadly, African nations do not have the money to govern that way.

I want to make an even more controversial proposition: that more than the character and competences of individual leaders in Africa, it is the limited financial resources that inevitably lead our governments to rely more on patronage (to secure the cooperation of elites) and repression (to coerce obedience from the citizenry). At the risk of sounding like his apologist, I think President Yoweri Museveni has ruled like the late Mobutu Sese Seko of then Zaire and Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi because of this challenge than because it’s his character.

This conclusion came to me slowly and painfully in 2010 when, in a moment of extreme hubris, I speculated on running for president of Uganda.

My plan was to develop a national budget that would ensure that my government would base its legitimacy on delivering a modest basket of public goods and services to all citizens through arms-length interactions mediated by public institutions.

I am aware that there are many reasons why citizens may support a government; provision of public goods and services is only one of them, perhaps even not the most important. But space does not allow me to delve into this subject. I will return to the different bases of legitimacy next week. So let me deal with my hubris of running for president against Museveni.

I decided to write a modest budget where public officials would be paid a living wage, build roads, dams, improve the textbook/teacher/classroom to pupil ratio, ensure hospitals would not run out of drugs and all the public goods and services associated with a modern state. I did extensive research in public sector costs whose details would clutter this article. So I hope you just trust me. My annual budget came to $75 billion.

Now you may think this is too much money. Yet, when you get this $75 billion and divide it by the total population of Uganda (39m people), you get public spending per person of only $1,923. This money is supposed to pay for universal education from primary to university, universal healthcare, roads, bridges, electricity dams, transmission and distribution lines, water and sewerage, agriculture extension services, trade, pensions for the elderly, justice, security, finance industrialization, sports, build sea and airports etc.

Let me ignore 2011 when I would have become president and use the 2016/17 budget. Note that Uganda’s revenue for that financial year was about $4.5 billion, its budget was $6.7 billion and its GDP was about $25 billion. If you divide this by 39m people, public spending per person was a paltry $169.

How much can anyone reading this article do with this money in an entire year? Even what I had thought was a modest budget was far beyond the means of my country. It became clear to me that my country simply doesn’t have the resources to govern itself the way I thought it can and should.


  1. Mr Mwenda, you claim that
    “Note that the USA in 1860 did not spend a penny on pensions, health, education or welfare for its citizens..”

    I am mystified by your persistent attempts to defend your assertions with references to a country you know so little about.
    The US is a federation, and its government functions at several levels. Military pensions in the US date back to the Revolutionary War of the 1770s. Welfare for the poor (poorhouses) and local police services (sheriffs) date back to the 1600s under British rule; Federal Marshals date to the 1810s. Public schools run by local governments date to the 1600’s. The Federal military academies started training engineers in 1794. The first universities run by State governments opened in the 1790s, and in 1860 the Federal government was launching the Land Grant College system, a system of agriculture and engineering schools funded by the Federal government. Quarantine hospitals for mariners, run by the Federal government, existed since the 1890s

  2. Mr Mwenda, you keep missing the point. The key weakness of Africa’s leaders is not patronage and repression. It is incompetence; they simply lack the ability to run a large complex organization.

    One African leader who will remain unnamed is a very good example. He has been unable, in decades, to assemble a competent team of Ministers. He micromanages petty matters and ignores major policy needs. He has not once negotiated a favourable financial deal, he keeps getting conned by foreign chancers. He is unable to delegate major tasks and insist on adequate performance levels once duties are delegated.

    There are examples of competent repressive governments. And there are one or two examples of competent governments with large patronage regimes. Repressive governments create an atmosphere of fear, and some can govern through fear. Patronage regimes create greed and envy. The worst African regimes create only disgust.

  3. Readers should not be deceived by Mwenda’s claim that the US was governed by a “combination of repression and patronage” in the late 19th century.
    Repression and patronage were alive and well in the southern states till the mid 20th century, and these states stagnated economically. Some southern states had no professional civil service up to the 1940s!
    The rest of the nation surged forward after the Civil War, helped by a number of factors such as
    -the availability of massive resources of land, coal, petroleum and iron ore
    -a rapid rise in population due to immigration
    -a high number of technically educated people from the Land Grant colleges
    -a huge number of advances in electrical, mechanical and agricultural engineering
    -the discovery of chemical fertilizers
    -Federal and State policies supporting investment in railroads and canals by land grants.

    The support of railroads by land grants is an interesting example for Ugandans. Uganda Railways possessed substantial amounts of land (besides the right of way itself) in 1986, granted by the government in 1910-1930 for housing, training schools, workshops, warehouses etc. Every inch of that land has since “gone”, making Uganda Railways a nonviable entity.

    • Sserukeera, stick by these figures that M9 presents and argue from that viewpoint. he states “…. Note that Uganda’s revenue for that financial year was about $4.5 billion, its budget was $6.7 billion and its GDP was about $25 billion. If you divide this by 39m people, public spending per person was a paltry $169.
      How much can anyone reading this article do with this money in an entire year? Even what I had thought was a modest budget was far beyond the means of my country. It became clear to me that my country simply doesn’t have the resources to govern itself the way I thought it can and should…..”.
      Fron M9’s above statement, which I have no time,opportunity or need to verify but assume it is true, you Sserukeera or I Rwasubutare or even Ejakait cannot honestly claim we can provide the services listed with that amount; even if it were to be prudently utilised;let alone the fact that some of it is stolen,misused or just kept unspent. I concur therefore that what M9 says is true. But then, governance means to do what one can to the best of their ability with the resources that are available without being opulent,thieving or foolish. The quarrel of the knowledgeable public with the administration or treasury keepers and accessors of public coffers is that they almost all have become gamekeeper-turned-poacher… rendering even the little that was brought in unavailable to save the needy. Another issue that makes the public mad is the ‘perrenial lies’ and ‘unfulfilled promises’ that make look not only gullible but also idiots. Any leader who speaks lies to mature people year in year out is either a habitual liar or does not consider them worthy of respect. I have never seen or read it instructed in any political science textbook that it is productive to lie. I am however reliably informed that soldiers must lie to ‘enemy’. Maybe these politicians also take the people to be their enemies.

  4. ejakait engoraton

    TO laugh or to cry??????
    A person who can not work out that if at one point you have 278 and then in the course of time you add another 2 and thinks that the figure still remains 278 has no business dabbling in serious figures and facts.
    DO you think that all people who set out say to build houses have any idea how much the house will cost them to build, yet nonetheless they set out to build the same house to its completion, sometimes not even being able to put a figure on how much it eventually cost them.
    THIS to me, if you had any in the first place, was the loss of your SENSES.
    AS SSERUKERA has aptly illustrated, yours are just dreams and not a single fact in most of what you have written, just flowery words put together and made to sound good to the unsuspecting reader.
    YOU ask the same question for which, unknowingly , you have given an answer in you previous rumblings.
    TO remind you, you asked the question along the lines ” how come North Korea with an income p c of $665 is able to send missiles, satellites, make cars…………..”
    THAT is your answer.
    YOU made that assertion, which is mainly correct, yet you do not know the reason why. That goes to show how shallow your understanding is.

  5. ejakait engoraton

    EFFECTIVELY, what M 9 is saying is that North Korea with $665(very little money) has been able to do what other countries( leaders) have not been able to do with as much as or more than $3000 yet he still does not know the reason why and still insists it is all to do with money or lack thereof.

    BACK to home, when it suits him, he , rightly, praises RWANDA (Kagame) for having been able to do so much with so little in such a short time after a very tragic event.

    The dilemma M 9 faces is that he would , rightly want to praise KAGAME for what he has been able to do, without criticising M 7 ( even if it means absolving all the other equally incompetent leaders) for what he has failed to do.

    • 1. The popular use of the term “average” (which is what income per capita is based on) is way different from reality on the ground. In everyday language, the word “average” means “most people,” or the most representative person in a given sample….. whence comes my quarrel with statistics; M9’s beloved source of information and base of conclusions. I don’t blame him, he cannot get any other as easily.
      2. I read once that the average income per capita in USA is 55k implying that most people earn that amount and then in a following sentence that 68% of the people don’t earn that. It frightened me to think that all I had thought I knew for the past 30 years was not so.
      3. N.Korea makes nuclear weapons and other high-cost gadgets (liabilities) with little or no visible stress on its economy. We can conclude that we either don’t have the TRUE facts or they have an undeclared (very big)income which is hidden from the prowling eyes of the rest of the world.
      Otherwise how can one explain that? ejakait will concur with me that if say: country A made a raid on country B and looted minerals, which belonged to a mining company that habitually under-declares its revenue by 90%,but the expeditionary force surrounds and procures the gold, do you think such revenue will be declared as income? to be shared by the citizens?
      1 ton of gold sells for about 50k USD. Recently Magufuli discovered that certain mining companies in TZ were (in cahoot with state supervisors) under-declaring their harvest drastically. If it happens in TZ, how about DRC? Imagine if an expeditionary force surrounds a gold processing mining facility that had declared for the past 25 years an average of 4-5 tons per year (but which were in reality 50 tons or over) and the brave force loot it, would you the mining company dare to disclose the quantity they stole?
      It a hunch I have had for quite sometime that with the right connections and good gold, even the security council of the UN can be talked into understanding. It is composed of humans.

  6. 1.The world lost its innocence decades ago. So when i hear Ugandans demanding for those good old days i really wonder why they are not in touch with reality why do i say this?It makes alot of sense to request government to account for the tax collected but we should also bear in mind that the 1st world like China is developing at a rapid speed because of technological fraud which morally is a bad act but economically it makes sense.
    2.North Korea has brought the 1st world nations to its knees because of hacking Banks and Espionage.they hack and hold many international companies at randsom in exchange for money we all saw how Sony company begged N.Korea to free their data morally this is a bad act but economically it pays.
    3.Companies in the Silcon valley like Google, Apple ,Facebook have literally led to the collapse of media companies and loss of jobs morally its a bad idea but economically USA has gained alot from silicon valley thats it can afford to call us shithole countries and get away with it,
    3. Basing on the above examples;Uganda has few international economic choices to make so i request Ugandans to open her economic doors to investors and relax some of their economic policies and guidelines.we can not afford to be like China that refused to use google and facebook instead they have their own China Unicom and amidist our poverty, we should be economically humble with investors.
    4.Radio had a dazzling smile we shall miss him.
    5.Where is the smoking gun in the death of Radio for those who are not lawyers this means where is the conclusive evidence in this case?the witnesses have made so many conflicting statements so the jury will have to weigh the importance of each witness ‘s account as a lawyer; these are the key areas to investigate(i)Did the Bar have cameras and do they function?(ii)Was the bar a busy one because Ugandans party alot over the weekend this will tell the number of people in the bar.(iii)Washington said Radio declined to take whisky that was already opened so when did he get drunk had he taken some drinks before the MD of the bar had offered him some?(iv)Most bars have dime lights thats why Ejakaait,Rwasutubare and Rajab can easily squeeze ladies butts and boobs so how was Washington able to see the man who lifted Radio?(v)Its said that Radio on that unlucky day had gone to inspect his site and that Pamela would spy on his workers at the site basing on Pamela’s looks and role she plays at the site its unlikely that a Ugandan celebrity would proudly take her out.(vi)Pamela could have been a drug supplier(vii)There is no mention of the time he arrived at the bar and the time he was taken to the the 1st health centre this would probably clear the air on the time he left and bar and the number of patrons that could have been at the bar.
    6.Drugs like cocaine and heroine give more pleasure compared to sex to human beings thats why its so addictive.

  7. @Rwasubutare honesty i dont know whether you can ever read and understand law even a killer can have a prima facie case Prima facie simply means enough evidence to prove a case in the courts of law. Pamela’s role in this case is not visible in the bar brawl that killed Radio.

  8. Prima facie means on the face of it or at first sight. Do we have jury trials in Uganda

  9. Guys though mwenda is museveni’s boot liker, having said that, Andrew makes an important point about the budget a country has to offer to it’s citizens annually. If you want to know how rich a country is, just look at it’s budget, and how much out of that is borrowed, foreign aid. Every government has a current were money from government. Receipts and other dealing is deposited.
    In the case of Uganda looking at this budget of 17/18 as quoted by Andrew $4.6 billion, how much is coming from borrowing, foreign aid, grants and how much money is in the government current account. I would like to think that in the case of Uganda nearly $2.6.
    billion is expected from borrowing, aid and grants.
    That is how poor Uganda is under the steward ship of Andrew’s friend Mr museveni. Andrew don’t forget that government must make money enough to take care of it’s citizens. Museveni has failed to make money and provide those public goods. Museveni employees patronage as a tool to compliment his failure.

  10. JAMES BANTU, its hard to know where to start in responding to your rumblings. There is borrowing, there is responsible borrowing and of course irresponsible borrowing. Do you know how much the US/UK and all the other developed nations borrow to finance their budgets and do you know how much they are currently indebted? IN UGANDA we borrow to finance mainly CONSUMPTION and of IMPORTED goods and services. The money we borrow, we end up using to buy luxury cars, presidential jets( we had two at some point), going abroad for treatment, and a very big chunk is STOLEN and sent back to backs in the countries that lent us the money, sometimes at very bad terms.YOU and your relative , say in NAKASEKE and MUKWANO, who has a bigger debt. How does it sound if you are told that your relative, whose son needed to go to school, borrowed money from the neigbour but at the end of the year the child had not gone to school because the neighbor just kept the money( unutilised loans) , but he still has to pay the interest and commitment fees, or just as bad that he used the money to buy a bicycle or drink in the trading centre.

  11. RWASUBUTARE, I have said it before and will say it again, STATISTICS do rarely tell the full story, and most times tell no story at all other than what the teller wants you to know or believe. IF I told you ” companies paid their employees one an average of(a) 500k and the other(b) 400k , which pays better. Naturally we both would say the that pays 500k. UNTIL I tell you that (a) has 2 employees one earning 100k, and the other 900k, (b) has 5 employees earning 800k,300k,300k,300k, 300k.
    There is a lot more to figures/ statistics than just the average; there is the mean , the mode , the median, the spread/distribution and many others that need to be understood before figures can have their full meaning. Statistics as usually presented are mainly a summary from which not much can usually be gleaned.A we say in statistics, “all statistics come with a health warning”- or rather disclaimer.

  12. My friend ejakait you have lost the point, read and understand what point iam trying to make rather than just jump into the jug without prior understanding.

  13. ejakait engoraton

    BANTU, what you are trying to say and what you are saying seem to be at VARIANCE. I stand to be corrected.

  14. ejakait engoraton

    “Every government has a current were money from government. Receipts and other dealing is deposited.” Does that make much sense to you. Boot liker?

  15. @ Bantu;leaders dont develop nations citizens build or destroy nations otherwise S.Africa USA,Russia,North Korea have crazy presidents but their economies are great.
    2.How can you accuse M7 for not making money for Uganda?M7 has encouraged Ugandans to study sciences, he has provided attractive packages for those who study sciences for example;teachers who teach science based programmes are paid more salary,there are free scholarships for those who study sciences,there is no tax imposed on science equipment ,govt allocates funds for research but the youth prefer quick fixes like selling rolex and cassava,Rajab prefers to study Arabic,Luganda,Kiswahili and Islam who is to blame?
    3.Corruption is not as bad as people portray it for example; if one steals govt resources he will probably build a hotel or school that will employ Ugandans corruption actually stirs development in Africa to some extent.

    • Luganda is my civilization, Arabic is 1, 2, 3, …. What’s wrong with studying/learning them? Who ever told you there is no “Arabic science” or ” Kiganda science? ” Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

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