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No one size fits all

The Arab Spring

Something intrigued me during the Arab Spring of 2011. There were revolts across most of the Middle East, but largely in republics ruled by presidents i.e. most of their rule was not based on tradition but what Max Weber called rational-legal authority, a Western model – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia. With the exception of Bahrain, all the Arab nations ruled by traditional monarchs– Morocco, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait were not affected. Their people are content. There were some protests in Jordan but the king announced reforms and tensions died.

The first suspicion I got was that these republics and their presidents were ruled by men who lacked legitimacy and had come to rely heavily on patronage and the police state to govern. Part of the problem was that many of these rulers had ruled for long (like monarchs) without traditional legitimacy. Libya’s Muammar Gadaffi had previously depended on personal charisma and the claim to being “revolutionary” but this shine hard worn off and they had retreated to patronage and repression to rule.

This is the crisis Africa is facing as well. Our presidents are always insecure because they acquire a lot of power but have little legitimacy. The Kabaka (king) of Buganda, for example, does not need to prove to anyone that he is king. He enjoys traditional legitimacy. But President Yoweri Museveni has to bribe, cajole and coerce to keep Ugandans inline. Of course, legitimacy can also be acquired through electoral victory. But how many Ugandans in villages believe that a leader needs to be elected to be legitimate? Instead, many people look at teachers, policemen and priests as legitimate leaders more than they do with elected officials.

The real issue, however, is Western belief that there is only one moral way to govern society – liberal democracy – and its foundations in individual autonomy giving raise to a regime of rights. Yet many other societies, including Uganda, do not begin with the individual but with the community. This is based on the belief that people are, first and foremost, members of a large entity – an extended family, a clan, tribe or nation. Therefore, this larger entity is more than the sum of individuals who compose it. Such societies have moral concepts of duty, hierarchy, honor, respect, reputation, patriotism etc. that shape how they cooperate.

From this perspective, the Western emphasis on individual autonomy (liberty) i.e. that individuals should pursue their own goals as long as what they do does not harm others, seems selfish and dangerous. I am a believer in the Western idea of individual liberty but I have grown to recognise how it violates some of the most treasured sanctities of our societies. Most Ugandans see emphasis on individual autonomy as weakening our social fabric and destroying our collective cultural institutions.

This lesson sunk in me while passionately defending gay rights. I believe that homosexuals should be free to live as they wish. During the anti-gay law debate, I was faced with multitudes of Ugandans, including my mother, who were repulsed by such a belief. Initially I dismissed them as backward and bigoted until it dawned on me that I was the one trying to impose Western values on my society. The lesson I learnt is that there is no one size that fits all; and societies need to be given time develop according to their own values and beliefs. It is possible that with time, they may change their values. Dubai sinks this lesson home.



  1. thanks and i like your column, n.b Uganda w’ld have 2 some level, but no country or nation can develop having one leader 4 over 30yrs.

  2. You have forgotten that Dubai is being ruled under the Islamic Shariah Law (Islam completely) which you people are so negative or naive or Ignorant about. so now I do recommend you to start studying and learning Islam from the right sources other than hearing from the enemies of Islam who know nothing at all

    • What about syria

      It is been rule by what.

      • You sound someone who is Naive or Ignorant about what Islam is and what The Shariah Law is. otherwise if you really knew what Islam is, then you would not have asked such a Question.
        But let me help you.
        Not Everyone who speaks Arabic language is a Muslim.e.g.Southern Sudanese and many Sudanese in General,etc
        Not Everyone with an Arabic name is a Muslim.e.g.Many Lebanese and Iraqi’s who are Christians but speak Arabic language and also have Arabic names….

        One Thing which also you should know is that “Islam” it self is so perfect beyond perfection (And It will rule this whole world whether you like it or not), but human beings (Mankind) and Jinn Kind are not.

        If a Munyarwanda kills Ugandans with a lot of hatred and envy, it does not mean that all the Rwandese or all the people in Rwanda are bad people.

        If a Selfish Muganda betrays his fellow Baganda’s, it does not mean that all Baganda’s are Bad people.

        So now you should be prepared to “Un-Learn” and “Re-Learn” things in the right divine order….otherwise you sound like billions of other people out there with Vague and corrupted beliefs and wrong perceptions, Truth and falsehood all mixed together, what is Right looks wrong to them, and what is wrong looks Good and Ok To Them.

        hope that helps you.

      • And another thing you should know is, Syria is not governed nor ruled by “Shariah Law”.
        Syria is governed and ruled by the so called “Fake Democracy” as Uganda is exactly.
        Fooling people and casting spells and bribing them exactly you see how Museveni and his Government are doing… exactly how many Arab countries are being ruled, with the exception of “Saudi Arabia”, “UAE”, and etc….

  3. Mwenda must be on a self cleansing mission. Whichever way, bravo…….I can only ask him…..”what took you so long to see and accept the obvious…….federo….

  4. It’s a stretch to claim that the emirates are culturally diverse, and harmoniously so, given that the vast majority who are immigrants do not enjoy the rights of citizenship and are primarily situated at the bottom rungs of the economic structure. It is true, however, that there are a multitude economic-political models that can lead to prosperity.

  5. The way Andrew Mwenda has become so materialistic, more and more confused especially about: what is right and wrong; what works or doesn’t work; just or unjust; good or evil, now envies Absolute Monarchism.

  6. Recent history abounds with miracles where leaders have done some serious thinking. The Cuban and Tanzania healthcare miracle, the Vietnamese coffee boom,the Rwandese sparkle and of course the usual tigers of Asia. I hear in Dubai businesses aren’t taxed out of existence, the priests are not running to meet the president because someone has mentioned Islamic banking and those doing construction and civil works are from decent origins.All we have here are well connected middle men whose business is to peddle influence..And to some extend the Afagnistan will show that Islam theft is more humane than that by professed Christian westerners. Next time please inquire about the price of water in Dubai and we compare with our own .
    Thank you

  7. 1. The World has a young population that is excited with stuff that glitter like Christmas tree decorations. Nations like Singapore(You should all visit the Marina Bay Sands and understand what i am talking about)Thailand,Dubai,china have more modern buildings and Hotels compared to those in Europe and USA however;the Americans and British still manage most of their architecture designs,service Emirates planes and ICT infrastructure.Actually interms of rich history and and real tourism its better to visit virgin Africa and Europe.
    2.Most of the rich Arabs are lazy;they believe in paying for every service.
    3.The Arabs are mostly disciplined and honest they rarely cheat others;although they are not social people.
    4.Dubai and the tiger nations have a flexible visa systems that makes travel and business easy.
    5.Uganda and other parts of Africa may not develop as fast as Dubai because of the complex social infrastructure;In Uganda for example; Rajab’s clan members can oppose the construction of a railway line simply because the hill that the railway land is supposed to pass is where they practice witchcraft and its a big deal for them ans some how government is black mailed to pay off the witches.
    6.Africa stills lags behind interms of development because the decision of everyone still matters.
    7.Dairy Farming is now one of the “cash crops” in Uganda why are the Acholi chasing the Baalalo grazing cattle out of their land?Cant there be a win win situation where the Acholi local government can make the Balaalo pay some money for grazing cattle on their land?

    • Winnie while I appreciate your assessment and agree entirely, I take issue with your characterization of Arabs as “lazy” I admire your intellect and contribution to these discussions and hope you will remain as objective as you usually are. With that said, I believe Arabs pay bazungu to do their work because they know that the best brains are more useful to help you if you can pay for them.

    • Winnie, there is no such a thing as win, win situation between the Balaalo and the Acholi. simply because, between 1986 up to 2005, the Balaalo in government decimated the cattle of the Bacholi, in addition to trying to depopulate the Bacholi themselves through the dehumanizing IDP Camps, where in average 1,000 children died per week (ministry of Health and Unicef Reports).

      In other words, the Balaalo are covetous and green with envy. Therefore want to occupy the vast and fertile Acholiland. That is how and why there is no win win situation. The Acholi people can develop their own Dairy industry. There was Already a Stock Farm (Aswa Ranch) but the Balaalo in Government who do not want to see the Acholi prosper, can’t stand such an infrastructure in Acholiland. Hence together with some opportunistic Acoli, want parcel out Acwa Ranch land to themselves.

      Otherwise, this is the 21st Century why should we still be having primitive itinerant nomads inconveniencing other Ugandans with their cattle/animals and spreading diseases.

  8. Yes,this country would have grown up earlier but the only thing is that,”one ruling leader can’t make this country to grow up”.but the only thing to do is that,”we must change.we put another leader,and that one is “HE.ROBERT KYAGULANYI” (BOBI WINE).”okay”

  9. While you are wright Andrew …mostly, the question is not whether absolute monarchs are good or bad for nations. Just look at China, Brunei, Emirates etc. The question is …if you decide to rule a nation for life
    1. Are you fair and just allowing national resources to be distributed evenly?
    2. Have you curbed graft and corruption to manageable levels so that its not just your tribe and family benefitting ?
    3. Do you have a clear development plan that is crafted by experts and not subject to your whims and approval at every turn.
    Museveni cannot answer yes to all the above and that’s the problem with your central thesis Andrew. On the face of it, absolute dictators sometimes do well especially when they have a resource like oil money to hoodwink the masses and bribe them not to look at human rights. But the evidence shows that overall if you don’t have oodles of money to drug the people, your days are numbered. Just ask Gaddafi, Ceausescu, Mobutu, Amin, M7, Mugabe, Pol pot, Putin, Saddam, Tito, Hitler, Trump, Castro, Kim Il sung, Mubarak , Bouteflika, need I go on my dear Andrew……?.

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