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The poverty of Africa’s elites

The much referred to Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. It is perhaps only in Africa where most intellectuals are only waiting for that one hero-president who will change the country from poverty to riches. 

THE LAST WORD: Why the tendency of African intellectuals to blame leaders for the failures of our nations is escapism

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | I recently had a Twitter debate with Prof. George Ayittey; the Ghanaian author of `Africa Unchained: the blueprint for development’ (Palgrave/MacMillan, 2004) and scholar at the American University in Washington DC.

According to him, the problem of Africa is bad leadership and that 90% of the 238 presidents Africa has had since independence have been bad and selfish. This argument is common among African elites. However, although it has good political and emotive appeal, it lacks even basic intellectual reflection.

It is perhaps only in Africa where most intellectuals (and I hope not citizens) are waiting for that one hero-president who will change the country from poverty to riches. They, however, need to answer one question: Which president, prime minister or chancellor developed USA, UK, France, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Japan, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Italy, Canada, New Zeeland, Japan, etc. – the most advanced nations in the world?

The hero-leader example is picked from East Asia where in one generation and under one leader, the nation transformed from poverty to riches – Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, Park Chung Hee in South Korea and Chiang Kai Shek in China.

Even a casual reading of the histories of these nations would show the engine of transformation was not the leaders but the evolved levels of social organisation diffuse across the entire society. Hence even without Lee, Singapore would have transformed. Look at Hong Kong. It didn’t have a Lee but achieved similar heights as Singapore.

Taiwan best illustrates this point. Chiang and his political party, the Kuomintang (or KMT) presided over a classic predatory state on mainland China. When chased away to Taiwan, the same leader and party presided over an economic miracle. Did Chiang undergo a personality or genetic mutation to achieve in Taiwan what he had failed to do on mainland China?

Studies I have seen look at the structure of interests to whom he was beholden on the mainland and how defeat restructured the power, interests, and incentives of the major social forces inside the KMT to explain Taiwan’s economic transformation.

This leadership fetish in Africa shows that our intellectuals and other elites want to escape their individual and group responsibility to the destiny of nations. This escapism leads them to play the blame game: “my country has failed because my president is bad man”. Ayittey’s Ghana has had 13 presidents in 60 years of independence. How could God (or fate) be so unfair that 13 out of 13 leaders have been bad and selfish? Ayittey and his ilk need to abandon their comfort in successful nations, go home, pull up their sleeves and try to make a difference.

If any citizens of any African country are waiting for one woman or man to become president and transform their country, they are not only doomed but also foolish. Leaders of African nations do not come from Japan or Norway.

They spring from within our societies and are propelled into power by domestic (with the help of foreign) forces and interests. Every government reflects its social base. So African leaders, individually as presidents and collectively with their domestic and foreign allies, can only design and implement policies for these interests and social forces. Therefore, whatever they achieve or fail at is a reflection of us.

There is a notion in development discourse that state policies are adopted on their own merits with their own rationality. That bad policy is a result of corruption or poor priorities or ignorance. There may be some truths to this, but it is only a small part of the truth. This approach ignores the fact that state policy has a social context. This approach fails (or refuses) to put the state in its social context.  What are the social forces that cluster around power and what are their interests?

When one looks at the nations of Africa critically, it becomes clear that the structure of interests in charge of power, the ideology of the elites in and outside of power and therefore the nature of the political institutions and public policies of these nations is not conducive to the social transformation we seek. Hence the state, because of this, has neither the will nor the strength to pursue a thoroughgoing project of social transformation.


  1. Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi

    Mwenda, I am with you on the point of we, today’s African elites, being responsible for the continued technological and other backwardness of the continent through this stupid ‘politician-blame game’. Where do our politicians come from, if not from among ourselves? Our societies expect us to be knowledgeable about what it took for other countries we admire to be where they are – but either choose not to find out or to simply pretend they have always been how they are today. This is intellectual laziness of unforgivable proportions. You put it very well to Prof Ayitteh and the likes. Particularly the Prof: By the time his country became ‘independent’, the fellow was almost a teenager. He got his undergraduate degree in Ghana and off he went to ‘theorise’ and even ‘teach’ in the West. 13 presidents down the line, he is still procrastinating about ‘poor leadership’ on the continent. He has theorised about what should be done in his native Ghana, but kept a safe distance from the practical implementation of his theories. If that is not bad enough, he has found opportunity to blame reformost Jerry Rawlings, the real father of today’s semblance of a working state.
    Friends and fellow academic, Ayitteh, get me clear: if we Africans, are to liberate ourselves from abuses we are getting all over the world (including Trump’s America – current home of Ayitteh), we must get practical on our continent. Let us make mistakes on our continent – as others did in their history, but as long as we pick lessons from them, it is okay. Our present abusers only celebrate (even reward us with unwarranted accolades) when we troop to their lands and simply keep abusing those we left behind trying to make sense of a continent historically devastated by the very abusers.


    Pan Africanist Dr. Eng Kant Ateenyi Kanyarusoke – Cape Town

    • Ateenyi, these guys (meaning leaders) are wholly to blame. In all sincerity Ateenyi, why should a country such as Uganda be saddled with debts? which debts are serviced using extorted monies from struggling workers and businessmen who have no other option to stay afloat unless they steal? If a country is too big to govern and provide services for, then why don’t they accept federo? Is it because they will have reduced the field of harvest for which they don’t plough,plant or weed but just harvest? It is very painful to contemplate.

      • ejakait engoraton

        RWASUBUTARE, have you noticed the gradual mutation or evolution of our brother ATEENYI, from Dr Eng Kant Ateenyi, once he reverted to just Kant Ateenyi now it is Pan Africanist, with the KANYARUSOKE and of course Cape Town added.

        What next??????????

        But as they say, what is in a name……………. A LOT or NOTHING.

        • Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi

          My good brothers, don’t get worked up. I can put on different ‘coats’ depending on the computer I am using or on what I want to stress. The fact is that in all those, I NEVER pretend to be whom I am not. There are those things that I am but they have never had chance to appear here. May be they will, on one or other day.

          Enjoy the fun.

        • True I noticed but did not give it much thought; opting to think he had converted to the PAC party down south. My concern is your (both of you) going into much theorising as if the solution of Uganda’s dilemma lies in philosophy,psychology or other theoretical discipline.
          What is required is not much theory but much practicality of what is already known. Revamp cooperatives , do away with polluting industries and enforce sanitation. Cease debt-eating forthwith and encourage agriculture extensively. Tax heavily all luxurious undertakings and reinvent the discipline of the 70s. Punish corruption of any and all sorts with severe penalties. There is much to export even in raw form to sustain 50m people comfortably. Impose a tax on foreigners who live in the country and if refugees bill their country of origin. In less than 3 years , you would be surprised to find that there are more health facilities than patients. And this requires just will-power; not money. Ejakait, you were in Kampala(or any other urban centre) in the 70s. Do you remember seeing a street child? Without reverting to what Karl Marx said or Freud’s formula or Keynes’ advice on how to be prosperous, natural work ethic schedule coupled with benevolent planning and discipline (enforced or drilled) can reverse the seemingly downward trend; which is headed to only one destination. To cap my ranting I here repeat quotes that you must have heard
          1.”Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway” Kay Ash
          2.”The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom”.Isaac Asimov
          Quote 1 implies that we can do what theory say we can’t while Quote 2 means that more learning will not solve our present problems like STOP ACCUMULATING MORE AND FIRST USE WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW.
          And Ejakait, do you remember why President Amin was awarded a PhD by MAKUNIKA; yet he did not know it even existed? While Mwenda lumps all African countries together, as though they are led by one person or one policy(if policy there ever was), I think he should have picked individual countries and their individual cause(s) of retrogression. The case of Ghana was reported long ago but the powers-that-were did not heed. Elders said colonialists came and took power from traditional leaders; then on returning independence they did not return the power to the leaders whom they had taken it from but handed it to mission-trained-urchins who messed everything a la Nkrumah.
          As for Ug, a certain gentleman AMO by name wanted everyone to eat from the tree of independence and introduced the “Common man’s Charter”which was good for his people but bad for foreign stakeholders. he was undermined and what followed was a coup. To prove that the coup was foreign hatched, when AMO was in Singapore, he told a certain man of a drastic measure he would take after arriving back home and the man asked him HOW SURE he was that he would return. The man’s name was same as the name of the man AMO had overthrown. Thereafter Amin chased away Asians and expropriated them such that there was no case against him or his government because he paid cash (by cheques). Anyway it is a long story. The beginning of a solution in a nutshell is to agree first on WHO and by WHAT means and WHEN retrogression started and then start from there to remedy.

  2. Mwenda’s analysis, is as usual, true but partially. My insistence is informed by history ; not the written type but what I saw. Ugandans, left on their own, can not only look after themselves but also support neighbours and other far-flung foreigners in all human needs and wants. I once asked in this forum which country has ever educated 4 foreign presidents and none was found. True no leader can single-handedly develop a nation as Mwenda explains with examples but then; Uganda was developing at a good pace in the 60s and everyone had more than enough to eat,plenty of livestock (including wildlife) and the material was superb quality…. not the present-day goods you see. But the it was attributable to cooperative societies that were. Now if you come as a leader and you do away with cooperatives in preference of individual entrepreneurs, what do you expect? And if things deteriorate? And you don’t backtrack to do as you found but insist that your ways are the right ways? AREN’T YOU as a leader responsible for the poverty that accrues?
    If as a leader, you oversee (or condone) deforestation, pollution, poor service, corruption and other criminal acts of commission and omission,impunity etc… surely you are as responsible for the outcomes as the doer and worse. No leader should give an excuse that this or that condition was beyond their ability to do; they should delegate or step aside.
    How about saddling a nation with debts which benefit a few but is to be paid by all? How about cluttering wealth by hoarding in foreign banks when locals are jobless and foodless? Surely, a leader should be held responsible for such shortcomings. Here you are throwing away drugs that have expired, while certain other public hospitals have been without the same type of drugs for far longer than when these you are destroying were expiring. Mwenda it is near impossible to list how these gentlemen you seem to have faith in drag their nation down the hill. There is a time Uganda had everything and to spare and had no debts. Ask elders.

  3. AS usual, yet again , M 9 glosses over a lot of issues and jumps from here to there to nowhere.

    To say that it is not the leadership of AFRICA which is partly or mainly responsible for some or most of its problems, is escapism. This he says, because how can we have bad leader after bad leader.

    First , M 9 has lots of subjects that he needs to study, among these PROBABILITY and also INHERENT FACTORS and PREDISPOSITION

    The law of Predisposition and Inherent factors dictates that certain streaks can be found in a line of people that may not be found in another set of people. So while doing profiling for instance, especially where certain crimes are concerned, you look at a certain group of people and neglect another. In the USA for instance, if a crime exhibits MAFIA like qualities, first and foremost, you look among the ITALIAN American community, though lately you have the RUSSIANS and the EAST Europeans and the South Americans, NEVER almost among the BLACKS or African Americans.

    LIKEWISE, if you are looking at SERIAL murders or rapes, you initially look WHITE rather than BLACK.

    SO , why is there a predisposition among these groups of people to gravitate towards these acts, is it not possible that we AFRICANS( BLACKS) are INHERENTLY PREDISPOSED to be bad leaders.

    • Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi

      Eh, good and elder brother Ejakait,
      1. Inherent factors and Predisposition – Let us suppose you have a good point here: what would cause the ‘BLACKS’ to be inherently predisposed to being bad leaders? Is it the genes, the environment or what? But then, part of being human is to seek to improve things around you that make ‘life’ easier for you. So, what are you trying to imply by this “INHERENT” PREDISPOSITION?
      2. Probability – Take the cited case of Ghana: 13 presidents in a row: all bad. Meaning if probability of getting a good leader through whatever processes Ghana has used is ‘p’, then (1-p)^13 approximates 1. Clearly, chances of getting a good leader using these methods is nearly ZERO. What is wrong here? Is it the ‘means’ or the people from whom the leader is springing?

      My dear brother: we – as elite ‘BLACK AFRICANS’, let us not try to ‘run away’ from our responsibility to shape events that could help so called ‘good’ leaders to emerge from among ourselves. As I said earlier, this ‘shaping’ does not simply need hypothesising and theorising but practical testing and continuous improvements as well.

      Cheers once again.

  4. YOU bring about the “level of social transformation” that these societies that have managed to transform had, ignoring that in most of the AFRICAN states, it was the bringing together of disparate societies, some even though living next to each other, had different levels of social transformation. MOST of these countries, like JAPAN had an almost unified and similar level of social and cultural and traditional standing. A person from HOKKAIDO to TOKYO to KYOTO to OKINAWA there was a uniformity. IN Uganda for instance, you have more than 50 tribes , most with their own cultures and language. Take what we used to call ANKOLE, though unified by language, you have the pastoralists and the cultivators and then you hear the BAHORORO saying they are distinct from the two groups.And you have yet more smaller divisions by way of sub groups and clans.

  5. ejakait engoraton

    THE significance of leadership can not be ignored in private, business as well as political life.

    IRONICALLY, it is the very reason the NRM is hanging onto M 7, in the belief that he is the ONLY one who can do the things that can keep them in power.

    EVEN MWENDA alluded to the fact that KAGAMES qualities were so exceptional that he should be allowed special status in the affairs of his country, even if it meant changing the constitution.

    THE success or failure of a family mostly depends on the family, and can hardly be attributed to the lower ranks of the family, ie the children. Likewise a company owes much of its success or failure to the CEO, the Chairman of the board and the board. That is why some companies try to have the likes of MARTIN ALIKER either as chairman or member of the board, because of his leadership qualities and that is why the remuneration is reflected thus.The fortunes of companies like National Water, NSSF etc have been turned around because of the calibre of leadership and ultimately the impact is passed down to the shop floor, and not the other way round.
    Referring to what must be the BATOORO when you say your people, when you refer to clay, a good potter can make a pot out of even bad clay , but a bad potter will not make even a bad pot out of good clay.
    The GANDA say ” omukomazi omulungi akomaga n’omusambya” . Traditionally bark cloth is exclusively made from the MUTUBA ( sorry Banyarwanda, do not get me wrong) tree, but, it is claimed, a good bark cloth maker will make it from the otherwise stiff and brittle MUSAMBYA tree.
    THAT is what good leadership is all about.
    With good leadership, and probably a malleable people, KAGAME has managed to transform a nation that went through one of the worst episodes in human history, to a nation that is on the way to lofty heights.

  6. ejakait engoraton

    Correction ;depends on the PARENTS……….

  7. If you have not yet read it, Read a book called Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own

    • ejakait engoraton

      Normally, I do not recommend a book (or do not like one recommended ) unless I can briefly summarise what the book says in at least a short paragraph, or sentence for that matter, especially with reference/relevance the subject under discussion.
      MWENDAS article is some two pages and now you are asking me to read some massive volume, just to put the odd paragraph or sentence in context.
      THIS was hitherto a practice of a one UPC demagogue YOGA ADHOLA was using every opportunity to refer people to his works.
      IF you can not briefly summarise the said book?pamphlet , chances are you probably did not understand it yourself.

  8. In present Africa; the majority people suffer poor upbringing while young and hover through skewed education systems that don’t train them to be thinkers and innovators.After bagging sacks of theoretical papers attained through cram work, the people step out to seek jobs.No professor or doctor has ever done private research applying his university attained knowledge to work out something practical that he can in turn train the fellow locals. Because we emerge as a less productive job seeking people, investors come to our lands and employ us to work for them, they pay us and we send back the monies to them to sell to us products manufactured from their countries. We seem to be trapped in modern slavery that’s quite hard to visualize simply because of our weaknesses of the mind.

    • Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi

      Hi brother Kaija: Welcome to the platform.
      Your observations are generally correct though your statement on ‘Professors/Doctors’ is not 100% to the point. I will exemplify – in areas I am most familiar with:
      1. Prof Joseph Kadoma Byaruhanga of MUK is by and large, the number one guardian of the current small scale industrialists in the country. He is the ‘father’ of the banana fibres to paper and of the recent Lumbugu to paper processes. He is currently breaking through on solar powered pumps for rural farms irrigation. He has taught many, all way from secondary school (including me – in S2 when my elder, Ejakait was busy bowling out our star batsman, cricket captain and Head Prefect at Nyakasura), through all levels at university into industry.
      2. Prof Moses Musaazi of MUK – the genius Electrical Engineer who is best known in Uganda and UNHCR for the papyrus to sanitary pads process and products. In addition to Electricals, he taught Electronics to us, Mech. Engrs, and particularly me, I have forever found the foundation he gave invaluable. [the ‘artificial intelligence’ in some of my solar engineering machines is based on his lectures].
      3. Prof. Senfuma, now in industry: the real Ugandan grandfather of anything to do with scientific soil and rock testing and processing in Uganda.
      4. Prof Sengonzi previously of Kyambogo University, but now retired: the grandmaster of bio-mass fuels and applications in Uganda.
      5. You have others in other areas: Muranga in Food Science, Barya in ICT, many in Human Medicine (Ugandan doctors’ contributions on controlling Ebola and related diseases for example are unrivaled anywhere in Africa).

      I understand and appreciate why you do not easily notice these. Among the hundreds of thousands of graduates churned out so far, such people are too few, heavily under financed and in a generally unappreciative environment. Very much unlike elsewhere: In China, India, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Korea(s), Iran, etc for example, approximately one in three university students is in Engineering. This used to be the approximate ratio in highly developed countries in those years of their fastest advancement (i.e. until they had sufficient wealth to warrant bigger numbers of what we call ‘bean counters’, the commerce guys). The lesson here, is very clear I guess.

      Cheers – and once again, WELCOME ABOARD.

      • Ateenyi, these eminent persons you list here above and their corresponding fields of expertise, have they by any chance been recognized officially and their work upheld so it can benefit Ugandans and other people in the neighbouring arid and semi arid places? If not, do politicians know what they are supposed to do?
        Such neglect of indigenous geniuses in favour of cheap chinese goods makes my heart bleed.
        I think people should take it upon themselves to raise funds and set up an apprenticeship centre so that such people as the professors alluded to can teach as many people as possible. And why haven’t we heard even once in a passing remark, some politician showing off by boasting of such men? and their achievement? Things should be overhauled and fast.

  9. ejakait engoraton

    RWASUBUTARE, thanks for your response yesterday,which was in a way a “rap on the knuckles” of me and my friend DR ATEENYI.

    Naturally it was all taken in good spirit,and I can understand your frustration and probably anger, which believe me is shared by many.

    I would however want to agree with my BASOGA friends who opine that “buli muntu amana mu mana ye”.
    A war/battle is fought on different fronts, by different types of people,using different weapons etc etc. I would not want you to fall into the NRM trap, whereby those who went to the bush thought that the others who did not, regardless of what they were doing played no part at all in the war.The likes of KATEGAYA, AMAMA MBABAZI etc were despised and even called cowards by the bushmen.The bushmen did not at one moment think that these people played an important role in keeping them alive and there was another front to the fight other than the battlefield.
    This is the same attitude which M 7 who studied and failed Political Economics ,tends to think that those who study and qualify in ARTS subjects are a waste of space, as are SPORTS people and MUSICIANS(abadongo).

    YOU will be the first person to acknowledge that I have made some contributions on this forum, which you yourself have lauded. I can not for instance go on everyday to tell you how I have sent more than 15.000 textbooks for distribution, at my expense , to schools in the TESO sub region including 1000 medical books recently sent to DR AKABWAI and PROF OMASWA.

    YES, I would like to make a bigger contribution if the means becomes available, but we all are making our small contribution in our own ways.

    • Ejakait, I have a little knowledge about conduct of war. In war generally and a guerrilla campaign in particular, there are 4 groups and none can claim more importance than the other because total loss of one is total loss of the war. 1. Fighters do the shooting 2. Logistics do the supply and replenishing (not purchase) of supplies (drugs,ammunition,food and uniforms) 3. Support including financing the effort 4. Political wing which is equivalent to Ministry of Foreign affairs that explains the justification of the war and the real cause which had no other alternative. 3 and 4 are as naked as a baby and vulnerable and to enemy attack while 1 and 2 are armed and operate in groups so are comparatively safe. So Ejakait you will agree with me that those who were not in the bush but were in the 3 and 4 groups were in reality the backbone and were more exposed to enemy than 1 and 2. So being or not being in the bush is immaterial and only a half-wit can boast about it.
      As for the reading material you give to your people, it will be your pleasure and blessing for the rest of your life and long after you are gone. There is nothing more fulfilling in life than when you have done such a noble deed for the people without extorting something from them. Don’t be surprised or discouraged when some loudmouth says you are scheming for a political post. The Lusoga adage is timeless and asserts why God did not use a photocopier to make us. Another reason we should be sympathetic with these leaders is that you don’t have to be too observant to realise they don’t have independence of action. What can you make of M7 compelling Allen Kagina to reinstate Dott Services after it had been blacklisted? or Tumukunde interfering openly with court baillifs who wanted to lawfully evict Desh Kananura, threatening police with words that even a drunk would be ashamed to utter…..mbu he can call another force to come and engage police in a fight… a whole minister of Internal security. Do you need any further proof that some hidden force drives some leaders? As for Arts being useless, then what did Museveni read?

      • ejakait engoraton

        “As for arts being useless, then what did Museveni read”. IT is a well known phenomena that it is a thief who beats another thief the most, many times insisting on lynching and death.

        AS the Ganda say ” abakokolo bageyana”.

        YOU have described very well the different war efforts by different players , leaving me wondering and suspecting very much that you have been involved at some point or the other.

        IT was actually very much the point I meant to make, only you have gone into some illustrious details.

        I meant to bring up point 2 and had in mind a one particular person by the name of KAJURA. Many will wonder and not know, mostly because he will not tell. BUT , I for one know the role this grand old man played in the struggle, which though should not give him the right not to want to retire and end up making the AUGUST house his spare bedroom.

        KAJURA had a fleet of trucks, which were transporting fuel from KENYA. These trucks were managed by my cousin, a one FRED(RIP), who had been KAJURAs driver at the time he was at UCB, and he had almost become part of the family, especially when K found out that FRED was actually a MUNYORO.

        FRED run the fleet from a small office on LUWUM street, opposite the car park.Little did anyone know that these trucks had been modified and that they had compartments in which items , including arms and ammunition were being transported to Kampala and eventually to the bush.

        Unfortunately, the plot was discovered, FRED was arrested and beaten til he became deaf and thrown in to LUZIRA where he spent his time til he was released.

        SO how can you not value the contribution of such people.

  10. Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi

    That we are on this platform discussing these issues freely and soberly is one ‘small’ contribution. Mwenda and your editor – thanks for the same. Our good brother and friend, Ejakait, my people say: “May the almighty add to whichever pocket you got from”.
    Our elder Rwasubutare’s concern for recognition of the mentioned persons and impatience for positive politician action is well placed. I heard Prof Byaruhanga being mentioned once in the 9th parliament – even then, only by a single member, complementing his efforts on training small scale industrialists. But I think M7 has been supporting his work on the pumps because he (M7) was recently ‘boasting’ of the same. Prof Musaazi’s recognition was some time back (I think about 2012-13) mainly through the UN and EU systems, not through our politicians. To the limits of my knowledge, Sengonzi and Senfuma have had to struggle through thick and thin although the latter’s efforts were once ‘rewarded’ by an appointment to Uganda Clays’ leadership at some stage.
    That said, I think Mwenda’s assertions in the article: about us elites not doing enough to help develop our continent irrespective of our presidents are still valid. Comrades Ejakait and Rwasubutare, I totally agree with you on need for and roles of responsible leadership but I beg to humbly disagree on passivity of a population. My S6 Organic Chemistry teacher once said “You cannot teach a cow to dance Waltz” after failing to convince a majority of our class on some reaction mechanism. In my area of practice outside education, you have to have the right people, materials, and tools to produce an excellent product/service if you are constrained by time and money. ‘Good’ leaders can only perform to the limits of those they lead. That is why in companies you guys mention, people are trained and if untrainable within the company resources, are sacked. You cannot say ‘because I am a good leader, I will sack nobody due to under-performance’. Hence, your analogy of a musambya-mutuba back cloth either falls flat or is an excuse for compromised quality [By the way, it could also mean that the Musambya is the ‘right’ tool to ‘kukomaga’ the Mutuba. Hence a good ‘mukomagi’ must use the Musambya as a tool – because it is a harder material. This is good science. My maternal grandfather was one such fellow].

  11. You are correct — its social dynamics that precipitate social transformation. The bone of contention here is not that bad leadership prevents transformation — the issue is that it delays it !! When leadership manipulates the policy environment that would quicken the pace of social evolution — social transformation can be delayed . while leaders cannot prevent change form happening they can either accelerate it or stifle it. A awhile back you pointed to the policy environment that stifles local entrepreneurs– it doesn’t really prevent entrepreneurs from thriving in an environment that doesn’t favor them– but it sure does slow the pace of progression . I think the question to explore is why leadership tends to play a much larger role in formerly subjugated societies or societies that are seeking rapid transformation.

  12. Mwenda’s dispute with Ayittey is empty shadow-boxing. Ayittey is stating the truth, though it is not the whole truth.
    Running a modern society requires certain values and skills to be present at all levels of the society, and Africa is peculiarly poor in some of those values, such as
    -deferment of gratification
    -longterm planning
    -putting institutional or professional relationships above personal ones when carrying out official duties
    -putting communal interest above personal or family desires

    This poverty of values is evident at the family level, it is evident in local government, it is evident in the leadership class but it is most painfully evident in the heads of government.

    The thing is, the weaknesses of a head of government are amplified much more powerfully than those of anyone else. Uganda is a good example: almost all persons in public service who have real power were appointed by one person; all important laws were written or amended to suit the desires of one person; all major institutions that could challenge the power of the head of government have been emasculated into irrelevancy;

    So Ayittey is mostly correct; Africa has many weaknesses at all levels but the stifling effect of poor national leadership is the biggest millstone around its neck.

  13. Mwenda, in his eagerness to play the devil’s advocate, makes a basic error of confusing the 1st and 2nd premises, which inevitably leads to an erroneous conclusion of syllogism proportions. When people say Africa’s problem is bad leadership (and by that is not meant presidents only), they do not preclude the implied earlier premise relating to the causation of bad leadership. While it’s important to interrogate causes of the bad leadership in most of Africa, this does not necessarily exonerate the African leadership from responsibility for our woes. Indeed, it’s rather “lazy” to simply transfer the blame for Africa’s under-development from “leadership” to intellectuals. And then the post hoc on Chiang and Taiwan, really!! I think you can do better than that. But then again, your basic argument is on the paucity of African intellectualism and the last time I checked you didn’t look Chinese, if intellectual.

  14. The intellectuals may help formulate and advance the debate but the governing agenda is set and implemented by the political leadership. After all the leadership controls the wherewithal (power and resources) that make whole this achievable. Intellectuals can only theorize. That is what they do by definition. So the blame is rightly, largely placed on the leadership, the operationalisers. They’ve failed Africa because they play a critical role, which they’ve corrupted. Even if the intellectuals were physically in Africa it doesn’t alter their role. Moreover in today’s technological reality one could still be influential regardless of where they are physically. Mwenda is always excusing the power. It is shameful for somebody who claims to be a journalist to subscribe to such antithetical conduct. Journalism is supposed to speak to, not for, power. Maybe he should just report news, and leave the analysis to those who are better trained and not compromised. We have to get to grips with ending corrupt leadership, something people like Mwenda would rather avoid. They catch a fever whenever it is pointed out. The truth hurts.

  15. My opinion is straight forward. African leadership has failed it’s people because of many reasons but chief in those are corruption and greed and hungry of super power over building institutions that will outstand their regimes.

    In addition, countries which you quote as developing without much of presidents inputs are countries which went through the same process as us. They evolved mostly from failed monarchies to democracies. In the process the leaders of those times choose instill values and build institutions that will outlast them.

    Now, count on the continent how many presidents hold onto powers beyond their legitimate and acceptable terms? How many construct the society dreams and aspirations around themselves even when every sign shows they are failing? How many are building the institutions of today and tomorrow? How many industries are they building or supporting? What about research?

    May be before giving a pass mark to African presidents, you should start by selecting the key ingredients to a nation’s development and they judge what these fellows are doing towards making their countries competitive in those indexes.


    • Is it really correct to apply the development (or lack of) of Uganda and associated problems to all African countries?
      What is the role of lack of a national identity in African countries with multiple competing tribes where loyalty to the tribe trumps the loyalty to the “nation”? Is it possible to apply leadership outside government and is the elite providing enough leadership to counterbalance the weakness of political leadership?

  16. Dear mwenda;
    Thanks for bringing this theme under the title: “The poverty of Africa’s elites.” In it you took us the points one can mull over as far as development is concerned. Whereas Western or Asian Tiger models of development are an arsenal from which Africa can pick up lessons, one should not dismiss forces at play that may make one rush to conclusions about the development levels in Africa. One may missing the point why Africa still lags behind as a whole. Although, this is not to say that there are no individuals in Africa who are below 48 years whose worth is $50,000-2,000,000. Development is a big word, as many of us may find out. It is both teleological and not. Personally, when I was reading through your point of view I realized that with an open mind I would agree with you 100%. But, when I put on my scholarly lens I came up with three forms of rebuttals. One, was to make the assumption that you were talking about policy and in this case development policy. Therefore, I installed a “speed limit” called ‘not all development policy is geared at development outcomes.’ Secondly, I wanted to use the modernization theory analysis. I assumed that modernization, presidency, democracy, rule of law and development are one and the same. Therefore, I looked for the political, social and economical levels that make up the engine of modernity (aka development). I teased out how well a country or region contributes to health, education standards as well as efforts to eliminate poverty in place. How well does a country put in place institutional structures to measure outcomes such as Gender Parity index, GNI, GDP, Economic development at raw material, industrial and service levels. How is a given country’s political level development? What democratization principles are in place? How is the freedom to bargain collectively guarded? How is the protection of individual rights/civil liberties upheld? How are people allowed to associate, speak, seek recourse to laws and enforcement of law and order? I am Ugandan and well aware of the process of development prevailing in Uganda. Where is Uganda? Is it at the traditional society level? Precondition for take off level? At take-off level? Drive to maturity? Or is it at high mass consumption? With these questions in mind, I realized there was need to be realistic about Africa’s genuine desire to develop. No one president ( as an individual) is to blame but what is to blame is the lack of a culture of “presidency” and tendency to look at Western or Asian Tiger models as befitting Africa. As always, thank you for providing us with a space for intellectual gymnastics. Please keep up the good work.

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