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Uganda’s change dilemma

How our country is caught between Museveni’s frying pan and the opposition’s fire

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Ugandan activists, intellectuals and “intellectuals” hostile to President Yoweri Museveni get scared when one presents evidence that change can produce undedsirable outcomes. And so it was that on Thursday February 11, I tweeted an article in the Financial Times. It argued that a decade since a popular uprising toppled long-ruling Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the country has not improved in anything but retrogressed in everything. This let lose the gods of intellectual, but mostly emotional, war.

To these Ugandan elites I was just defending Museveni’s long, corrupt and inept stay in power. The merits of the botched change in Egypt did not register on their mental radar. I find this intriguing even though understandable. Ugandan (and African) elites talk loudest about how our continent’s biggest problem is leadership. Yet when given a chance to select leaders, they do not consider their values, competences or the social forces behind them. They are so married to change that they ignore the quality of change.

Let me be very clear. I strongly believe and even desire that Museveni and his confederates leave power. This is because the president personally and most of his government generally are physically, intellectually and ideologically exhausted. They have nothing new or novel to offer our country. They are now mired in political intrigues and have resigned themselves to holding power for its own sake. They may represent a great past for our country, but they don’t represent its future.

Museveni and his confederates are so hopelessly out of depth on what Uganda needs to move forward, so inept at doing the little they plan to do, and so lacking in energy, enthusiasm and moral purpose that the best they can do for this country is to just leave power. I say this without bitterness because I feel privileged. I am an outsider-insider to this government, with good and deep contacts in it. So I know much more about the rot, ineptitude, fatigue and lack of a moral purpose inside the government than its critics do.

This is where my agreement with our activists, intellectuals and “intellectuals” ends. My disagreement with them begins on the quality of change. As someone who has read Africa’s post independence history widely and intensely, I am aware that our continent has had many changes of government without much change in governance. From Nigeria, which has had 15 changes of government in 50 years, to Ghana, which has had 13, neither has transformed into anything fundamentally different from a typical African country.

Our own country perhaps represents the pitfalls of change for its own sake more than the rest of Africa. In 1971 Idi Amin topped the government of Milton Obote amidst mass celebrations. It led to the worse tragedy in our history. In 1979, Amin was removed by Tanzanian troops whom we called liberators. But our country immediately degenerated into state and economic collapse; anarchy and poverty reigned. The return of Obote did not solve the crisis of the state but only led us to civil war. In the 24 years from independence in 1962 to January 1986 when Museveni took power, we have nine governments, an average of 2.6 years per government.


  1. Tunku Abdul Rahman

    Mwenda and the regime always refer to the opposition as being violent. That’s a tired line. It’s common knowledge that Museveni and his security apparatus are the ones who unleash violence at Museveni’s political opponents. A case in point are the on going abductions, beatings, torture and murder of NUP members by Museveni’s so called commandos from Somalia.

  2. I am a big admirer of Andrew’s intellectual abilities. I have closely listened to his arguments now, and even dug up more from the past on youtube. Andrew has demonstrated that he understands Uganda’s politics deeply ( listen to his speech at Yale University) .

    Once an uncompromising critic of President Museveni, Andrew Mwenda has in the recent toned down. This has led to suspicion that he has been compromised bu the state. In his Yale speech, he vividly explains the fate of Ugandan elites who show intention to call out the gov’t sins. Additionally, he explains the cost of opposing the goverment under Museveni.

    From Andrew’s past arguments, my opinion is he was brutally truthful and didn’t hold back holding the gov’t accountable for it’s sins. From his recent arguements, I feel Andrew is holding back, and only scratching the surface when it comes to holding the goverment accountable.

    Andrew has not criticised the recent killings , abductions , and extrajudicial killings in Uganda. He has not criticized the political persecution of opposition leaders. He has turned a blind eye on the increasingly gross human rights violations.

    Why is Andrew Mwenda a shadow of his past self ?

    Like Andrew has said, he is an outsider-insider of this government. He has contacts and connections to the big dogs of this goverment, thanks to his enviable social networking skills.

    He dines with the big dogs in this goverment and there are allegations that he does ‘business’ with some. How then do we expect him to objectively criticize these people or goverment. That is even extending him privileges .

    I have studied argumentation, and I have a good undertanding of arguments. I have observed Andrew’s arguments against and for the goverment. I will tell you that Andrew’s arguments follow a similar pattern. He starts by criticizing Museveni or his goverment, usually with a weak argument that can easily be rebuttalled, then he proceeds to use a ‘but’ sentence to nullify or weaken his first argument. The second argument is usually stronger and in favour of the government.

    This tactic helps him to appear objective and clear-headed to the unsuspecting listener or reader. And also helps him not to sever his ties or connections to the regime.

    I have to say that Andrew is a brilliant man. He will offer compellingly coherent arguments for any position he takes. That’s his brilliance.

  3. Mr. Andrew once was a powerful supporter for democracy. It appears he had lost direction as it is the case with many Ugandans. Most people are double faces in Uganda. This is a survival technique.

  4. My two quick comments on paragraphs 2 & 5.

    Mr Mujuni blames all but himself in as far as diagnosis of what Africa’s problem is.

    “…..Yet when given a chance to select leaders, they do not consider their values, competences, or social forces behind them. They are so married to change that they ignore the quality of change”!

    Just continue following up your own vomit please!

    No body, nobody didn’t hear you shower endless praises on President Paul Kagame’s leadership in Rwanda, not the Rwandan people! But now here you are blame the intellectuals & “intellectuals” for thinking that Africa’s problem lies squarely with the quality of its leaders!
    Continue following up with your vomit!

    And last, you commented on Uganda’s pos-tindependence leadership problems 24 years after, but elected to keep mum when it comes to the current mess Uganda finds herself since the M7 junta take over! Why?

    You’re hiding something rotten since you’ve confessed today about your being “outsider – insider” of the regime!

    Continue eating your vomit till you vomit again and again!!!

  5. Dear Editor
    Noted your delicate balancing act -similar to Mitch McConnell in trying to please both sides by excoriating Mr Trump and then acquitting him!
    One could punch through your watertight defence with a knockout blow that the strongman failed to pursue Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore economic miracle after 35 years in power, and most Ugandans still survive on less than $1 a day despite
    billions of dollars donated by EU and USA. Singapore GDP per capita is c. $60k versus Uganda at $790; and even Kenya at $1816 (2019) has a stronger economy. Why? No clear explanation why a ruler with ‘absolute’ power could not have created an African economic miracle after 35 years to benefit all Ugandans. Various explanations for this – lack of credible civil service, lack of accountability, nepotism and corruption (ufisadi). Whatever it is – the commander in chief should take full responsibility for the failure.
    We have seen in Europe second world war hero’s such as Harold Macmillan quickly being voted out power for post war poor economic performance. This clearly resonates with Uganda as the brutal regime runs out of steam and energy.

    • Huaooo…. What a great observation… I hv a similar analysis n line of thinking….
      Regime fanatics like Andrew Mwenda r pipo who hv mislead the whole generation starting from the leadership to the citizenry… If we want our democracy to be an image of that in the west, we hv to take same steps to Walk the Same path… Great leaders create leave n work for a legacy n not sole achievement…

  6. Ngobi Ambrose Ogwang Osagyefo

    Africa is in an inextricable labyrinth of avarice, sophistry, and demonic politics. Solutions for this event shall never be found in succinct or itemizing disquisitions but in a benchmark of a wholesome realization that we have plundered ourselves and ought not to be where we are. I commend Mr. Museveni, though protest over his military magical hand that does miracles. To what do we appraise him- his foresight in what is required, and we reprimand him for his mechanical failure in reaching the desired ends. You will find that his alternate oppositions lack any if we are to MEASURE them by a scale of their words and indulgencies. As a young generation, we want Museveni’s foresight and at the same time dislike his Iron Hand. Therefore, I am opting to laugh if the solution is not looked at creating strong checks but mere pejorative criticism of longer stay, of reinforcing known facts of military brutality. As a young generation, the best way we can neutralize Museveni’s foresight is by building a federal system that operationalizes state governments as responsive and answerable to another kind of caretaking government. And you know what, Museveni’s foresight has given us fertile grounds in the East African Community. When we push forward for a general government of states, let us say six; leaders of Museveni’s iron hand or other failures would be cleared to nothing. But let us keep talking about the surface, we may come back to this topic 50 years from now. It is very easy to realize that at the top of such a general government, the ablest men, tried upon talent and patriotism, skill and experience, would be there. This is what Alexandar Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison gave Americans about 200 years ago. WE NEED A GENERAL GOVERNMENT IN EAST AFRICA TO START GETTING OFF FROM THE INEXTRICABLE LABYRINTH…
    (Send me a private message if you need more explanation on; osagyefoogwang@gmail.com)

  7. Its is intellectually dishonest to try to create a disconnect between the dire consequences that the country is inevitably going to experience after Museveni and the nature of his rule. Owing to the regime’s deliberate erosion of any semblance of institutional governance in the pursuit of family rule, Uganda is long past the point where we can realistically hope for a seamless transition of power, and we MUST unequivocally place full responsibility for this where it rightfully belongs. Any attempts by M9 and his ilk to delude themselves and deceive the rest of us should be noted, recorded and ultimately rejected!

  8. 4 sure the man must leave

  9. All sides on the Ugandan divide are appealing to partisan emotions instead of reason – a scenario of choosing between fire and a flying pan.

    Yet, despite the partisan outlook, one cannot dismiss the gross human rights abuse by the NRM administration. For this trend, one can safely argue that change for the sake of change is welcome.

    Waiting for “quality” candidates might never happen.

    I think some people are blinded by the economics of the country. There’s the argument that a good or thriving economy trumps a social order that respects basic human rights.

    Yet we forget that biologically, the primary need of humans is safety – physically, emotionally, cognitively. These needs can readily be met within a “primitive” economy setting, say a caveman environment. But they can also be suppressed by ideologies that bully intellectually, cognitively and physically despite a modern economic setting.

    In other words, focusing on the economic development ushered in by the NRM administration while ignoring the trend towards a limitation on basic human conduct by Ugandan authorities, is to miss the big picture.

    Uganda is currently a dual state … liberal enough to allow a capitalist model economy to thrive yet brutal and oppressive of alternative political thought, with the end result that the dignity of citizens is thrown under the bus in a quest for the NRM to hang on to power.

    Good modern economies are great. Yet the guarantee of a high level of human rights for citizens is more paramount. Think of it this way:

    The economy is like food. An appetising dish 😋 is a pleasure to the senses. Yet what is a tasty morsel when you are heartbroken? The need for love is the equivalent of human rights. The heartbreak is the equivalent of a trashing of human rights.

    Finally, society today mostly runs upon partisan emotions and its attendant hyper polarisation of politics and social thinking. Can we do better in Uganda? Yes we can if we so decide. If we agree that the ideal state is one in which both the economy and guaranteed human rights exist side by side.

  10. Mugisha Muntu was and is the desirable change we need.

  11. It is not by accident that Africa has similar problems;Definately Colonization was better than the democarcy Africa practices.

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