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Uganda’s messiah complex

President Museveni

Inside our overblown expectations and the religious origins of our hopes and frustrations

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | In February, my mother (84) visited Germany. Driving from the airport to the city of Cologne, she was impressed by the highways, flyovers and majestic buildings of that country. My sister asked what she felt about these achievements of the German people and state. “Impressive,” my mother replied, “very impressive.” Then my sister asked how long she thought it would take Uganda to achieve such developmental results. My mum answered without any reservations: “If (President Yoweri) Museveni is given another 15 years, Uganda would surpass all this.”

My sister was stunned. So she challenged her: “But Adyeri, Museveni has been in power for 33 years. Why do you think he would achieve in 15 years what he has failed to do in more than double that time?” My mum was shocked at my sister’s lack of perspective and was again quick to challenge this claim with the conviction of a priest and the passion of a fanatic: “Omusaija ataaha narwana entaro… oh, oh, Museveni kakarwana entaro nyiingi! Abanya’uganda tibagendekere… Bakamutalibaniza muno.”

Loosely translated: “The man has been fighting wars on multiple fronts… oh, oh, Museveni has fought endless wars! Ugandans are very difficult people. They have grossly disrupted him.” My mother always wonders why many people, especially the educated, cannot see such an obvious point. To her, all the arguments made by the opposition and other critics are evidence of disruption. If Museveni were left to govern without any such “disruption” (i.e. if Uganda was only made up of people like her who “understand the real circumstances of the country”) and given the leadership qualities Museveni has, we would wave bye to Germany on the developmental bus.

When my sister told me this story, I remembered an incident that happened in 1987. I was a teenager then visiting the Public Works Department (PWD) of the ministry of local government in Fort Portal. Museveni had been in power for a little more than a year. My hometown was drowning in euphoria. The local community had great expectations of the monumental changes that were going to take place. A West German governmental agency, GTZ, had come to fix our feeder roads and rehabilitate our dispensaries, which for over 15 years had gone without maintenance. There were new graders, wheel loaders and other equipment at the yard.

At the PWD offices, I met my dad’s contemporaries all dressed in suits and chatting about the future of our country. One of them called Rwaheeru (RIP) had a son who had joined the bush war with my brothers. He was speaking to his colleagues, who included engineers and public administration officials about the coming changes: “This man (Museveni), is going to transform this country” Rwaheeru said, “in ten years, we shall have tarmac reaching everyone’s home.”

I was a young argumentative kid in Senior Secondary Three so I intervened: “This is impossible! That is utopia! There is no way a government, not one in Uganda, can achieve such a feat in 10 years, not even in 30 years!” Now my dad had been UPC and a passionate admirer of Milton Obote. Rwaheeru had been in DP, and the other colleagues of his had been in DP and UPM. Now all of them were united in their love of and support for Museveni. They claimed I had been “poisoned” by my dad’s politics and they immediately shut me up and chased me away from the place.

My seniors at Nyakasura School can bear me testimony. As the Museveni euphoria engulfed the school, I would always argue that there was no big change on the way. My colleagues in S2 and S3 would listen to me with some degree of suspicion but also respect for my views. But students in S5 and S6 who were older and felt more educated than me; especially those who were Museveni supporters would always shut me up without ever listening to the basis of my argument. On occasion they even beat me up. Almost without exception, all of them used ad hominem arguments in response: your dad was UPC and that is why you do not see the coming miracle.

Yet by 15, I had read most of the contemporary political history of Sub Sahara African countries through books, newsmagazines like Africa Now, Africa etc. I could recite the speeches and promises of the key players off my head – Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Milton Obote, Sekou Toure, Madibo Keita, Kenneth Kaunda, etc. I had read about the many changes of government in Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. I knew that such changes had not led to any serious change in the quality of governance or developmental outcomes. Almost without exception, all of them had produced worse outcomes. Knowledge had inoculated me from hero worship and messiah complex that informs our politics.

Many people encountering my mother’s enthusiasm about Museveni would dismiss her as an ignorant old lady. Yet the many Ugandans who rally around Kizza Besigye and Bobi Wine hold these make-believe projections that somehow change on the scale of what was witnessed in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea is possible. Ugandans who imagine these gigantic developments as a result of change in government never bother to remember that Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Benin, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, etc. where leaders change every so often have witnessed little change in governance or development outcomes as well.

More critically, even the most supposedly informed scholars hack onto the argument that somehow Africa is poor because of corruption, incompetence and tribalism of its leaders and politics. Yet it is rare to find a country that was not characterised by increasing levels of corruption during its intense period of transformation from a poor agrarian society to a modern industrial economy – or whose leaders and elites were not venal and selfish. So why do we somehow believe that corruption hinders our development in blatant rejection of the abundance evidence of historical reality?

Many Africans – even after over 300 changes of governments – are still waiting for that miracle leader, that hero of yore, who will deliver them from tribalism, corruption and incompetence to the life of democracy, freedom and prosperity. I wonder whether this is a result of Christian (and perhaps Islamic) evangelism regarding paradise to come. Perhaps it is the rise of secularism, which has replaced this religious hope of paradise after death that has created this expectation in our lifetime. Could these be the drivers of the frustrations that dominate our politics?

****

amwenda@independent.co.ug

17 comments

  1. ejakait engoraton

    ALL along, I have been wondering where you get your SKEWED sense of reasoning, and now having heard ADYERI at her best, all doubt has now been removed.

    AS the GANDA say, you sucked it through the breast.

  2. Don’t brainwash our minds Mwenda. Who doesn’t know that you and your family, your mother inclusive are the beneficiaries of this corrupted government. “Your mother flying to
    Germany!!!” How many people in Uganda can afford that? Many are lying in hospitals without medicine and you are here talking nonsense!!

  3. I agree with you that change in leaders in Africa has so far failed to translate to socio-economic transformation of African societies (save for a few countries like Libya – hopefully you remember the history there). So we should ask ourselves why this is so. Part of it, i think, is the not so invisible “external hand” that has robbed Africa of the duty of self determination. This hand ensures we are “driven” towards a particular direction and after all these years,here we are. So Mr. Mwenda, any thoughts on this line of thought?

  4. “President Museveni’s mantra, it appears, was and has always been and remains, undoubtedly, no stone [standing] in his way [should be] left uncracked!

    So, it is little, if any, wonder that in his glaring shamelessness, he has no qualms cracking his opponents bones. He probably derives much pleasure in doing so, seeing that he has made it his political hobby, one on which his entire political life and survival heavily depends.

  5. “With that in mind, political power struggles in much of Africa, as is similar in the rest of the so-called ‘developing’ world – unlike in many although not all of the so-called ‘developed’ world – is, by and large, about the acquisition of power so that once power is acquired, it can be and more often than not, is used for the control and ‘privatisation’ of national treasuries and all other valued national resources.”

  6. Andrew I agree with you.
    I am Rwandan actually. But Mewnda there are somethings I don’t agree with you. Remember that many of Africans are Youth, and most of our presidents are old and their ideas are good but old( not updated ideas mainly of worsen topic of pan africanism) Today I don’t need to know that I am African to be a right person and many old African leaders use this thing of pan africanism as their weapon to win thrones. They are not only people to rule well. Let them go and rest and rejoice what they did for us but youth we are tired of old African leaders. I thank Kagame for the way He tries effectively to interact with youth.
    Shalom

  7. This is a very well written, and thought provoking article.

    I do agree with the author that changes in government have not translated into rapid transformation in many African countries – including Nigeria, Mozambique, Malawi, Senegal, Kenya, Namibia etc.

    Countries like China, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia were able to transform themselves – whilst under a period of authoritarian regimes. All these countries with the exception of China – have recently democratized.

    Rwanda – which is under an authoritarian regime, has adopted the Lee Kuan Yew/Singaporean and Mahathir Mohamad/Malaysian models – and they are transforming themselves and will become a regional powerhouse in the next 5-10 years. The Rwanda government is very well run and is probably one of the most efficient in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Ethiopia – which has been under a relatively authoritarian regime is rapidly transforming itself, Ethiopia recently surpassed Kenya as the region’s largest and fast growing economy – and yet Kenya is “democratic”. How does one explain this “contradiction”?

    I am begining to subscribe to the school that suggests that true democracy cannot thrive or survive in the absence of a strong middle class. Democracy stalls in the presence of poverty. And we Uganda, possess an abundance of poverty.

    How does democracry thrive when a vote can be purchased with a bar of soap? In my district of Rakai, our people are incredibly poor – and a less concerned with a change in leadership. Most of the peasants in that district and in much of Uganda are concerned with basic survival.

    Poverty and all its attendent problems are the greatest threat to us as Africans.

    Povery usually translates to ignorance, war and disease. The abundance of poverty usually translates into people subscribing to the supernatural. As an example – when one dies due to lack of access to simple medical services, we in Buganda say: “Mukama bwaatyo bwayaggade” – loosely translated to mean: “It was all God’s plan”.

    We need to figure out a way to defeat poverty. We need to get our people away from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy where all our citizens have a stake. The Asians have done it. China has done a trully impressive job and pulled out 800 million people from poverty.

    Whilst I am opposed to the long and increasingly destructive administration of Museveni, his removal from power may not translate into rapid transformation.

    What then is the solution? How do we transform ourselves? How do we transform our largely peasant population into a middle class population?

    Maybe we can learn lessons from Asia’s industrialization –> http://www.thehabarinetwork.com/african-governments-can-learn-lessons-from-asias-industrialization

    • Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi

      Daniel,

      Thanks for your contribution.
      I think there can be a way out with or without Museveni in charge.
      If we can maintain a semblance of so called ‘peace’ and some order, then seek and use appropriate knowledge – to a comparative advantage relative to others in our country and neighborhood first and foremost, we can make significant progress. We, as ‘educated’ individuals, must liberate our mind processes from a dependency syndrome – whether on government or on other ‘rich’ peoples and then get down to work seriously and in disciplined ways. The early Europeans in Europe, the early migrants in the Americas, Australia, and even South Africa; and the ‘founding’ generations of modern day Japan, Korea, China, India, Singapore, Israel, —- all had these qualities in fair amounts, and they used them well irrespective of governments or of ‘foreign aiders’. Most of us educated Africans so far, seem to be brain-locked in the system of dependency (whether on foreigners, on government, or on rich relatives/friends, etc.) Hence, the hopeless Messianic expectations. Get it clear brother. There is no Messiah who will liberate and save us: Neither here nor elsewhere in this universe. For avoidance of doubt, if you are a believer in ‘God’, not even him/her is ‘ripe enough’ to go the extra mile of liberating those who do not understand and appreciate their circumstances!
      It is only us, who can unlock the chain webs surrounding our thought processes now. And it is possible!!!

      Cheers brother,

      Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi

    • Well said Daniel. I think its not so much abt a change in leader as it is about a change in tactics applied by Africans.
      Pulling our people out of poverty should be done. But lets not forget the challenges all current African regimes face with this task. For example, recently Kagame proposed setting up a textile factory in Rwanda to produce new clothes for Rwandans so that they stop wearing used clothes that are imported from US and Europe mainly – we call these clothes emivumba. This would also help them join the countries that manufacture and export textile hence providing jobs and income from exports. The response from Donald Trump was a threat that Rwanda would not be allowed to export to the US under AGOA and that would only be the beginning of “measures”. Google (or read) about Capt. Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and what happened to him as a second example.

      So let me reaffirm what the Eng. has said abt “a messiah”. As a people we need to realise that these guys are here to exploit us rather than help. They can only exploit us if we are too poor to fight/resist hence they cannot “let” leaders get Africans out of poverty. As a people we have to come up with a solution that factors this in. We will face resistance from them(Western world) while on this journey just like Rwanda did with the textile scenario. A strong Uganda (or any African country for that matter) is one that can not be exploited and this scares them and makes them our true resistance. #NoMessiahsInEuropeOrUSA

      @Exploits…i know I have just pointed out another problem. But you asked what shld we do? We have to reorganise ourselves and approach this with level heads and a plan where we take back control and decide our future ourselves. And things like corruption and incompetence have to go ofcourse.

  8. Hhhm …..
    Adyeeri wewee😒😒😒

  9. So much about the problems
    This is already glaring to any African adult and pointing them out isn’t much good
    What is the way forward?
    If dealing with corruption, tribalism and incompetence isn’t part of the solution then please what is?

  10. 1. Who and how many have really benefited from Uganda’s economic miracle as a fraction of the population?
    2. Who actually control the economy?
    3. What are the long-term cost of selling the country to foreigners?
    4. What is the impact and the miserable state of the majority of the citizens who survive on the margins?
    5. What is the expected outcome of the country’s high-rising indebtedness and the rapidly growing but impoverished population?
    I picked these questions from an article by a man I know to be more knowledgeable than me. If the questions raised were to be answered candidly and faithfully, this country is headed to pit. The only way to avert the inevitable catastrophe is to stop everything first, secondly forcefully retire this greed-addicted leadership and start afresh.
    Uganda has potential to resurrect….it did in 1980 and can do it again. To maintain the status-quo is to ride a roller-coaster to hell.

  11. It makes me wonder whether we can have democracy, prosperity and whatever happening because of the people and in spite of the leaders. do we really need them that much. Cant meaningful prosperity happen just like jobless growth. Naivety at its worst probably.

  12. Andrew really resembles his mother and its advisable for women to marry men who resemble their mothers coz in most cases they are intelligent,rich,handsome and kindhearted which is a true reflection of what Andrew is.
    1.During M7 ‘s State of the Nation Address i was really flabbergasted with his speech even a gangster would wipe.I was like “Someone please pinch me”i was really astonished i had to be supported while getting out of Serena.
    2.There are few African States with Airbus aircrafts. Uganda will soon join and overtake them in the aviation business.
    3.I dont know why Africans think its difficult to get out of poverty.Actually the cycle of poverty in Africa is continuous among the poor and the cycle of riches is continuous among the rich why is this so its because(i)The poor have no role models.(ii)They lack exposure they may even think that being poor is normal(iii)The rich are always rich because of social capital for example Adhola will probably advise his sister to apply for a job in company x coz his seats on that Board while Rajab may advise his sister who is teenager to drop out of school and marry any man.
    4.Corruption inform of nepotism may not be that bad coz its a way of eradicating poverty and source of employment.
    5.Its good that NGOs are now riddled with corruption and immorality scandals;Actually those whose wives work for NGO’s should take their children for DNA test they children could be Nicholas Opios’ or Godbermushabes’

  13. This past Sunday, 9 June, “Uganda” celebrated its “Heroes.” As a sign of “brotherhood”, I want to celebrate Andrew Mwenda as my “hero.” Mwenda has managed through “personal sacrifice” put up a media platform where we can exchange personal views. He has managed to sustain his business beyond 10years and he has continuously been able to publish every week under “the last word” column. Thank you Andrew.
    Having said that, it is not always good manners to discuss “our mothers” publicly. However, Mwenda has decided to have a discussion about his mother here. One can ably state that, “Mwenda’s mother is on a lead of her own.” One would also note that there was nothing “extraordinary” about the statements made by “Adyeri!” What was extraordinary, was the “age” (being 84) and physical location (being in Cologne- Germany). It is very probable, that Adyeri has spoken more relevant/controversial statements before than that that she made. What makes it more “special”, is more to do with the location- Cologne. So, should we have to take Adyeri’s statement seriously? I can’t state with certainty what Adyeri had gone to do in Germany. But “suppose”, Adyeri at 84 had gone to meet a “Facebook” friend who had “proposed” for marriage. If our Adyeri felt to be “pregnant” would Mwenda take her for a “pregnancy” test. If Mwenda actually opted for a pregnancy test for a lady way past her menopause, wouldn’t it be prudent that one took Mwenda for a psychiatric check?
    I am not suggesting that Mwenda needs a psychiatric check up but to state that because Africa has had so many presidents without meaningful change, therefore, democracy has failed is to put the “Democratic bar” so low. Mwenda knows that in Uganda’s 57 years of independence, it has had more than 8 presidents. Out of the 8 presidents, none of them as ever “peacefully” transferred power to the other. So, does Mwenda measure “democracy” by the mere change of presidents? I think Mwenda should change his parameters about democracy and appreciate that “Democracy” is not an end in itself.

  14. I read the article like I would any other and consumed the information without bias. That way I didn’t lose focus on the important but worrying issue. Are we as a country doomed since AM suggests that M7 like many other leaders can be a hit and miss? Where does the problem lie and what is the problem anyway? Is it the leaders or the led? This is where AM lost me.
    I hear what Kimla, Hesron and Danielle are saying but surely thirty years has been sufficient time for M7’s government to transform Uganda economically.

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