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Uganda’s myths and realities

Why Besigye can only govern using Museveni’s politics of corruption and patronage

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | The discussion of a post President YoweriMuseveni Uganda tends to be programmatic rather than analytical. It is built on false hopes based on textbook theories rather than the actual social dynamics of Uganda. This problem is perverse in nearly all Africa. It explains why our continent has seen many changes of government without much qualitative change in governance. Museveni governs in a particular way more out of the dynamics of power and politics in a poor multi ethnic country than out of his personality.

Precisely because of the above, whoever succeeds Museveni will most probably adopt his governance strategies. The person/party with the best chance to defeat Museveni/NRM in an election is KizzaBesigye/FDC. Many Ugandan elites believe that such change will improve governance in our country. But to change from Museveni’s politics of corruption and patronage needs a political party that is fundamentally different from the NRM. Yet FDC is a replica of the NRM, and this makes Besigye another Museveni – most likely without the president’s finesse.

Let us begin with Museveni’s NRM. From its founding to this day, it has never evolved a nationally centralised structure backed by a coherent ideology. Instead it has largely been a confederation of powerful elites from Uganda’s diverse social spectrum of ethnic and religious elites. These elites are involved in a competition for control over the allocation of state patronage in order to enhance their own power and influence among their constituents; and of course to build private economic fortunes.

Museveni’s power is derived from his ability to act as an effective referee of these diverse and conflicting interests within the party and country. His inability to get out of power is also linked to the fear that without him, this unruly coalition can lead to the disintegration of the party with dire consequences for the country, the state and the president himself and his family. Of course this may mean that he is not solving but postponing the final reckoning.

There is a misperception that NRM’s social base is the mass of peasants in rural areas. Yet NRM is not an egalitarian political party. True it is connected to peasants who form its largest voting block. But this connection is not built on an institutional and ideological base. Rather it is through ethnic and religious intermediaries – traditional elders, successful businesspersons, accomplished professionals, articulate youths, religious clerics, and prosperous farmers, etc. who command respect in their communities. It keeps the support of peasants, not necessarily by serving their needs, but largely by placating the interests of these elites.

How do these elites gain and retain such influence in their communities? It is by exhibiting hospitality and exaggerated generosity to their people. But where do they get the resources to do this? They can (and sometimes do) get it from their private incomes, which is expensive. But most times, because they are in government, they use public resources; which means corruption. Therefore, corruption is the political currency used to build constituencies of support.

The alternative is to build a centralised national organisation, backed by a coherent ideology and spreading its tentacles to the grassroots. It would have to bypass powerful elites at the local level who act as a bridge between the party and the masses. We find this in post genocide Rwanda. Yet RPF did not begin this way. Rather this evolved in response to a specific experience, something hard to replicate.



  1. ejakait engoraton

    HOW can a whole president stand up and say he does not mind what sort of idiot they send to parliament as long as he does his bidding.

    HE went short of saying that he does not mind even if they send him a thief who will steal the same money he claims to have sent them.

    UGANDA/UGANDANS are like a spouse who has been in a badly abusive relationship where they have been subjected to domestic/physical/sexual abuse. Someone coming from that kind of relationship is not only incapable of loving, but also incapable of being loved.

    That any successive leader will be incapable of leading UGANDA is exactly what M 7 wants and the measures that he has put in place, including the mentality that has been inculcated into the people is such that we are headed for trouble whichever way. We get rid of M 7 we are doomed, we do not and we are still doomed. Most likely even WHEN m& goes, things are bound to get worse before they get better.

    I have said it over and over again before that it is impossible to build any structures in UGANDA other than those that the state, for its own reasons , allows you to build. The opposition can not build/ establish a base among the elite and the business community because the government and by extension M 7 controls most if not all the avenues to both business and jobs. For anyone to associate with the opposition is to sign their own death warrants, both for business and job prospects, as Suleiman Kiggundu (rip) and Greenland Bank found out sadly.

    Even by allowing the likes of BESIGYE for instance to carry out and own some seemingly successful business plays into the government/M 7 hands. Some people use it as a basis to claim that the businesses are allowed to succeed because BESIGYE is somehow in cahoots with M 7 and all his actions are antics meant to play to the gallery.

    • M9 knows better than you do Ejakait, how impossible it is to do business and at same time be in opposition. He knows what shirt he wore when he was in Daily Monitor. He knows when he became the ‘smartest guy in town’. Must you remind him when,how and why Greenland (or NBC) went under?
      Sabotaging the businesses of the opposition is a political tactic and is practiced widely in politics all over the world. In the UK (Winnie will concur with me), if a municipality votes Labour and the Conservatives win, no drugs or most other services are provided for them. If you were Titus Tugume and you had a match with Golola in a week’s time, would you facilitate his trainers,sparring partners or his gym or sabotage them if you could? Business Environment (a topic in BCom) is knowing who you are dealing with,their political persuasion and being on friendly terms with the powers-that-be and powers-that-might-be.
      I suspect a certain institution that went under recently might have miscalculated in that quarter…like funding both belligerents….. and being found out.
      M9’s fears,which we all share, is to see Rt Hon Ingrid Turinawe PM with HE WKB Kifefe and CJ Erias Lukwago with Speaker MM (of Kawempe) and AG Kyagulanyi in a secret meeeting behind closed doors.
      These guys can carry out a punitive expedition that can shock people. As for KB’s businesses flourishing, it is like getting a man from Kakumiro, who is a polygamist with a total of 14 kids or in different degrees of undernourishment, then appoint him a GM of the Sheraton. He would eat all he wants but his loved ones will go undernourished still in Kakumiro. Why, he would be on duty 20 hours a day everyday and would hardly have 1 minute for his family…..yet to everyone else, he would look well-to-do but negligent. If you want to know how people who have been out in cold act when empowered, read gen Tumukunde’s script.

  2. ejakait engoraton

    WHEN M 7 goes, how do you undo the extensive patronage system which people have come regard as normal without losing the support of your own base.

    How do you get rid of a bloated administrative system, how do you get rid of special interest group positions eg the women MPs without losing the support of women. How do you get rid of a large cabinet where people have come to regard it as a reward system without losing the respective support.

    Trying to govern UGANDA after M 7 is like trying to cross a field in which landmines have been laid.

    WHATEVER situation we are in politically has been engineered by M 7 because that is how he wants it to be and it is the means that guarantees him perpetual stay in power because he has created the feeling and fear in people of what things will turn out to be when he goes. And rightly, just like he used the images of the skeletons in Luweero in his campaigns in 1996, people are very scared, and they are probably right.

  3. The situation is a catch-22. But the status quo,like a bad pregnancy,which deteriorates by the hour, must be terminated or it will terminate the mother and the fetus. That is the opinion of most people. As for the joy-riders, the vested interest groups (VIG) whose only stake in the status quo is illicit parasitic nutrition,they are negligible and can be done away with (or even melt) if the fellow I have in mind would only show up. It requires merciless remedial surgery, amputating and re-patching up parts, hand the convalescent to a highly skilled nurse(s) and wait for recovery.
    And typical of the environment of a theatre, all foreign non-surgical team or family members must be out and preferably stay out. Methinks God is waiting for a time when everyone (or nearly everyone) will be fed up and then you will see the man(never a woman) materialise. That is how it has always happened……. down the ages all over the world.

  4. ejakait engoraton

    RWASUBUTARE, is this newspaper bent on hurting some of us. Have you seen the headline and the article just above this article “RWANDA GOES FOR ELECTRIC TRAIN TO DAR”; dose this not answer all your questions about the supposed anger between some two otherwise normally friendly neighbours?

    • I nosed around before responding to your query ejakait and my findings were more questions than answers. I am told the visionary did not attend the Kigali conference because of a remark by a foreign minister in Rwanda that Uganda has been treating Rwandans harshly lately. Evidence(pictorial) has of late been plentifully displayed in newspapers of Rwandans arrested,tortured,detained and deported. They must have been involved in some mischief otherwise you don’t just turn violent to a neighbour without cause,real or imaginary. Neighbours and even blood brothers fight and mend fences. It is only when an outside motive is involved that the animosity might last long and long. My informant tells me it has to do with a certain superpower which Rwandans who had been brought up in diaspora,mostly Ug, had a shooting contest with a french backed armed force and prevailed after a long bloody of war of nearly 4 years. At the last leg of the contest, when it looked like there was no question about who would win, the french fearing more and more humiliation from mbu anglo-origin forces sent in a big reiforcement of pure-white french troops with armoured vehicles and attack helicopters. My informant continues to narrate to me that the new force changed nothing on account of the momentums of both the retreaters and the pursuers. People think retreat is done with back but it isn’t so. It is turning and running… You know the law of inertia about moving and stationary objects. It is said the retreating force argued with the french about who should be on the front-line to receive in-coming shots…the french convincing Habarimana army to be the ones to be on the frontline and they(franco) to be offering rear support but these guys would have none of it until some shooting took place and in the confusion, the RPA as was then known found them and mercilessly routed them all franco and Habarimana army…..right in the eyes of a certain BBC newswoman whose name my informant has forgotten. The french were ejected from Rwanda and their proteges never to influence the country again. Now my informant tells me the french are trying to surround Rwanda by investing and training armies in 3 of Rwanda’s 4 neighbours in order to keep Rwanda on its toes. Rwanda meantime behaves as unconcerned as a corpse at a funeral but you bet it is vigilant. Being an HIPC and landlocked, it attempts to have mechanical advantage by investing in rapid transport (air and rail) There comes in my suspicion of the need and the undertaking of the electric. When I raised the issue of cost,my informant told me Rwanda has the money stashed in its treasury waiting for the works to start….that this negotiating and soliciting for loans is political-game-play. When I asked him where such a small country whose GDP we know can get such monies (2.5 bn USD) from? He said Rwanda even has oil wells somewhere in the Middle East and industries in China. IF IT IS SO, THEN SIZE IS JUST SIZE AND OF NO ADVANTAGE. So Ejakait the electric must be feasible because two known no nonsense men (Kagame and Magufuli) said it. It it were the visionary, I would have doubts for reasons you know but Kagame and Magufuli!!!!! You will tell me.

    • Originally, mbu the railway (SGR) was supposed to go to Kigali via here (if it ever reached) but the visionary,in his godly wisdom (we didn’t know until Nankabirwa revealed the secret) decided that it change direction to South Sudan instead. Rwanda was disappointed. They heard counted on big bro Ug to stand by them. But the visionary says “I am a chameleon and I change even to myself” “I have no permanent friend” and so Rwanda took the other alternative of good old TZ with its cumbersome climbing gradient unlike the flattish terrain from Kampala to Kigali (via Mirama Hills). I am told there isn’t a single hill all along that route. But like most of the visionary’s plans, it looks like the South Sudan venture might have to wait a little. South Sudan is getting poorer and poorer on account of ceaseless shooting. The food South Sudanese ate and failed to pay mbu it is Ug which is going to pay the debtors who fed South Sudan. One mischief-maker was saying mbu he won’t allow payment of a foreigner before payment of Police suppliers who are waiting since when. So I think Kagame saw the SGR might reach Kampala a bit later and became impatient. When it reaches Kampala,the visionary might change again and decide that after all it should go to DRC.

  5. Mwenda bases his essay on the premise of

    “Africa has seen many changes in government without much qualitative change in governance”


    These countries have gone from “dictatorship” to “state collapse”: Somalia, Sierra Leone, Libya, Liberia
    From “enfeebled dictator” to “state collapse: Zaire-congo, Central Africa
    From “socialist military rule” to “Vulture capitalist military rule”: Egypt
    From Enfeebled dictator to ruthless dictator: Ethiopia
    From military dictator to budding democracy: Ghana

    these are changes in governance Mr Mwenda. Not always in the right direction but still changes. Your supposition that the next Ugandan regime will be much the same is optimistic; there is a real possibility of state collapse.

  6. 1.Andrew is an intellectual beast.
    2.At times being called a good boy does not pay Obote was a patriotic leader he established social structures in very region in Uganda so after his departure was there any evidence of his patriotism to his people of Lango?personally i find nothing wrong with some one in power uplifting his people.
    3.Kagame is very ambitious. Honesty did Rwanda have the capacity to host 50 Heads of State?We all saw how Don McKinnon a foreigner was physically involved the preparations of CHOGM in Uganda.
    4.I like people who are always cautious so if M7 dodged the AU summit coz of security concerns then he was right to have done so.
    5.How can there be one free market across Africa is it viable?you mean Rajab will be able to sell his eggs in Malawi?how will African Nations develop without taxes?Nations are not all gifted with natural resources wont there be envy by nations with limited natural resources?
    6.Police is so effective they even made Sabiti’s uniform in seconds.
    7.African opposition leaders get overwhelmed when they hear that a powerful white-man is around thats what happened to Ralia Odinga in a desperate attempt to meet Tillerson he demounced his party.

    • Winnie wrote “African opposition leaders get overwhelmed when they hear that a powerful white-man is around thats what happened to Ralia Odinga in a desperate attempt to meet Tillerson he demounced his party.” When did Raila denounce his party?

      • @ Adhola;its good that your young wife has at least given you some breathing space to make your comment on this forum.

        We all followed the politics of Kenya; Adhola you think it was just by coincidence that Odinga went to pay a courtesy call on Kenyatta and not excitement of meeting Rex Tillerson?

        Why did Odinga go to Kenya Statehouse without other opposition members?

    • Winnie I do not sell eggs and you know it, and, by the way, l spotted a fertility clinic around Kisozi Complex on Kyaggwe Road- that is, if you had some eggs in question?

      • @ Rajab have you forgotten that i am a British Citizen who is on Medical Insurance now how do you expect a Briton to know about clinics in Uganda?? so all this time you r a woman;because its only a co wife who would rejoice if she hears that her co wife has a fertility problem by the way unless you r a wizard; its quite healthy to go for health check up.

        What are your views on a free trade market across Africa?or as usual you,Ejakait and Rwasubutare can not comprehend such topics

        • So where do you plan to take your eggs? Soho?

          • Boy i am an Attorney at Law so don’t expect me discuss cheap issues i am so hungry to discuss developmental issues.

        • The only title I have not heard you claim(yet) is Lady Winnie meaning you are not(yet) titled. British nationality isn’t all that big achievement to some of us who know that being born and bred in tropics (especially Ug) is a privilege unequal to any other on earth. Count the blessings Winnie, Mt Elgon, Moroto,Mufumbiro and Ruwenzori. Nalubaale,Albert,Edward and Kyoga. I have not bothered to mention the natives and foreign residents within the borders bth men and women plus their children. Then comes the livestock and wildlife. Who would willingly leave such a land for any other willingly? It only requires proper management, which is still a challenge admittedly and well you have paradise. Which other country on earth can you wear a shirt throughout the year in and outdoor…. You will quickly say Kenya not knowing that all that region called Nyanza stretching up to the escarpment of Mai Mahiu was Uganda territory. Winnie, you shiver in your UK.

  7. Wasn’t NRM supposed to be a “peasant revolution” (Luwero peasants)? At one time NRM too was depraved. It was rapacious to the point it plundered cattle, robbed banks, expropriated bank deposits and other public assets — privatization of para-statal enterprises was a ruse t to grab fortunes for self-aggrandizement. Nothing really changes in Africa, only the faces of exploiters change. White or blacks, foreign or indigenous, it doesn’t really make much difference. NRM has eaten enough it’s time for other newer sets of benefactors to take charge. All that talk of fundamental change that NRM promised was just a pretext for them (especially their leader) to gain and consolidate power.

    • But Ocheto, at your age and life experience, you must have met George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It was an allegory fine but a probability. For your information, a revolution means going around (don’t mind the speed) and coming back whence you came. “Take what you can get and leave the rest for posterity is the norm in life”…..but most greedy guys are taking things and stashing away where it is unreachable so when they die, noone gets it although they don’t take it with them either. It is so the world over, noone knows who began but the formula is universal because adage ‘monkey see monkey do’ is a constant.

  8. Winnie, in the UK there’re barristers and solicitors. In which do you fall? Or are you a shillyshally?

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