About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic



Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why Rwanda wins world prizes

On September 9, the Doing Business Report of the World Bank Group ranked Rwanda as the world’s top reformer in creating a business friendly environment. The report also showed that within one year, Rwanda jumped from number 139 to number 67 out of 186 countries sampled – almost jumping 60 positions. No country in the world has ever managed such a feat. Uganda also made a jump but in reverse – from number 111 to 112.

The key areas of reform considered by the report include starting a business, employing workers, getting credit (legal rights), protecting investors, registering property, closing a business and trading across borders.

According to the report, Rwanda is the 5th highest ranking African country after Mauritius (17th), South Africa (34th), Botswana (45th) and Namibia (66th). How has this poor and obscure country beaten Africa’s giants like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco in being open for business?

The critics of Rwanda’s current leadership must be biting their nails. On April 20, Time magazine nominated President Paul Kagame among the 100 most influential people in the world – alongside Barack Obama and Gordon Brown. Writing the commentary on the nomination was Pastor Rick Warren, the most respected evangelist in America – now an advisor to Kagame.

On July 16, the World Technology Network (WTN) had nominated Kagame as the world’s best policy leader in advancing the use of new technologies. Later, Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria told CNN in an interview that Rwanda is Africa’s most successful nation – when Barak Obama was singing Ghana. Zakaria who also hosts GPS program on CNN is among the most intellectually minded journalists in the world.

This September, I was at the University of Oxford’s Said School of Business in an Africa leadership program. The program brings together 20 Africans in their mid-30s who have made a mark in the corporate world to spend time sharing ideas on leadership on the continent. Throughout our discussions, Kagame was being cited by everyone, fellows and the visiting lecturers alike, as the exemplar of good leadership.

When I attended the Australian business leadership retreat in August 2008, Rwanda was referred to by almost every major speaker. When I went to China for the World Economic Forum meeting in September 2008, the CEO on Intel gave me a ride from my hotel to the conference hall. I told him I was from Uganda but he thought I said Rwanda.

“You have a great president in Rwanda,” he told me, “He is mentioned at every technology conference I attend. Rwanda is too poor and small a country to have such a profile especially in the area of technology. How have you done it?” For a moment, I was tempted to associate myself with success. I decided to be honest. I am from Uganda, I said, Rwanda is our neighbor to the south-west. “That country seems to be going nuts, eh” he said, “And your president doesn’t want to leave power, huh?”

So what product has Rwanda given to the world that everyone is buying into? The answer was given to me by Joe Ritchie. After making hundreds of millions of dollars as a commodities and options trader in Chicago, Ritchie has now settled in Rwanda as advisor to Kagame and CEO of Rwanda Development Board. What would make a successful multi-millionaire leave his exciting business to come live and work in this impoverished nation?

“I have a fund,” Ritchie once told me as we sat down to a cup of coffee, “It is just my own money that I invest in companies on the basis of the character of the CEO, that’s the only thing I look at. I don’t look at what sector they’re in, I don’t look at their sales projections, I don’t look at sales growth, I don’t look at anything except the character of the CEOs. I picked about 60 or 70 companies out of the hundreds and hundreds of them and I bought their stock. This fund outperforms the market regularly.”

What has this got to do with Rwanda’s growing international reputation? Ritchie met Kagame at a dinner organised through a friend. “And in five minutes, I knew there’s not another head of state on the planet like this guy, he’s just unique.” Ritchie has met many world leaders from across all the continents. “I think politicians are all crooks,” he told me, “But this man (Kagame) was clearly different. He is honest, sincere, genuine and straightforward.”

“I realized I can sell this man to the private sector,” Ritchie went on, “I can’t sell him in Washington. Washington doesn’t care if you do right or wrong. In fact they like guys that are on the take, because then they can control them with money. I mean Washington is the biggest payer of bribes on the planet. Generally, they don’t appreciate honest straightforward heads of state, because they can’t control them. But I know that in the private sector there are people that would appreciate it.

“I took a list of the companies whose CEOs care about character,” he continued, “We began introducing Kagame to CEOs on my list of companies and others we knew by reputation were very good guys. Soon we had introduced him to five people that knew President George W. Bush personally. If you know a CEO or someone that’s been very successful and he calls up the White House and says, you know what, there’s a little country called Rwanda, and a guy named Paul Kagame that runs it, and you need to focus on that guy because they are going to go somewhere, you pay attention. And if a second one calls, you say, wow. Well, by the time three or four or five call, it’s all over.”

We are told repeatedly that only one mortal human being has the competences to lead Uganda. If Kagame had remained here, he would still be one of the many people we would be told has no capacity to make a good president. The lesson is that NRM and our country are teaming with many talented people who can make good presidents. Do not stifle them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Our Reply to Obama

On his recent visit to Ghana, U.S. President Barack Obama condemned war, corruption, tribalism, and all the other ills that have bedeviled our continent. Many Africans in Africa and the diaspora were moved by the speech, as were many Africa observers in the West. The speech captivated imaginations because it appealed to people's basic common sense.

That is where its positive contribution ends.

Rather inconveniently, all the attention Obama's speech has gotten disproves his opening remark: "We must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans." It is not the speech of an African leader on the future of the continent that is exciting debate in the media and finding space on the blogs; it is a speech by the U.S. president. This very simple contradiction reveals the world's collective tendency to seek Africa's solutions from the West.

Beyond its many good phrases and populist appeals, Obama's speech did not deviate fundamentally from the views of other Western leaders I have read throughout my lifetime -- on aid, on civil wars, on corruption, or on democracy. Obama repackaged the same old views in less diplomatic language. He had the courage to be more explicit on Africa's ills because, due to his African heritage, Obama can say as he wishes without sounding racist -- a fear that constrains other Western leaders when talking about Africa.

Even so, Obama said nothing new. He assumes that African countries have been mismanaged because leaders on the continent are bad men who make cold hearted choices. His solution is thus to extend moral pleas for them to rule better. Yet it is not the individual behavior of Africa's rulers that demands our closest attention, destructive as that behavior may be. It is the structure of incentives those leaders confront -- incentives that help determine the choices they make.

Using this logic, we can start to ask more-useful questions. If the choices made by Africa's rulers have destroyed their economies, under what conditions can they develop a vested interest in growth-promoting policies? If Africans are going to war much more often than other human beings on the planet, what causes them to do so? When is peace more attractive than military combat?

Governing is not about making simplistic choices on who is right and who is wrong. It requires making complicated trade-offs, some of which might be costly in the short term. Take negotiated conflict settlements, for example, a policy that has stabilized Liberia and Sierra Leone after the two countries' brutal civil wars. That same policy wouldn't have worked in 1994 in Rwanda, where it would have produced an unstable power-sharing arrangement between victims of genocide and their executioners. The lesson: We cannot have one blueprint for all of Africa's problems. Even "good" moral decisions, such as those so often urged upon us by the West, can be bad sometimes.

Obama assumes that the fundamental challenge facing Africa is the lack of democracy and the checks and balances that come with it. But how does he explain why authoritarian Rwanda fights corruption and delivers public services to its citizens much better than its democratic neighbor, Uganda? In fact, the Ugandan brand of democracy has spawned corruption and incompetence more than it has helped combat them. The country's ethnic politics makes patronage and corruption more electorally profitable than delivering services.

Obama's preferred models of successful development, Singapore and South Korea, were not democratic when they rose to prominence. His proposals on ending corruption -- "forensic accounting, automating services strengthening hot lines and protecting whistle-blowers" -- are technocratic in nature. But the real challenge is how to give Africa's rulers a vested interest in fighting corruption. In most of Africa today, corruption is the way the system works -- not the way it fails.

The lesson for Obama is that Africa is likely to get better with less meddling in its affairs by the West, not more -- whether that meddling is through aid, peacekeeping, or well-written speeches. Africa needs space to make mistakes and learn from them. The solutions for Africa have to be shaped and articulated by Africans, not outsiders. Obama needs to listen to Africans much more, not lecture them using the same old teleprompter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lesson for Uganda from the international financial crisis



The current financial crisis in the West has exposed many myths that have informed Uganda’s banking policies over the last decade. One such myth was that international banks are well managed; that they cannot suffer a meltdown. This myth has made the governor of Bank of Uganda, Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, resist increasing local ownership of banks arguing that it would put the financial sector in jeopardy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why Faith Mwondha should go



In 2002, Kampala City Council (KCC) condemned the houses comprising what is known as the Nakawa and Naguru Housing Estate. The estate ‘ largely made up of poorly constructed small houses ‘ is a relic of racial discrimination under British colonial rule. Like Soweto in South Africa, it was developed as a ghetto for indigenous Ugandans to supply cheap labour to the European quarters in Kololo and Nakasero. Old and dilapidated today, it is an eye-sour to Kampala but equally a bitter reminder of our ugly past.

Friday, April 3, 2009

To check graft, focus on results



Many people believe the existence of multiple institutions for accountability in public procurement provide checks and balances on the process. This belief is born of the efficacy of such checks and balances in Western democracies rather than an objective study of how they work in a poor and polarised society like Uganda. Many Ugandans think Western systems of accountability can be introduced here and they perform as they do in rich nations. This copy and paste approach makes a bad situation worse.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Why red tape increases graft



President Yoweri Museveni claims he appointed his wife as state minister for Karamoja because ‘elites’ were rejecting the job (never mind only one person, Tom Butiime, turned it down). He also justified the appointment of his family members, e.g. his brother, Salim Saleh, to government positions as a sign of sacrifice, not privilege.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The trouble with Uganda’s democracy

Finally, we are coming to the coronation of Yoweri Museveni as a presidential monarch. First, it was amendment of the constitution to remove term limits on the presidency so that he can run for president in perpetuity.  It turns out that is not enough to ensure his job security. So now the NRM plans to amend the constitution so that the president is elected by parliament as was the case in 1980 (and in South Africa today) rather than by universal adult suffrage. Also, the NRM wants to amend the constitution to remove the age limit on a person running for president ‘ currently 75 years ‘ in time to allow Museveni continue in office when he hits that ceiling.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

You want freedom? It is expensive



Last week, The Independent published a list of the relatives and in laws of President Yoweri Museveni that have been politically appointed into senior positions in government. We also did an analysis of why the president has sought a strategy of family rule and its likely consequences on the nation’s future.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Farewell Republic of Uganda, welcome Rwakitura kingdom



And so, we have finally neared the summit of our journey from the Republic of Uganda to the Kingdom of Rwakitura under the Kaguta dynasty. 

The crowning moment of this journey was two weeks ago when President Yoweri Museveni appointed his wife, Mrs Janet Museveni, to cabinet. That there has not been a major outcry in the country against this increasing and narrowing patrimony is a sign of how deeply people’s expectations of the president have sunk. Short of walking nude on the streets of Kampala, there is really nothing that Museveni can do that can shock anyone anymore. Whenever I think he has reached the rock-bottom of moral and political depravity, Museveni somehow still finds a new depth to fall into.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why Museveni pretends and Kagame acts



Two years ago, the German construction company Strabag won a tender to build a 70km tarmac road from Kigali to Bugesera in Rwanda. The company delivered a high-quality tarmac road with proper drainage and pavements for pedestrians ‘ a testament to the efficiency and effectiveness of the post genocide state in Rwanda.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Uganda’s opposition must speak to our aspirations



I pick up where I left off last week: the tragic collapse in the quality of government in Uganda has gone hand-in-hand with corruption on a scale never previously witnessed. Roads are full of potholes, schools are burning, hospitals are death traps and public parks are overgrown bushes. Public institutions no longer embody a national vision. Instead, they reinforce the pattern of private advantage that benefits a few at the expense of the many.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Museveni walking same path of African dictators



Twenty three years since he came to power, President Yoweri Museveni shows no plans of leaving. We should not be surprised by this because Museveni is walking the long-trodden path of other African dictators of old like Marshal Mobutu of Zaire, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Omar Bongo of Gabon, Gnassingb Eyadma, of Togo and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Whatever motivates him to keep tightening his grip around the nations choking throat will continue to be a subject of intense debate and speculation. What is clear, however, is that under his rule (or is it misrule?) Uganda has witnessed a tragic collapse in the quality of government.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

To check graft, focus on results



I argued in this column last week that multiple checks and balances in public procurement in a country like Uganda tend to accentuate rather than control corruption. This is because multiple centres of control in a neo-patrimonial system do not create checks and balances as would happen in Sweden. Instead, you create multiple bribe-collection centres. Such uncoordinated centres make corruption expensive and therefore discourage investment. That is why a centralised corrupt Mafioso like that of Gen. Suharto in Indonesia tended not to undermine development like did the decentralized dictatorship of Marshal Mobutu in Zaire.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When checks on graft increase it



Many people believe the existence of multiple institutions for accountability in public procurement provide checks and balances on the process. This belief is born of the efficacy of such checks and balances in Western democracies rather than an objective study of how they work in a poor and polarised society like Uganda. Many Ugandans think Western systems of accountability can be introduced here and they perform as they do in rich nations. This copy and paste approach makes a bad situation worse.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

NRM at 23: From hope to despair



Next week, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) will celebrate 23 years in government. The NRM revolution was born in a moment of great hope. It is difficult for me to capture the emotional tone of that moment. But there was great hope in most of this country on that 26th day of January 1986. That hope was captured in a promise made by incoming President Yoweri Museveni that this is not a mere change of guards but a fundamental change in the politics of our country.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

When best option is to ignore rules



A common joke about our roads in Uganda goes like this: If you see someone driving zigzag, then you know he is sober; and if you see someone driving straight, they must be drunk. Why is the logic of driving inverted? Because we have too many potholes on our roads, you drive zigzag to avoid them. But a person high on alcohol would not recognise this problem.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Uganda should have right to invade neighbour DR Congo



The recent Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) attack on the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was certainly the right thing to do, although the assault itself was ill-timed, poorly planned and incompetently executed. Before the assault, the Uganda government sought and obtained a no-objection from the DRC government to enter their territory and attack LRA camps.

Uganda should have right to invade neighbour DR Congo



The recent Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) attack on the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was certainly the right thing to do, although the assault itself was ill-timed, poorly planned and incompetently executed. Before the assault, the Uganda government sought and obtained a no-objection from the DRC government to enter their territory and attack LRA camps.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Workers savings in NSSF are best served through housing

One of the key issues of 2008 was the price at which the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) bought land belonging to security minister, Amama Mbabazi. I strongly believe it was a good price. Many believe it was a rip-off. If i am right, workers should be happy although they ought to be morally outraged at how political influence was peddled to get their money out of the Fund to buy a ministers land. If the price was inflated, they should be extremely angry and call for action.

Workers savings in NSSF are best served through housing



One of the key issues of 2008 was the price at which the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) bought land belonging to security minister, Amama Mbabazi. I strongly believe it was a good price. Many believe it was a rip-off. If i am right, workers should be happy although they ought to be morally outraged at how political influence was peddled to get their money out of the Fund to buy a ministers land. If the price was inflated, they should be extremely angry and call for action.