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



Monday, November 21, 2011

Inside the American Dream.

TUESDAY, 15 NOVEMBER 2011 13:03 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

The folly and delusions of a nation that has forgotten the concerns of its ordinary citizens

And so it was that on Nov. 4, I flew to New York City from London via Amsterdam. Upon landing at JFK International Airport, I entered the longest queue in the history of international travel and immigration clearance; there, a hoard of not less 4,000 human beings snaked inside the terminal building waiting for clearance.

Wht Uganda Revenue authority is Wrong on Taxes.

TUESDAY, 08 NOVEMBER 2011 07:37 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

The new rules are regressive because they do not seek to get money from the thieves per se, but to tax those thieves who want to invest

In July this year, Uganda Revenue Authority introduced new rules on transferring or registering property (cars and houses). Under the new rules, anyone transferring ownership of a car or house worth more than Shs 50m is required to show the tax returns on the income used to buy such an asset. For example, if you bought a house for Shs 2.1 billion, URA says you needed to have earned Shs 3.0 billion and paid income tax of 30 percent i.e. Shs 900m. If you cannot show that you paid the tax, URA will insist you pay it before they approve the transfer of the property or asset into your names.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Stoking the fires of impunity.

SATURDAY, 29 OCTOBER 2011 12:15 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Gaddafi’s pitiful death, the celebration of it, Obama’s speech and the looming tragedy of post “liberation” Libya

Fate is a great joker, it always laughs last. And it did last week at former Libyan ruler Muammar El Gaddafi. He suffered a gruesome death at the hands of the very people he had called rats and cockroaches and promised to annihilate. They picked him from a rat-hole with only one bodyguard and killed him like a petty thief.

Lies and Blackmail undermining democracy.

TUESDAY, 25 OCTOBER 2011 07:21 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

The lack of basic values as the basis of politics in Uganda is the source of our country’s constant state of crisis.

“It is not easy to stand apart from mass hysteria, to argue against something that everyone – especially the most respected political leaders, academics and experts are saying and instead argue that they are mistaken or deluded.” Leo Tolstoy, 1897

Lies and Blackmail undermining democracy.

TUESDAY, 25 OCTOBER 2011 07:21 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

The lack of basic values as the basis of politics in Uganda is the source of our country’s constant state of crisis.

“It is not easy to stand apart from mass hysteria, to argue against something that everyone – especially the most respected political leaders, academics and experts are saying and instead argue that they are mistaken or deluded.” Leo Tolstoy, 1897

Democracy and public goods and services.

SATURDAY, 24 SEPTEMBER 2011 15:26 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

The assumption behind a lot of literature on democracy is that people would care more about their welfare in elections

Africa’s poor performance at delivering public goods and services impersonally to anonymous citizens is often attributed to the continent’s democratic deficit. Democratic theory expects that if all citizens regardless of their income are given political equality through the one man one vote electoral system, and if the poor constitute a majority of voters in a given country, their preferences would be reflected in which people get elected and what public policies are adopted.

Here is Rudasingwa's moral bankrupcy.

WEDNESDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2011 06:43 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

A man who can admit to being a liar should not make claims and they are taken seriously

Former director of cabinet in Rwanda, Theogene Rudasingwa, was a major item on BBC World Service. He claimed that President Paul Kagame boasted to him that it was he (Kagame) who had ordered the shooting down of the plane carrying former President Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994. Rudasingwa further added that the shooting “caused” the genocide – never mind the genocide had been planned by Habyarimana long before he died.

WHY MUSEVENI NEEDS TO REFORM

SATURDAY, 17 SEPTEMBER 2011 11:42 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Since April, Ugandans have sustained protests over many issues including wages, commodity prices and foreign exchange rates

Here is widespread discontent in most of Uganda against President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM. The mainstream opposition should, however, not think that this automatically means there is widespread support for their cause. The Ugandan opposition has been behaving like a man who has been admiring and trying to woe a beautiful girl who is dating another man. When she dumps her boyfriend, he thinks that now she has fallen for him. The fact that many Ugandans are turning against Museveni and the NRM does not automatically mean they support the opposition. On the contrary, it seems most people who are discontented with NRM are equally either frustrated with the opposition or are not inspired by it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Let the free market work.

SATURDAY, 08 OCTOBER 2011 17:22 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

The worst danger for the government in troubled times like these is to adopt a public policy position over matters it has no control over

Uganda is in bad times and almost everything seems to be going wrong. The country’s electricity supply is drying out rapidly; even areas like Kololo which never used to suffer blackouts are affected now as electricity is cut almost every other day. The country has run out of sugar; supermarkets are allowed to sell only one kilogram per person per day; now the president has directed that politicians should not trade. Finally, the dollar is appreciating rapidly against the shilling; as I write this article it has hit Shs 2850.

Inside Uganda's democratic contests.

SATURDAY, 01 OCTOBER 2011 14:23 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

The disastrous collapse of public services under NRM is a product of the way in which democracy has evolved rather than its absence

On Saturday September 24, I went to my old school, Busoga College Mwiri, to attend celebrations marking its 100th birthday. It was a nostalgic trip that was at once thrilling and disappointing; thrilling to be back “on the hill” but disappointing to see the physical state of the school. Most of buildings have gone without paint for years. The toilets and shower rooms don’t function anymore, the compounds are overgrown, teachers’ houses are collapsing and the pit latrines emit a horrible smell that hits your nose almost 50 meters away. A few buildings have seen some paint.

Human Rights Watch misunderstood Gacaca.

SATURDAY, 03 SEPTEMBER 2011 08:06 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

In the last 14 years and with US $2.1 billion spent, less than 50 cases have been heard in the Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha


The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any ideas of them already. But the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.

Democracy and Public goods and services.

SATURDAY, 24 SEPTEMBER 2011 15:26 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

The assumption behind a lot of literature on democracy is that people would care more about their welfare in elections

Africa’s poor performance at delivering public goods and services impersonally to anonymous citizens is often attributed to the continent’s democratic deficit. Democratic theory expects that if all citizens regardless of their income are given political equality through the one man one vote electoral system, and if the poor constitute a majority of voters in a given country, their preferences would be reflected in which people get elected and what public policies are adopted.

Gadaffi is gone, what next?

SATURDAY, 27 AUGUST 2011 14:48 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

I hope that my prediction is wrong because future generations of Libyans will be happy that I was wrong.

I am writing this column on the morning of Monday August 22nd.

By the time it is read, Libyan leader Muammar El Gaddafi might no longer be supreme ruler of that country. He might either be dead, in jail or exile. It is one of those ironies of history that his sons and many of his apparatchik were caught in Tripoli before they could flee. It seems they did not imagine they could lose power so quickly. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, it also blinds people completely.

Why Museveni needs to reform.

SATURDAY, 17 SEPTEMBER 2011 11:42 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Since April, Ugandans have sustained protests over many issues including wages, commodity prices and foreign exchange rates

Here is widespread discontent in most of Uganda against President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM. The mainstream opposition should, however, not think that this automatically means there is widespread support for their cause. The Ugandan opposition has been behaving like a man who has been admiring and trying to woe a beautiful girl who is dating another man. When she dumps her boyfriend, he thinks that now she has fallen for him. The fact that many Ugandans are turning against Museveni and the NRM does not automatically mean they support the opposition. On the contrary, it seems most people who are discontented with NRM are equally either frustrated with the opposition or are not inspired by it.

Why NATO over threw Gadaffi.

SATURDAY, 10 SEPTEMBER 2011 14:27 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

MI6 was spying on Libyan dissidents in Britain and passing the information to Gaddafi

New revelations of the secret relationship between Libyan intelligence under Maummar Al Gaddafi and America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Britain’s MI6 are shocking but not surprising.

Give ordinary peasants a voice.

SATURDAY, 13 AUGUST 2011 12:45 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Politics everywhere tends to be rigged in favour of the powerful. But in Uganda it has been made worse.

Last week, the mass media reported that the vast majority of rural Ugandans are at risk of malnutrition, especially in the northern region.

It was a simple footnote of a story in New Vision and did not generate much public debate. It “died” immediately after it was published. Yet a story about a verbal duel between the coordinator of intelligence services, Gen. David Tinyefuza and the executive director of Kampala City Council Authority Jennifer Musisi or one between Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago and Musisi tends to dominate public debate in Uganda, especially in Kampala, all out of proportion to its significance in the lives of most Ugandans.

Besigye's choice on shs 20m bribe.

FRIDAY, 05 AUGUST 2011 08:49 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

The only difference between our politicians is one of power, not policy; eating, not serving

Last week, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) held a meeting to discuss whether its members of the 8th Parliament who took the Shs20m “bribe” from President Yoweri Museveni to pass the Traditional Leaders’ Bill should return the money. Not surprisingly, the meeting ended without a resolution.

who will defend the rural poor ?

FRIDAY, 29 JULY 2011 11:16 BY ANDREW M MWENDA

The benefits of high food prices go to the rural poor (the majority) while the costs are incurred by urbanites, a minority.

As I write this article, food prices in Uganda are falling rapidly.

For instance, the farm-gate price of a kilogram of maize in Kiryandongo (an example of a typical village) increased from Shs500 in January to Shs1,200 in April 2011.

Nato- Imposed regime won't liberate Libya.

It is difficult for a foreign country to dismantle the military, administrative and intelligence infrastructure of another country and establish a stable political order thereafter

Last week the French parliament voted to continue their country’s involvement in NATO airstrikes in Libya to remove Muammar Gaddafi.

Why we need to focus on results.

FRIDAY, 01 JULY 2011 09:34 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

Forgive a public servant who delivers a quality product even if he violated 100% procedural rules but punish one who follows every rule and gives a bad product.

In this column last week, I argued that the various institutions mandated to exercise oversight functions on the executive actually tend to do the opposite – encourage more corruption. This is especially so in public procurement where institutions like the Auditor General’s office, the Inspectorate of Government, parliamentary oversight committees and the mass media are supposed to hold public officials to account.

The price of Besigye - Museveni rivalry .

Since 1996, it has become hard for the government to initiate and implement a big development project because of power struggles.

The contest for political power in Uganda between President Yoweri Museveni and the opposition largely led by Dr Kizza Besigye has become so intense that it has crowded out debate on policy alternatives. The struggle for power seems like an end in itself, rather than a means to an end i.e. serving the public good. The result is that since both sides have dug into this fight for supremacy there is little space for promoting the public interest. Journalists have inadvertently been sucked into this partisan struggle to argue for either side, only whipping up sentiments and seeking to score political points rather than to expose the selfishness of the actors.

NATO- Imposed regime won't liberate Libya.

FRIDAY, 22 JULY 2011 11:34 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

It is difficult for a foreign country to dismantle the military, administrative and intelligence infrastructure of another country and establish a stable political order thereafter

Last week the French parliament voted to continue their country’s involvement in NATO airstrikes in Libya to remove Muammar Gaddafi.

I hold a strong scepticism about foreign interventions seeking to promote democracy, development, human rights etc in poor countries. However genuine their intentions, such interventions hardly produce good outcomes. I believe that the real engine of change should be local social dynamics i.e. those most affected by a problem should be the ones to structure the solution to it.

As the French parliament voted, I was watching (for the second time) a movie called Green Zone about American occupation of Iraq and the misguided and na├»ve idealism about introducing democracy into that country. In the early part of the movie is a conversation between a Central Intelligence Agency operative (Mattie) who has lived in Iraq for many years and a Political Officer from the Pentagon (POP) on how to manage post Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The focus of the debate is on a one Ahmed Zubaidi, an upstart politician who had been in exile for the last 30 years. POP tells Mattie that Zubaidi has emerged as the leader to bring democracy to Iraq. But Mattie feels it would be improper to have someone who has been out of the country for 30 years take over leadership in a troubled country.

POP: He is the best we have for a stable democracy right now.

Mattie: Go onto the streets and find ten people who know who he is.

POP: He is our friend, Mattie, he has been helpful and our office is satisfied with the information he has been giving us.

Mattie: This guy is not reliable, his information is not reliable. He has been selling us crack.

POP: (getting angry) This is exactly the reason people are beginning to lose confidence in the agency, Mattie. You are questioning every single piece of intelligence that is coming in to a point that we cannot make any progress.

Mattie: We cannot hand over the country to an exile nobody has ever heard of … and a bunch of interns from Washington.

POP: You are the Middle East expert. Do you have another idea?

Mattie: We need to use the Iraqi army to hold this country together. This country is a powder keg of ethnic tensions. Now that Saddam is gone, they are the only ones who can hold it together.

POP: We cannot explain that to the American people. We beat the Iraqi army.

Mattie: Well, they are still out there and they are looking for a place in the new Iraq.

POP: Then they will be waiting a long time.

Mattie: They did not all follow Saddam. There are officers out there we can work with if we can make it worth their while.

POP: Let me tell you something; we have spent too much American treasure and too many American lives for us to put a Bathist General in a position of power – Jesus!

Mattie: Do you have any idea what is going on outside of this Green Zone? It is chaos; it is revenge killings every night. People are asking why we cannot stop this. We are losing the population.

POP: Democracy is messy.

Mattie: If you dismantle this country, cut the army, you will have a civil war in six months, I guarantee it.

POP: Ok, let’s move on.

It is difficult for a foreign country to dismantle the military, administrative and intelligence infrastructure of another country and establish a stable political order thereafter. It succeeded in post war Germany and Japan – but those seem to have been exceptions. Everywhere else, including the Tanzanian occupation of Uganda in 1979-80, such interventions lead to state collapse resulting into widespread violence and impunity. As we cheer NATO’s struggle to remove Gaddafi, reminders from Iraq and Afghanistan are too vivid to ignore.

To solve the problems of any country requires making very many complicated tradeoffs, giving difficult concessions, making hardnosed compromises etc. This is the kind of negotiations that produced post apartheid South Africa. It is the kind of deal-making that made Barack Obama pass through Congress the Healthcare Bill in America last year.

You cannot build a country on the basis of abstract ideals because there is no textbook good solution. A policy or institution does not work because of its intrinsic qualities but rather how those qualities interact with other variables in the society. What is technically good as “best practice” elsewhere can produce disastrous results when implemented in a society without considering other factors and combinations in a country.

Therefore, a solution for any society cannot be based on an abstract theory. It has to evolve organically from multiple negotiations, renegotiations, concessions and compromises with many diverse groups. Of course sometimes a decision may be forced down the throat of one group by another, and this may be necessary to move on. But force alone cannot be a sustainable basis of power and problem solving. The software of rule is legitimacy and what is a politically legitimate process may be technically inefficient and slow.

As the French and NATO allies struggle to “save” the people of Libya from the tyranny of Gaddafi, this may be an important reference point. They need to let the rebels seek a solution by themselves. Left on their own, they may find more effective ways to defeat Gaddafi or creative ways to accommodate him and his entourage. In other words, the balance of forces on the ground in Libya should be the ones to shape its political trajectory, not the lofty motives of foreigners about abstract ideals.

If Gaddafi is defeated by rebels who are being propped by NATO and his military and security infrastructure is destroyed, NATO will be required to put boots on the ground to ensure a stable political order. Yet even with NATO on the ground we would see Libya become a breeding ground for terrorists. From this perspective, therefore, external assistance should be marginal and secondary to the equation. NATO should allow sufficient space within Libya for domestic forces to find an agreeable solution. Trying to impose a solution on the country is not a formula for success.

amwenda@independent.co.ug

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Watch out South Sudan Independence.

FRIDAY, 15 JULY 2011 09:16 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

Because the CPA did not define borders clearly, Khartoum will not want to see the evolution of an effective state and stable government in South Sudan

Last Saturday, South Sudan became the newest nation in the world. Yet beyond the celebrations in Juba that featured President Omar Al Bashir, there is a real risk to the security of this region with the coming into existence of this new nation. Can Khartoum really accept this passively? Khartoum may accept this secession as a fait accompli because of the international forces at play. Yet, it seems likely that it may not want to see the evolution of an effective state and stable government in South Sudan.

Uganda bigger than Museveni or Besigye !

FRIDAY, 08 JULY 2011 12:51 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

If you criticise the opposition about their lack of an alternative policy, they do not present it, they instead accuse you of having been bought by the President.

A striking feature of intellectual life in Uganda is the paradox of political debate; the country is at once highly polarised and yet unified: Polarised in the sense that debate between government and the opposition never seems to have a common ground – each side speaks of the other as the devil incarnate; yet in this very polarisation lies the similarity of our political and intellectual class – both sides carry an angelic image of themselves and are thereby extremely intolerant of any view that contradicts this self image.

Why we need to focus on results.

FRIDAY, 01 JULY 2011 09:34 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

Forgive a public servant who delivers a quality product even if he violated 100% procedural rules but punish one who follows every rule and gives a bad product.

In this column last week, I argued that the various institutions mandated to exercise oversight functions on the executive actually tend to do the opposite – encourage more corruption. This is especially so in public procurement where institutions like the Auditor General’s office, the Inspectorate of Government, parliamentary oversight committees and the mass media are supposed to hold public officials to account.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Price Of Besigye Museveni Rivalry.

THURSDAY, 23 JUNE 2011 11:17 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Since 1996, it has become hard for the government to initiate and implement a big development project because of power struggles.

The contest for political power in Uganda between President Yoweri Museveni and the opposition largely led by Dr Kizza Besigye has become so intense that it has crowded out debate on policy alternatives. The struggle for power seems like an end in itself, rather than a means to an end i.e. serving the public good. The result is that since both sides have dug into this fight for supremacy there is little space for promoting the public interest. Journalists have inadvertently been sucked into this partisan struggle to argue for either side, only whipping up sentiments and seeking to score political points rather than to expose the selfishness of the actors.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How Democracy is Breeding Crooks.

FRIDAY, 17 JUNE 2011 07:20 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

In 2005 Museveni gave Shs5m to each MP to remove presidential term limits; in 2010, he paid Shs20m per MP to pass the Cultural Leaders Bill.

Last week, I was in Johannesburg to attend a World Bank conference on the South-South dialogue on natural resources. I sat there listening to Bank officials speak with confidence and cocksureness about the various solutions to Africa’s problems. Yet most of the proposed solutions were largely copy and paste ideas that ignore the real African context.

Foreign Policy names Andrew Mwenda as one ofthe top 100 most influential users on Twitter.

A who's who of the foreign-policy Twitter verse in 2011.

BY FOREIGN POLICY | JUNE 20, 2011

These days, everyone from the Dalai Lama to Bill Gates is on Twitter, the microblogging platform founded in 2006. During breaking news events like the death of Osama bin Laden or for following the Arab uprisings, it's become an invaluable tool for keeping up to speed. But for many, it's still just another place to promote their own work, rather than engaging in a more natural give-and-take. So how do you tell who's really worth following? FP's got you covered. Here are 100 Twitter users from around the world who will make you smarter, infuriate you, and delight you -- 140 characters at a time.

Monday, June 13, 2011

WHAT MAKES A GREAT LEADER?

SATURDAY, 11 JUNE 2011 09:01 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

If individual ability and the right circumstances are necessary but not sufficient for success, what else is needed?

Recently, I chanced upon a documentary on Discovery Channel titled “Altered Statesmen” and featuring British World War II hero, Winston Churchill. It is a story of alternative history. Good old Winston was a restless man and a war monger. He could not easily cope with peacetime because he would have nowhere to offload his enormous energy – so he became manic depressive. He would try to cure this by resorting to heavy drinking, which made him an alcoholic. When the Second World War broke out, he came to life again – telling his wife that he felt happy for the first time in years.

THE CHALLENGE AMAMA MBABAZI FACES.

THURSDAY, 02 JUNE 2011 12:16 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

While it is political choices that have fostered poor service delivery, it is reconfiguration of the civil service that will make service delivery possible

Finally, President Yoweri Museveni has ended the anxiety that was eating up the ruling classes – politicians, business persons, civil servants, prelates, journalists, etc by announcing his long awaited new old-cabinet. The politicians were expecting ministerial jobs from which they derive money and status. The journalists were hungry for a good story to go on the covers. Business people were anxious to know whom they now need to ingratiate themselves to, to gain advantage.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Rwanda and prejudices towards Africa.

FRIDAY, 27 MAY 2011 07:28 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Without placing allegations of human rights abuses in context, it is easy to call Obama or Cameron delusional despots.

Last week, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, while on twitter, got into a heated exchange with a British journalist, one Ian Birrell. The journalist was accusing him of human rights violations, insisting the Rwandan president should account to him (as who?)for these abuses. Then Birrell shifted from accusations to insults and called Kagame a “delusional despot.” Meanwhile, the Rwandan president remained calm and continued to explain to Birrell that he does not know much about Rwanda and has therefore no right to judge him.

Will Besigye Rise To Challenge?

FRIDAY, 20 MAY 2011 06:28 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

Peaceful protest cannot be an end in itself; it must have an objective. The tactics must seek to persuade not to intimidate

Over the last one month, opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye has made one of the most dramatic political comebacks in history. Having been humiliatingly defeated by his archrival, President Yoweri Museveni in the February 18th 2011 elections, Besigye looked like a lost cause. Save for a few of his fanatical supporters, most people had written him off as a spent force. Today, even Besigye sceptics are awed by his political re-invention.

The futility and dangers of a NATO-installed regime in Libya

FRIDAY, 13 MAY 2011 09:18 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

The incentive structure created by NATO’s commitment to the rebels will breed a movement of opportunists, not democrats.

Recently, NATO airstrikes killed the son of Libyan leader Maummar Al Gaddafi and his three children. Officially, NATO’s role in the ongoing conflict in Libya is to protect that nation’s civilians. However, quite often one has to worry why (or whether) western powers care more about the welfare of Libyans than Libyan leaders! Besides, how does this deliberate targeted killing of innocent babies constitute “protecting” civilians?

Monday, May 9, 2011

How Bin-Laden Was Killed In Cairo.

Bin Laden argued that to end local tyranny, Muslims should fight American first; Cairo and Tunis proved him wrong

On Monday, I walked into the studios of Capital FM for my morning radio show only to see breaking news on television that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I just wept with joy. Coincidentally, on Sunday evening I had been arguing with a friend that Osama was going to get killed or captured because the raison detre for his terrorism had been eliminated by the success of democratic revolutions in the Middle East.

That Bin Laden has been killed after the success of democratic revolutions in the Middle East is not a coincidence. I suspect the two are linked. These revolutions have exposed the hollowness of his vision to the Islamic world – that Muslims can rid themselves of local tyrants through civil protests without fighting America and killing and maiming innocent civilians. The success of civil protests to overcome tyranny undermined the religious and ideological appeal of Al Qaeda’s vision and rendered it inevitable and even necessary for some Muslims to betray him to the Americans.

As is always its wont, the American government took full credit for the killing of Bin Laden. Of course tactically, it was an American victory especially because the forces involved in the operation were American. However, looked at strategically, the killing of Bin Laden was largely (not entirely) possible because those educated youths who brought down Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia and are threatening so many other despots in Syria, Yemen, etc had rendered Bin Laden’s message of fighting America as rearguard action against local tyranny irrelevant and misguided.

Many Arabs had always believed, and correctly so, that the success of entrenched autocrats in their countries was largely because of American patronage. Bin Laden tapped into this belief and used it as a justification for his war. He dressed it in the language of identity arguing it was a conspiracy of the Christian West to cripple Islam. But when American propped dictators began falling one by one, the air was sucked out of Bin Laden’s ideological balloon.

Bin Laden had argued that the existence of local tyranny in the Arab world was because of American support. That was of course true. He then argued that to local tyranny Arabs and Muslims needed to fight American first; and the mode of struggle was to be indiscriminate violence. That is where his vision became not only misleading but also disempowering.

As the events in Egypt, Tunisia and increasingly Yemen are demonstrating, local tyrants can be brought down in spite of American support for them. In fact, America had no idea that a widespread democratic revolution was in the making in the region. American “experts” had been writing books and academic papers on how Arab or even Islamic culture was inherently anti-democratic. Now we know they were wrong!

Bin Laden’s message was misdirecting the anger of Arab youth from the primary enemy (local tyranny) to a secondary one (the foreign patron). Secondly, his message was misleading Arab youths to fight an enemy they could not defeat instead of focusing on the one over whom they could prevail. Therefore, although subjectively an opponent of American propped despots in the Middle East, Bin Laden was objectively their ally. By focusing the mind of Arab youth on an enemy they could not defeat, he allowed local tyrants to consolidate their positions by exploiting US fears to get American money and support to crack down on dissent. When youth in Tunisia and Egypt brought America’s allies down, it was clear that Bin Laden’s vision had hit a dead end.

Therefore, the death of Bin Laden brings two important developments; it destroys the symbol of global terrorism thus sucking vital energy out of the movement. Of course Bin Laden had long been crippled organisationally. His role was primarily to be a source of inspiration. That is now gone. The most important development, however, has been the fact that the democratic movements in the Middle East are turning youths’ attention from the vision of Al Qaeda to one of civil protest in shaping their destiny.

There is the danger that Bin Laden’s death will invigorate Al Qaeda especially in its search for revenge. This can only work in the short term. The long term basis of Al Qaeda has cut down on the streets of Cairo and Tunis. It is not America that is the biggest threat to Al Qaeda and its cousin, political Islam; instead it is the success of democratic movements in the Middle East.

The frustrated youths who always sought inspiration in Al Qaeda can now get it from their own efforts on the streets. Cairo and Tunis demonstrated that terror is not the weapon of choice and Bin Laden is not the messiah of the Arab or Islamic world. Education, technology and the willingness to employ them civically is the way to go. Therefore, Bin Laden was politically dead before he was physically killed. It was therefore saddening that Obama did not say anything about this development in his speech.

Al Qaeda was surviving on a specific ideology, a specific set of domestic and global factors which have changed. Events in the Arab world have shown young people there that their destiny is in their hands and they can shape the political future of their countries without the support of America. People are feeling empowered and are now optimistic about the future.

Having been unable to predict, support or even stop the democratic movement in the Arab world, America, France and Britain have now jumped on the bandwagon to claim some victory – in Libya. As is their wont, they are pretending that the salvation of the people of that sorry country from the tyranny of Col. Muammar El Gaddafi will come from London, Paris and Washington. They are thus bombing Libyans to democracy.

American and Britain have been trying to impose democracy on Iraq with disastrous consequences – over 650,000 innocent civilians have died in this vain effort. Iraq remains a patchwork of sectarian warfare. Although less violence, it is certainly not democratic. The people of Egypt and Tunisia who decided to act for themselves are laying a better foundation for their countries. American has only accepted a faint accompli.

amwenda@independent.co.ug

Monday, April 25, 2011

A GLIMPSE INTO LIBYA'S FUTURE.

THURSDAY, 21 APRIL 2011 12:48 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Given Libya’s tribal cleavages, the contours of conflict will deepen ethnic tensions and threaten the institutional integrity of the state

Now, the complexity of the political problems of Libya is becoming apparent. There is a lot of back and forth shift in fortunes between rebels and forces loyal to Libya’s psychopathic tyrant, Muammar El Gaddafi; one day the rebels are advancing on some “strategic” town, on another they are in full retreat. The naive optimism of the early days of this insurgency is beginning to wane even among the ever-simplistic journalists as the real face of the rebels is becoming apparent.

What began as a peaceful demonstration has degenerated into an armed insurrection; and that is where the problem lies. Civil protests may seek to bring down a despot, but they do not seek to take over power themselves. Often, they seek to create a self-limiting authority; a government subject to popular control with checks and balances on how power is exercised. However, armed groups seek to take full control of government and enforce their will on the subject population.

This distinction is very important: everyone who holds power would not want to be controlled by popular pressure. Thus, when street protestors bring down a tyrant, the resultant government becomes aware that a state armed with tanks cannot defeat an enlightened population armed with tongues. Such a government will be responsive to popular demands well knowing the power of speech. However, when the winner secures victory through armed struggle, he can always use the state’s coercive apparatus to suppress popular demands on him.

Libya’s case is even worse. The rebels are an assortment of disparate groups of disorganised and undisciplined militias – some former soldiers, others ordinary civilians. They have no unifying political organisation held together by a shared ideology and political objectives except to remove Gaddafi. But if they remove him: so what? It seems rebel victory has the least potential to produce a stable political order, leave alone a democracy. The fact that rebels have been using the words; “freedom” and “democracy” in their battle cry does not mean much – all rebels do.

If the rebels succeed in removing Gaddafi, the most immediate result will be to bring to the fore the underlying structural tensions in their coalition. Because they do not belong to a common political organisation or share an ideology, and also because they have no shared economic and political objectives, the Libyan rebels (whom Western media and Al Jezeera naively or for propaganda reasons refer to as pro democracy fighters) will immediately begin to squabble. The most likely scenario will be the emergence of a bitter power struggle for control of the Libyan state.

Because of its vast oil wealth, the different rebel factions will find many willing patrons in the international oil industry seeking a share of the spoils. And since they are armed, the resultant power struggle will be violent and bloody. As the anti Gaddafi coalition fractures, it will confront and some of them even allay with pro Gaddafi (or merely former Gaddafi) militias seeking to regain political advantage. Given Libya’s tribal cleavages, the contours of division will deepen ethnic tensions and threaten the institutional integrity of the state and the unity of the country. It is very likely that in such ensuing chaos, even Iraq of 2005 will look like a haven for stability.

What will the international community do with its “allies” (the rebels) if they began to fight and target civilians in orgies of inter-tribal massacres? Well the “international community” largely (although not entirely) refers to the western powers led by the United States. As democracies subject to popular pressure, their response to humanitarian crises tends to be driven by emotions rather than sober deliberation. Thus, when images of barbaric massacres hit Western television screens, the knee jerk reaction of citizens is that their governments should intervene “to save lives”.

Although most Western intervention is often initiated by obvious (and overt) humanitarian considerations, the underlying driver is often geostrategic and economic. This is largely because a purely humanitarian intervention cannot be sustained through the rough waters of conflict especially when there is loss of precious Western blood. This explains the speed with which the US withdrew from Somalia after losing 18 soldiers in 1993 but could not retreat from Iraq even after losing 5,000. It also explains why NATO has intervened in Libya and not in Ivory Coast.

Assuming the rebels don’t defeat Gaddafi but stalemate him; what is likely to happen? True to form, the international community has one set of solutions to every conflict regardless of its context and dynamics: first, secure a cease fire between the fighting groups; second, cajole or coerce them to form an interim government of national unity; third, push them to hold multi party elections. The hope always is that elections are a magic bullet. In many cases, as in Ivory Coast since 2002, it is this naive faith in elections (which are often equated to democracy) as the solution to every political problem that has been the source of problems.

Thus, when elections are called, the different factions, already armed, will begin to scheme on how to win them – by hook or crook. In such a tense situation with every tribe owning its own militias, inter-ethnic violence will begin to border on genocide. International peace-keeping forces will be called in. But like in Ivory Coast, they will be postponing the inevitable. After years of low intensity conflict and skirmishes during which many will have been killed and displaced, the war will resume, UN peace keepers pull out and either Libya will turn into Somalia or Rwanda.

It is not the faith in democracy per se but rather its naive application to every problem in poor countries that should be questioned. In the case of a possible post Gaddafi Libya, the first objective should not be (because it cannot be) to build a democracy but rather to secure a stable political order. Democracy and its accompanying electoral competition does not end anarchy, it accentuates it. This is even worse when the society is militarised and factionalised along tribal and ethnic lines as Libya is. One hopes that those from outside trying to shape the destiny of Libya learn from history.

amwenda@independent.co.ug

Saturday, April 23, 2011

WHY BESIGYE'S PROTEST RESONATES WITH THE PEOPLE OF UGANDA.

ANDREW MWENDA.


After the February 18 presidential election, Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye looked like a spent force.
He had obtained a paltry 26 per cent of the vote, down from a high of 38 per cent in 2006.
When he rejected the results, claiming they had been rigged, he sounded like a bad loser unwilling to accept the reality of his electoral defeat.
To add insult to the injury of his diminished appeal, he called for countrywide anti-government protests against alleged electoral theft.
No one showed up on the streets. By the beginning of April, analysts were thinking of how to write his political obituary.
However, within just the past week, Besigye has bounced back from possible political oblivion as the most potent threat -- yet again -- to President Yoweri Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement.
Apparently, a combination of good timing and government misjudgment colluded to reinvent Besigye's magic.
The fount and matrix of his comeback are the escalating fuel and food prices that have left many people across the political spectrum of the country feeling the pinch.
Since January, prices of essential commodities in Uganda have been escalating at an astronomical rate, driven by the rising price of fuel and the appreciation of the US dollar against the Uganda shilling.
This combined with a prolonged drought from December 2010 to March 2011 and excessive spending during elections -- the government passed a supplementary budget worth Ush600 billion ($260 million) and pumped it into the economy -- has pushed inflation from under 5 per cent in January to over 11 per cent in April.
These developments have led to growing discontent across the country.
People have been demanding that the government do something. But the government has been silent about the problem.
Consequently, it comes across as indifferent to people's plight or out of touch with their concerns.
Secondly, it has been in the news all for the wrong reasons -- for spending Ush1.8 trillion ($740 million) on sophisticated fighter jets and debating whether to spend Ush4 billion ($1.3 million) on the swearing in ceremony of the president.In the eyes of many, including the staunchest supporters of Museveni, this highhandedness was uncalled for.
Besigye came across a man fighting for the people's interest and paying the price for it.
On the other hand, because of the complete silence on the growing concern over prices, the government comes across as indifferent to people's interests.
Instead, it is involved in expensive and unnecessary expenditure plans like to shower billions on the president's swearing-in. Instead of responding to people's demands, the government is seen as seeking to suppress those who are voicing them.
Even among the most ardent supports of the NRM, Besigye is being seen as a victim of highhandedness.
On Thursday, the second day of the campaign, the protests spread across the country into six districts. The possibilities are open.
An avalanche does not begin with a big bang -- but as small and isolated pieces of snow breaking up here and there.
But when they coalesce and gain momentum, they become a force that destroys everything in its wake.
What is beginning as a small consumer protest in Uganda is now spreading across the country.
If the opposition can sustain the momentum, they have the potential to force a critical situation.
If the government delays announcing ameliorative measures, the demands may grow from food prices to regime change.
The morale booster impact of the Egyptian and Tunisian examples cannot be ignored.
Museveni has always positioned himself as a generous patron who takes care of the needy. His absence from the scene during people's suffering has not gone unnoticed.
It is in this context that Besigye and his allies plotted the "Walk to Work" campaign.
They claimed that their aim was to pressure government to do something about the food and transport costs. It has been a masterstroke.
Because previously, the opposition had always sought to mobilise people in its struggle to wrest power from Musveni and thereby came across as selfish, power-seeking politicians.
This time, however, it is mobilising them around a grievance that touches their wallets and stomachs. The appeal is powerful.
Initially, the opposition led by Besigye called upon government to do something about the food and transport costs.
When government ignored their call, Besigye declared that all opposition parties would launch the "Walk to Work" campaign to force the government to do something.
On the morning of Monday April 11, the campaign began in earnest.
The government was caught up in a Catch-22 situation; the opposition was holding it by the short and curlies, every option it chose was wrought with high risks.
If the government allowed the leaders of opposition to walk to work, they would attract large crowds into the city.
What if the crowds became bigger? Then what? Is it not possible that Uganda can catch Tunisia and Egypt's cold?
If they stopped them from walking, that would seem a stupid thing to do. Would it not generate mass hysteria and resistance?
How long would the government keep stopping them? Should it arrest them indefinitely?
If it agreed to do something, would it not seem as if it were weak, being pushed around by the opposition? All these challenges came within a particular context.
Over the past 20 years, the Museveni government has set in motion policies that have fostered rapid economic growth.

The economy was liberalised, thus creating space for free market competition.
This has generated a get-rich-quick culture. A few people are making pots of money, reflected in fancy cars, magnificent homes, modern shopping malls and high-rise office blocks.
This has attracted large numbers of youth from rural areas seeking opportunities in cities.
However, the number of immigrants into towns far exceeds available opportunities, hence slums, unemployment and crime.
Uganda's growth has ignited a boom in education from both public and private institutions.
In January, the Daily Monitor reported that Uganda produces 400,000 graduates from tertiary institutions every year but the public sector can only take in 20,000.
Both education and urbanisation are liberating forces: Beneficiaries gain access to local and international media.
This expands their horizons, which in turn increases their expectations.
However, the growth in their aspirations tends to be faster than the growth in opportunities.
The mismatch between expectations and available opportunities leads to social frustration.
This context has changed the dynamics of Uganda. The free market and its accompanying get-rich-quick culture have made Ugandans increasingly tolerant of corruption.
On the other hand, increased education and urbanisation have made people hostile to violence.
Therefore, while people are willing to accept financial bribes from Museveni in exchange for political support, they do not accept him beating or killing them to secure political loyalty; they are willing to accept Museveni the corrupter, not the killer!
For example, in 2006, Museveni employed unprecedented violence against Besigye -- throwing him in jail, charging him with rape, treason and terrorism and killing a few of his supporters.
This demoralised the president's supporters while energising his opponents.
The result was that Museveni's vote fell by one million from five million in 2001 to four million in 2006.
Meanwhile, the opposition voters were so energised that Besigye's votes grew from two million to 2.6 million votes.
In fact, opinion polls had showed Museveni at 47 per cent of the vote, Besigye at 43.
The Daily Monitor tally centre had tallied 3.6 million votes and Museveni had 47 per cent against Besigye's 43 per cent when the army intervened and shut it down.
Some time late last year and early this year, it seemed Museveni had learnt this lesson: That violence works against him while bribery does the magic.
Where he had always sent the military, police and other hooligans to attack opposition politicians during presidential campaigns, this time he used money.

The absence of violence in the campaigns sucked the air out of Besigye's campaign while the infusion of cash in Museveni's campaign put the president on a rollercoaster ride to victory.
When Museveni employed violence in Sironko district against Nandala Mafabi, people turned out in large numbers to vote for the opposition candidate. The message was clear.
It seemed that Besigye, who had always attracted public attention and sympathy for being flogged, was on the losing end of the political process -- until Monday.
On that day, the government responded to the "Walk to Work" campaign with extreme violence and brutality.
Besigye and other opposition leaders were manhandled, pushed like chicken thieves onto police pick-up trucks and arraigned before courts and charged with fictitious crimes -- all in front of the television cameras.

Monday, April 18, 2011

FINALLY THE OPPOSITION HAS A CHANCE .

THURSDAY, 14 APRIL 2011 08:29 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

Uganda is now caught up in the contradiction of extreme wealth alongside excessive poverty and extreme luxury alongside mass deprivation



After a long period without any public issue around which to galvanise popular discontent in their favour, the opposition in Uganda has finally found one in the escalating food and transport costs. For the first time, the opposition is rallying the public on a grievance that touches the stomachs and wallets of millions and not one where it is merely fighting for power. Therefore the cat and mouse fight between them and the police has only begun and has potential to open the road to Tunisia and Egypt.

Over the last 20 years, President Yoweri Museveni has set in motion policies that have fostered rapid economic growth and thereby laid the foundation for the structural transformation of Uganda. A few people are making large sums of cash reflected in fancy cars, magnificent homes, modern shopping malls and high rise office blocks. This has attracted large numbers of youth from rural areas seeking to take advantage of opportunities in towns. However, the number of immigrants into towns far exceeds available opportunities hence slums, unemployment and crime.

Uganda’s growth has ignited a boom in education from both public and private institutions. In January, Daily Monitor reported that Uganda produces 400,000 graduates from tertiary institutions every year but the public sector can only take 20,000. Both education and urbanisation are liberating forces: beneficiaries gain access to local and international media. This expands their horizons which in turn increases their expectations. However, the growth in their aspirations tends to be faster than the growth in opportunities. The mismatch between expectations and available opportunities leads to social frustration.

Human talent for innovation is not evenly distributed in any society; only a few tend to be exceptionally good. Thus, when governments liberalise the economy to allow for market competition and efficiency, those who reap the largest share of benefits are the ingenious; and in the case of a patronage system like ours, those who are politically well connected. The simple tend to lose out thus generating envy among them. Economic envy and social frustration are the stuff out of which revolutions are incubated.

Therefore, Uganda is now caught up in the contradiction that characterises most rapidly growing economies of poor countries – the production of extreme wealth alongside excessive poverty and extreme luxury alongside mass deprivation. Since those who enjoy the high benefits of growth are few and those who are deprived are many, the political terrain tends to get charged. This is the common risk of all capitalist societies.

In the 19th century, the uneven distribution of the material benefits of economic growth led to the development of ideologies such as socialism, communism and nihilism. These ideologies challenged the legitimacy of capitalism as a system of organising human affairs. Their political strength combined with the inherent structural instability of capitalism forced the Western world to create welfare states. Social welfare was a redistributive mechanism intended to make everyone a beneficiary of growth without making everyone’s benefits equal as communism had promised.

Many people who support free market systems fail to understand the political and social value of some level of redistributive policies. For capitalism to survive, it needs to have a spirit – not just an abstract ideology of the inalienable right to the fruits of one’s innovation – but also the sense that everyone gains by the free market system. It is this value that is missing in Uganda because the system is too elite driven. There are hardly any successful social welfare programmes to make an ordinary person feel the benefits of growth.

It is in this context that fuel and food prices have colluded to give the opposition an opportunity to challenge the status quo. Uganda’s opposition has consistently been opportunistic, always only coming out to struggle for access to power and privilege rather than to fight for the interests of the ordinary person. Now for the first time, they have got their act right. They have announced their determination to sustain a campaign to boycott motorised transport and walk to and from work daily. Symbolically, it shows their concern for the urban workers, unemployed and poor, not their desire for power.

The rising cost of living, especially in Kampala is social dynamite waiting for a detonator. Even the most ardent supporters of NRM are feeling the pinch. It is going to be extremely difficult for NRM to ask Ugandans to tighten their belts when it is indulging in extravagant spending on sophisticated fighter jets worth over Shs 1.8 trillion. How can an economy that cannot feed its own people buy such expensive military-ware?

To make matters worse, Uganda may not avoid the morale booster impact of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. Events in the Middle East have shown many that peaceful protest can bring down even the strongest government. Although the political system in Uganda is more open and competitive compared to Egypt and Tunisia before their revolution, we still suffer the sense that people cannot change government through elections. President Museveni has been in power forever and gives no indication of leaving.

Museveni is in a catch 22 situation. If he allows the opposition leaders to walk to Kampala, they may attract large crowds. How far will they grow? Can the regime contain masses of discontented demonstrators? If it blocks them and holds them at police stations, for how long will it keep them: for a day, a week, a month? If it releases them and they try to walk again, it may be forced to jail them indefinitely thus turning them into martyrs and heroes.

The future is always indeterminate. How the current political stand-off plays out will depend on how the opposition exploits every opportunity to put government on the defensive and how the regime addresses popular discontent in order to disconnect the masses from the opposition leaders. One measure may be to indulge in public acts that cast the government in the light of a caring patron. For instance, it can suspend buying fighter jets and claim that the money will be used to subsidize food and fuel prices. Then it can jail those accused of stealing CHOGM funds. It can also offer some relief bread to a few.

Which way will it go? Stay tuned!

amwenda@independent.co.ug

HOW BANKS CAN SUPPORT BUSINESS GROWTH.

THURSDAY, 07 APRIL 2011 12:45 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

A great business can close in infancy, not because it is loss making but because it cannot get credit to overcome its initial cash flow constraints.

Here is the performance of Uganda’s banks in 2010: Out of the 22 registered banks, 14 made profits, two broke even and six made losses. All the six that made losses are newly registered banks – so that is understandable. And five had their losses significantly reduced compared to 2009 – so they performed better in 2010. Most importantly, non-performing assets as a percentage of total assets in the banking sector are only 1.02 percent – one of the best records in the world (see cover story).



The 2010 results only reflect a trend over the last decade. For example, while in 2000 there were only 17 banks with 122 branches, today there are 22 banks with 394 branches; and while total assets of banks were Shs1.8 trillion, by 2010 they had reached Shs11.3 trillion. In fact, the total assets of Stanbic Bank alone stood at Shs2.4 trillion by December 2010 – higher than the total assets of all banks in the country in 2000. Total deposits have increased from Shs1.3 trillion in 2000 to Shs8.0 trillion in 2010 and profits in the industry from Shs72 billion to Shs270 billion over the same period.

This trend has been driven by three major factors. First, the privatisation of Uganda Commercial Bank removed the dead hand of the state and its corrupt politics from the banking sector, thus opening the way to competition and product innovation. Second, the lessons learned from the bank failures of 1997-1999 led to improved regulation most epitomised by Bank of Uganda’s director of supervision, Justine Bagyenda, nicknamed the “Iron Lady” by commercial bankers. Third, the banking sector reflects the robust growth of the Ugandan economy.

However, not everything is rosy in Uganda’s commercial banking sector. Interest rates have remained high (18 to 24 percent) in spite of the fall in interest on treasury bills. Bank charges are high, constituting a significant part of bank profits. Although the number of employees has grown from 1,099 in 2000 to 8,700 in 2010; and although the total wage bill has also grown from Shs47 billion to Shs330 billion over the same period, per capital earnings of bank staff have declined over this same period from Shs42m to Shs37m – meaning that banks are employing more people but paying them less in real wages.

The market is still dominated by three international banks – Stanbic, Standard Chartered and Barclays. These banks rely on rules designed in Johannesburg, London and Dubai to lend to local Ugandans – rules that make it extremely difficult for many ordinary Ugandans doing business to borrow and invest. It is the presence of the fourth and fifth largest banks in Uganda i.e. Centenary and Crane banks that has made it possible for many Ugandan entrepreneurs to do business.

Indeed, a huge percentage of the business that the three leading international banks get is a result of their brand than their product innovation. This suggests that the dominance of multinational banks has actually repressed the banking sector. I have a friend who holds an account with one of the multinational banks and whose business has a gross turnover of more than Shs1.5 billion per year in the same bank. Yet the bank could not give him an overdraft facility of Shs200m.

The result of rigid banking rules designed in London, Dubai and Johannesburg for the local branches of these multinational banks is to stifle business growth. This lesson came vividly to me when we set up The Independent as a business. Most of our advertisers asked for 75 days of credit yet our suppliers wanted to be paid in advance since we were a new business. Although we were able to make an operating profit with the first five months, the mismatch between our revenue collections and our expenditure placed us is continuous cash flow shortages.

At the time, we were banking with Stanchart, Stanbic and Barclays. However, in spite of a rapid growth of our business almost every month which was giving us large volumes of revenue turnover, these banks could not give us an overdraft to roll over our cash flow shortages. We turned to Crane Bank and they gave us the facility because it believes in its customers and responds to their needs on the basis of its knowledge of them personally and the information it has on the performance of their business and not because of some rigid rules designed in London or Dubai.

I learnt from this experience that even an excellent business can close in infancy, not because it is loss making but simply because it cannot get short term credit to roll over its initial cash flow constraints. But I also learnt that for an economy to achieve its full potential, it needs banks that are rooted in its people’s business realities – not one whose rules are based on ignorance or prejudice of some bankers in distant lands dictating by remote control how a market should operate.

Looking back both as a journalist and as a business person, I believe that although Uganda’s banking sector has registered rapid growth over the last ten years, it could actually have done better for itself and for the country’s people if priority was given to local banks. I agree that local banks misbehaved in the mid 1990s leading to their collapse. But the lesson Uganda took from this experience was the wrong one. Rather than seek to improve central bank supervision of local banks, Uganda decided to discriminate against them in licensing of new banks.

The result has been a safe banking sector most of which is delinked from our business realities. This, I suspect, may have reduced our economic growth by anything between one and two percent. Going forward, Uganda should seriously think of encouraging the growth of local banks as the major drivers of lending. During its early industrialisation, 90 percent of the total banking sector in South Korea was controlled by the government. In China today, government controls over 70 percent of banking. We do not need Uganda government to control the sector. But it can encourage local banks to do so through smart policies.

amwenda@independent.co.ug



A great business can close in infancy, not because it is loss making but because it cannot get credit to overcome its initial cash flow constraints.

Here is the performance of Uganda’s banks in 2010: Out of the 22 registered banks, 14 made profits, two broke even and six made losses. All the six that made losses are newly registered banks – so that is understandable. And five had their losses significantly reduced compared to 2009 – so they performed better in 2010. Most importantly, non-performing assets as a percentage of total assets in the banking sector are only 1.02 percent – one of the best records in the world (see cover story).

The 2010 results only reflect a trend over the last decade. For example, while in 2000 there were only 17 banks with 122 branches, today there are 22 banks with 394 branches; and while total assets of banks were Shs1.8 trillion, by 2010 they had reached Shs11.3 trillion. In fact, the total assets of Stanbic Bank alone stood at Shs2.4 trillion by December 2010 – higher than the total assets of all banks in the country in 2000. Total deposits have increased from Shs1.3 trillion in 2000 to Shs8.0 trillion in 2010 and profits in the industry from Shs72 billion to Shs270 billion over the same period.

This trend has been driven by three major factors. First, the privatisation of Uganda Commercial Bank removed the dead hand of the state and its corrupt politics from the banking sector, thus opening the way to competition and product innovation. Second, the lessons learned from the bank failures of 1997-1999 led to improved regulation most epitomised by Bank of Uganda’s director of supervision, Justine Bagyenda, nicknamed the “Iron Lady” by commercial bankers. Third, the banking sector reflects the robust growth of the Ugandan economy.

However, not everything is rosy in Uganda’s commercial banking sector. Interest rates have remained high (18 to 24 percent) in spite of the fall in interest on treasury bills. Bank charges are high, constituting a significant part of bank profits. Although the number of employees has grown from 1,099 in 2000 to 8,700 in 2010; and although the total wage bill has also grown from Shs47 billion to Shs330 billion over the same period, per capital earnings of bank staff have declined over this same period from Shs42m to Shs37m – meaning that banks are employing more people but paying them less in real wages.

The market is still dominated by three international banks – Stanbic, Standard Chartered and Barclays. These banks rely on rules designed in Johannesburg, London and Dubai to lend to local Ugandans – rules that make it extremely difficult for many ordinary Ugandans doing business to borrow and invest. It is the presence of the fourth and fifth largest banks in Uganda i.e. Centenary and Crane banks that has made it possible for many Ugandan entrepreneurs to do business.

Indeed, a huge percentage of the business that the three leading international banks get is a result of their brand than their product innovation. This suggests that the dominance of multinational banks has actually repressed the banking sector. I have a friend who holds an account with one of the multinational banks and whose business has a gross turnover of more than Shs1.5 billion per year in the same bank. Yet the bank could not give him an overdraft facility of Shs200m.

The result of rigid banking rules designed in London, Dubai and Johannesburg for the local branches of these multinational banks is to stifle business growth. This lesson came vividly to me when we set up The Independent as a business. Most of our advertisers asked for 75 days of credit yet our suppliers wanted to be paid in advance since we were a new business. Although we were able to make an operating profit with the first five months, the mismatch between our revenue collections and our expenditure placed us is continuous cash flow shortages.

At the time, we were banking with Stanchart, Stanbic and Barclays. However, in spite of a rapid growth of our business almost every month which was giving us large volumes of revenue turnover, these banks could not give us an overdraft to roll over our cash flow shortages. We turned to Crane Bank and they gave us the facility because it believes in its customers and responds to their needs on the basis of its knowledge of them personally and the information it has on the performance of their business and not because of some rigid rules designed in London or Dubai.

I learnt from this experience that even an excellent business can close in infancy, not because it is loss making but simply because it cannot get short term credit to roll over its initial cash flow constraints. But I also learnt that for an economy to achieve its full potential, it needs banks that are rooted in its people’s business realities – not one whose rules are based on ignorance or prejudice of some bankers in distant lands dictating by remote control how a market should operate.

Looking back both as a journalist and as a business person, I believe that although Uganda’s banking sector has registered rapid growth over the last ten years, it could actually have done better for itself and for the country’s people if priority was given to local banks. I agree that local banks misbehaved in the mid 1990s leading to their collapse. But the lesson Uganda took from this experience was the wrong one. Rather than seek to improve central bank supervision of local banks, Uganda decided to discriminate against them in licensing of new banks.

The result has been a safe banking sector most of which is delinked from our business realities. This, I suspect, may have reduced our economic growth by anything between one and two percent. Going forward, Uganda should seriously think of encouraging the growth of local banks as the major drivers of lending. During its early industrialisation, 90 percent of the total banking sector in South Korea was controlled by the government. In China today, government controls over 70 percent of banking. We do not need Uganda government to control the sector. But it can encourage local banks to do so through smart policies.

amwenda@independent.co.ug

FDC NEEDS TO CHANGE OR IT WILL DIE.

MONDAY, 14 MARCH 2011 05:34 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Thus like many millenarian cults, many people supporting Besigye believed in their own self-righteousness and assumed everyone shared their outrage

Last week, opposition leader Kizza Besigye, claimed to have won the February presidential election. He claimed that by the time his own party’s tally centre was ‘sabotaged’, he was leading with 47 percent against President Yoweri Museveni’s 43 percent, from results of about 30% of all polling stations. He says that because this tally excluded the votes from his strongholds of the north, it means he won the election. I find his position absurd.



I hold Besigye in high esteem because of his demonstrated courage, firmness and commitment to the public good in Uganda. He has sustained his struggle against Museveni even in the face of one million and one violent attacks on him and his family members by the president and his apparatchik.

Yet the traits that make Besigye a strong personality in resisting Museveni’s dictatorial tendencies are the same traits that make him look like a carbon copy of the president – the tendency to dig into a position and refuse to listen to alternative view points. Indeed, one of the reasons Besigye’s support declined in the last election is his tendency to listen too much to himself rather than to the people of Uganda.

For example, I followed both Museveni and Besigye on the campaign trail and immediately noticed how Museveni was getting an upper hand. Besigye would go to the rallies with a script. From a purely moral and national perspective, it was a great script written in statesmanlike fashion – a powerful statement of the ills that have bedeviled our nation. He was consistent on his message. But it was an ineffective message in many areas of rural Uganda because Besigye was speaking to the voters, not for them.

Museveni had a message but he was not consistent with it. He was always able to adapt his message to the mood of his audience. Everywhere he went, he was accosted by local complaints most of which revolved around the issue of service delivery. Realising that his government had failed the people, Museveni adopted an opposition posture; his adversaries were the local government officials. He riled them for corruption, incompetence and theft and even threatened or ordered the arrest of some of them. He was thus able to speak for the people, not to speak to them.

As the campaign progressed, it was clear that the Besigye camp had placed itself on a very high moral pedestal, a factor that gave them extraordinary hubris. Thus like many millenarian cults, many people supporting Besigye got consumed by a sense of their own self-righteousness and assumed that everyone shared their outrage at Museveni’s failures. Worse they even thought that most voters viewed them as they viewed of themselves i.e. as messiahs to save our nation from a despot.

Nothing could have been more damaging to Besigye and his most passionate supporters than this hubris. Rather than try to convince people that the country needed change, the Besigye campaign simply assumed that people were ready for change. Hence it promised them that “change is coming”. Thus, the strategy was not to mobilise for change but rather to “protect the vote” – a vote they took for granted to be there waiting for them. Although there was a nation-wide constituency convinced about change, it was wrong to assume that it constituted an electoral majority. Indeed, among the many Ugandans convinced about the need for change was a large section which was afraid of the consequences of change. Such people voted Museveni.

But moral hubris also led the Besigye camp into assumptions that undermined their capacity to respond to Museveni’s initiatives. It seems Besigye believed his own hype and that of the circle around him that there were masses of people across the country who felt like him, who shared his view of Museveni as a corrupt despot. It was a fatal era because Besigye ended up preaching to the converted and in some cases talking to himself and listening to his own echoes instead of listening to the people.

This tendency of Besigye to think that his disagreements with Museveni are similar to the disagreement most people have with the president is not new. In 2001, his campaign posters said “vote for a president who will listen.” Why? In his battles with the president, Besigye had noticed, and correctly so, that Museveni was not listening to him and other senior leaders of the Movement. But was this really the view of ordinary voters about Museveni – i.e. did ordinary people believe that the president does not listen?

I have attended a number of meetings at State House between Museveni and ordinary people from districts involving women’s and youth groups, local councilors etc. I was struck by how patient and attentive he would be when in meetings with them. Sometimes Museveni would be speaking, and a peasant would stand up, rudely interrupt him and just begin to give his own speech. Museveni would stop and begin taking notes. I would spend minutes almost collapsing with impatience as the president listened attentively as this ordinary person made his case, often a list of small local problems that a president should not deal with.

After this ordinary person had stopped, the president would answer each of the issues that person had raised, yielding to many of their parochial demands upon the state such as to appoint someone from their village a minister, an ambassador or RDC or to build a clinic or school in their sub-county, restock their cows or give them a district.

It was clear to me that while Museveni was not listening to his colleagues in cabinet, he was doing the exact opposite with local people. In structuring his 2001 campaign message as “vote for a president who will listen” Besigye was addressing himself and his colleagues in the high echelons of power, not to the ordinary voter. This approach has not changed.

I hold very strong anti-Museveni views politically although I support the broad thrust of his liberal economic policies. But I am always conscious of the fact that I should not assume that everyone else in Uganda shares my point of view. During the campaign, I met many young, well educated, modernist and ambitious Ugandans in their mid to late 20s or early 30s on Museveni’s campaign team, passionately campaigning for the president – a demographic one would expect to be hostile to the president.

I was always struck by this and would ask why they supported a president who has presided over gross corruption, nepotism and incompetence; and the utter collapse of the public spirit in our public service, leave alone having stayed in power for decades. I would ask them whether they did not know what is happening to our healthcare and education system and our roads. Many actually agreed with these but argued that there were other attributes of Museveni like freedom, stability and sustained economic growth which I was ignoring.

These interactions humbled me. I was able to see that there are many and diverse perspectives among people. It was clear that if I want others to see my point of view, I should try to win them over through persuasion. But Besigye and some elements around him thought everyone agreed with his view of Museveni and shared his vision of change; hence, he needed no persuasion but motivation. So he went around trying to motivate people to turn out and vote for change, instead of trying to convince them about the need for change.

Besigye is not alone. Across almost the entire spectrum of the anti-Museveni intellectual and political elite in Uganda, there is a consensus that based purely on Museveni’s failures in service delivery there is widespread opposition to the president. Worse still, they believe that the discontented are yarning for change. There is no doubt that across our nation many people are disenchanted with the government. The fatal era is the hubris to believe that all of them are therefore ready for change.
There is significant fear among many Ugandans in regard to change. In a country that has never seen peaceful change of government the fear of the unknown is strong. People need reassurance that change will not bring instability. He who ignores this does so at a big risk.

A section of people who give Besigye’s opposition intellectual justification are both naive and intolerant. They reject every realistic caution against their obsessive over-optimism and dismiss it as pro-Museveni. They have thus alienated many centrists who would prefer a more pragmatic and realistic campaign; a campaign that will despise Museveni strategically but take him seriously tactically.

This intolerance by the groups around Besigye is a reflection of their major intellectual weakness. It was also one of the critical factors behind the failed efforts towards opposition unity before the election, a failure that gave Museveni a strategic advantage in the election. In fact every democratic minded Ugandan would be more scared by Besigye’s apparatchik than by Museveni. The Besigye crowd dismissed anyone who tried to point out Museveni’s strengths as having been bought. They denied and rejected the legitimacy of any view seen as favourable to Museveni – including views that while disagreeing with the president tended to recognise his core strengths.

The tendency to dismiss all contrary opinion as being treacherous, of having been bought by Museveni has taken air out of the bubble of Besigye’s claims to be a champion of democracy. He and his cohorts came across as intolerant and suspicious of alternative view points. For example, I was told by those close to him that he said he cannot read The Independent because we had sold out to Museveni.

Now, anyone reading The Independent would have considered it a very balanced newspaper in its coverage of the election but leaning in favour of the opposition. Although we did not do a thorough job covering the election, most of our articles and opinions were largely critical of Museveni. Where Besigye was covered, it was largely in positive terms – even though I admit that we did not give him enough coverage. One reason was market dynamics – the truth is that he was not selling newspapers.

That Besigye could not see how favourably disposed to him we were in our limited coverage of his campaign tells a lot about the man. It shows that you either agree with him entirely i.e. on every coma and full-stop or you are labelled a Museveni supporter. Thus Norbert Mao, whom I proudly voted for in full view of everyone at my polling station, was labelled a Museveni 5th column because he did not share Besigye’s view.

At some point even Olara Otunnu was suspected of working with and for Museveni. Bidandi Ssali suffered a similar fate. No one escaped their cobra bite.

The Besigye group seeks to win over people in similar fashion as the Museveni group - via blackmail and scare mongering. The Museveni group was scaring people that if they voted the opposition, the country would fall into chaos. The Besigye group was saying if anyone does not support them, then he had been bought by Museveni. For a person passionately committed to independence of opinion, this “either or” attitude on both sides convinced me that Museveni and Besigye are the same and should be rejected.

By accusing anyone who disagrees with them as having been bought by Museveni, the Besigye group was actually hoping to force those who don’t agree with them to support them in order to be seen as not having been bought by Museveni. It is called blackmail. Many people kept away from the polls because while they were disenchanted with Museveni, they could not put up with this intolerance in FDC.

As the tide of history turned against them, the Besigye group even began to reject science in favour of their own assumptions. They rejected all opinion polls saying Museveni had bought them. Even when their own opinion poll showed they were trailing far behind Museveni, they were too consumed by their own sense of destiny to listen to the feelings of Ugandans. They could not believe that the people of Uganda could not share their messianic view of themselves or even their message for change.

Besigye thought that every anti-Museveni opinion was a pro-Besigye opinion; and that every opinion that was not pro him was a pro Museveni opinion. In his view, one was either with him or with Museveni. There was no independent position. Ultimately, Besigye lost this election because he took the people of this country too much for granted and sought to force all of us to think like him or to agree with him. Up to now he is unable to accept this reality hence his recent claim that he won the election.

There are many good people among Besigye supporters: honourable men like Augustine Ruzindana and Mugisha Muntu; tolerant ones like Wafula Oguttu and Morris Latigo; thoughtful ones like Conrad Nkutu and David Mpanga. But they do not form the mainstream of Besigye’s intellectual base. FDC needs to liberate itself from extremist control, move to the centre, listen keenly to Ugandans even those who don’t agree with its message and construct a vision that is democratic. Short of this, Museveni’s base will grow or a new and more enlightened force will emerge and take FDC’s place.

amwenda@independent.co.ug

THE CHALLENGE AFRICA REFORMERS FACE.

FRIDAY, 01 APRIL 2011 07:30 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

An African leader who fights corruption will face resistance from powerful vested interests using democracy to subvert his reforms

Next month, Rwanda commemorates 17 years since the genocide. Most of its citizens look back at what they have achieved with both pride and humility. The society that had been torn asunder by genocide has been reconstituted, the state that had disintegrated has been reconfigured and the economy that had collapsed has been reconstructed.

The RPF was born of three critical grievances which were all official policies of the government: keeping a section of the population as perpetual refugees, denying them equal treatment before the law and denying them equal access to available opportunities. The aim of the RPF was to create a nation where all its citizens would have a right to live inside Rwanda with equal rights before the law and with equal access to opportunities.

Today, all these objectives have been achieved. There is not one single Rwandan living abroad because government policy refuses them the right to return home “because the country is full.” I admit there are many Rwandans in exile afraid to return home for one reason or another – some criminal, others political. But they are the exception, not the rule. Second, in almost all spheres of life, all Rwandans have equal access to available opportunities in education, healthcare, agricultural extension services, civil service, the army, politics etc. Third, today all Rwandans are equal before the law.

I admit that post genocide Rwanda is not a paradise; it has one million and one iniquities. But no society can be perfect, not even Norway and Finland. The rich and powerful in Rwanda may evade justice, get unfair advantage over others or go unpunished for transgressions. However, even accounting for these divergences, post genocide Rwanda has by and large constructed the most fair and equitable society in post colonial Africa.

For example, it is most likely in Rwanda, more than any other country in Africa or even the world that the poorest and least educated citizen in the remotest village can have almost the same opportunity as a cabinet minister to be evacuated for medical treatment abroad if his/her condition so demanded. It is also most likely in Rwanda, more than any other country in Africa or the world that a child born in an extremely poor family with no political connections whatsoever can on its merit get a government scholarship to Harvard. No wonder Rwanda has just been rated the fourth best country in the entire British Commonwealth for a girl child to be born.

While in all Africa a malnourished child is a statistic in government records, it is only in Rwanda in the whole of Africa that every malnourished child has a name, a home and gets milk and cereal at the local government clinic daily. It is only in Rwanda of the 27 African countries I have visited that I have seen government build a hospital equipped with most sophisticated equipment and medical staff in the remotest village to serve ordinary people. And all this in a country with a very low income per capita, a poorly developed human resource base and a country without strong institutional traditions.

The experience I have witnessed in Rwanda over the last seven years has both inspired and humbled me. I had spent most of my career berating governments in Africa for their disinterest in the needs of ordinary people, thinking that this was because of lack of democracy as we conventionally understand it. Over the years, Africa has “democratised” – elections are regular, political parties vibrant, media are loud. But this has not translated into governments that serve the ordinary citizen. Instead, crooks have taken over. In Rwanda I have seen the evolution of a government committed to serving ordinary people.

Yet international human rights groups, sections of the international and regional press and a significant section of Africa’s intellectual class have been relentless and ferocious in their attacks on the Rwanda government generally and President Paul Kagame personally, accusing him of running a Stalinist government. They have forced some enlightened but insecure people in the West to rethink their support for Kagame.

Critics have ignored or failed to see the democratic nature of many of Rwanda’s reforms. For example, Kagame has expanded political participation to ordinary Rwandans, integrated ordinary people in the politics as rights-bearing citizens and not as clients of powerful individuals as is the case in most of Africa. He has also empowered ordinary Rwandans to manage their own affairs through their local councils. This has not been achieved by guesswork but has been a key tenet of his strategy of political consolidation.

This reordering of power has attracted a lot of resistance from vested elite interests who were benefiting from the corruption and patronage. Trying to give ordinary people a voice in politics and make them beneficiaries of government policy and action demands the destabilisation of the status quo. You cannot transform a country’s politics without changing the power structure. And you cannot change the power structure without generating resistance from vested interests. And you cannot defeat that resistance without attacking the instruments vested interests use to dominate the political process.

For example, to deliver services to ordinary people demands that one has to fight corruption and personalised patronage. Yet the corrupt are always the most educated, rich, articulate and influential sections of the society. They speak to BBC and CNN, they have access to human rights groups, they write in local newspapers and they form political parties. They will deploy all these instruments in their struggle to retain their privileges.

Thus, when a reformer seeks to fight corruption and patronage, he is actually taking away the source of power, wealth and status from powerful elites. For we must remember that for every pothole in a road in Africa, someone has built a mansion; for every ghost school, someone has sent their child to Harvard; for every ghost hospital, someone has evacuated their child to Germany for treatment; and for almost every indignity suffered by the ordinary people, someone powerful has made money reaping off the state.

So when a reformer like Kagame attacks their privileges, the thieves hide behind the language of rights to defend their interests – the right to free speech, the right to property and the right to due process. They mobilise human rights groups and the media. Given deeply entrenched prejudices about African leaders – themselves generated by our history – international media and human rights groups mistake thieves to be democrats. So they join the forces of resistance. The reformer realises that the platforms for democracy are not defending the interests of ordinary people but the theft and privileges of a few elites.

Here is the challenge reformers like Kagame face: those who suffer from his anti corruption drive are few but rich, educated and powerful with access to media. So they have a voice. Those who benefit from his anti corruption drive are the least educated and poorest sections of the society. They do not speak on CNN and BBC. They do not have access to Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International. So they have no voice. Sadly, in Africa those with voice are less than 10 percent of the population. The rest are ordinary rural masses who cannot defend their interests using our inherited democratic platforms.

It is this reality that has forced some of the most promising democracies in Africa – Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Mali and Senegal to shy away from confronting the beast of personalised patronage. Instead they have become hostage to a few powerful individuals and groups. In western nations, largely because the median voter is well educated, middle class and has voice in the mass media, corruption is fought through the democratic process. In Africa, because the median voter is semi literate, poor with no voice in the media; and because his/her own traditional values do not treat patronage as abuse of office, the democratic process tends to incubate and reproduce corruption.

In Africa, the elite want power and privilege and they use the press, civil society organisations, political parties, etc. to advance their interests. They even mobilise the masses based on shared identity (religious or ethnic) behind them. Uganda presents the most vivid cases of this perversion of democracy. Except for a few exceptions like Kizza Besigye, all the articulate critics of Yoweri Museveni have over the years joined him in his government – Basoga Nsandu, Tamale Mirundi, Omara Atubo, Aggrey Awori, Nasser Sebaggala, – I can list 1,000 of them off my head.

Museveni has been smart (or opportunistic) enough to learn that rather than fight these powerful elites, he does better by co-opting them. He has thus turned critics into allies. Kagame’s major failure (and equally his biggest achievement) has been to resist these particularistic demands for power and privileges. By doing little to placate the interests of the powerful, he has turned real and potential allies into bitter enemies – hence the virulence of their criticism of him. Most African leaders adopt Museveni’s strategy; it is cheaper and efficient but ordinary people gain little from it. Kagame has gone for the costly route; it has delivered for ordinary people but attracted the hostility of the powerful.

The lesson is simple but powerful: elites in Africa use the democratic process – not to promote the interests of the ordinary person – but to acquire positions of power and privilege. Thus, in spite of its apparent freedoms of speech and press, its vibrant political parties and civic organisations, ordinary Ugandans have gained little in form of public goods and services. Every year 80,000 children of ordinary people die of preventable diseases; in ten years you have a massacre equal to the genocide in Rwanda. Today, 2.3m children are malnourished in Uganda and 16 mothers die in child birth every day.

The above figures are mere anecdotes in our mass media. Yet human rights groups, media and all other democratic platforms of the world will be concerned about one corrupt official running away to exile before he is arrested – because he was a General in the army, a minister in cabinet, etc. Our so-called democratic platforms are so concerned about the privileges of a few powerful elites and so blind to the gross abuses against the vast majority of our people that I wonder whether Africa is thinking at all.

Any leader in Africa who seeks to fight corruption as relentlessly as Kagame is doing, and to deliver public goods and services to ordinary people as Kagame is doing will come face to face with this contradiction: that resistance to his reforms will be built and defended through the very democratic structures we cherish. As I have observed the failure of democratic governments across Africa, I realised that ordinary people actually have limited voice through the press, civic associations and political parties.

To change politics from a contest over the privileges of a few to be a contest over service to the citizen, a genuine reformer will find it almost inevitable – or even necessary – to put restraints on many conventional platforms of democracy. But this also demands that he/she mobilises ordinary people to be active participants in the political process, integrate them in decision making and empower them to manage their own affairs. Rwanda has achieved this, not through political parties and mass media but largely through local councils.

The results show. In the 2010 Gallup Poll, 95 percent of Rwandans said they had confidence in their government; 86 percent said their electoral process is fair and honest; 98 percent have confidence in their military; 84 percent in their judiciary as being independent; 77 percent were satisfied with their freedom of expression, belief, association, and personal autonomy. In all these, Rwanda ranks among the top ten democracies in the world alongside Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria, New Zeeland and Australia. This cannot be on account of repression for the same distortion would have placed Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Zimbabwe and Burma in the top league.

Yet human rights groups and sections of the media call Rwanda a police state. Is repression an objective standard or a subjective feeling? How come human rights groups claim Rwandans are enslaved when Rwandans feel free? It is because freedom has been stripped of context. The result is that Africa has spent decades obsessing about procedures of democracy instead of its substance. By trying to look at democracy indicators based on western societies – mass media, political parties etc – we have ignored the fact that most Africans (80 percent) are not represented in these platforms.

We have a clear incongruence between abstract notions (the index of Freedom House) and the feelings of ordinary Rwandans. Karl Marx encountered this dilemma 160 years ago. In his Labour Theory of Value, he argued that capitalists exploit workers by making them work more hours (Surplus Labour Time) than was needed to produce their own wages (Necessary Labour Time). When workers did not feel exploited, Marx propounded a new theory of “false consciousness”; that they are unaware of their “actual” situation. He then called for a vanguard party to unmask the “social myths” and “religious doctrines” that prevent people from seeing things as they are.

This tendency to think people are ignorant ignores the real possibility that they may have a different basis of judging their reality based on their experience. Most of us who travel by air and have to go through rigorous security checks do not accuse our airports of being Stalinist. We know the context that has demanded we be checked up to our underwear. Human rights groups and sections of the media should not usurp the sovereignty of the people of Rwanda and claim to speak on their behalf. Let Rwandans speak for themselves – which they are already doing through regular elections and opinion polls by some of the world’s most respected polling agencies.

amwenda@independent.co.ug
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A GLIMPSE AT THE NEXT FIVE YEARS.

THURSDAY, 03 MARCH 2011 06:35 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Will Museveni use his 2011 national victory to retire gracefully like Mandela and Nyerere or entrench himself in power like Fidel Castro and Gaddafi?



Now that President Yoweri Museveni has won re-election with an increased mandate, what should he do? This election has been important for Museveni because he won in all regions of the country, most especially in the north that had previously rejected him. This national victory has allowed him to emerge as a national figure, not merely as a warlord or president of the south against the north.

If Museveni were to use this new national profile profitably, it is time for him to cut the image of an elder statesman – a Nelson Mandela or Julius Nyerere and organise a peaceful transition of power to a successor that he trusts – someone like Amama Mbabazi. Such act will win him not only iconic status nationally and internationally, but it will also remove the rug from under the feet of his critics who accuse him of seeking a presidency for life followed by a family succession.

But will Museveni rise up to this challenge? This can only be possible if he seeks historic greatness beyond merely being president. Yet Museveni’s search for greatness is intimately linked to his stay in power; he is a Fidel Castrol, a Muammar Gaddafi or a Robert Mugabe but not a Mandela or a Nyerere. Therefore, he is likely to look at his victory NOT as an opportunity to retire gracefully but rather a reason to stay on believing that “the country still needs me”.

Beyond this grand and historic posture, Museveni needs to fix a number of things over the next five years. Across the country, the president was accosted by complaints from his supporters about the poor state of public goods and services like water, education, health, roads, schools, hospitals and electricity. He was able to deflect blame from himself to local officials. But he knows these problems to be systemic (system-wide) and cannot therefore be caused merely by local officials.

Over the last ten years, government of Uganda has increased the allocations of the budgets to key service ministries like education, health, infrastructure and agricultural extension services. In all of them, the budgets have increased by more than 400 percent. Yet there has not been a corresponding improvement in the results from this expenditure. The challenge Museveni faces is therefore not one of prioritisation but of value for money i.e. to increase implementation efficiency and effectiveness in the public sector.

There are many ghost health centres and schools as there are myriads of ghost medical staff, teachers and pupils. Many existing hospitals have few medical workers, essential drugs often run out and critical equipment is either missing or outdated. A similar experience bedevils education as there are limited textbooks and teacher absenteeism is high. During the campaigns, Museveni listened to complaints across the country about how most voters had never seen agricultural extension services.

Technically, the answer is that Museveni should try to improve the institutional ability of the state to deliver on its promises and to get value for money. He would have to ensure that public institutions enjoy a degree of autonomy from private pressures of ethno-regional and religious elites who seek to wrestle resources from their public purposes to serve personal interests. To do this would be in direct contradiction to the very mechanisms that Museveni has employed to consolidate his power.

Many public spirited Ugandans do not appreciate how Museveni’s strength lies in the destruction his political strategies have wrought on our nation’s political institutions. Museveni understands the psychology, pretensions and ambitions of our middle and upper classes for power, status, influence and material aggrandisement. He has thus fathomed a political system where these needs of the political class have actually been addressed through the diversion of public resources to private pockets.

What was significant in this election, however, is that Museveni has introduced the lower middle class to the culture of personal allocation of public resources – and with impressive results. During the campaigns, he fostered the creation of associations for semi employed urban youth-groups from informal sector activities like hair dressers, barbers, salon owners, boda boda riders, traditional healers, singers, vendors, hawkers, taxi drivers and touts, etc. The associations were akin to cooperatives.

These groups would be driven to State House, have dinner with Museveni and present their concerns directly to him. He would then promise them money – often in billions – saying he will put it in the coming budget. But Museveni knows most Ugandans don’t trust his promises anyway. So he would give the visiting group cash of about Shs 400,000 per person as “transport refund” even though State House would have transported them to the meeting. Then, he would also allocate another Shs 400m to their association to “open a bank account”. In all cases, it was delivered the next day. And all this was done before election-day.

These political strategies by Museveni – of selective and personal allocation of state funds to individuals and groups in order to literary buy their support – have powerful implications on our governance. Most critically, they cripple the ability of state to deliver public goods and services to anonymous citizens generally and impersonally. In fact, they tend to destroy public services. Yet they have equally powerful political dividends, at least in the short term as they increase his votes.

What is frustrating about the opposition in Uganda is their apparent inability to appreciate this fact. Rather than treat it as a strategic threat to their political strength, they throw their hands up and criticise its moral significance. Yet this is not a morality contest. To continue hacking at Museveni’s corruption and incompetence as the issues that mark his political vulnerability is naive. It is futile because his political survival is actually based on destroying these very public services.

The recent ride on the treasury to buy political support has strengthened the president’s belief in money as a vehicle to political success. This marks a major shift in his political strategies – for Museveni had all along believed that it is violence and intimidation that had the upper hand. Over the next five years, with oil resources looming, we are going to see money flow. Museveni will out-Mobutu Mobutu himself.

amwenda@independent.co.ug