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

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Let the free market work.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 ?


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.


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.


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.