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, 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

MADONNA,BONO,CLOONEY CANNOT SAVE AFRICA ONLY AFRICANS CAN !

SATURDAY, 26 MARCH 2011 09:23 BY ANDREW M.MWENDA

We need to take responsibility for ourselves, to empower our people. External assistance is okay. But we need to begin with our own solutions.

And so it was that on my flight from Amsterdam to Dubai I stumbled upon a documentary on poverty in Malawi by singer Madonna. Like most Western movies, documentaries and news about our continent, this too was a story of Africa’s persistent failure and the efforts of the West to save us from the vagaries of nature and the “rapacity” of our rulers.

The script had the usual suspects; children with mucus filled noses and jigger infested feet, orphans without food or shelter, the poor living in grass thatched huts, a miserable-looking mother with a malnourished child tied to her back as she stretched her emaciated hands to receive charity from a white aid worker. Against the backdrop of these images are interviews with those trying to save the people of Malawi – Bill Clinton, Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Farmer, Erick Borgstein and Victoria Keelan.

There are a few Malawians brought in to tell the story of course; a member of parliament, a church leader, the deputy minister of local government, a civil society activist, the minister of foreign affairs and a Malawian PhD holder. As expected, the people of Malawi are presented as passive victims of nature and bad government; with their story to tame and harness nature for their survival, and their political struggles to change their reality, conspicuously absent. Their emancipation from misery, Sachs and Farmer tell us, is the responsibility of the rich people of the Western world.

“The West has a duty,” Sachs says with confidence and certainty, “to help these people have a future.” Clinton agrees entirely. In short, the people of Malawi are not supposed to be active participants in their own emancipation. They are supposed to be passive recipients of international charity.

As I watched the Madonna documentary, I remembered that some months back I had watched actor George Clooney and activist John Prendergast on Larry King Live talking about Darfur. The story of Darfur was not being told by those who suffer the costs of the crisis. It was Clooney and Prendergast who were speaking for and on behalf of the suffering people of that region. This suffering has now become an opportunity for celebrities living in opulence to show off their humanity.

Clooney was hopelessly out of depth on the problems of Darfur – coming across as someone who had been hastily mobilised to support a cause he did not know much about. Yet Larry King was more interested in interviewing him. Prendergast seemed better informed, yet King was disinterested in what he had to say.

But both Clooney and Prendergast shared one narrative; that the salvation of the people of Darfur will not come from their own struggles. It would come from the charitable actions of an abstract entity called the “international community” through its obligation “to protect”; oh, and of course the great and most benevolent of all – the altruistic and exceptional people of America without whose kindness the world would not exist, at least not as we know it today.

In spite of knowing the facts, Prendergast was superficial; he seemed ignorant of the structural and historical processes that are shaping politics and conflict in that region. He did not seem to understand the complexity of the problem. Yet he still would have shed more light on it had Larry King cared more about the people of Darfur than about giving Clooney airtime to exhibit his humanity.

Many Western interventions to save Africa are rarely about the supposed victims. Instead, they are platforms for Western people to exhibit their altruism. Evolutionary psychology tells us that women tend to fall in love with men who exhibit kindness and generosity, attributes that gave our ancestors decisive advantage in the dating market and therefore made them successful reproductively.

The Larry King show featuring Clooney and Prendergast was not intended to highlight the suffering of the people of Darfur; their daily struggles to overcome adversity, their aspirations and their hopes. It sought to promote the narrative of America as saviour of the world.

So this brings me back to Madonna and her struggle to save Malawi. That central African country is a democracy – at least as Washington, Paris and London would prefer – with a free press, an elected parliament and elites alternating in power from ruling to opposition party etc. Yet as the story unfolds, the deputy minister for local government complains that children of her constituents regularly come begging her for fees. “I try to help,” she says, “But I cannot help everyone.” And what is the cost of fees? It is only $ 12 per term.

The minister of foreign affairs, Joyce Banda, also features in the documentary explaining the lack of vision, poor leadership at the local level (as if the central government is better) and the increasing spread of superstition in the country. She seems unable to see that people are increasingly turning to traditional healers (whom she calls “witch doctors”, a colonial categorisation) because public hospitals are malfunctioning.

So, the failure of Malawi’s democracy to serve ordinary people was obvious. Why should a minister pay fees for her constituents from her personal income? Why isn’t Malawi’s democratic process fostering an impersonal application of public policy? Clearly the people of Malawi are not rights-bearing citizens. They are clients of these powerful politicians. That is why they do not demand rights from the state but beg for favours from their MPs.

As I write this article, there are more Malawian doctors trained at government expense living and working in Britain than there are in Malawi itself. Malawian professionals have voted with their feet and left. Yet the world may remain happy with Malawi because it meets the conventional models of a democracy. Africa needs to begin a conversation about how its people are integrated into the emerging democratic structures.

Throughout the documentary, Malawi and through it Africa is stripped of self initiative. The story of persistent failure and misery makes you think that there is nothing positive that happens in that country – except of course Madonna’s apparent wonderment that in spite of their poverty, Malawians are still happy: The children play, the youths smile and cheer, the elderly laugh and hug each other in mutual affection.

What is missing is the story of innovation in Malawi; the business people who are creating new ways to make money and therefore employing hundreds of thousands; the farmers who are improving their wellbeing through adoption of modern farming technologies; young professionals like those in Kenya who created mobile money that is changing life on our continent without foreign aid; and small traders and craftsmen and women who are creating many things out of nothing.

Even in rural Malawi, it is not only a story of misery; there is innovation: That is the story of the great William Kakamba whom I met at the TED Conference in Arusha in June 2007. Coming from a poor home, with his parents living in a grass thatched house, Kakamba read in a local library about how to generate electricity using windmills. He went home and created one using rudimentary tools and there it was – electricity.

Kakamba is not alone; similar stories abound across this continent. There is the story of Victor Mugai, a young Kenyan I taught at Yale University. His father and mother died when he was seven, his sisters married in their early teens and he had to raise himself and his young brother. At eight, he built his own clock; at 10, he built a television set and at 14, he built a rocket – all out of his grass thatched hut in rural Kenya. Yet he had the audacity to dream of studying in America. Without the help or knowledge of his government, he struggled and was helped to get a scholarship to Yale where he is studying nuclear physics.

But it is also the story of Fred Balagadde; best student in O levels in Uganda in 1998: He struggled, went to the US, paid his own fees and finally did his PhD in bio technology at California Institute of Technology and Stanford University. He invented a micro chemostat, a first-of-its-kind microfabricated fluidic chip that mimics a biological cell culture environment in a highly complex web of tiny pumps and human hair-sized water hoses, all controlled by a multitasking computer. This pioneering research, that has left many in the Silicon Valley scratching their heads, can diagnose 98 percent of all diseases without help of a doctor.

There are a million and one Africans doing these things – in villages, in towns, on the continent and abroad. But this story of innovation is often disarticulated from political life in Africa because we have a perverted democracy where the political process seeks to enhance the privileges of a few at the expense of the many.

There are many people from the West who genuinely believe Africans can be helped to help themselves. Often, this section of Western interest in Africa finds talented people like Mugai, Kakamba and Balagadde and helps them to achieve their dreams clearly recognising that these are the continent’s change agents. But such help is the exception, not the rule. For most Westerners, the attraction is in helping where the television cameras are watching and hence gain worldwide publicity.

I admit that our governments have been abysmal in promoting our innovative youths. One of the few countries in Africa hungrily looking for its best brains to serve it is Rwanda; for if Kakamba, Mugai and Balagadde were Rwandan, they would be the focus of government policy and action. And it is not a surprise that human rights groups hate Rwanda calling it a police state; and a section of Africa’s ill informed intellectual class agrees. Good enough Rwandans tell their story differently in opinion polls by such institutions as Gallup Poll – 95% say they have confidence in their public institutions, making the country 4th in the entire world.

Yet Madonna’s documentary was not without good insights. The PhD Mathew Chikoanda says “the problem we have, not just in Malawi but across Africa is this victim mentality – the tendency to shift blame for our problems from ourselves to other people.” I agreed entirely. However, I would add that while our problems are largely domestically generated and the demands to solve them are locally articulated, the framework of discussing the solution is always a textbook theory developed out of the experience of other countries. Part of Africa’s predicament is born of this persistent mismatch between demands and solutions.

Chikoanda went on quoting a Malawi proverb that “No one can share your head in your absence.” So we need to take responsibility for ourselves. We need to empower our people. External assistance is okay. But we need to begin with our own solutions. Chikoanda was touching on something I feel passionately about. And it is in Rwanda that I have seen this begin to happen. And this could be largely because in their moment of national catastrophe, the people of Rwanda saw the international community cut and run. They learnt self reliance the hard way.

Towards the end, Clinton comes back with a comment – “Africans are ready to tackle their own problems,” he says, “but they are looking for someone to help them, to empower them.” Possibly, but why can’t we empower ourselves and only let others help us on our own terms? Besides, who are these helpers? What are their interests and motivations? Well, Africa has been involved in years of parroting the view of others about who we are, what we are and what we need. It is time for us to compose our own song and sing it. Madonna and all the kind people of this world cannot save Africa. Only Africans can save themselves.

amwenda@independent.co,u

WHY MUSEVENI WON AND BESIGYE LOST AND WHAT CAN BE DONE FOR THE FUTURE.

THURSDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2011 07:15 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

"Where Besigye projected himself as a national statesman, Museveni positioned himself as a local politician. Where Besigye articulated a grand, national vision, Museveni focused on mundane local issues. Besigye came across as idealistic with a high sense of morality; Museveni was realistic, pragmatic and practical if not opportunistic."

The 2011 presidential elections is the most intriguing in the history of Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni has won with a resounding 68 percent. Given that the president’s margin has been declining in every election since 1996, this new jump in his popularity from 59 percent to in 2006 calls for creative reflection. This has been the most peaceful presidential election ever; yet, Museveni beat his main rival Dr. Kizza Besigye even in northern Uganda where the opposition has always enjoyed unflinching support.

For many public spirited Ugandans, this truths is difficult to fathom. How can a regime that has presided over gross corruption, nepotism and incompetence; a regime that has destroyed the public spirit in our public services; a regime where healthcare for all has been turned into a private fortune for a few; a regime that has destroyed our hospitals, schools and roads and created ghosts in their stead… how can such a regime increase its popularity in spite of (I will argue in this article “also because of”) all these dysfunctions?

Given the above failures, we should have expected government to employ more violence, intimidation and outright vote rigging than in the past. Instead these ills have been less used. But money has played an important role: Museveni spent more than US$ 350m on this campaign using largely the public purse (through official government programmes conveniently deployed during the campaigns) but supplemented by private contributions. This figure is almost half the money Barack Obama spent to win elections in the US in 2008, in a country with a GDP of $14 trillion. Given that Uganda’s GDP is $15 billion i.e. 0.1 percent of US GDP, this is an unprecedented record.

Yet while money has been a big factor in this election it cannot be sufficient to explain the president’s margin of victory. How do we explain the turnaround of people in northern Uganda who have endorsed Museveni after years of rejection? How do we explain the fact that those most affected by the failures of Museveni’s government, the rural masses, are the ones who voted him most; and those who have somewhat benefited, the urban educated lower and middle-middle class, are the ones who voted against him?

Following Museveni and Besigye’s campaigns gives a slice of the answer to this disturbing paradox. While Besigye campaigned largely on a national platform, Museveni campaign largely (if not entirely) on a platform that was basically local. Where Besigye projected himself as a national statesman, Museveni positioned himself as a local politician. Where Besigye articulated a grand, national vision, Museveni focused on mundane local issues. Besigye came across as idealistic with a high sense of morality; Museveni was realistic, pragmatic and practical if not opportunistic.

Besigye came across as sincere; Museveni as skillful, if not deceitful, in his campaigns. The irony of the campaign was that both Besigye and Museveni campaigned on a similar platform i.e. of highlighting failure of state programs due to corruption. Museveni did not deny corruption in his government neither did he deny the disastrous failure of government to deliver public goods and services. Rather, his strategy was to deflect blame for government failures from himself to local state functionaries.

Besigye riled the government for failure to provide decent healthcare to citizens and good education facilities to the children of the disadvantaged. These are high moral ideals. But paid only lip service to the peculiar local problems that were of interest only to that community where he was campaigning. His message was similar to 2001 and 2006 – so he sounded like a broken record, repeating what voters have heard for far too long. While it could appeal to the converted, it could not resonate with the undecided.

For Museveni, wherever and whenever his audience seemed hostile to a list of his achievements, he would change his strategies and articulate their grievances. He positioned himself as a victim of the rapacity of local administrations. He claimed and rightly so that “he” had sent the money to local districts but was betrayed, just like ordinary voters, by corrupt local officials. The ordinary people agreed; for in all our subsequent interviews, they told us that the president is a “good man” who sends them money; that it is the local officials who are bad because they steal it.

The lesson is that politics is not always about grand issues of a national character – like the Traditional Leaders Bill, removal of term limits, etc. Often, it is about mundane issues which are of interest only to a specific segment of the society. Besigye failed to build his base because his message could at best preach to the already converted. Museveni was able to grow his because he addressed the very peculiar local problems and positioned himself as one with the people in their suffering even though – and this is the big paradox – he is largely responsible for it.

More critically was NRM’s politics for the last 15 years. The NRM has built an electoral coalition by co-opting powerful ethnic elites and buttressing this by a selective allocation of public programmes to constituencies where it commands a following. This has made it expensive for other regions to withhold their political support; for doing so means exclusion from the distribution of material benefits. For example, when a road runs through the village that supports the president but stops right at the border of the one that does not, it does not take long for the residents in the opposing village to learn the costs of opposition and the rewards of loyalty.

The NRM has perfected this game especially in northern Uganda which had been excluded from the benefits of a growing economy. Realising that opposition turns into exclusion, the people and elites in that region began to sing NRM’s song. This has led to the evolution of a pattern of politics where every region is trying to root for Museveni; a factor that is freeing him from the restraints normally associated with political accountability. However, the benefits gained at the local level (in form of a new district or a local notable being appointed to cabinet) increasingly outweigh the losses that these deals induce at the national level – like the utter collapse of public goods and services.

The net effect of this organisation of politics – with its rewards and punishments – is to perpetuate in power a government whose policies and strategies of political survival undermine the ability of public institutions to serve the public good; and increase the tendency of public officials to divert government resources to their own pockets. Thus, competition among various groups for power may appear as a sign of vibrant civic life. But it actually reflects a political pathology because it enables Museveni and the NRM to win elections not by delivering public welfare but by distributing private benefits.

All these strategies have not actually built a large support-base for NRM as they have discouraged many Ugandans from the political process. The consequence of Museveni’s patronage, corruption and nepotism has been to create a myth of invincibility around him; a kind of inevitability about his candidature. As a result, many people who are hostile to Museveni have either become apathetic and given up trying to remove him or have actually and ironically thrown in their lot with him – calculating that since he cannot be defeated it’s worthless voting against him.

Almost six million voters, more than the total votes Museveni got did not show up to vote. To inspire these apathetic voters (voter turnout was only 58 percent compared to 70 percent in 2001 and 2006) will require a new message. But Besigye was stuck with the same message as in 2001 and 2006 which is a good critic of Museveni’s failures to which he added a new message of what he intended to do if elected. He was unable to show voters what they can do to change their own environment. His message therefore could not mobilise the apathetic to have enthusiasm to vote.

Thus the opposition in Uganda today is facing a similar dilemma as did the Labour Party in Britain during the 1980s and the first half of the 90s, albeit with different set of factors. Because when she came to power as British Prime Minister in 1979, Margaret Thatcher proceeded to destroy the social fabric of UK society – at least in the image of her left wing critics. She began by systematically dismantling many social welfare programmes and entitlements that a section of the British society cherished.

For example, she abolished free milk for children in schools and was nicknamed by her left wing critics as the milk snatcher who was literally taking milk from babies’ mouth. She froze unemployment benefits so that their real value fell over time due to inflation. She also declared government could no longer commit to full employment and that the private sector should be responsible for creating jobs. She privatised utilities including gas, electricity, telecoms, British Airways and rail services. She also sold off a huge amount of government owed houses to sitting tenants.

On trade unions she passed a wave of reforms reducing their power and made them liable for damages incurred during ‘illegal’ strikes. With healthcare she encouraged the use of private providers and outsourced many of the functions of the National Health Service in a drive for what she called efficiency savings. To many of her left wing critics, handing over their treasured assets to the private sector was tantamount to corruption. For years, they fought back by defending these old programmes.

For many years the Labour Party was unable come to terms with the fact that however passionately they felt about these entitlement programs, the British public did not feel so; it was their core base that cared. Consequently, the Conservative Party kept winning. It took them 15 years in the political wilderness before Labor could elect Tony Blair, abandon its class warfare politics, rethink its message and reposition itself from the left to the center to get another chance at coming into government. A similar repositioning took place in America through Bill Clinton after the reforms of Ronald Reagan caused a major realignment in American politics.

The lesson of Museveni’s 2011 victory is similar. There has been a major change in public perceptions about politics. The old message of attacking Museveni for the corruption, nepotism and incompetence of his government is stale. It still finds passionate support amongst his most ardent critics; but its effect is to appeal to the base without growing it. It seems that many Ugandans have moved on; for Museveni’s greatest triumph has been to make these failures banal, routine and normal. Few are shocked by them anymore.

For example, during the mid 1990s up to the mid 2000s, big exposes of corruption scandals sold newspapers across the country. Not anymore. Newspaper editors have learnt to keep corruption off the front page; only fronting it when it is tied to internal power struggles inside the NRM as it was in the Temangalo land saga. Telling Ugandans about 100 ghost hospitals or that civil servant X has stolen a huge chunk of money is like reporting that the Pope is Catholic – many would say “what do you expect from a pig but a grunt?”

By sinking to the very bottom of moral depravity, Museveni has inadvertently made Ugandans abandon the high idealism they had in politics. He has tolerated the worst forms of corruption, so graft is now normal. He paid MPs to remove term limits thereby exposing the major shortcoming of our political class. Now bribing parliament has also become normal. There is little more Museveni can do that will shock voters. Because he has reduced the standard of political morality to its lowest, he has caused a fundamental shift in the political landscape of this country.

The net result of this process has been double: On the one hand it has made many formerly public spirited individuals abandon their idealism and join him and his apparatchik in official loot – witness how many former DP, UPC and FDC officials have crossed over to the NRM; while on the other, it has made others so cynical of politics that they have lost faith in it as a vehicle for improving the lot of the people. The latter group has opted out of voting, a factor that explains why Museveni is able to be reelected president with only 38 percent of the total registered voters.

The opposition and other critics can no longer profit from the old attacks on Museveni – they are banal. It has to adjust and make a different argument lest it sounds like a broken record – and that was Besigye’s problem in this election. There is need for a new political realignment in this country, a new repositioning and a new vision. The old attacks on Museveni for corruption and nepotism worked well in 2001 and 2006; and they still work well in appealing to the already converted. But they resonate less the undecided in 2011 and are unlikely to work in 2016.

Appealing to the base that is already passionate in its opposition to Museveni is not enough; attracting the most disinterested voters makes all the difference. If 80 percent of Ugandans had voted, it would have meant another 2.7m votes, most of which I suspect would have voted for the opposition thus giving it 5.2m against Museveni’s 5.4m. If you add the 330,000 spoilt votes, Museveni would not have won in the first round – and he cannot survive a second round. It is not that these people are intimidated; they are apathetic. The challenge for the opposition is to make them enthusiastic to vote.

But the opposition that is largely pro Besigye is hostile to any realistic message; it is stuck in desiring to listen to its own echoes. It only understands the language of 2001 and 2006 that attacks Museveni’s venality but which is losing resonance with many new voters. This section of the opposition has thus disarticulated itself from the new mainstream of supporters in favour of its base. It is in the same trap at the British Labour Party in the 1980s.

And the message will not be about fighting corruption by jailing the thieves, but about removing the state from provision of public services and restricting its role only to financing them. If Besigye is Uganda’s Neil Kinnock or Michael Dukakis, then our country needs a Tony Blair or Bill Clinton; a leader who will move to the centre by pick fights with his extremist supporters on the left in order to win the more independent minded voters. Who will stand up to this new challenge?

amwenda@independent.co.ug

UGANDA'S MAJOUR CHALLENGE IN 2011.

THURSDAY, 17 FEBRUARY 2011 05:25 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

What Uganda needs to change is not just a political party; it needs a social movement whose organisation starts from the village.

This has been the most peaceful campaign in Uganda ever but equally the most expensive in our history. President Yoweri Museveni requisitioned for Shs600 billion in supplementary spending this financial year. Because Museveni is no longer able to win over people through an appeal to higher moral ideals, he has retreated to appealing to their basic material instincts. This seems a smart albeit dubious move for a president whose government has presided over the utter collapse of the public spirit in public service.

I spent most of last week driving across central and western Uganda talking to extraordinary and ordinary people. Most of the local NRM election machinery is supportive of the party because of the power and status it gives them rather than because of any ideological conviction.

Across all these districts, the complaints were the same – poor delivery of health, water and education services; poor infrastructure especially roads; bribery and extortion by local officials; increasing prices of basic goods like fuel, sugar, soap, salt and bread and mass unemployment especially among the youth. In many ways, it was clear that Museveni has united Uganda through the failures of his administration.

Museveni’s response to the above failures has not been to deny them but rather to deflect attention from himself to local officials. At his rally in Lwengo District, he was able to skillfully position himself as a victim of local corruption in equal measure with the local people. He convinced them that “he” had sent money to them for agricultural extension services, for free education for their children and for drugs into their hospitals but it had been misappropriated by local officials.

The major weakness of the main opposition to Museveni led by Dr Kizza Besigye has been to ignore the normative values ordinary people hold about leaders and their notions of accountability. FDC carries an extremely high sense of moral self righteousness; they believe that because their cause is morally strong, that because they stand in defence of the interests of ordinary people who are victims of NRM’s rapacity, that is enough to give them popular support and ultimate victory.

Museveni understands his failures all too well. He knows he has lost moral credibility. He can no longer appeal to people’s aspirations. He can no longer inspire hope among them. He has thus adopted a politics that appeals to their basest instincts – money. He adds to this a substantial amount of scare mongering (that change will mean war) and doses of intimidation to keep rural masses on his side.

In every village, the Museveni financial juggernaut is at full throttle; everyone is getting a piece of his financial pie. Every village is being given Shs 1m, every LC1 chairperson Shs100,000, every MP got Shs20m, every former soldier gets Shs200,000; and on and on. The FDC/IPC make a big mistake about this national fiscal suicide: they despise Museveni for corruption and ignore its tactical importance in shaping voter behaviour.

I visited Kanungu District, the home of NRM Secretary General, Amama Mbabazi. In that sorry district, most people are poor and the roads are the worst I have seen. Kambuga Hospital, built by the Milton Obote government in 1968 to international standards is now a pale shadow of its previous glory – dirty, smelly, and murky; it has limited drugs, two doctors, few nurses, broken beds, rotten mattress. It is the most expensive physical structure I saw in the district and was built 43 years ago. The other big and expensive building I saw in Kanungu is the private home of Amama Mbabazi, a sprawling mansion built on five acres of land; evidence of the shift of state action from providing for the masses to servicing the privileges of a few.

I held a debate with a group of local NRM functionaries about this sad turn of events. I told them that the benefits of a good road, hospital and school go to the community as a whole; those of a private mansion go to its owner. It is therefore they that endure the costs of poor public goods and services. It is they who get hit by the potholes, who swallow the dust on the roads, whose children are failing in mismanaged UPE and USE schools and whose family members die in the bad hospitals.

These NRM functionaries told me that Mbabazi also suffers the costs of bad roads since he comes to the place. When I asked them how often, they said anything between once to twice in two to three months. Those are less than ten times in a year. Mbabazi can afford the cost of bad roads because he visits Kanungu once in a while driving in an air conditioned Land Cruiser; yet for those few visits he is able to bargain for a position of power and influence in Kampala that makes him wealthy.

Mbabazi’s children do not study in Kanungu’s or Uganda’s poor public schools; neither do they go to its hospitals. He takes them to schools and hospitals in Europe, Asia and North America. And when they visit Kanungu, which they possibly do once in a year, if at all, they come in comfortable four-wheel-drive vehicles almost as tourists.

I told them that this argument has little to do with NRM or FDC. It is a national emergency. They do not need to abandon NRM. But they must begin a debate within the party on these issues and challenge their national leaders on it. Tell NRM bigwigs that people are losing hope in you as local leaders because of these failures. It did not take them long to turn around and agree with me.

It is now clear to me that what Uganda needs to change is not just a political party fighting for power in Kampala. Our country needs a social movement whose organisation begins from the village. This movement has to avoid the false dichotomy of NRM versus FDC or UPC. It has to embrace Ugandans of all creed against the ills that bedevil our public sector. We need to reconstruct our politics from private greed to public service. That is our challenge.

amwenda@independent.co.ug