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



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Graft: thinking out of the box

Many states in this world have corrupt officials. In Uganda, the corrupt have a state
 
Over the last year Uganda has latched from one major corruption scandal to another. The paradox of our nation’s corruption is that although it goes on with impunity, it does not go on with impunity. Although the corrupt plunder public resources at will, the public and the state seem to be permanently engaged in ferocious combat against them. 

How to save Congo from the UN

The best way to save DRC is to let it burn. From the ashes of catastrophe lies the chance for a solution
 
Last week, M23 rebels matched into the eastern Congolese town of Goma with very little resistance. The Congolese army simply dropped their weapons and ran. International television footage showed them leaving the town in haste, driving Armored Personnel Carriers and tanks at full speed. Meanwhile the rebels, armed largely with light infantry weapons, marched on foot and some on civilian trucks into the town. How can a mechanised army give up a strategic town to a light infantry force so easily?

Best way to fight corruption

Focus on the civil service where graft is most lethal rather than in politics where it is most politically attractive
 
Over the last three weeks, government of Uganda has done what was previously unthinkable. First, police rearrested the ringleaders in the scam in the ministry of Public Service that saw our country lose close to Shs 500 billion paid to ghost pensioners. Second, it subjected them to rigorous interrogations, which led to the recovery of 256 titles of properties they had accumulated. These properties have an expected value of over Shs 800 billion. Third, it froze their bank accounts and placed caveats on their assets. Fourth, police is initiating the process of recovering the money by confiscating the properties and handing them to government for auction.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Africa and Obama’s second term

How the newly re-elected US president is not the solution but the problem for Africa
 
Last week, Barak Obama was re-elected president of the United States. Since his first election in 2008, many African elites were happy that at least “one of us” has won the presidency of the world’s only, albeit declining, superpower. Behind this “one of us” label lies hope that Obama, being “black”, would do more to “help” Africa fix its problems like dictatorship, poverty, corruption and bad government. And it seems from his rhetoric during his first election campaigns that he would try to “fix” Africa. Nothing is scarier about Obama than this ambition.

Who will fight corruption?

With billions in stolen funds, the thieves are in a position to compromise investigations, prosecution and judgment
 
Over the last few months, it has been exposed that officials in the office of the prime minister and in the ministry of public service stole over Shs 600 billion (US$ 250m). Our country has bad roads, 26 mothers die in child birth per day, 80,000 kids die every year from preventable diseases (in ten years you have a number equal to the Rwanda genocide of 1994), children study under mango trees for lack of classrooms, limited agricultural extension services and supply of electricity is only to eight percent of our people. Therefore Uganda needs every coin of public funds to serve its citizens. However, this collective vision has been lost. Instead, we see a pattern of actions where the interests of the many have been usurped by the greed of a few.

Dealing with the Congo question

How President Kabila can pick a leaf from his neighbours and his own past to craft a solution for his country
 
Over the last so many months, the international community has been grappling with the crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Human rights groups and the United Nations “Panel of Experts” have presented the problem as one of a Tutsi-led rebel group, M23, wreaking havoc in that country. The mass media sings this chorus. The UN “experts” claim that M23 are a proxy of the government of Rwanda. In a second leaked report, the UN panel has added Uganda among the sponsors of M23.

Obama or Romney, America has no choice

The presidential election in America, although run by two political parties, actually offers little choice for the ordinary voter
 
As the American election gets near, the partisans on either side have assembled to criticise one another and show that there are actually serious policy differences between the Democrats and Republics and between President Barak Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney. Yet increasingly, the United States has degenerated into a one party state divided into two factions: one calling itself Democratic and the other, Republican. The two parties keep recycling the same people who have promoted policies that have left the US as the world’s most indebted nation. The genius of this system is to make most Americans believe if offers alternatives.

Obote’s legacy murdered at his memorial

Speakers at the Memorial Lecture at Sheraton spent too much time attacking government than on highlighting his legacy
 
On Oct. 10, I attended the Fourth Milton Obote Memorial Lecture at Sheraton Hotel’s Rwenzori Ballroom. There, I witnessed in silent wonderment the murder of the record of our founding prime minister, Apollo Milton Obote, by the very people who claimed to have inherited his legacy. In many ways, the present Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) and Milton Obote Foundation (MOF) offer little evidence of the organisational and administrative genius of the man who created both. And they reflect little of his ideas, values and aspirations. If Obote’s life’s achievements included building a well organised and articulate political party and an enduring Foundation in his name, then his death perhaps proves the fragility of his achievements.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Where MPs can do some good

The biggest problem with our budget is the growth of political patronage in form of districts, parliament, cabinet, presidential advisors etc
 
In 2006, I joined the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) to do research on the budget for Public Administration and Public Sector Management (PA/PSM). In 2002 this included state house, the office of the president, vice president, prime minister and parliament, the ministries of finance, local government, foreign affairs, public service, and cabinet secretariat; the Public Service Commission, Human Rights Commission, Electoral Commission and Local Government Finance Commission; then missions abroad, the Uganda Revenue Authority, Mass Mobilization and unconditional grants to districts and urban authorities.

Museveni’s frying pan and parliament’s fire

Why putting more money into the health sector is like putting more meat in a butchery controlled by hyenas

The recent “stand-off” between parliament and President Yoweri Museveni on whether to allocate Shs 39 billion to health or defense is one of the many false debates about the budget process in Uganda. An uninformed observer may easily think that there is a serious policy difference between the legislature and the executive. For those who have followed the budget making process in Uganda over the last 15 years, parliament is posturing, not trying to correct executive excesses.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The story of Rwanda Dignity Fund

Donors who cut aid to Kigali inadvertently made it discover a new aspect of its potential – citizen solidarity
 
When the governments of United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Germany cut aid to Rwanda three months ago, I was among those who did not shed a tear. I have always argued that aid is a dysfunctional tool of development policy. In many instances, it forces recipient governments to adopt institutions, policies, and practices that donors fancy rather than what citizens need. All too often, they are good for the donor country (because they evolved organically out of its experience) but are often inappropriate for the recipient nation given its unique history and social structure.

The corruption of anti-corruption bodies

How commission agents have used the media and turned the procurement process in Uganda into a circus
 
It is now highly probable that the US$ 2 billion tendering process for the 600MW hydro electricity dam at Karuma will be declared a `mis-procurement’. If this happens, I can bet that it will take the next seven years of wrangling before another contractor is named to build Karuma.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

FDC and Museveni’s myth of invincibility

How false accusations have undermined the opposition and why Muntu is the best leader to resolve this dilemma
As the opposition Forum for Democratic Change searches for a successor to Dr. Kizza Besigye,  its biggest challenge might be how to overcome a couple of myths about the man its choice has to beat; President Yoweri Museveni.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Uganda’s state building in Somalia

Why UPDF’s superior ideology has succeeded where America’s superior force failed
 
Over the last four years, I have had numerous debates with my friend Mohamed Ahmed Yahya aka Mo, a Briton of Somali descent about UPDF involvement in his motherland. My view is that state consolidation is primarily an endogenous process. External agents can help; but that assistance can only be successful if its role is secondary, aimed at improving the capacity of already existing strong and committed local actors.

Dr Suruma and the IGG have opened a Pandora's Box

This morning, September 7th, 2012, newspapers reported that the PPDA has cancelled the tender to construct a 700MW electricity dam at Karuma. For a country that has been experiencing electricity shortages for the last 25 years, this is a major setback. However, the story of cancelling the Karuma tender is not isolated. The article below was published in my column in Sunday Monitor, Without Mincing Words, on February 6th 2006.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Rwanda’s Congo PR failure

By responding to allegations about its involvement in DRC, Rwanda has allowed its detractors to define the debate
 
Over the last two months, there has been a barrage of attacks against Rwanda accusing it of involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo by supporting rebels hostile to the regime in Kinshasa. The nature of these accusations is shocking but not surprising. However, what has been frustrating is the response of Kigali. They have allowed themselves to be drawn into the wrong debate i.e. on whether they are aiding rebels fighting Kinshasa. In the process, Rwanda has handed its critics a public relations coup.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Museveni’s mission to Somalia

Why the Western powers may keep financing Museveni even when some think he has passed his sale-by date
 
My recent visit to Mogadishu and seeing what our troops have done there made me proud. Yet perhaps the greatest lesson from Somalia was not necessarily the good that our army is capable of doing in foreign lands but how smart President Yoweri Museveni is at geo-strategic positioning. Museveni has cultivated a very good understanding of the dynamics of regime survival in Africa, a factor that explains his decades of rule.

Kagame victim of own success

The world tends to hold him to very high, sometimes unrealistic standards 
 
Over the last one month, a rebellion has been ragging in eastern DRC against the government of President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa. As I write this article, over 40 armed groups, some of them former members of the Congolese army, have taken up arms against his government. However, international diplomatic activity, media coverage and human rights campaigns have been focused on one rebel group, M23 and one country, Rwanda and its president, Paul Kagame, for allegedly sponsoring the rebellion.  Even an interested observer may easily think the rebellion is taking place in Rwanda, not DRC. Why is Kabila against whom mutineers and rebels are battling for control of the DRC missing in the news?

Uganda’s anti-corruption rituals

To understand how theft of public resources flourishes, one has to observe how it is fought

Last week, court dismissed as “no case to answer” charges of abuse of office and causing financial loss against Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi in the Gavi trial. Muhwezi had been taken to court on flimsy evidence that even state witnesses – the Accountant General and the former Permanent Secretary in the ministry of health – said he had not authorised any payments. A similar situation attains to the charges brought against former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya and the current charges against ministers Sam Kutesa, Mwesigwa Rukutana and John Nasasira.

Rwanda’s donor aid cuts

Doesn’t a country that lost a million people deserve to protect its people against the threat of another genocide?

In a space of one week in July, the Netherlands, Germany, UK and USA  announced they would cut their aid to Rwanda over its alleged involvement in the ongoing rebellion in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are another pointer to the dangers of Western aid to poor countries. The use of aid as an instrument of blackmail is a common practice by Western Europe and its offshoots in North America, Australia and New Zeeland. In almost all official and unofficial relations with recipients, Western donors keep rubbing in the fact that those recipients should behave themselves lest… This “lest” includes a series of threats such as cutting aid, sending a leader to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or imposing sanctions. 

Stiglitz’s Mubiru Memorial Lecture

Failure to define the necessary market regulation deprived lecture of the necessary nuance

The lecture by economics Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz about the failures resulting from deregulation of financial markets in the United States and the need for a strict regulatory regime was engaging and frustrating at the same time.

Democracy holds NSSF hostage

How a tiny minority of trade unionists have used politics to wrest control from the majority of the fund’s subscribers.

In his State of the Nation address, President Yoweri Museveni said government was going to borrow money from the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) to finance infrastructure development. Later, the Chairman of the Uganda Investment Authority, Patrick Bitature, said government should do so without consulting workers. Since then, Bitature has been under attack.

Mrs. Museveni’s life’s journey

If anyone wants a slice of the intimate life of the Museveni family, his wife’s autobiography delivers it

I have spent eight months trying to shape my views on Mrs. Janet Museveni’s autobiography, My Life’s Journey. An autobiography is an attempt to tell others that:  “This is who I am” or “This is how I see myself” and “This is how I want you to see me.” So it is an intimate self examination. Then of course, the challenge is how much to reveal about oneself – your triumphs and setbacks, aspirations and frustrations. In My Life’s Journey, I felt Mrs. Museveni did this with much greater success than most people would.

Get government out of business

The best way to improve service delivery in Uganda is to concession most of it to the private sector

Since 1995 the government of Uganda has been trying to build a hydro-power dam at Karuma. Attempts to get a private company to do the work ended in futile debates with international donors and local politicians. Then the government decided to build a 600MW hydro electricity dam at Karuma at a cost of US$ 1.2 billion itself. A committee comprising officials from the ministries of finance, energy and environment evaluated three companies; China Water and Electric Corporation (CWEC), Synohydro Corp, a private Chinese company, and an Iranian company Perlite Construction out of the six companies that bided for the contract. CWEC won.

Rwanda’s biggest security dilemma

The complexity of Kigali’s relationship with Kinshasa and the possible way tensions between the two countries could be reduced

As fighting recently flared up between Tutsi rebels and government forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Rwanda government has found itself, once again at the centre of yet another international controversy. Kinshasa has been joined by poorly informed, often prejudiced international observers and `experts’, and local and international human rights groups in a blanket condemnation of Kigali as the mastermind of the rebellion. In the mad rush to point fingers and apportion blame, the complexity of the problem in eastern DRC has been lost, making a solution much more difficult to craft.

Democratisation in Egypt

Having removed Mubarak, the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square are realising that the struggle for democracy has just began

Last week, Egyptians went to the polls to vote in the second round of their presidential elections. The first round had produced two candidates: Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and last Prime Minister under Hosni Mubarak; and Mohammed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood. The two candidates reflected the historical contours of political division in Egypt since the 1952 revolution led by Gamal Abdel Nasser: the army and the Islamists. Funny how little things change.

A weekend visit to Kalangala

How BIDCO’s investment is changing the lives of people in the district and the potential it has to transform agriculture

Uganda today consumes 250,000 tonnes of vegetable oil per year, up from 100,000 tonnes in 2005. Of this, 16,000 tonnes was produced locally from oil palm by BIDCO in Kalangala in 2011. The company projects production to peak at 20,000 tonnes this year. Another 24,000 tonnes are produced by Mukwano from oil seeds. This leaves the country to import 210,000 tonnes of vegetable oil from Malaysia and Indonesia every year at a cost of about US$300 million of which about US$80m is transport costs.

Uganda’s possible Tahrir Square

Given Museveni’s long rule and potential for family succession, is Uganda now vulnerable to an `Arab Spring’ 

I argued in this column last week that Africa has almost similar structural conditions as the Middle East on the eve of the Arab Spring – sustained economic growth for almost two decades, investment in mass education, penetration of modern communication technology like mobile phones and internet, a youth bulge alongside their joblessness and social and political frustrations among the middle class.

Africa’s political risk profile

How realistic is the risk of political upheaval in Africa and what can be done about it?

Two weeks ago, I was in Nairobi, Kenya to attend a conference on Africa’s political risk profile. The moderator of the first session posed four questions for discussion: Is stability more important than freedom? Is the raw material for the Arab Spring available in Africa? Has the Arab Spring changed the political risk profile of Africa and how? How do you invest in Africa in the context of crony capitalism? These were challenging questions whose answers depend as much on the objective conditions on our continent as on the attitudes and agenda of any analyst.

Prof. Ayittey’s postings on Rwanda

How one of Africa’s distinguished scholars has been misled to become hostile to a government that should be his natural ally

Prof. George Ayittey is one of the most thoughtful and influential intellectuals on contemporary Africa. He has been consistent in his condemnation of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame specifically and the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) led government generally often referring to it as a dictatorship. In a recent tweet, which has motivated this column, Ayittey argued that Rwanda under Kagame is repeating the monopolisation of power by one ethnic group as the regime it overthrew.

How to change Kampala (Part 2)

A combination of sound technocratic management with a good dose of political skill will do the job

I argued in this column last week that any attempt by Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) to carry out transformative reforms in our city will create high political tensions.  This is because all reform produces winners and losers. Winners will support reform and losers will become militants determined to resist it. KCCA will be conducting reforms in a context of an already polarised politics of the wider Uganda. The current government has been effective at sustaining economic growth and fostering private wealth accumulation. But it has been abysmal in the delivery of public goods and services. So, many people don’t believe in the promises of better public sector management even if many still have hope.
 

How to change Kampala (Part 1)

The innovations KCCA needs to finance the redevelopment of the city from its own resources

On April 19, Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) held a public dialogue on their plans to improve our city. I was honoured to be the main speaker even though my knowledge of city planning, administration and management is scanty. But like every observant person living in a city and suffering from, but enjoying, many of its problems and opportunities, there is an experience I could talk about.

Healthcare for the rich

The politics of US$ 150m spent by government on evacuating top officials for medical treatment abroad

On Monday, April 23, Daily Monitor reported that the government of Uganda spends US$150 million per year (Approx. Shs 375 billion) on medical treatment of its top officials abroad. When I was still young and intelligent, I would have been angry and denounced Uganda’s ruling elites as heartless. I would have widened the argument to claim that such abuses are symptomatic of a broader elite crisis in Africa; and that it is lack of democratic accountability that perpetuates such abuses. Today, I have grown old and stupid; I carry a sobering awareness that such actions are actually predictable human behaviour.

Africa versus East Asia

Why South Korea succeeded where Uganda failed

A common argument to explain (the better term would be to “caricature”) post independence failures in Africa is always in comparison to East Asia. It is often argued, for example, that by 1960, Ghana and South Korea had the same per capita income of roughly US$100. Yet 50 years later, South Korea’s per capita income is US$ 32,000 while Ghana’s is US$ 3,100. Therefore, the conclusion goes, there was gross mismanagement of Ghana’s potential in comparison to effective management of South Korea’s opportunities. The often unsaid but certainly underlying thesis behind such comparisons is that there is something inherently wrong with Africa. That unsaid “something” is racial; an inherent incapacity for self government.

Building a state from scratch

What the leaders of South Sudan need to avoid as they begin the task of building a state and moulding a nation

Last week I was in Juba, South Sudan on the invitation by friends from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). It is an invitation I had been postponing for nearly two years, unsure what awaited me. But I knew it was a great opportunity to witness at firsthand an experiment in building a state from scratch. There are hardly any new states emerging from nowhere unto the world scene anymore. I was both saddened and thrilled by what I witnessed during that brief visit.

Reflecting on the banning of A4C

How government politically miscalculated the threat in spite of activists having lost strategic positioning in their struggle for change

As fate would have it, last week the Uganda government banned the civil society advocacy group, Activists for Change (or A4C as it is popularly known). Ironically, rather than demonstrate strength, this action reflected a fundamental weakness in the government i.e. that it feels under siege from the activities of A4C. For the activists, it was a major victory against an all powerful opponent – a case of David against Goliath. I had thought (quite wrongly I now realise) that the government had neutralised A4C, rendered it a minor public inconvenience albeit an irritating one. So when cabinet passed a resolution to shut it down, I went around scavenging for answers. Why this sudden action?

Rwanda’s brand problem

How human rights groups exploit Rwanda’s positive brand to build their own and what can be done about it

There has been an intense contest over “Brand Rwanda” in the international sphere. Many visitors to Rwanda are impressed by what they see. Physical observations – clean and well paved streets, manicured flowers, working street lights, mowed lawns, functional hospitals and schools and well-constructed pedestrian sidewalks strike a visitor’s eye. However, these visual observations tell of something profound about post genocide Rwanda – the construction of a functional state and one which has a strong commitment to serving the public good.

Should governor Mutebile resign?

President should not jump from one arbitrary position to another in service of popular sentiment

Since The Independent broke the story of businessman Hassan Basajabalaba’s Shs 169 billion “compensation” last year, two ministers have resigned and three members of staff at State House have been fired. All this shows how much, albeit slowly, public pressure is impacting on government. As a citizen, I feel satisfied that almost everything I demanded on this matter has been met by the government.

Lessons from Kony 2012

How the documentary projects a picture of helplessness and how we can use its marketing lessons to portray a better one

The dust has now settled on the documentary about Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader, Joseph Kony. I was impressed by Invisible Children (IC’s) marketing genius. Their ability to get an obscure cause and use celebrities and social media to generate global attention to it is a feat with few precedents.

Inside the West’s double standards Part II

How post-independence failures have helped the West change an image of who Africa’s heroes are

At the time of independence, Africa was basking with self-discovery and self-confidence. There was hope and confidence that Africans would shape their destiny independently. We were supposed to cooperate with others as equals. The first crop of post-independence leaders – Kwame Nkrumah (consciencism), Julius Nyerere (Ujamaa), Kenneth Kaunda (Humanism), Leopold Sedar Senghor (Negritude), Milton Obote (The Common Man’s Charter) even attempted to develop distinct ideologies for their countries. Even Mobutu Sese Seko had “Authenticity.” Many of these philosophies were ill conceived and generated failure. But they were an important effort to create a distinct view of who we are and how others should view us.

Inside the West’s double standards Part I

How the West covers Africa and how we, African elites, need to expose these stereotypes

I argued last week that there is a double standard among institutions – both public and private – in the western world when dealing with an African country like Rwanda or a European country like Belgium. For example, mere allegations by Rwandan dissidents in the UK and Sweden to the police that their government has sent a hit squad to kill one of them are enough for police to take action and publicise the threat or expel a diplomat. However, if similar allegations were made against the government of Belgium, British or Swedish police would give Belgium the benefit of the doubt, investigate the matter and establish some credible basis before taking any action. The question is why the double standards when it comes to Africa?

Rwanda and its critics

Inside one nation’s struggle against deeply entrenched prejudice

Over the last five months, 19 journalists formerly working with News of the World newspaper have been arrested in the United Kingdom for hacking into people’s voice mails for news information. Six top company executives have been forced to resign and two of them have been arrested.

Inside Rwanda’s skills gap

Trying to overcome a deficient professional class through education and by cultivating a performance-based society

Last week, New Vision reported that Rwanda is recruiting teachers from Uganda to teach in its schools. Many Ugandans may have seen this as an opportunity to get a well paying job, but the story reflects a severe skills gap that bedevils Rwanda. It is not simply about lack of English teachers. Rwanda lacks very basic skills to help it achieve many of its ambitious development plans and objectives.

Who is Bahati’s bill meant to dupe?

His move is a masterstroke that eclipses political differences and diverts public attention from real issues to imaginary problems

Recently, Ndorwa East Member of Parliament, David Bahati, re-tabled the kill-all-gays Bill before parliament. After his presentation, where he claimed to be the moral vanguard of our society and his Bill the safety valve for our families, he received a standing ovation from both the government and opposition MPs. There is nothing that unites our politicians across the political spectrum than a shared homophobia. Indeed, it is one obsession that is equally shared by the vast majority of our esteemed citizens especially our elites that dominate public discourse in Uganda.

Can MPs improve oil contracts? Part II

Parliamentary intervention in government contracts has been consistently counterproductive because MPs do not look at all sides

(…continued from last week)
I argued in this column last week that parliamentary intervention stopping the signing of oil contracts is likely to make a bad situation worse. First, experience shows that it is easy for anyone, leave alone oil companies, to buy off MPs. Therefore, their current posturing does not impress me. Second, even if some MPs are genuine in their interventions, most of them are poorly informed to guide the contracting process to a better outcome. This is largely because they have done little or no research to understand the intricacies of these contracts. And they have not even bothered to seek the services of technically competent people to help them.

Can MPs improve oil contracts? Part I

We should be suspicious of parliamentary interventions in lucrative government contracts because they often make a bad situation worse

Recently, President Yoweri Museveni ordered government of Uganda officials to sign oil Production Sharing Agreements with companies. This was in spite of a resolution by parliament stopping all new agreements. Many Ugandans are rightfully sick and tired of corruption and genuinely suspicious of the executive. They support parliament in its self-proclaimed fight against the problem. Yet I am much more inclined to side with Museveni on signing PSAs.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

In defence of Agaba and Komakech

We need to place their actions against international practice even in democracies like the USA, France, and Italy

Since the late January shooting incident in Luzira that killed one person and injured two, the public has been baying for the blood of the “culprits” to wit (now) former director for planning in KCCA, George Agaba and a policeman, Santos Komakech. To whet the appetite of an angry public, the DPP moved fast to charge them with murder. The police also moved swiftly to distance themselves from the incident accusing KCCA officials of going to evict encroachers without notifying them.

Reflecting on last presidential election

NRM had historically suffered major defections before every election but it enjoyed a big infusion of opposition figures in 2007-11
 
It is almost a year since last year’s presidential elections. The dust over the recriminations over it has settled. We have had sufficient time to reflect on that election and see what made Kizza Besigye lose ground in the north; what made President Yoweri Museveni retained his support in Buganda in spite of his many run-ins with Mengo and why voter turnout was at an all time low.

Before you listen to “experts”

What the arrest of Rwandan military and security chiefs reveals about Kagame’s leadership style

Last week, President Paul Kagame ordered the house arrest of four top military and security officers; three of them generals. Among them, I know the chief of military intelligence, Brig. Gen. Richard Rutatina and the chief of staff of the reserve force Lt. Gen. Fred Ibingira, fairly well. I can even claim them to be my friends. The head of Rwanda’s external security, Col. Dan Munyuza, I know, but not closely. I know little about the Commanding Officer of the 3rd Division, Brig. Gen. Wilson Gumisiriza.

Who is parliament speaking for?

With only 8% access to electricity and 75% of subsidies going to big businesses, why are MPs supporting subsidies?
Last week, a parliament committee passed a resolution cancelling the increase in electricity tariffs. Many Ugandans genuinely believe that in many of its actions, the 9th parliament is driven by a genuine desire to serve the public good. Yet many of its interventions are driven by ill-informed populism, blatant ignorance and/or obvious self-interest.

Museveni’s rupture with traders

Is the standoff between government and traders the tip of an irreparable breakdown of their relationship?

Last week, striking traders paralysed business in Kampala. Negotiations between their association, KASITA, and the government did not yield much. As with all previous strikes and demonstrations in Uganda over the last one year, the traders’ strike was a welcome development. It shows that political contests in Uganda are increasingly about public policy as opposed to emotive issues of clan, tribe and religion. We are beginning to see organised groups in the public policy market (as teachers, medical workers, consumers, traders, vendors, boda boda riders etc) eliciting concessions from the state through healthy confrontations.

Electricity cost going up 40%

But who benefits most from subsidies to UMEME?
 
A cabinet sitting on Wednesday Jan. 11 discussed increasing electricity tariffs by 40 percent. Cabinet should remove these subsidies altogether because they are not economically sustainable and benefit the rich at the expense of poor citizens. Over the last five years, government has paid Shs 2.0 trillion in these subsidies. This is enough money to build a 300 MW hydro electricity dam at Karuma.

Looking at failure of public services

It is not corruption per se but the fragmentation of power that explains Uganda’s crisis

Two things stand in contradiction of one another regarding corruption in Uganda: On a positive note, it seems not to have undermined economic growth – at least, not yet. Uganda has sustained impressive rates of economic growth over the last 25 years. On the negative side, corruption seems to have led to a precipitous decline in the ability of the state to deliver public goods (hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, electricity dams) and public services (education, healthcare, agricultural extension services, electricity, etc).

The political value of corruption

How theft of public resources has been used to build a broad multi ethnic coalition that sustains Uganda’s political system

The last Quarter of 2011 in Uganda was filled with one corruption scandal after another. Yet in spite of many corruption scandals unearthed, the mass media were only reporting a small part of it. Across ministries, local governments and other public institutions in the country, corruption is the essence of the political system in Uganda. Politics is a vehicle for promoting the privileges of a few elites at the top at the expense of the many masses below; and the so called democratic process is a mechanism through which elites in Uganda have captured and privatized the state.

A battle six years in the making

My latest attempt to qualify Rwanda’s progress to the incredulous mind of a critic

Over Christmas, Timothy Kalyegira and I got involved into a heated SMS exchange about Rwanda, a subject I am deeply interested in and one that he is equally obsessed with without noticing it. I had told Timothy that Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame were having a relaxed and cordial Christmas in Rwakitura as part of the effort to reconcile themselves and their two countries. Below are excerpts for anyone to read and judge for themselves.

Monday, January 2, 2012

When Kagame disproves critics.

SUNDAY, 01 JANUARY 2012 10:11 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Because he has little pecuniary interest in power and no messianic image of himself, Kagame will easily retire in 2017

Since his press engagement in Kampala, President Paul Kagame has come under increasing attack from some people accusing him of being unclear about his intention to retire in 2017. Kagame has previously said people should be free to debate term limits. However, he has said repeatedly he will not accept to be a beneficiary of such a constitutional amendment. In spite of this, critics remain unconvinced.

Kagame has positioned his presidency as different from what has happened in most of Africa. Many of the actions he has taken set him apart from most of his contemporaries – thus disproving the prejudices of his critics. Therefore, nothing will validate his critics’ argument against him – that he is another power hungry African despot – than if he were to renege on the issue of term limits.

Will Kagame remove term limits and remain president after 2017? If we follow precedent across Africa and all other countries where presidents have come to power through guerrilla movements – from Angola, Mozambique, North Korea and China to Vietnam, such leaders die in office. Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia seem on course to prove this. For most reasonable people therefore, it is only natural to suspect that Kagame will follow suit.

Second, if one looks at the structural conditions in Rwanda – a dominant ruling party, a very large poor and semi-literate rural population; a small educated urban middle class; a weak and poorly developed civil society and the absence of a strong opposition make removing term limits a walk in the park. In such circumstances, most reasonable people would again be forgiven to suspect that Kagame will not leave in 2017. Therefore, if Kagame is going to leave power, the explanation has to come from his character. I am willing to bet that come 2017, he will not run for president.

Kagame has not exhibited a high thirst for the presidency like most people in his position would have. For example, when the RPF captured power in 1994, everyone would have expected Kagame to take over as president. He was the general who had commanded the armies that had captured power. The RPF mounted pressure on him to become president. He refused. Prime Minister designate at the time, Faustine Twagiramungu, led a delegation of all the other political parties to the Arusha Accords to petition Kagame to be president. He still refused.

I do not know of a successful general who wrestled power into his hands and everyone in the country wanted him to take it and he refused – not Napoleon Bonaparte, Fidel Castro, Samora Machel, George Washington, Hoh Chi Minh, Yoweri Museveni or Mao Tse Tung. In fact Kagame was not even interested in becoming the vice president, a position hastily created and which he accepted as a compromise to put in place a government. Rwanda had spent almost two weeks without a government because Kagame was refusing to be president. If he could afford to play second fiddle for six years, he can afford to leave power in 2017.

Therefore, for many Rwandans and people who know Rwanda, the biggest risk is not that Kagame will stay. The risk is that when he leaves, how much of what he has put in place will survive. Kagame – notwithstanding his one million and one imperfections as a human being and as a leader – towers above Rwanda as a moral colossus. His determination to insist that government should not only serve the privileges of the powerful but should also (and in equal measure) serve the interests of the ordinary person is something that will be difficult to sustain without him. His determined and relentless fight against corruption is another.

Without Kagame’s personal character and leadership ability and focus, it is not clear that a lot of what has happened in Rwanda under him can be sustained. This is largely because while individual leaders can make things happen, it is institutions that make things last. Yet institutions – their capabilities, traditions and norms – take generations to build. And once built, they are susceptible to reversal.

Kagame has helped put in place public and private institutions in Rwanda. He has helped endow them with particular capabilities which have allowed that country to punch above its weight. Yet as he plans to retire in 2017, there is not much evidence inside RPF, other political parties, or Rwanda’s bureaucracy that all these capacities will automatically survive and continue to thrive. As someone knowledgeable about Rwanda, I am always shocked (not surprised) at how many wrong things private and public officials in Rwanda are willing to do but for fear of Kagame.

Let me not be misunderstood to be saying that it is only Kagame who does the right thing in Rwanda. Indeed, he would have achieved very little if he had not built a strong team and instilled in it a sense of discipline, determination, focus and purpose that one finds in Rwanda’s public life. But it is not obvious that without him these qualities can be easily sustained. This is because there are many forces in Rwanda who would prefer a more relaxed moral code in the public sector – some genuinely as a way to promote elite co-optation, others for self aggrandisement.

If Kagame were the mainstream power hungry ruler, there are many choices he would already have made to protect his power. For example, he would have promoted patronage, allowed corruption, bought and sold favours to groups and individuals whose support he desires, made unprincipled compromises and given dubious concessions. Yet in most of his decisions and actions, he has demonstrated a consistent pattern of always placing his country’s national interest above his personal aggrandisement.

Across most contemporary Africa and the world, leaders base their legitimacy on trading favours among elites hence corruption. But Kagame has sought to base his legitimacy almost entirely on the performance of his government in improving the social-economic condition of his people and delivering public goods and services to them. Those are not traits of a leader desirous to stay in power for its own sake. Because he has little pecuniary interest in power, and because he does not possess a messianic image of himself, Kagame easily relinquish the presidency.

Commission of enquiry a mockery of justice.

MONDAY, 26 DECEMBER 2011 08:03 BY ANDREW MWENDA



A section of the public and critics have lately been saying Andrew Mwenda has changed. I don't agree with them, and records of my publications going back in time bear me witness. Throughout my career, I have cherished the key cornerstones of journalism - truth and accuracy, fairness and balance. I hereby reproduce some of the pieces I did back in time highlighting the position I have taken on contentious issues involving allegations of corruption. I hope this article and many more to come will guide the debate on whether I have changed at all.



This article was published in the Sunday Monitor on March 7, 2004

So the commission of inquiry into corruption in the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) became a theatre for personal fights and recriminations instead of helping us grasp the political and institutional sources of Corruption! It was apparent from the beginning that lady justice Julie Sebutinde is not a credible or reliable investigator. Why? She plays too much to the gallery. Although she became popular because of how she handled the inquiry into corruption in the police force, Sebutinde did a great dis-service to the cause of justice and due process in this country.

She declared the police officer who appeared before guilty before she could even hear their case. Sebutinde would hurl insults at them, shut down their lawyers and throw tantrums at any witness who tried to defend them. Yes, the accused police officers could have been evil men but they were entitled to due process. The public angry with, an incompetent and corrupt police force cheered Sebutinde on, and she almost became a goddess. President Yoweri Museveni, seeking to gain political advantage, played to the gallery, too calling Sebutinde "my girl"

Ssebutinde made many pronouncements that Karim Hirjr had murdered his friend Kiddu that made headlines. But she still refused pleas from Karim to appear before her commission and defend himself.

Later she wrote a report recommending that Brig. Jim Muhwezi be investigated for the murder of Lt. Shalita, yet the Brigadier’s name during the proceedings of her commission, was never called before Sebutinde to answer to these allegations.

It is this lack of impartiality that she brought into the URA investigation. She accused Jack Bigirwa of stealing money from URA to build a house in Bushenyi. Bigirwa built the house in 1984, URA was created in 1992, and he joined it in 1994. She insulted Elly Rwakakooko, shouted down Steven Akabway, no one escaped her cobra bite. Her rants and recriminations against people who appeared before her were detestable in both matter and manner; and they are a classic example of how public anger can be exploited to undermine the cause of justice.

I raised this issue during the police probe mainly on radio one’s spectrum programme, and later in articles in The Monitor. I was told that the Commission of Inquiries' Act allows the commission to adopt its own modus operandi, However, I still reject Sebutinde's style because the spirit of the law would certainly not have been to undermine the principles of natural justice that someone should not be a judge in their own case, or a prosecutor and judge in the same case. Sebutinde was carried away by public acclaim and she turned herself into a public avenger against the police, and later a public executioner of people's reputations.

However, the URA probe was going to be different because she was given the respected James Kahooza, and little known Fawn Cousens, as commissioners. Their strength of character was going to expose Sebutinde. And they did! Kahooza and Cousens did not reject the entire report by Sebutinde, but only parts of it and they stated their concerns in writing. Neither Sebutinde nor the Solicitor General, Mr. Tibaruha, has answered these issues. Instead, Sebutinde went on personal attacks against her fellow commissioners accusing them of conflict of interest. Sebutinde argues that Kahooza had a conflict of interest because his son works with URA and has used his job to accumulate wealth illigetimately.

She further says that Kahooza's wife has a company that sup- plies food to the URA and is shielded from paying taxes, Sebutinde further says that Cousens has a conflict of interest because she applied for a job in the URA, and that URA Commissioner General, Aslund Ann brit, recommended her to the commission. On this basis, Sebutinde tells us that Kahooza and Cousens reject- ed parts of her report because guilt and vested interest drive them.

I find this position opportunistic and hypocritical. If Sebutinde knew all this, why didn't she write to the minister who appointed her asking the two to be removed from the commission? I have had opportunity to read the Sebutinde report into URA and there is not a single reference in her report regarding this conflict of interest by Cousens and Kahooza. Why did she keep this vital information from the public until the two refused to sign her report? I find Sebutinde's revelations of conflict of interest against Kahooza and Cousens bordering on blackmail itself a criminal offence.

Sebutinde tells us that she knew bad things about Kahooza and Cousens but kept this information to herself. What for? To buy their silence so that she can arrogate herself power to single-handedly write the commission's report. The nation must wake up to this fraud. We trust and respect our judges in this country. There is something in law called aiding and abating a crime, Assuming that Sebutinde's allegations against her colleagues are true, and given that she kept this vital information to herself until Cousens and Kahooza disagreed with her, was she not trying to aid and abate their unethical conduct in return of their compliance?

Equally important, Sebutinde has made no effort whatsoever to answer the objections raised by Cousens and Kahooza, regarding the procedure of the commission and the contents of her report. She has rather chosen to raise matter external to the report and investigation. What does this tell us about the lady justice? Just like in the police probe and report, Sebutinde picked issues off the street and smuggled them into her report on URA which were never called upon to give their defence, I know Kahooza would never sign unto such fraud, and he refused as did Cousens. Fate, so the saying goes, is a great joker; it always laughs last!

These commissions of inquiry have been political vehicles to legitimise an extremely corrupt system by demonstrating to an unsuspecting public that some- thing is being done. This politicised and pedestrian approach to fighting corruption will not help Uganda. Year, 2000! A policeman, with a wife and four children in, Kampala is paid Shs 70,000 per month. It cannot help him survive even for a week. He takes a bribe to make ends meet. Who is being immoral here the government, which pretends to employ the policeman, or the policeman who makes a genuine attempt to feed his family? Whose morality are we talking about?

Take URA for example. The wages in that organization, were set in 1994 at II have never been revised. People are promoted on the basis of tribe, supporting The Movement or third term rather than on demonstrated competence and probity. The president constantly writes lists of people (he calls them cadres) to be hired by the organization. The URA does not offer long term career rewards, job insecurity is high. Under such circumstances, it is illusory to expect staff to pursue corporate goals. Instead, they pursue Individual maximization - steal as fast and as much as you can before you loose your job. These are the political and institutional sources of corruption that we need to deal with Sebutinde like commissions seek to name and shame the corrupt. That will not help.

Post 9/11 America and post genocide Rwanda

Post 9/11 America and post genocide Rwanda
MONDAY, 05 DECEMBER 2011 06:17 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Who should lecture the other about how to exercise restraint in the face of severe security threats?

Last week, I was invited by Rwanda’s minister of foreign affairs, the pleasant Louise Mushikiwabo, to attend a public lecture by United States permanent representative to the United Nations, Susan Rice, at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology. She gave a great speech, highlighting the tragedy of genocide Rwandans faced in 1994 and the courage and resilience with which they have reconstructed their lives, their public institutions, their economy and their international standing. Most of her speech – possibly 85 percent – was filled of praise of what Rwandans have achieved.

However, towards to the end of her speech, Ms Rice said that “friends should also speak frankly to friends” adding that “the political culture in Rwanda remains comparatively closed. Press restrictions persist. That civil society activists, journalists and political opponents of the government often fear to organise peacefully and speaking out. Some have been harassed. Some have been intimidated by late-night callers. Some have simply disappeared.” This part of the speech was out of sync with the first part where every achievement she mentioned was accompanied with real-life examples backed with facts and figures. Here, she made assertions without any effort to substantiate them.

First, I have a problem with western leaders when they come lecturing to their African counterparts on how to manage their countries as if our leaders are children. Indeed I had always wondered whether an African leader visiting the US would be allowed to speak like that to an American president until I had coffee with the former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Chester Crocker in Washington DC.

Crocker told me of how he took Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to meet then President Ronald Reagan in the late 1980s. According to Crocker, Mugabe proceeded to lecture Reagan on the faults of American policy towards Nicaragua. The CIA was funding a terrorist organisation, The Contra rebels, to wreck havoc on the population in an effort to overthrow the Sandinista government. Mugabe told Reagan that policy was wrong for world peace. “It was the last time Mugabe met an American president,” Crocker told me, suggesting that Mugabe was discourteous. I told Crocker that most American and Western European diplomats do exactly that when dealing with African leaders. Mugabe may have learnt the behaviour from them. Croker looked a little unhinged at this unexpected rebut.

Rwanda has many problems – I can list a million without thinking. Yet as Ms Rice concluded her speech, I felt she was pandering to claims of international human rights organisations and a few dissidents without reference to facts or context. More importantly, the view by people in the West and their African-elite cheerleaders that our systems are primitive and theirs saintly is not only wrong but has also been the basis of many misdirected attempts to usurp our sovereignty – with disastrous results. Yet judged by US standards, Rwanda has demonstrated greater flexibility, tolerance, accommodation and understanding than America in the face of similar dangers.

On 9/11 2001, the US lost two and a half buildings, four planes and only 3,000 people in a country of 300m i.e. 0.001 percent of its population. In response to this, the US declared the “world had changed” and then proceeded to behave like a bull in a china shop. It imposed onerous rules and regulations on its own population and on all countries all over the world that make some of Stalin’s practices seem benign. It began wire-tapping everyone’s phone without court sanction, invaded and occupied two countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) tens of thousands of miles away and is still there a decade later. It began bombing Pakistan and killing innocent civilians in what it calls collateral damage. It now carries out assassinations of alleged Al Qaeda leaders almost on a daily basis. It has imposed draconian rules in every airport around the world where people are finger-printed, photographed, X-rayed, undressed and indecently touched and humiliated.

The US also arrogated itself power to open everyone’s bank account anywhere in the world to its scrutiny. It officially began to run torture chambers at Abu Gren and Guantanamo Bay. It outsourced some of the torturing to its brutal allies in the Middle East, suspended many civil liberties at home and began jailing people, including US citizens, without trial. It bombed headquarters of media organisations that criticised its actions, jailed without trial and tortured journalists who reported such actions – all in the name of ensuring that not a single life is lost to terrorism again. The US has insisted that it cannot have any discussion with its enemies – it exports death to them.

In doing this, we must remember that America actually has strong institutional traditions, extraordinary intellectual resources, the best technology anyone can master, its defence budget is larger than the defence budgets of the rest of the world combined and its economy is the largest. These endowments should make America a more sober, calm, mature, confident and responsible player on the global scene as opposed to being paranoid. While some of its actions after 9/11 are justifiable in a free and democratic society, most are actually Stalinist and unjustifiable.

Yet in spite of all the above observations and criticisms regarding its response to 9/11, I still believe – by and large – in the greater moral good of America, the richness of its democratic process, the creativity of its institutional designs, the depth of its intellectual traditions and the profound goodness, generosity and humanity of its people. Indeed, I bring forth some of these criticism only to show that ensuring the security of a nation and its people is a very complex exercise that can make the actions of the most well intentioned state and leaders look draconian, unfair, brutal and unacceptable. Indeed, the first presidential order Barak Obama signed upon entering the Oval Office was to close Guantanamo Bay because he claimed George Bush was being wrong. His first term is nearing an end at this torture chamber is still running. Therefore Bush was not monster after all as Obama had tried to portray him. The issues must be more complex.

Let us now visit Rwanda, a poor country with very young, weak and fragile institutions, a poorly developed human resource base, limited technology, a poor economy amidst abject poverty of its people. Only 17 years ago, this country lost one million people (not 3,000) – almost 13 percent of the total population of the country (not 0.001 percent). Unlike America where the enemy was a foreigner from distant lands and could be controlled through border security, in Rwanda the enemy was the citizen where neighbour killed neighbour and a father killed his children and wife. It is a country where mass murder was organised by the state, mobilised by the mass media and executed by millions of ordinary citizens. And unlike America, Rwanda did not lose only four planes and two and a half buildings – it lost an entire country and 60 percent of its GDP.

As Rice concluded her speech with her carefully rehearsed qualifications about the need for economic reform to be in tandem with political reform, I was lost. I asked myself what a poor country like Rwanda would do to protect itself against the recurrence of such a catastrophe. If media mobilised for genocide, what restrictions are justifiable to limit future abuses? If political parties appealed to ethnic extremism and were willing to commit genocide to gain power, what should be done to avoid this behaviour in future? Given my own predilection to its values, my first country of reference was America. However, as pointed out above, America is an example of what any nation should NOT do when under threat. If Rwanda behaved like the US, it would have turned into a prison with roadblocks in every village and torture chambers in every locality. Neither could I turn to Britain because it has not been much different from America.

I know that the political system in Rwanda and the civic space and the mass media have many limitations upon them. Many of the limitations are products of lack of human resource capacity, a factor that Rice ignored. Some are self imposed by individuals and groups because of their experiences, something many commentators ignore. And others are imposed on society by the state justifiably and sometimes unjustifiably. I also know that for every limitation on political freedoms by the state in Rwanda, there are contestations over them. Rwanda is not a static society. It is fairly vibrant with different forces vying for increasing state control and others for greater freedoms. This is healthy as, to quote that ancient Greek philosopher, Heracleitus, strength is generated by the tension between opposites.

Kwame Nkrumah – that great hero of the African peoples – once said that “Those who would merely judge us by the heights we have achieved would do better to remember the depth from which we started.” Any judgement of Rwanda therefore has to begin from this basis. Celebrated American political scientist, Robert Dahl, once argued that democracy has two aspects; one is contestation, the other is participation. Contestation refers to how freely the political opposition contest for power from those holding it. Participation inquires into how many groups participate in politics and determine who the rulers should be.

Let us look a Rwanda on these two scores. According to the 2003 Rwandan constitution, no political party – regardless of how many votes it gets – can hold more than 50 percent of cabinet positions. The constitution also says that the president of the country and the speaker of parliament cannot come from the same party. Although the constitution does not require the president of the senate to come from a different political party from that of the president of the country, over the last seven years, the president of the senate has always come from outside of the president’s party. The current president of the senate, Damacen Ntarikuriryayo was President Paul Kagame’s leading challenger in the last election. And it is also until two months ago that for the first time since 1994 that the prime minister of Rwanda comes from the same political party as the president.

This constitutional innovation and the accompanying political practices were shaped by the experience of the early 1990s. The opening up of political space in 1990 generated a high level of political contestation in Rwanda and as a result stimulated the emergence of extremist political parties. These factors led genocide. Many Rwandans think that these extreme political positions were born of the winner-take-all system that existed then. Therefore, the 2003 constitution innovated ways to stop control of government by one group. This has reduced the appetite for extremist political contestation because every party knows that regardless of its majority, it will have to work with other parties in cabinet. So it is not good to antagonise your potential allies through extremely polarised positions.

More importantly, Rwanda has a Political Parties’ Forum whose chairmanship rotates among the different parties every month regardless of their electoral strength. Political parties meet regularly through this forum and discuss and harmonise major policy positions before going public. Because of this forum, political parties in Rwanda are less polarised and policy contestation is less heated compared to elsewhere.

Many observers of Rwanda, ignorant of these political innovations and armed with a set of prejudices about politics in Africa think that there is no significant political contestation in that country. Indeed, it is their prejudice about Africa that makes them prey to misinformation from Rwandan dissidents many of whom are either genocidaires running from justice or corrupt former officials who cannot find space in the new society that is being built. Thus, sections of the international press, human rights organisations and particular sections of the academia that lost intellectual control over Rwanda after 1994 have made themselves spokesperson of these groups.

Political contestation among the major political parties in Rwanda is less polarised because of the aforementioned constitutional innovations and political practices. Any casual visit to Netherlands or Belgium, where no single party can command a governing majority will reflect the kind of political accommodation we see in Rwanda. Because for any party to rule in Belgium it has to mobilise not less than four to six coalition partners, political parties in that country are reluctant to adopt extremely hostile political positions to other parties lest they alienate potential allies. This makes their politics less polarised and more reconciliatory in their rhetoric.

This practice is very different from the US (and until recently the UK) where you have two dominant parties able to govern without need for coalition partners. Today, American politics is so polarised, it is difficult to build a consensus on anything unless and until there is a major security threat like 9/11.

As Ms Rice spoke, I wondered whether she knows the existence of over 60 newspapers and eleven radio stations with talk shows literally discussing anything under the sun in Rwanda. In fact the unethical and often blatantly criminal practices Rwandan journalists indulge would make News of the World seem like a very responsible newspaper. Yet News of the World was closed down by its own owner because of indulging in criminal and unethical conduct, something no Rwandan newspaper can suffer. Therefore, the absence of the kinds of restraints from shareholders, society and journalist associations that we see in Europe is the biggest challenge facing the mass media in Rwanda.

Again as Ms Rice called for more political accommodation in Rwanda, I asked myself who briefs her about the countries she visits. Listening to her was the commissioner general for correctional services, Paul Rwarakabije, the former overall commander of the FDLR, Rwanda’s leading rebel group and Jerome Ngendahimana, currently deputy commander of the reserve forces who was chief of intelligence in FDLR. In fact Ngendahimana’s, wife is a MP representing RPF in parliament. RPF has found the courage to reconcile with its enemies and work with them. Where America has been belligerent and uncompromising in its assassinations, arrests, torture and prosecution of its enemies, Rwanda has sought reconciliation, accommodation and moderation.

Can America accommodate any members of Al Qaeda if they surrendered and instead of jailing them in pursuit of justice integrate them into its democratic power structure? These questions kept racing in my head as I tried to establish the source of American hubris when it comes to lecturing others about best political practices. Who should have lecturing the other: America to Rwanda or vice versa?

Post 9/11 America and post genocide Rwanda

Post 9/11 America and post genocide Rwanda
MONDAY, 05 DECEMBER 2011 06:17 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Who should lecture the other about how to exercise restraint in the face of severe security threats?

Last week, I was invited by Rwanda’s minister of foreign affairs, the pleasant Louise Mushikiwabo, to attend a public lecture by United States permanent representative to the United Nations, Susan Rice, at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology. She gave a great speech, highlighting the tragedy of genocide Rwandans faced in 1994 and the courage and resilience with which they have reconstructed their lives, their public institutions, their economy and their international standing. Most of her speech – possibly 85 percent – was filled of praise of what Rwandans have achieved.

However, towards to the end of her speech, Ms Rice said that “friends should also speak frankly to friends” adding that “the political culture in Rwanda remains comparatively closed. Press restrictions persist. That civil society activists, journalists and political opponents of the government often fear to organise peacefully and speaking out. Some have been harassed. Some have been intimidated by late-night callers. Some have simply disappeared.” This part of the speech was out of sync with the first part where every achievement she mentioned was accompanied with real-life examples backed with facts and figures. Here, she made assertions without any effort to substantiate them.

First, I have a problem with western leaders when they come lecturing to their African counterparts on how to manage their countries as if our leaders are children. Indeed I had always wondered whether an African leader visiting the US would be allowed to speak like that to an American president until I had coffee with the former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Chester Crocker in Washington DC.

Crocker told me of how he took Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to meet then President Ronald Reagan in the late 1980s. According to Crocker, Mugabe proceeded to lecture Reagan on the faults of American policy towards Nicaragua. The CIA was funding a terrorist organisation, The Contra rebels, to wreck havoc on the population in an effort to overthrow the Sandinista government. Mugabe told Reagan that policy was wrong for world peace. “It was the last time Mugabe met an American president,” Crocker told me, suggesting that Mugabe was discourteous. I told Crocker that most American and Western European diplomats do exactly that when dealing with African leaders. Mugabe may have learnt the behaviour from them. Croker looked a little unhinged at this unexpected rebut.

Rwanda has many problems – I can list a million without thinking. Yet as Ms Rice concluded her speech, I felt she was pandering to claims of international human rights organisations and a few dissidents without reference to facts or context. More importantly, the view by people in the West and their African-elite cheerleaders that our systems are primitive and theirs saintly is not only wrong but has also been the basis of many misdirected attempts to usurp our sovereignty – with disastrous results. Yet judged by US standards, Rwanda has demonstrated greater flexibility, tolerance, accommodation and understanding than America in the face of similar dangers.

On 9/11 2001, the US lost two and a half buildings, four planes and only 3,000 people in a country of 300m i.e. 0.001 percent of its population. In response to this, the US declared the “world had changed” and then proceeded to behave like a bull in a china shop. It imposed onerous rules and regulations on its own population and on all countries all over the world that make some of Stalin’s practices seem benign. It began wire-tapping everyone’s phone without court sanction, invaded and occupied two countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) tens of thousands of miles away and is still there a decade later. It began bombing Pakistan and killing innocent civilians in what it calls collateral damage. It now carries out assassinations of alleged Al Qaeda leaders almost on a daily basis. It has imposed draconian rules in every airport around the world where people are finger-printed, photographed, X-rayed, undressed and indecently touched and humiliated.

The US also arrogated itself power to open everyone’s bank account anywhere in the world to its scrutiny. It officially began to run torture chambers at Abu Gren and Guantanamo Bay. It outsourced some of the torturing to its brutal allies in the Middle East, suspended many civil liberties at home and began jailing people, including US citizens, without trial. It bombed headquarters of media organisations that criticised its actions, jailed without trial and tortured journalists who reported such actions – all in the name of ensuring that not a single life is lost to terrorism again. The US has insisted that it cannot have any discussion with its enemies – it exports death to them.

In doing this, we must remember that America actually has strong institutional traditions, extraordinary intellectual resources, the best technology anyone can master, its defence budget is larger than the defence budgets of the rest of the world combined and its economy is the largest. These endowments should make America a more sober, calm, mature, confident and responsible player on the global scene as opposed to being paranoid. While some of its actions after 9/11 are justifiable in a free and democratic society, most are actually Stalinist and unjustifiable.

Yet in spite of all the above observations and criticisms regarding its response to 9/11, I still believe – by and large – in the greater moral good of America, the richness of its democratic process, the creativity of its institutional designs, the depth of its intellectual traditions and the profound goodness, generosity and humanity of its people. Indeed, I bring forth some of these criticism only to show that ensuring the security of a nation and its people is a very complex exercise that can make the actions of the most well intentioned state and leaders look draconian, unfair, brutal and unacceptable. Indeed, the first presidential order Barak Obama signed upon entering the Oval Office was to close Guantanamo Bay because he claimed George Bush was being wrong. His first term is nearing an end at this torture chamber is still running. Therefore Bush was not monster after all as Obama had tried to portray him. The issues must be more complex.

Let us now visit Rwanda, a poor country with very young, weak and fragile institutions, a poorly developed human resource base, limited technology, a poor economy amidst abject poverty of its people. Only 17 years ago, this country lost one million people (not 3,000) – almost 13 percent of the total population of the country (not 0.001 percent). Unlike America where the enemy was a foreigner from distant lands and could be controlled through border security, in Rwanda the enemy was the citizen where neighbour killed neighbour and a father killed his children and wife. It is a country where mass murder was organised by the state, mobilised by the mass media and executed by millions of ordinary citizens. And unlike America, Rwanda did not lose only four planes and two and a half buildings – it lost an entire country and 60 percent of its GDP.

As Rice concluded her speech with her carefully rehearsed qualifications about the need for economic reform to be in tandem with political reform, I was lost. I asked myself what a poor country like Rwanda would do to protect itself against the recurrence of such a catastrophe. If media mobilised for genocide, what restrictions are justifiable to limit future abuses? If political parties appealed to ethnic extremism and were willing to commit genocide to gain power, what should be done to avoid this behaviour in future? Given my own predilection to its values, my first country of reference was America. However, as pointed out above, America is an example of what any nation should NOT do when under threat. If Rwanda behaved like the US, it would have turned into a prison with roadblocks in every village and torture chambers in every locality. Neither could I turn to Britain because it has not been much different from America.

I know that the political system in Rwanda and the civic space and the mass media have many limitations upon them. Many of the limitations are products of lack of human resource capacity, a factor that Rice ignored. Some are self imposed by individuals and groups because of their experiences, something many commentators ignore. And others are imposed on society by the state justifiably and sometimes unjustifiably. I also know that for every limitation on political freedoms by the state in Rwanda, there are contestations over them. Rwanda is not a static society. It is fairly vibrant with different forces vying for increasing state control and others for greater freedoms. This is healthy as, to quote that ancient Greek philosopher, Heracleitus, strength is generated by the tension between opposites.

Kwame Nkrumah – that great hero of the African peoples – once said that “Those who would merely judge us by the heights we have achieved would do better to remember the depth from which we started.” Any judgement of Rwanda therefore has to begin from this basis. Celebrated American political scientist, Robert Dahl, once argued that democracy has two aspects; one is contestation, the other is participation. Contestation refers to how freely the political opposition contest for power from those holding it. Participation inquires into how many groups participate in politics and determine who the rulers should be.

Let us look a Rwanda on these two scores. According to the 2003 Rwandan constitution, no political party – regardless of how many votes it gets – can hold more than 50 percent of cabinet positions. The constitution also says that the president of the country and the speaker of parliament cannot come from the same party. Although the constitution does not require the president of the senate to come from a different political party from that of the president of the country, over the last seven years, the president of the senate has always come from outside of the president’s party. The current president of the senate, Damacen Ntarikuriryayo was President Paul Kagame’s leading challenger in the last election. And it is also until two months ago that for the first time since 1994 that the prime minister of Rwanda comes from the same political party as the president.

This constitutional innovation and the accompanying political practices were shaped by the experience of the early 1990s. The opening up of political space in 1990 generated a high level of political contestation in Rwanda and as a result stimulated the emergence of extremist political parties. These factors led genocide. Many Rwandans think that these extreme political positions were born of the winner-take-all system that existed then. Therefore, the 2003 constitution innovated ways to stop control of government by one group. This has reduced the appetite for extremist political contestation because every party knows that regardless of its majority, it will have to work with other parties in cabinet. So it is not good to antagonise your potential allies through extremely polarised positions.

More importantly, Rwanda has a Political Parties’ Forum whose chairmanship rotates among the different parties every month regardless of their electoral strength. Political parties meet regularly through this forum and discuss and harmonise major policy positions before going public. Because of this forum, political parties in Rwanda are less polarised and policy contestation is less heated compared to elsewhere.

Many observers of Rwanda, ignorant of these political innovations and armed with a set of prejudices about politics in Africa think that there is no significant political contestation in that country. Indeed, it is their prejudice about Africa that makes them prey to misinformation from Rwandan dissidents many of whom are either genocidaires running from justice or corrupt former officials who cannot find space in the new society that is being built. Thus, sections of the international press, human rights organisations and particular sections of the academia that lost intellectual control over Rwanda after 1994 have made themselves spokesperson of these groups.

Political contestation among the major political parties in Rwanda is less polarised because of the aforementioned constitutional innovations and political practices. Any casual visit to Netherlands or Belgium, where no single party can command a governing majority will reflect the kind of political accommodation we see in Rwanda. Because for any party to rule in Belgium it has to mobilise not less than four to six coalition partners, political parties in that country are reluctant to adopt extremely hostile political positions to other parties lest they alienate potential allies. This makes their politics less polarised and more reconciliatory in their rhetoric.

This practice is very different from the US (and until recently the UK) where you have two dominant parties able to govern without need for coalition partners. Today, American politics is so polarised, it is difficult to build a consensus on anything unless and until there is a major security threat like 9/11.

As Ms Rice spoke, I wondered whether she knows the existence of over 60 newspapers and eleven radio stations with talk shows literally discussing anything under the sun in Rwanda. In fact the unethical and often blatantly criminal practices Rwandan journalists indulge would make News of the World seem like a very responsible newspaper. Yet News of the World was closed down by its own owner because of indulging in criminal and unethical conduct, something no Rwandan newspaper can suffer. Therefore, the absence of the kinds of restraints from shareholders, society and journalist associations that we see in Europe is the biggest challenge facing the mass media in Rwanda.

Again as Ms Rice called for more political accommodation in Rwanda, I asked myself who briefs her about the countries she visits. Listening to her was the commissioner general for correctional services, Paul Rwarakabije, the former overall commander of the FDLR, Rwanda’s leading rebel group and Jerome Ngendahimana, currently deputy commander of the reserve forces who was chief of intelligence in FDLR. In fact Ngendahimana’s, wife is a MP representing RPF in parliament. RPF has found the courage to reconcile with its enemies and work with them. Where America has been belligerent and uncompromising in its assassinations, arrests, torture and prosecution of its enemies, Rwanda has sought reconciliation, accommodation and moderation.

Can America accommodate any members of Al Qaeda if they surrendered and instead of jailing them in pursuit of justice integrate them into its democratic power structure? These questions kept racing in my head as I tried to establish the source of American hubris when it comes to lecturing others about best political practices. Who should have lecturing the other: America to Rwanda or vice versa?

Museveni's post election Black swan.

TUESDAY, 20 DECEMBER 2011 05:36 BY ANDREW M. MWENDA

Why Besigye may have a chance at the presidency and how the President risks impeachment by parliament

Two things that seemed almost impossible and improbable at the end of March this year are increasingly becoming possible and probable as the year closes. One was that Forum for Democratic Change boss Kizza Besigye would never be President of Uganda (which was my position); the other was that the NRM-dominated Parliament would never impeach President Yoweri Museveni (which was the position of my critics) because he had effective control over it. Today, both scenarios are possible and probable. Both these changes show how indeterminate the future is.

At the end of March this year, Museveni was a very confident man. He had resoundingly defeated Besigye in what was perhaps the freest, fairest and least violence-ridden presidential election ever. Yes, he raided the Treasury and spent tonnes of public money on it. However, in the wider scheme of things, better a president who buys an election than one who kills for it. Wasn’t it King Philip 11 of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great) who saw bribery and lies as humane substitutes to slaughter?

Similarly, at the end of March, Besigye looked like a spent force; his claims that he had been cheated of victory sounded like sour grapes. He had been beaten in his northern stronghold, failed to gain ground in Buganda, lost significant ground in Teso and the entire East and made no inroads in western Uganda. He had called upon his supporters to demonstrate against electoral fraud and no one turned up.

On the other hand, Museveni had not just won by 68% (up from 58% in 2006), his NRM party also swept the Parliamentary seats. Out of 375 elected seats, NRM had won 264. Of the 43 MPs elected as independents, 39 were allied to the party. If one added UPDF representatives to NRM, the ruling party’s parliamentary majority looked overwhelming and Museveni looked as secure as ever in his position. To many observers, this was going to be Museveni’s best five year term ever.

This was the context of Uganda at the beginning of April 2011 – a demoralised and apathetic opposition; a confident and seemingly impregnable Museveni and his party. But by the end of the month, the tables had turned. Demonstrations had rocked the entire country from Kampala to Mbale, Gulu, Masaka and the president’s home district of Mbarara. Besigye had re-emerged from virtual obscurity to become the main centre of attention leading the ‘Walk to Work’ campaign. What had happened in less than two months to change everything?

The genesis of Museveni’s dilemma was the way he approached the election campaign. Suspecting that Besigye had been given a lot of money by the late Libyan President Muammar Gadaffi, Museveni raided the national Treasury for Shs 600 billion and went on a spending spree. It was the most expensive election in Uganda’s history. After the election, I was the leading proponent of the view that the president had literary bought the election.

By December 2010, Afrobarometer polls were showing Museveni with a commanding lead of 67% and throughout the election campaign, all polls reflected this constant figure. On Election Day, he got 68% – meaning that Museveni’s money had little effect on his electoral arithmetic.

However, the spending spree had powerful implications on the economy whose long-term consequences he could have underestimated and some he could not have foreseen. For example, assuming that his strategic objective was to retain power, he may have realised that in the short term this required some fiscal irresponsibility i.e. excessive spending that could cause inflation. However, once he had achieved his strategic objective, he would re-establish prudent fiscal and monetary policy, bring inflation under control and have a comfortable five years.

However, the President seems to have been hit by what Nassim Nicolas Taleb calls a Black Swan – the impact of a large and unexpected event. Immediately after the election, Uganda suffered two major external shocks – the increasing price of crude oil in international markets and the appreciation of the dollar – both of which brought with them imported inflation. Then the effects of the drought that had started in December 2010 were beginning to bite in form of high food prices – the most critical driver of inflation.

Even before Museveni could re-establish control over the economy, these developments grievously hurt our already fragile fiscal and monetary positions. Indeed, they made it difficult for Museveni to regain control over inflation in the short term. To make matters worse (as if the gods were colluding to spoil the president’s renewed mandate), the effects of these shocks were most felt by urban consumers - the constituency that is most hostile to the government but equally the most strategically positioned to make demands on the State by organising civil disobedience.

It is in this context that ‘Walk to Work’ protests began – producing the law of unintended consequences. For example, the protests initially reduced the inflow of food into Kampala City, thus making inflation worse. As the protests spread from Kampala to other towns, they scared away investors and tourists, thereby reducing the inflows of foreign exchange and thereby worsening the position of the Shilling. This in turn forced portfolio investors to begin selling off their Ugandan treasury bills and bonds, further undermining the health of the local currency.

In the midst of all these developments – a seemingly failing economy and a political process out of touch with people’s concerns – the constituencies in favour of protests grew. The teachers went on strike over poor pay. The taxi drivers followed suit over fuel prices. Then traders closed their shops protesting the increasing price of the dollar. Lawyers downed their gowns in protest against government handling of the demonstrations. Beleaguered and disoriented, the government’s response to these challenges became shabbier. For example, it began charging protesters with treason, a very ridiculous thing at that.

It is in these circumstances that Besigye regained his political relevance. Sensing a weakness, Parliament also took advantage of the situation to openly challenge the Executive using alleged corruption in oil deals as an entry point. So, if Museveni does not re-assert his authority now, Parliament may run out of control. If this happens, it may even gain the confidence to try to impeach him. And if Besigye can rekindle the Walk to Work fire, it may give him a chance at the presidency.

amwenda@independent.co.ug