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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lessons from Mandela’s leadership

It’s possible to risk one’s political career and compromise without being compromised

The younger Mandela was a militant who believed that apartheid could only be defeated through armed struggle. As he grew older, Mandela re- alised that this would be a long and costly route. He felt it was possible to end apart- heid through negotiations.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lukwago’s political dilemma

As mayor, he needs to strike a balance between the competing demands of his electoral base and his job

Last week, Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago was impeached by 29 to three votes in the Capital City Council. However, the High Court later declared his impeachment hurried and reinstated him. Lukwago’s supporters were jubilant, seeing this as a major victory.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Between Umeme and Parliament

Why Parliament and government should be kept out of business to allow private investors to deliver electricity

Two weeks ago, an ad hoc committee of parliament recommended government cancels its contract with Umeme for the distribution of electricity in the country. The committee raises many complaints against the concession agreement and Umeme’s performance; a few correct, some legitimate, others completely wrong, many erroneous and most of them ill-informed.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Many won’t mourn Lukwago’s fall

The mayor has consistently opposed and obstructed every effort to reform the city and thereby rendered himself irrelevant
Finally, the NRM has found a way to get rid of Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago, a man who has been a thorn in their feet. A commission of inquiry chaired by a high court judge found him guilty of abuse of office, gross misconduct and incompetentence – what a way to humiliate an opponent.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Inside the fair trade movement

Why Africa should fight for free trade, not fair trade; for competitiveness in global markets and not kindness in consumers

Everyday there is an effort mainly in the West to save Africa from something – tyranny, impunity, poverty, disease, ignorance – whatever. Always, the savior is an institution or person from Western Europe and its off-shoots in North America. This “savior” is presented as kind, generous and altruistic. Consequently, the supposed beneficiaries need not be active participants in the efforts to save them.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Behind Museveni’s cash handouts

Why the president openly bribes voters at public functions and gets away with it and what can be done about it

When we had just started The Independent, a particular problem confronted me. Each time a member of staff fell ill at office and was rushed to hospital, other staff members would call me. As owner of the company, staff members consider me rich. 

And as managing director, I am the boss. In their subconscious mind, I am expected to assist in such cases of emergency because of my presumed wealth and also my position as their leader. By subconscious I mean those things we take for granted as “the normal way of doing things.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Why Africa should tell her own story

Debunking the myths that mass media generally perpetuate about Africa and Africans

Most Western journalists covering Africa tend to purvey prejudice rather than convey accurate information. Even when the journalist knows a specific story is an oversimplification and/or misrepresentation of a more nuanced reality, they still retreat to prejudice to pander to their audiences.

However, there are very few journalists who have defied this logic and tried to present a more nuanced picture of Africa and Africans. One of these has been Fareed Zakaria of CNN and Time Magazine. When he is not pandering to the interests of the dominant forces in American politics, he can be insightful and thoughtful.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Do suffering Africans a favour, don’t help them

People who are not willing to fight for their freedom and pay the highest price for it do not deserve to be free

The idea that only the international community (read the West) can save Africa has gained hegemonic status. This is expressed in many ways: in efforts to end poverty, in human rights advocacy, economic reforms, feeding the hungry, treating the sick, keeping the peace, “ending impunity,” providing shelter, paying for education; in almost everything under the sun, we are being conditioned to believe that our salvation cannot come from our initiatives but from external benefactors. Across Africa, many elites are convinced that someone good out there should do the job for us.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Africa and the curse of the ICC

How the International Criminal Court is seeking to usurp our sovereignty and why progressive Africa should reject it
Last week, the African Union summit in Addis Ababa resolved to ask the UN Security Council to defer the case against President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya at the ICC. It is unprecedented to put a serving president of a sovereign nation on trial. If Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto are convicted, ICC will have overturned the freely expressed will of the Kenyan people.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Inside Africa’s politics of patronage

How Rwanda is defying the established mechanisms of organizing politics in Africa and why it is succeeding
Last week, we were at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) for a two-day conference on Rwanda. It always amazes me how this small (geographically), poor (economically) and geo-strategically unimportant country attracts attention far out of proportion to its position.

Critics and fans of President Paul Kagame battled each other over his legacy. Both sides agreed that the country has registered rapid state reconfiguration and economic reconstruction. For critics, however, the reasons that have made this possible were incidentally the reasons for their attacks. This article seeks to demonstrate this.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A president’s betrayal and Africa’s sin

Another look at Africa’s patron-client relations and the peasant moral universe

Sometime in 2003, I visited the late former Zambian president Fredrick Chiluba at his palatial home in Lusaka’s rich suburb of Kablong and we sat down over a meal of rice, chapatti and wild game. He was under attack from his protégé and successor, Levy Mwanawasa on allegations of corruption.

Chiluba felt deeply betrayed when Mwanawasa went to parliament and asked it to lift his immunity as a former president so that he could be criminally prosecuted.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Inside Obama’s vision of Museveni

How the US president has swallowed his idealism and transformed from a critic of his Ugandan counterpart into an ally

Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States in 2008 was a moment of great hope. It is difficult to recapture the emotional tone of that moment. But, to use the words Robert Bates used on Africa’s independence, “the depth of it, the fullness of it and the promise it offered” left its mark on all those who followed his campaign up to his inauguration.

It was presented as a new dawn, a rebirth. In Africa, our chattering class saw in Obama a savior to liberate them from local dictatorships and their corruption.

East Asia and Africa compared

Opening the black box of East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa to expose the initial conditions in each region in 1960
The Nobel laureate in economics, Robert Lucas, once said that when you begin thinking about development, you cannot stop. I suffer this disease as well. One subject that intrigues me is the constant comparison of the rate of economic transformation achieved by the so-called Asian Tigers; Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea with that of Sub-Saharan Africa countries.

The African countries are often condemned for failing to perform as its counterparts in East Asia. I used to be an adherent of this view and reached the road to Damascus only slowly.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tinyefuza’s disappointing performance

How Gen. Sejusa has, through a series of letters, proven to be much less than what I always expected of him
I read with disappointment a letter allegedly written by Uganda’s former coordinator of intelligence services, Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza, in late August in which he alleges that President Yoweri Museveni killed many of his political “enemies” – real and suspected – James Kazini, Andrew Kayiira, James Wapakhabulo and Noble Mayombo.

Initially I thought the letter was a fake because the Tinyefuza I know is so much more intelligent to write such a crappy piece of nonsense. However, that he has not come out openly to deny it makes me suspect he could have authored the letter.

Monday, September 9, 2013

America’s Syrian blunder

Why Obama’s proposed military strike against the government of Assad is likely to make a bad situation worse

President Barack Obama’s decision on a military strike against Syria demonstrates the triumph of politics over policy, fear over reason and tactics over strategy. Obama had drawn a red line on the use of chemical weapons.

The government of Bashar Al-Assad, if American intelligence is to be believed, has crossed that line. Can Obama allow Assad to call his bluff? It is very possible that Obama is acting to protect his and America’s credibility so as not to appear weak.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

What drives economic success?

Development is more a result of the activities of many anonymous individuals than a product of a visionary leader

Common sense should predict and human nature would dictate that every leader of a poor country would desire to go down in history as a great transformative hero; a Lee Kuan Yew or Park Chung Hee, the president and prime minister who presided over the transformation of Singapore and South Korea respectively. Even an Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Jean Badel Bokasa and Siad Barre, perhaps the most venal leaders Africa has produced, would prefer such a legacy.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Shame of the 9th parliament

How the Legislature has joined the Executive in a spree of anarchical grabbing of public resources in Uganda

It is now coming to two years since parliament in Uganda set up a committee to investigate allegations that ministers Sam Kutesa (Foreign Affairs) and Hillary Onek (then at Energy) took nearly US$30 million in bribes from the Irish oil company, Tullow Oil.

The committee held official hearings, summoned many individuals and its members traveled to Malta, Dubai and London in their investigations. To date it has not tabled the report of its findings. What actually happened?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reflecting on African leaders

Our intellectuals need to broaden the debate on our failures from individual presidents to our elite class generally
I think I have lost my faith in the wickedness of African leaders. A significant amount of debate on the failure of Africa to develop as rapidly as East Asia has focused on the personalities of individual presidents. Academic research has not been spared this fetish.

I write this article with a lot of humility because I have also been a principle proponent of this idea. Has Africa’s principle reason for poor performance been due to bad leadership at the level of its presidents and a few people around them?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Behind Mugabe’s landslide

Why Zimbabwe’s ageing president won an election he should have lost and lessons for the opposition in Uganda

So at 89 years, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe won a seventh term of office to remain president of his troubled country. Having been in power for 33 years, Mugabe, if he does not die in office, has a chance to make it 38 years in power. At that time, he will be 94 years.

This will bring him closer to former Malawian President Kamuzu Banda who left office in 1994 at the official age of 96 although many people say he was 100 years. Mugabe defeated his main opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC by 61 to 34 percent in an election that was largely peaceful.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Rwanda’s intriguing experience

You cannot choose whom you were born to but you can choose which person you want to be

Every time I read a book about Rwanda or experience its daily life as a regular visitor attending official and informal gatherings, or by travelling to the countryside and talking to ordinary citizens, I discover how little I know about its state and society.

It happened again in July when I traveled to Kigali to attend a youth dialogue event under the theme of “The promise of a post genocide generation.” It was organised by the First Lady, Jeannette Kagame’s organization, Imbutu.

The price of politics

Why Uganda’s large cabinet, numerous presidential advisors and new districts are politically lucrative

And so it was that inside the New Vision of Monday July 22 was a printed list of our ministers – a 78-strong cabinet – up from 71. The biggest “ministry” is the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

It has a prime minister, two deputies, five full cabinet ministers – for Karamoja, information and national guidance, general duties, disaster preparedness and refugees and government chief whip. Then it has five ministers of state – for Luwero, Teso, Bunyoro, Karamoja and northern Uganda. Huh!!! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Inside 'post-racial' America

A teenager is killed. The killer is acquitted. The country is USA. The teenager was black. Sounds familiar? Yes! Here is why.

Preamble from the Huffington Post: In March 2013, 16-year old unarmed Kimani Gray was shot seven times, including three times in his back by the New York City police as he left his friend’s birthday party. In March 2012 in Pasadena California, a 19-year college student Kendrec McDade was shot and killed by police.

Egypt’s twisted democratisation

Why the U.S. should reflect on its historical experience and let the secularists and Islamists forge their own path

Events in Egypt over the last week have been both disappointing and illuminating. Disappointing because a democratically elected government was overthrown by the military supported by a vast number of Egyptian citizens. Illuminating because it confirmed what we already knew i.e. that democratisation is a long and protracted process that goes through many twists and turns. 

In the best case scenario, Egypt is going through the birth pangs of democracy – this is only a passing cloud before the country stabilises. In the worst case scenario, this is the first step on a journey more perilous than the Sahara. Egypt could be on a highway to civil war.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

America’s slippery slope

How the US war on terror threatens to undermine the cause of individual liberty

In 1948, George Orwell published his novel, 1984, a classic statement of the danger to individual liberty paused by increasing technological sophistication, especially in the hands of the state. The novel is set in a country with an all-powerful state, Big Brother, characterised by a state-controlled economy with few monopolistic producers and controlled labor. Yet this is not what made Big Brother all-powerful. Two factors did.

Uganda’s incompetence paradox

How economic performance indexes contradict assumptions about the corruption and ineptness of our government

Sometime in 2001, former Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres visited Uganda. At that time he was Managing Director of the World Economic Forum. At a conference also attended by President Yoweri Museveni at the International Conference Center in Kampala, he said that Costa Rica had grown her export earnings from US$ 1.3 billion to $5 billion in ten years.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The missing intellectual voice

How the selection process in our politics tends to produce low caliber leaders

I am inclined to believe countries get leaders they deserve. I am also inclined to believe that countries don’t get leaders they deserve. How does one reconcile this apparent paradox?

Well, each statement is a different side of the same coin. For example, leaders spring from the societies they serve. Therefore, their behavior and actions reflect its peculiar habits, norms and traditions.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Between NRM and the opposition

Museveni's opponents have employed the same tactics as their adversary – and Ugandans no longer see a difference
In the 1990s, the enemy of the government of Uganda was the government of Sudan in Khartoum. The Monitor newspaper I worked for was moderately critical of the NRM even though its editors, especially Wafula Oguttu and Charles Onyango-Obbo, were at the time sympathetic to its cause.

Each time I debated Monitor with government functionaries, especially top officials in the security establishment, they would tell me that the newspaper is financed by Sudan.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The triumph of press freedom

The closure and reopening of Daily Monitor and Red Pepper exposed the weaknesses, not the strength, of the state
Finally, the government re-opened Daily Monitor and its affiliate radio stations KFM and Dembe on the one hand and the Red Pepper and her sister newspapers Kamunye and Hello Uganda on the other. For many observers, the closure of these newspapers was a blow to press freedom.

This is perhaps true for those concerned with short-term tactical maneuvers. Strategically, the closure of the two daily newspapers and government’s eventual withdraw was a triumph for the cause of a free press.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Inside a Muhoozi presidency

With Museveni seeming invincible for now, the only hope of succession is ironically a Muhoozi project

Since Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza kicked off a storm by claiming President Yoweri Museveni wants to make his son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba his successor, Uganda has not stopped talking. In 2002, Muhoozi authored a concept paper on the reform of the army.

Museveni invited him to present it to the army high command where Tinyefuza was. Apparently, it took precedence over another concept paper written by the generals. Someone leaked this to me. I wrote an article in Sunday Monitor suggesting the president was positioning Muhoozi to take over the army.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Tinyefuza’s campaign managers

How overreaction to Tinyefuza by closing down Daily Monitor and Red Pepper may launch yet another presidential candidate
Since the Coordinator of Intelligence Services, Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza, kicked off a storm by alleging that there is a plan to have Brig. Muhoozi Keinerugaba succeed his father President Yoweri Museveni as president of Uganda, government has been eclectic.

Yet, more than what Tinyefuza said, it is the response of the government that is troublesome. It seems the government is determined to make a hero out of Tinyefuza.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Between violence and money (Part II)

How NRM’s level of organization has made it impossible for the Opposition to mobilize the masses against Museveni
Sections of the opposition in Uganda have been arguing that it is through violence that President Yoweri Museveni has been able to sustain his political power. While this may have been the case for the first decade, it has become increasingly counterproductive for the President to use violence as an instrument of rule.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Between violence and money

How Museveni has shifted from reliance on military force to coerce political support to the use of money to rent it

My article, “What keeps Museveni in power” (The Independent April 12-18), attracted the most intense debate on our website. Apparently, most critics of President Yoweri Museveni place disproportionate importance on the contribution of violence to his ability to hold power.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rwanda’s international bond debut

Why African countries should follow the example of Rwanda, Ghana and Zambia by moving from foreign aid to bond markets

Last week, the government of Rwanda issued an international 10-year bond to raise $400 million for infrastructure development. Within two days, the bond had been oversubscribed as investors placed orders worth $ 3 billion for a piece of this pie. Given that Rwanda’s GDP is just $6.4 billion, this is a great show of confidence by self interested investors. It was also a slap in the face of the self-righteous merchants of charity who have recently shown low confidence in the country.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Western impressions, African perceptions

How our admiration of Western systems has more do with how it perceives itself than the reality of its being

I still cannot explain what got into my head recently to re-read William Shirer’s, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a 1,200 pages tour de force. I had first read the book in 1999. It left a lasting impression on me for the details on the Third Reich and the elegance of its prose.

Monday, April 22, 2013

NRM and its rebel MPs

How party’s tolerance of rebel MPs was typical of its tolerance of other ills and a danger to democracy
Finally, the NRM decided to expel it’s so called “rebel MPs”. Many critics of President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM have denounced this decision. The MPs themselves are challenging it in a constitutional court. Yet most of this criticism is out of ignorance or opportunism. 

These MPs were violating the Loi fondamentale of party politics. In most multi-party democracies, they would have suffered a similar fate.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What keeps Museveni in power

How the President’s success in retaining power rotates around his obsessive focus on all threats to it.
A friend recently sent me a text message saying: “Man, what’s up with the Mbuya and Bombo attacks and an attempt on Kale. Ankunda’s answers in the Observer and Tinye’s incoherence don’t inspire confidence. I hope I am very, very wrong.” 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Freedom by foreign diktat

Why Western attempts, genuine though they may be, to promote democracy in poor countries is anti-democratic
As I write this article, a debate is raging in America on gun ownership – indeed it has been raging for generations. Every other day, there is carnage in America. Some crazy person grabs a gun and goes on a shooting and killing rampage – in a school, kindergarten, train station, shopping mall or church. 

Tens die, many more are injured. Americans have been debating how to stop this incessant carnage in view of the second constitutional amendment that gives that nation’s citizens a right to bear arms. Opinion polls show that most Americans prefer some restrictions on the purchase of automatic weapons. Yet the country has been unable to martial a politically weighted majority for gun-reform.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tullow's alleged bribe to Museveni

It is very unlikely that Museveni would trade US$ 404m to the treasury for a private bribe of $50m. Here is why.

Press reports that Tullow Oil discussed to bribe President Yoweri Museveni with a private cash payment of US$50 million for his 2011 re-election campaign in order to circumvent paying capital gains tax worth US$ 404 million have generated heated debate in the country. Although the emails refer to an inside suggestion among company executives, Museveni’s critics, hungry for any mud to smear on him, now claim that the President actually took the bribe.

The tyranny of human rights organisations

This is an expanded version of the original article "Power without responsibility" that was uploaded on Friday 8th Feb. 2013.

How the West is seeking to usurp Africa’s struggle for freedom and democracy using a humanitarian language

Since the end of the Cold War, a movement to save Africa from Africans has grown and gained momentum across the Western world. This movement is reflected in campaigns to end poverty by giving aid and canceling debt, to try African leaders at the International Criminal Court and to promote human rights. On the face of it, this movement seems humane and well intentioned.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Who will save us from NSSF?

The only way a managing director can protect their job at the fund is by sitting on their arms and doing nothing

Early this year, the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) bought shares worth Shs 52 billion in an Initial Public Offering by Umeme, the electricity distributor in Uganda. In response, the Central Organisation of Free Trade Unions – Uganda (COFTU) and the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) have launched a complaint to the Minister of Finance, Maria Kiwanuka. The complaint is veiled blackmail that threatens “a series of actions beginning March 1, 2013” if she does not accept to meet with them. In short, COFTU and NOTU are saying that for NSSF to invest, they must have a say.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The aristocracisation of Kenya politics

How the electoral process in Kenya produces powerful political families that use identity to wield power

Many factors may have influenced the 2013 election in Kenya. But three of these stand out.
The first is the influence of political families who have held sway over Kenya’s politics since independence. The second is the role of money derived from wealth that has been accumulated through politics. The third is the ability of this political aristocracy to leverage identity to secure a following.

These factors are interconnected and self-reinforcing. They also have powerful implications on the nature of the state in Kenya and its ability to foster political institutions and public policies that can serve the ordinary citizen.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Kategaya: His views and politics

In his willingness to change his mind in the face of new facts, he embodied the finest traits of intellectual self-confidence

I spent most of Saturday March 2 night staring at my computer at home trying to write an obituary of the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of East African affairs, Eriya Kategaya, who had just died. I did not exceed a paragraph. I then spent a good part of Sunday morning and evening on a similar exercise, still without success. I cannot claim that this was just because I was overcome with grief. My relationship with Kategaya was more political than personal. His loss to me was more intellectual than emotional. I was, therefore, puzzling on how to frame his role in Uganda’s politics.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Inside Rwanda’s 2017 transition

The decision on whether Kagame stays or retires may be in the hands of international organisations

The fortunes of a nation, especially a poor one, are determined not only by its leaders and people but also by the interests and whims of powerful nations. This fact hung over the meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of Rwanda’s ruling party, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) on February 8, 2012 (see cover story). As President Paul Kagame began his speech on his desire to relinquish the presidency, many RPF cadres were having second thoughts about the whole idea.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Museveni-Besigye debate

Why the president must be happy with the current debate between him and his leading critic

I have been following with keen interest the debate in the press between President Yoweri Museveni and opposition leader and activist, Dr. Kizza Besigye. From the standpoint of a democratic society, their media interviews and articles are a sign of healthy debate. In many ways therefore, Ugandans should be proud that the President and the most potent symbol of opposition to his government are engaged in a debate.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A good African story

Rugasira’s book shows the gulf between rhetoric about value addition and the outcomes of the actual policy process
All too often, most of the literature on doing business in Africa is by non Africans mainly from the Western world whose lenses are colored by their institutional and cultural prejudices and biases. Or it is by bureaucrats from international development organisations who have never done business and therefore give a lot of theory but little insight into practical experience. This makes it difficult to gain real understanding of how businesses on the continent actually work – both the opportunities that abound and the structural and organisational constraints they face.