About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Monday, July 23, 2018

Our biggest political question

Why NRM won local council elections amidst the `hated’ tax on mobile money and social media

  Last week, Uganda held elections for local councils. The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) of President Yoweri Museveni fielded a candidate in almost every contested position. I obtained provisional results from the Electoral Commission. They cover 53,340 out of 60,797 contested positions (i.e. 88%) in 122 districts. NRM won 69%, independents (most of them allied to NRM) 22% and the combined opposition a miserable 9%.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The poverty of Ugandan elites

Bursting the bubble of our `intellectuals’ by exposing their most cherished ideals as a bunch of delusions 

Many Ugandan elites have been shouting themselves hoarse denouncing the tax on social media. They also claim they are already burdened paying “too many taxes”. With a tax to GDP ratio of 14%, Ugandans are among the least taxed people on this planet. And after the abolition of Graduated Tax (or tax per head), only 621,366 people are registered to pay the direct personal income tax, Pay As You Earn, in an adult population of close to 18 million people.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

In defence of social media tax

Why taxing mobile money and social media is a politically revolutionary act that may help improve our democracy
 Since government introduced a tax on mobile money and social media, there has been deafening opposition to it from every quarter of Ugandan public opinion. Yet for economic and political reasons this is the most revolutionary tax decision this government has ever made. What is even more intriguing is that those making the loudest noise against it are equally that section of our society which actually pays the least taxes.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Museveni leadership of economy

How the president’s successful economic stewardship is now in the past with little direction on the future 

President Yoweri Museveni has been named 12th among 24 leaders globally whose individual contribution has had a significant positive impact on their countries’ economic growth. This was in a study by Professor William Easterly of New York University and Steven Pennings, a researcher at the World Bank. The rankings placed Museveni above Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Park Chung Hee of South Korea, the most successful leaders to preside over the economic transformation of their nations from poverty to riches within a generation.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Kayihura’s road to jail

How the former IGP became a victim of his own success, internal power struggles and changing geopolitics

 Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura, was the longest servicing officer in a top and sensitive security position under President Yoweri Museveni. He must have done a great job. Why then has he fallen out of favour so ignominiously and ended in jail being accused of murder?
Museveni has lasted in power for 32 years by strategy not luck. He always selects the “right people” for sensitive security positions and puts in place the right monitoring measures to ensure first, they hold his enemies/opponents at bay and second, that they themselves cannot overthrow him.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Uganda’s crime outrage

How to renew our nation’s security architecture to cope with the new challenges of murder and kidnapping 

The cold bloodied murder of Arua Municipality Member of Parliament, Ibrahim Abiriga, has reignited the debate on security in Uganda. Throughout last year, it was alleged that the security situation in the country had deteriorated because then Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, had privileged clamping down on opposition activism over criminal policing. He was also accused of working with criminals. His removal, it was argued and later celebrated, would end kidnappings and murders.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

In defence of land grabbing

Why the greedy Ugandans we love to hate could be the key to our future prosperity

Our country has a new villain: the land grabber! In the popular imagination, this is a rich and powerful individual grabbing land from poor helpless victims. There are strong incentives for journalists, academics, politicians, activists, pundits, etc. to position themselves as champions of the poor masses against the rich and powerful. Their views are cheered by the hordes, making them feel that somehow they are the moral conscience of our society.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Inside NRM’s Rukungiri debacle

How the bye-election shows us that Besigye is the best ally in Museveni’s pursuit of power 

 Last week, NRM lost a bye-election in Rukungiri in spite of (and I think also because of) deploying all its resources in the area. The army and police made a strong presence. Many NRM’s big guns from the district and the secretariat camped in Rukungiri.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Inside the Rwanda-Arsenal deal

How ignorance and stupidity combined to make the UK press hostile to a highly profitable sponsorship 

Last week Rwanda and Arsenal, an English Premier League football club, signed a $40m sponsorship deal for three years. According to the deal, a “Visit Rwanda” logo will be emblazoned on the left sleeve of all first team, Under-23 and Arsenal Women’s shirts beginning with the new season this summer. Many people were impressed because the country is selling itself as product and branding itself like a private enterprise.

Monday, May 28, 2018

In defence of land grabbing

Why the greedy Ugandans we love to hate could be the key to our future prosperity 

Our country has a new villain: the land grabber! In the popular imagination, this is a rich and powerful individual grabbing land from poor helpless victims. There are strong incentives for journalists, academics, politicians, activists, pundits, etc. to position themselves as champions of the poor masses against the rich and powerful. Their views are cheered by the hordes, making them feel that somehow they are the moral conscience of our society.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Inside Africa’s real tragedy

How the ideology of a welfare state has destroyed our continent and impoverished its people
Everywhere I turn these days, Ugandans (and Africans generally) are complaining about the sorry state of our education and healthcare systems. There is a widespread belief across development literature that state (or public) investment in health and education is a panacea to the problems of development.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Africa’s need for messiahs

Inside our belief that the salvation of our nations will come from the actions of one great man

If you follow discussions on politics in Uganda, or Africa generally, one factor is given as the cause of the slow rate of development – poor leadership. I used to hold this view but outgrew it in large part because I recognised that African leaders are propelled to power by the social dynamics of our societies. It follows that what they do with power reflects more on who we are as a people than who they are as individuals.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Understanding why nations fail

How a book celebrated by the world’s leading economists is actually an intellectual absurdity 

Last Saturday, my intellectual friends and I held a thrilling debate on a book by James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu titled `Why Nations Fail’. The book became an instant bestseller when it was published. Five Nobel laureates in economics endorsed it. Four other economists I hold in high esteem did that same. Jarred Diamond, whose work on the role of geography in the economic prosperity got me thinking in 1998, said good things about it.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Inside Uganda’s healthcare tears

Why trying to do everything for everyone, everywhere has ended up doing little for anyone, anywhere

The debate on health policy in Uganda is frustrating. Our health services are characterized by corruption, absenteeism, incompetence and apathy. Everyone is angry and frustrated including President Yoweri Museveni. This misery is self-inflicted because we refuse to acknowledge the limits on the state’s ability to do everything for everyone everywhere.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thinking succession in Uganda

Why the failure of a third force has locked us in a choice between Museveni and Besigye

In debating whether President Yoweri Museveni should go or stay we are not indulging in an abstract theoretical exercise but a challenge of practical politics. We can say Museveni’s government is performing badly, we need to improve it from within; or that it is dysfunctional, we need to change it from without.

Monday, April 16, 2018

On Africa’s big dreams

Why our continent needs to rethink her overenthusiastic attitude towards foreign direct investment

Last month, Rwanda hosted the African Union’s summit on the Continent Free Trade Area (CFTA). The discussions were as inspiring as they were frustrating. Leaders from government and the private sector talked big about the benefits of integration. Some even suggested an African crypto-currency. There is a mistaken belief that the existence of a common interest is sufficient to promote a collective effort to achieve it. This is rarely true.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Uganda’s new villain

Why the country and its president are fighting the wrong enemy on electricity tariffs

A large cross section of Ugandan elites is angry, very angry. It thinks the price (tariff) it buys electricity at is too high. So it has been looking for a villain to blame and has identified Umeme, the private utility licensed to distribute electricity. President Yoweri Museveni, who many Ugandans accuse of owning the company, has also joined the anti-Umeme coalition. Last year his villain was Bujagali Electricity Limited (BEL), the largest hydro electricity generator in Jinja. So the villain is a moving target and this explains why the debate on causes of high electricity tariffs is a toxic combination of high emotion and little knowledge.

Monday, April 2, 2018

On Museveni’s Umeme missive

UMEME: Why the president is misinformed about electricity distribution market and tariffs

President Yoweri Museveni’s letter to the minister of Energy has provided considerable grist to the anti-Umeme mill. There is no company providing a public service in Uganda that has been as successful in business and as equally hated by many as Umeme. This is because Umeme made a fundamental error: it invested in business success but ignored both customer relations and stakeholder engagement.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Lesson from Jinja East by-election

Why Uganda’s opposition should take voter turnout seriously if they ever want to win elections

On March 15th, the Electoral Commission declared opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate, Paul Mwiru, elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Jinja East constituency in a by-election. Since then, opposition leaders have been congratulating themselves on this “big win.”  Yet the results, when properly analysed, should cause the opposition in Uganda to pause and reflect.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Uganda’s myths and realities

Why Besigye can only govern using Museveni’s politics of corruption and patronage 

 The discussion of a post President YoweriMuseveni Uganda tends to be programmatic rather than analytical. It is built on false hopes based on textbook theories rather than the actual social dynamics of Uganda. This problem is perverse in nearly all Africa. It explains why our continent has seen many changes of government without much qualitative change in governance. Museveni governs in a particular way more out of the dynamics of power and politics in a poor multi ethnic country than out of his personality.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The fall of Kayihura

Why the firing of the IGP has more to do with Kampala-Kigali relations than crime in Uganda 

Finally President Yoweri Museveni has fired the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura. It was a sad ending for a man who more than anyone else has fought the hardest to defend Museveni’s job.
It must be painful for Kayihura because he was not even given an alternative appointment as minister or ambassador or even the token one of “senior presidential advisor” that the president gives to many people he fires. In leaving him jobless, Museveni has not disguised his extreme displeasure with Kayihura.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The poverty paradox

UGANDA: Why economic development tends to increase social insecurity leading to anger

  A couple of months ago, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics produced its survey showing that between 2012 and 2017, the number of people living in poverty increased from 19 to 27%. This provided considerable grist to the anti President Yoweri Museveni mill. It confirmed the accusations of his critics that the president has been mismanaging the economy.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The problem with Africa

The problem with Africa: If our countries remain poor, it’s because its leaders and elites are too kind to their people to force transformation

Last week, President Yoweri Museveni tweeted a picture of himself pushing a bicycle in some village “promoting” an irrigation scheme. It was a masterstroke in the politics of dealing with peasants whose support he desires. The problem was the medium of broadcasting his initiative – Twitter.
The Uganda social media crowd dislike Museveni. Being educated and urban, they see agriculture as a reflection of backwardness. I agree. No country where most people depend on agriculture for a livelihood is rich. Trying to help peasants become better at what they do may be good politics and even improve their lot but it cannot transform them. The future prosperity of Africa will depend on ending the peasantry.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The challenge of state legitimacy

Government can only govern if people comply with its demands, but why do people comply?

The German sociologist, Max Weber, argued that if the state is to exist, the dominated must obey the authority claimed by the powers that be. Then he posed an important question: when and why do men obey? He identified three main types of legitimate authority: the first that is derived from the personal charisma of a ruler, the second derived from tradition, and the third derived from a set of widely accepted laws and rules that determine who should govern and how.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Fashionable nonsense

How the debate on governance in Africa is a toxic combination of high emotion and little knowledge

 It is fashionable across our continent to condemn governments for poor delivery of public goods and services. This, it is argued, is caused by corruption, incompetence, and greed by our leaders. This is captured in the modern lexicon as “bad governance”. Yet in spite of many changes of government, and with the exception of post genocide Rwanda, no poor country can avoid this accusation.
I argued in this column last week that what we call “bad governance” is not only the most cost effective and cost efficient way of managing power relations in the context of poverty, it is actually the only affordable way of doing so. But first let me make a caveat.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Losing my innocence

How my hubris to become president of Uganda pulled me from the trees of utopia to the hard rock of reality
 I want to continue with a line of thought from this column last week i.e. that African countries cannot be governed using strategies Western governments employ to govern their societies.
Government legitimacy in the West is based on many things. But one critical source of legitimacy is the ability of the state to provide all its citizens with a large basket of public goods and services. Sadly, African nations do not have the money to govern that way.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Reconsidering governance in Africa

Reconsidering governance in Africa: Why our obsession with copying and pasting western institutions causes more harm than good

 If you follow debate on Africa anywhere in the world, everyone will tell you that the main problem with our countries is governance. Yet this claim is new, picked from the World Bank’s World Development Report of 1989. Now it has entered the lexicon of politics as a religion; the very reason we need to focus on it. In the 1960s and 70s, the main issue was that African countries are poor because of their integration into the world economy as producers of unprocessed raw materials.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Is America a shithole country?

How Trump and his African admirers judge the quality of something based entirely on money
Just before the outbreak of the Nama-Herero rebellion in modern day Namibia in April 1904, Chief Hendrick Witboi of the Nama tribe penned a letter to the then German military governor of that colony. “He (the colonialist)… introduces laws which are entirely impossible, untenable, unbelievable, unbearable, unmerciful and unfeeling,” he wrote, “He punishes our people… and he has already beaten people to death for debt. He thinks we are stupid and unintelligent people but we have never punished people in the cruel and improper way he does.”

Monday, January 15, 2018

The poverty of Africa’s elites

Why the tendency of African intellectuals to blame leaders for the failures of our nations is escapism 
I recently had a Twitter debate with Prof. George Ayittey; the Ghanaian author of `Africa Unchained: the blueprint for development’ (Palgrave/MacMillan, 2004) and scholar at the American University in Washington DC.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Uganda’s (Africa’s) paradox

Uganda’s (Africa’s) paradox: Why youth unemployment and urban poverty is a sign of progress 
Uganda, like all African countries, has a big problem of youth unemployment. Some figures put it at 83%. Unemployed and underemployed youths are relegated to slums in towns where they live a life of poverty, misery, and marginalisation. This assessment makes a lot of moral sense and emotional appeal. It is also politically attractive. But it is actually filled with a lot of nonsense.