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 28, 2011


Two epoch-making political transitions in Sub-Sahara Africa simultaneously dominated global news in April 1994, South Africa and Rwanda. South Africa’s was a transition from white minority rule to black majority rule; Rwanda’s from “Hutu majority” rule to “Tutsi minority” rule. The transition in South Africa was peaceful, achieved through a negotiated settlement and democratic elections. The transition in Rwanda was violent; achieved through military victory against the backdrop of genocide.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Commission of enquiry a mockery of justice.

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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Over the last three weeks, the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has brought the entire global diplomatic community to its knees by publishing secret cables between the US State Department and its missions around the world. Now, in Uganda we know President Yoweri Museveni’s private thoughts about his colleagues; Muammar Gaddafi, Joseph Kabila, Isias Afeworki and Robert Mugabe.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Museveni's post election Black swan.

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.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ssebutinde commissions solve nothing except..........

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 - truthful 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.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Post 9/11 America and post genocide Rwanda

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.

Post 9/11 America and post genocide Rwanda

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.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Separating fact from fiction

We cannot fight corruption using corrupt or unfair and unjust means

On the opposite page, Nicolas Rugaba Agaba criticises me for taking the now infamous oil bribery documents to President Yoweri Museveni. He insinuates that this compromised my investigation since the President has no will to fight corruption.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Who is Karuhanga fighting for?

Without arbitration, Uganda has US$ 405m in its treasury. With arbitration, we have a 50 percent risk of losing it.

I read with great pain and frustration the Sunday Monitor interview with the western youth Member of Parliament (MP) Gerald Karuhanga about alleged bribes paid to ministers Sam Kutesa and Hillary Onek in the ongoing oil-bribes-saga. Asked why he thought the documents he tabled before parliament were genuine, Karuhanga said: “we saw some people trembling; if it was not true, why were they trembling?” First, the evidence came while making accusations in parliament. Second, is this really evidence of guilt? And I am told Karuhanga is a lawyer. If we accept this as a standard for our MPs to make policy and pass resolutions then we are doomed as a country.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Inside the American Dream.

The folly and delusions of a nation that has forgotten the concerns of its ordinary citizens

And so it was that on Nov. 4, I flew to New York City from London via Amsterdam. Upon landing at JFK International Airport, I entered the longest queue in the history of international travel and immigration clearance; there, a hoard of not less 4,000 human beings snaked inside the terminal building waiting for clearance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why Uganda Revenue authority is Wrong on Taxes.

The new rules are regressive because they do not seek to get money from the thieves per se, but to tax those thieves who want to invest

In July this year, Uganda Revenue Authority introduced new rules on transferring or registering property (cars and houses). Under the new rules, anyone transferring ownership of a car or house worth more than Shs 50m is required to show the tax returns on the income used to buy such an asset. For example, if you bought a house for Shs 2.1 billion, URA says you needed to have earned Shs 3.0 billion and paid income tax of 30 percent i.e. Shs 900m. If you cannot show that you paid the tax, URA will insist you pay it before they approve the transfer of the property or asset into your names.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stoking the fires of impunity.

Gaddafi’s pitiful death, the celebration of it, Obama’s speech and the looming tragedy of post “liberation” Libya

Fate is a great joker, it always laughs last. And it did last week at former Libyan ruler Muammar El Gaddafi. He suffered a gruesome death at the hands of the very people he had called rats and cockroaches and promised to annihilate. They picked him from a rat-hole with only one bodyguard and killed him like a petty thief.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lies and Blackmail undermining democracy.

The lack of basic values as the basis of politics in Uganda is the source of our country’s constant state of crisis.

“It is not easy to stand apart from mass hysteria, to argue against something that everyone – especially the most respected political leaders, academics and experts are saying and instead argue that they are mistaken or deluded.” Leo Tolstoy, 1897

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Here is Rudasingwa's moral bankrupcy.

A man who can admit to being a liar should not make claims and they are taken seriously

Former director of cabinet in Rwanda, Theogene Rudasingwa, was a major item on BBC World Service. He claimed that President Paul Kagame boasted to him that it was he (Kagame) who had ordered the shooting down of the plane carrying former President Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994. Rudasingwa further added that the shooting “caused” the genocide – never mind the genocide had been planned by Habyarimana long before he died.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Let the free market work.

The worst danger for the government in troubled times like these is to adopt a public policy position over matters it has no control over

Uganda is in bad times and almost everything seems to be going wrong. The country’s electricity supply is drying out rapidly; even areas like Kololo which never used to suffer blackouts are affected now as electricity is cut almost every other day. The country has run out of sugar; supermarkets are allowed to sell only one kilogram per person per day; now the president has directed that politicians should not trade. Finally, the dollar is appreciating rapidly against the shilling; as I write this article it has hit Shs 2850.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Inside Uganda's democratic contests.

The disastrous collapse of public services under NRM is a product of the way in which democracy has evolved rather than its absence

On Saturday September 24, I went to my old school, Busoga College Mwiri, to attend celebrations marking its 100th birthday. It was a nostalgic trip that was at once thrilling and disappointing; thrilling to be back “on the hill” but disappointing to see the physical state of the school. Most of buildings have gone without paint for years. The toilets and shower rooms don’t function anymore, the compounds are overgrown, teachers’ houses are collapsing and the pit latrines emit a horrible smell that hits your nose almost 50 meters away. A few buildings have seen some paint.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Democracy and public goods and services.

The assumption behind a lot of literature on democracy is that people would care more about their welfare in elections

Africa’s poor performance at delivering public goods and services impersonally to anonymous citizens is often attributed to the continent’s democratic deficit. Democratic theory expects that if all citizens regardless of their income are given political equality through the one man one vote electoral system, and if the poor constitute a majority of voters in a given country, their preferences would be reflected in which people get elected and what public policies are adopted.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


The fallout between FDC leader, Kizza Besigye, and UPC leader Olara Otunnu, has been as dramatic as it was expected. The major sticking point in the breakup was whether to participate in the forthcoming elections.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why Museveni needs to reform.

Since April, Ugandans have sustained protests over many issues including wages, commodity prices and foreign exchange ratesHere is widespread discontent in most of Uganda against President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM. The mainstream opposition should, however, not think that this automatically means there is widespread support for their cause.


Since April, Ugandans have sustained protests over many issues including wages, commodity prices and foreign exchange rates

Here is widespread discontent in most of Uganda against President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM. The mainstream opposition should, however, not think that this automatically means there is widespread support for their cause. The Ugandan opposition has been behaving like a man who has been admiring and trying to woe a beautiful girl who is dating another man. When she dumps her boyfriend, he thinks that now she has fallen for him. The fact that many Ugandans are turning against Museveni and the NRM does not automatically mean they support the opposition. On the contrary, it seems most people who are discontented with NRM are equally either frustrated with the opposition or are not inspired by it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


The continuing primary elections for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) provides an important insight into the political health of our country. For more than two weeks now, we have been witnesses to a political party election that is both a sham and a farce. The NRM launched an armed struggle in 1981 because of election theft. Since it came to power, it has organised regular elections where every successive election has been more poorly organised than the previous one; every time violence, organisational confusion, bribery and vote rigging increase.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why NATO over threw Gadaffi.

MI6 was spying on Libyan dissidents in Britain and passing the information to Gaddafi

New revelations of the secret relationship between Libyan intelligence under Maummar Al Gaddafi and America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Britain’s MI6 are shocking but not surprising.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Human Rights Watch misunderstood Gacaca.

In the last 14 years and with US $2.1 billion spent, less than 50 cases have been heard in the Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any ideas of them already. But the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gadaffi is gone, what next?

I hope that my prediction is wrong because future generations of Libyans will be happy that I was wrong.I am writing this column on the morning of Monday August 22nd.By the time it is read, Libyan leader Muammar El Gaddafi might no longer be supreme ruler of that country. He might either be dead, in jail or exile.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Give ordinary peasants a voice.

Politics everywhere tends to be rigged in favour of the powerful. But in Uganda it has been made worse.

Last week, the mass media reported that the vast majority of rural Ugandans are at risk of malnutrition, especially in the northern region.It was a simple footnote of a story in New Vision and did not generate much public debate. It “died” immediately after it was published. Yet a story about a verbal duel between the coordinator of intelligence services, Gen. David Tinyefuza and the executive director of Kampala City Council Authority Jennifer Musisi or one between Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago and Musisi tends to dominate public debate in Uganda, especially in Kampala, all out of proportion to its significance in the lives of most Ugandans.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Besigye's choice on shs 20m bribe.

The only difference between our politicians is one of power, not policy; eating, not serving

Last week, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) held a meeting to discuss whether its members of the 8th Parliament who took the Shs20m “bribe” from President Yoweri Museveni to pass the Traditional Leaders’ Bill should return the money. Not surprisingly, the meeting ended without a resolution.

Friday, July 29, 2011

who will defend the rural poor ?

The benefits of high food prices go to the rural poor (the majority) while the costs are incurred by urbanites, a minority.As I write this article, food prices in Uganda are falling rapidly.For instance, the farm-gate price of a kilogram of maize in Kiryandongo (an example of a typical village) increased from Shs500 in January to Shs1,200 in April 2011.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Nato- Imposed regime won't liberate Libya.

It is difficult for a foreign country to dismantle the military, administrative and intelligence infrastructure of another country and establish a stable political order thereafter.Last week the French parliament voted to continue their country’s involvement in NATO airstrikes in Libya to remove Muammar Gaddafi.

NATO- Imposed regime won't liberate Libya.

It is difficult for a foreign country to dismantle the military, administrative and intelligence infrastructure of another country and establish a stable political order thereafter

Last week the French parliament voted to continue their country’s involvement in NATO airstrikes in Libya to remove Muammar Gaddafi.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Watch out South Sudan Independence.

Because the CPA did not define borders clearly, Khartoum will not want to see the evolution of an effective state and stable government in South Sudan

Last Saturday, South Sudan became the newest nation in the world. Yet beyond the celebrations in Juba that featured President Omar Al Bashir, there is a real risk to the security of this region with the coming into existence of this new nation. Can Khartoum really accept this passively? Khartoum may accept this secession as a fait accompli because of the international forces at play. Yet, it seems likely that it may not want to see the evolution of an effective state and stable government in South Sudan.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Uganda bigger than Museveni or Besigye !

If you criticise the opposition about their lack of an alternative policy, they do not present it, they instead accuse you of having been bought by the President.

A striking feature of intellectual life in Uganda is the paradox of political debate; the country is at once highly polarised and yet unified: Polarised in the sense that debate between government and the opposition never seems to have a common ground – each side speaks of the other as the devil incarnate; yet in this very polarisation lies the similarity of our political and intellectual class – both sides carry an angelic image of themselves and are thereby extremely intolerant of any view that contradicts this self image.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why we need to focus on results.

Forgive a public servant who delivers a quality product even if he violated 100% procedural rules but punish one who follows every rule and gives a bad product.In this column last week, I argued that the various institutions mandated to exercise oversight functions on the executive actually tend to do the opposite – encourage more corruption. This is especially so in public procurement where institutions like the Auditor General’s office, the Inspectorate of Government, parliamentary oversight committees and the mass media are supposed to hold public officials to account.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Price Of Besigye Museveni Rivalry.

Since 1996, it has become hard for the government to initiate and implement a big development project because of power struggles.

The contest for political power in Uganda between President Yoweri Museveni and the opposition largely led by Dr Kizza Besigye has become so intense that it has crowded out debate on policy alternatives. The struggle for power seems like an end in itself, rather than a means to an end i.e. serving the public good. The result is that since both sides have dug into this fight for supremacy there is little space for promoting the public interest. Journalists have inadvertently been sucked into this partisan struggle to argue for either side, only whipping up sentiments and seeking to score political points rather than to expose the selfishness of the actors.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How Democracy is Breeding Crooks.


In 2005 Museveni gave Shs5m to each MP to remove presidential term limits; in 2010, he paid Shs20m per MP to pass the Cultural Leaders Bill.

Last week, I was in Johannesburg to attend a World Bank conference on the South-South dialogue on natural resources. I sat there listening to Bank officials speak with confidence and cocksureness about the various solutions to Africa’s problems. Yet most of the proposed solutions were largely copy and paste ideas that ignore the real African context.

Foreign Policy names Andrew Mwenda as one ofthe top 100 most influential users on Twitter.

A who's who of the foreign-policy Twitter verse in 2011.


These days, everyone from the Dalai Lama to Bill Gates is on Twitter, the microblogging platform founded in 2006. During breaking news events like the death of Osama bin Laden or for following the Arab uprisings, it's become an invaluable tool for keeping up to speed. But for many, it's still just another place to promote their own work, rather than engaging in a more natural give-and-take. So how do you tell who's really worth following? FP's got you covered. Here are 100 Twitter users from around the world who will make you smarter, infuriate you, and delight you -- 140 characters at a time.

Monday, June 13, 2011



If individual ability and the right circumstances are necessary but not sufficient for success, what else is needed?

Recently, I chanced upon a documentary on Discovery Channel titled “Altered Statesmen” and featuring British World War II hero, Winston Churchill. It is a story of alternative history. Good old Winston was a restless man and a war monger. He could not easily cope with peacetime because he would have nowhere to offload his enormous energy – so he became manic depressive. He would try to cure this by resorting to heavy drinking, which made him an alcoholic. When the Second World War broke out, he came to life again – telling his wife that he felt happy for the first time in years.



While it is political choices that have fostered poor service delivery, it is reconfiguration of the civil service that will make service delivery possible

Finally, President Yoweri Museveni has ended the anxiety that was eating up the ruling classes – politicians, business persons, civil servants, prelates, journalists, etc by announcing his long awaited new old-cabinet. The politicians were expecting ministerial jobs from which they derive money and status. The journalists were hungry for a good story to go on the covers. Business people were anxious to know whom they now need to ingratiate themselves to, to gain advantage.

Monday, June 6, 2011


The government of Uganda has written a Media Law Amendment Bill which, even a committee composed of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Benito Mussolini and Pol Pot would find rather stringent. Yet it is not the law that I find the problem but rather the response of the stakeholders within Uganda society – media owners, journalists, civil society and the wider public. Except for a workshop or two by the indefatigable Peter Mwesige, we have all largely been silent.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Rwanda and prejudices towards Africa.


Without placing allegations of human rights abuses in context, it is easy to call Obama or Cameron delusional despots.

Last week, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, while on twitter, got into a heated exchange with a British journalist, one Ian Birrell. The journalist was accusing him of human rights violations, insisting the Rwandan president should account to him (as who?)for these abuses. Then Birrell shifted from accusations to insults and called Kagame a “delusional despot.” Meanwhile, the Rwandan president remained calm and continued to explain to Birrell that he does not know much about Rwanda and has therefore no right to judge him.

Will Besigye Rise To Challenge?


Peaceful protest cannot be an end in itself; it must have an objective. The tactics must seek to persuade not to intimidate

Over the last one month, opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye has made one of the most dramatic political comebacks in history. Having been humiliatingly defeated by his archrival, President Yoweri Museveni in the February 18th 2011 elections, Besigye looked like a lost cause. Save for a few of his fanatical supporters, most people had written him off as a spent force. Today, even Besigye sceptics are awed by his political re-invention.

The futility and dangers of a NATO-installed regime in Libya


The incentive structure created by NATO’s commitment to the rebels will breed a movement of opportunists, not democrats.

Recently, NATO airstrikes killed the son of Libyan leader Maummar Al Gaddafi and his three children. Officially, NATO’s role in the ongoing conflict in Libya is to protect that nation’s civilians. However, quite often one has to worry why (or whether) western powers care more about the welfare of Libyans than Libyan leaders! Besides, how does this deliberate targeted killing of innocent babies constitute “protecting” civilians?

Monday, May 9, 2011

How Bin-Laden Was Killed In Cairo.

Bin Laden argued that to end local tyranny, Muslims should fight American first; Cairo and Tunis proved him wrong

On Monday, I walked into the studios of Capital FM for my morning radio show only to see breaking news on television that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I just wept with joy. Coincidentally, on Sunday evening I had been arguing with a friend that Osama was going to get killed or captured because the raison detre for his terrorism had been eliminated by the success of democratic revolutions in the Middle East.

That Bin Laden has been killed after the success of democratic revolutions in the Middle East is not a coincidence. I suspect the two are linked. These revolutions have exposed the hollowness of his vision to the Islamic world – that Muslims can rid themselves of local tyrants through civil protests without fighting America and killing and maiming innocent civilians. The success of civil protests to overcome tyranny undermined the religious and ideological appeal of Al Qaeda’s vision and rendered it inevitable and even necessary for some Muslims to betray him to the Americans.

As is always its wont, the American government took full credit for the killing of Bin Laden. Of course tactically, it was an American victory especially because the forces involved in the operation were American. However, looked at strategically, the killing of Bin Laden was largely (not entirely) possible because those educated youths who brought down Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia and are threatening so many other despots in Syria, Yemen, etc had rendered Bin Laden’s message of fighting America as rearguard action against local tyranny irrelevant and misguided.

Many Arabs had always believed, and correctly so, that the success of entrenched autocrats in their countries was largely because of American patronage. Bin Laden tapped into this belief and used it as a justification for his war. He dressed it in the language of identity arguing it was a conspiracy of the Christian West to cripple Islam. But when American propped dictators began falling one by one, the air was sucked out of Bin Laden’s ideological balloon.

Bin Laden had argued that the existence of local tyranny in the Arab world was because of American support. That was of course true. He then argued that to local tyranny Arabs and Muslims needed to fight American first; and the mode of struggle was to be indiscriminate violence. That is where his vision became not only misleading but also disempowering.

As the events in Egypt, Tunisia and increasingly Yemen are demonstrating, local tyrants can be brought down in spite of American support for them. In fact, America had no idea that a widespread democratic revolution was in the making in the region. American “experts” had been writing books and academic papers on how Arab or even Islamic culture was inherently anti-democratic. Now we know they were wrong!

Bin Laden’s message was misdirecting the anger of Arab youth from the primary enemy (local tyranny) to a secondary one (the foreign patron). Secondly, his message was misleading Arab youths to fight an enemy they could not defeat instead of focusing on the one over whom they could prevail. Therefore, although subjectively an opponent of American propped despots in the Middle East, Bin Laden was objectively their ally. By focusing the mind of Arab youth on an enemy they could not defeat, he allowed local tyrants to consolidate their positions by exploiting US fears to get American money and support to crack down on dissent. When youth in Tunisia and Egypt brought America’s allies down, it was clear that Bin Laden’s vision had hit a dead end.

Therefore, the death of Bin Laden brings two important developments; it destroys the symbol of global terrorism thus sucking vital energy out of the movement. Of course Bin Laden had long been crippled organisationally. His role was primarily to be a source of inspiration. That is now gone. The most important development, however, has been the fact that the democratic movements in the Middle East are turning youths’ attention from the vision of Al Qaeda to one of civil protest in shaping their destiny.

There is the danger that Bin Laden’s death will invigorate Al Qaeda especially in its search for revenge. This can only work in the short term. The long term basis of Al Qaeda has cut down on the streets of Cairo and Tunis. It is not America that is the biggest threat to Al Qaeda and its cousin, political Islam; instead it is the success of democratic movements in the Middle East.

The frustrated youths who always sought inspiration in Al Qaeda can now get it from their own efforts on the streets. Cairo and Tunis demonstrated that terror is not the weapon of choice and Bin Laden is not the messiah of the Arab or Islamic world. Education, technology and the willingness to employ them civically is the way to go. Therefore, Bin Laden was politically dead before he was physically killed. It was therefore saddening that Obama did not say anything about this development in his speech.

Al Qaeda was surviving on a specific ideology, a specific set of domestic and global factors which have changed. Events in the Arab world have shown young people there that their destiny is in their hands and they can shape the political future of their countries without the support of America. People are feeling empowered and are now optimistic about the future.

Having been unable to predict, support or even stop the democratic movement in the Arab world, America, France and Britain have now jumped on the bandwagon to claim some victory – in Libya. As is their wont, they are pretending that the salvation of the people of that sorry country from the tyranny of Col. Muammar El Gaddafi will come from London, Paris and Washington. They are thus bombing Libyans to democracy.

American and Britain have been trying to impose democracy on Iraq with disastrous consequences – over 650,000 innocent civilians have died in this vain effort. Iraq remains a patchwork of sectarian warfare. Although less violence, it is certainly not democratic. The people of Egypt and Tunisia who decided to act for themselves are laying a better foundation for their countries. American has only accepted a faint accompli.


Thursday, April 21, 2011


Given Libya’s tribal cleavages, the contours of conflict will deepen ethnic tensions and threaten the institutional integrity of the state.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


he current financial crisis in the West has exposed many myths that have informed Uganda’s banking policies over the last decade. One such myth was that international banks are well managed; that they cannot suffer a meltdown. This myth has made the governor of Bank of Uganda, Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, resist increasing local ownership of banks arguing that it would put the financial sector in jeopardy.
Today, Uganda’s commercial banking industry is dominated by Western banks – Stanbic, Standard Chartered, Barclays and Citi Group, Baroda, Orient, Eco, KCB, Equity, etc. Only Crane, Centenary and the National Bank of Commerce are locally owned out of 18 banks. More than 85 percent of the banking assets are in foreign hands.

Under colonial rule, Ugandans were excluded from the banking sector. The banking rules and requirements treated the African with a lot of suspicion. When we got independence, government sought to increase local participation in the banking sector through state ownership of banks. Thus, was born Uganda Commercial Bank and the Cooperative Bank. These were supposed to create a banking sector that was responsive to the needs of Ugandan businessmen and women.

Later in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was an attempt to establish local privately owned banks. Crane, Sembule, Nile Bank and International Credit Bank (ICB) came to life. Together with state owned banks, they controlled over 80 percent of total banking in the country. However, there were a series of bank failures – largely involving locally owned banks in Uganda and other African countries in the mid 1990s.

Similar bank failures had caused the Asian financial meltdown in 1996. Many commentators, especially in the West, said this was because of “crony capitalism.” In one of its World Economic Reports, the World Bank argued, not without justification, that the major source of these bank failures was weak supervision capacity by central banks in Africa. This, added the Bank, created vent for insider lending, poor risk assessment of borrowers, cronyism and political patronage.

The World Bank argued that to rebuild confidence in the banking system in Africa, it should be its policy to influence our governments to deliberately and systematically eliminate local banks. The report argued that the Bank should encourage governments in Africa to facilitate the entry of multinational banks reasoning that given the experience and reputation, multinational banks would be more effective in supervising their local subsidiaries in Africa than local central banks.

This position found widespread support in Uganda. Within government, it was supported by Mutebile, then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance. Partly out of ignorance and out of opportunism, President Yoweri Museveni joined the choir. In the press, it was supported by the Editor of The Monitor, Charles Onyango-Obbo and Frank Katusiime, his colleague on Capital Gang programme of Capital FM.

The argument that locally owned banks were suffering from crony capitalism reflected the desire of multinational capital to re-enter Third World markets by displacing local capital. It succeeded because the intellectual pillars of our countries – naively – sided with their argument. Thus, when it was shown that Greenland and ICB financial problems were caused by the involvement of key politicians, a national consensus developed overnight that they should be allowed to go under.

Although I recognised their personal failings at the time, I also understood that it was strategically important to retain a strong local ownership of the banking industry. But in the charged atmosphere of the time, supporting strong local ownership of the banking sector sounded like accepting the wrongs of Patrick Kato and Sullaiman Kigundu. (I faced a similar situation last year when I argued that we should separate the personal/political failings of Amama Mbabazi and Ezra Suruma from the objective substance of NSSF investment in Temangalo land).

Be that as it may, we are now full circle to 1998. The world’s leading banks like Citi Group, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Barclays Bank, to mention but a few are literally bankrupt. They have all collapsed under the weight of mountains of nonperforming assets. The solution by their governments is not to let them go under. On the contrary, governments are pouring trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to prop them up.

The lesson is simple but powerful: left alone without effective regulation, the banking market, like all other markets, can cause catastrophic collective harm. This is not limited to Africa but is a shared human trait. In the US, for example, there is a case of a Mexican berry picker in California who could not even speak English. The man was earning US$ 14,000 per year but was given a mortgage worth US$ 720,000.

Yet in spite of these gross failures, people in the West are not arguing that because banks violated rules and are now bankrupt, they should be left to go under. Instead, the main thrust of the economic recovery plan is to save their banks. One hopes that African elites learn not to despise their own people and disregard their potential for self correction. International banks are just as likely as local ones to indulge in cronyism and other forms of risky lending. Bad practices are not a monopoly of Africans.

Foreign banks impose rules here in Uganda that hinder most of our people from getting the necessary banking services. Many business people in Kikubo do not use banks in their transactions because of insurmountable obstacles. Many will tell you that if it were not for Crane Bank, they would never deal with banks in Uganda. This is because foreign banks employ rules in Africa that are designed with a strong bias against Africans. I know this because I have an account with Barclays Bank in London, Wells Fargo in San Francisco, and Chase in New York and the rules there are lax.

The lesson, again, is simple but powerful: banking rules – like all rules – need to evolve organically from within the society. Otherwise, they can be extremely unrealistic and therefore unhelpful. It is important to learn and borrow good practices from others. But it is equally important to recognise that every society has its particular idiosyncrasies, its norms and habits that should inform its institutional design.



Uganda soars even if its leadership sinks.

A few weeks ago, a Western diplomat invited a couple of us to lunch to discuss the major challenge facing our nation and what the West “should do” (I would have preferred “should not do”) about it. As I listened to Ugandan colleagues speak, I got worried. They denounced our lack of good leadership and poured scorn on the quality of our government. Here I agreed with them entirely. Then they moved beyond this to a more generalised attack on Ugandan society as being ignorant, lazy, complacent, cowardly, and more. This failure to separate the failures of the Yoweri Museveni regime from the wider Ugandan society concerned me deeply.

Apparently, many people turn their legitimate anger against the corruption, nepotism and incompetence of the Museveni government into anger against Ugandan society. It is here that Museveni has registered his greatest success – to make us lose faith in ourselves and even question our ability to shape our destiny. A cynical elite is what Museveni needs because it cannot be a vehicle for progressive change.

So I intervened in the debate arguing with passion that Ugandans are not stupid and lazy and our society is not dysfunctional. Our nation is full of innovative and vibrant people who are creating immense opportunities for themselves and their fellow citizens to work and trade and earn ever more incomes. I meet them every day when I am shopping, dining in a restaurant, visiting an office, selling advertisement, banking a cheque, negotiating land prices – everywhere.

Of course this is not to say Ugandans are without weaknesses. Our agrarian structure has given us a poor work ethic and its attitudes and habits stand in the way of the necessary capitalist behaviour that facilitates market exchange. Rather, my argument is that seeming liabilities can be turned into great assets and that while the cards we are given by history are important, how we learn to play them is more important. Although our present obstacles appear to be structurally obdurate, there is room to change our environment. The challenge is to identify change agents.

During the late 1980s, Museveni and NRM carried out vital economic reforms. They withdrew government from most economic activity, thus paving way for the private sector and markets to allocate resources in a more efficient way. They liberalised the economy, privatised public enterprises (with a lot of graft of course), deregulated prices, disbanded state monopolies and controlled inflation. This unleashed our private entrepreneurial energy and creativity that has been the driving force of our economic success.

You do not need to be a Museveni supporter to recognise the positive results of these reforms. The economy has sustained average growth rates of 9% for over 20 years, a rare achievement by an economy in Sub-saharan Africa. This growth has brought prosperity to many and reduced the number of people living in poverty from 56% in 1992 to 31% in 2006. Of course there are those in the 31% who have grown poorer, many who have not improved and there are also questions of equity in our growth. But these negatives do not erase the said achievements.

Indeed, a lot of the dysfunctions we see are a result of our economic success rather than failure. For example, traffic jams are caused by more people getting richer and therefore buying cars faster than government is expanding the size of roads. And because we drive more cars today, our roads suffer faster wear and tear than if we were using bicycles – although poor quality construction due to corruption plays an important role. We have constant load-shading of electricity because more and more firms and households are getting unto the grid and using more machines.

Therefore, the major failure of the Museveni administration has been inability to build state institutions to provide public goods and services to citizens – effectively and efficiently. That is why roads are a sea of potholes, hospitals are death chambers, schools (if they are not burning or collapsing) are producing half-baked graduates. Yet there are still a few islands of probity, efficiency and competence in our public sector, which is a sea of corruption, incompetence and nepotism.

Therefore, the failures of the Museveni government should not be mistaken to represent dysfunction in the wider Ugandan society, although they contribute to it. For example, the private sector is filling many of these gaps with better schools, hospitals and supplying electricity. Neighbours from Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya are flocking to our schools. Museveni may have control over part of our lives but he does not control all our lives.

Monitor Publications Limited began in a basement 16 years ago with hardly any capital. Now, it has a gross turnover of over US$ 10m. MTN launched in Uganda only 10 years ago with limited capital. Now it is valued at over US$ 1billion; its profits last year were over US$ 100m while it paid taxes worth over US$ 120m. My friend Lucky has moved from being a taxi driver to owning a fleet of 52 Kilita buses.

These successes are not accidents. They have been produced by the ingenuity of the people of this country working singly on jointly with foreign investors. Of course an enabling macroeconomic policy environment put in place by the government has been critical too. But most of our achievements have been realised in spite of bad government.

Having made this case, I was shocked (but certainly not surprised) when some in the group accused me of having “sold out.” There is a section of the Ugandan political class that wants to deny any credit to Museveni. Some even take this argument further and seek to deny the progress Uganda has registered under his leadership – even if it was achieved in spite, rather than because of him.

The problem with this group, however, is that when someone disagrees with their assessment of Uganda, they do not respond to the substantive arguments made. Instead they seek to attack one’s moral character - like in my case, accusing me of having “sold out.” This tactic of avoiding the substantive debate and shifting to attack the personality of the individual making an argument undermines the platform for honest debate of public issues in Uganda.

Continues next week


NSSF : Next MD will be a worse Museveni stooge.

Finally it has happened; National Social Security Fund (NSSF) managing director David Jamwa and his deputy Prof. Mondo Kagonyera have been fired. The use of the word “suspension” is meant to keep them on Katebe till their contracts expire. And the reason for this is not the irregularities during the investment in (or procurement of) Amama Mbabazi’s Temangalo. That will be one of the official excuses. The actual reason is to pave way for the political takeover of NSSF by State House.
That President Yoweri Museveni defended the architects of political pressure on NSSF against censure but sacked its victims should not be surprising. But to that we shall return later.
For now, I have met Jamwa twice in my entire life. When I did, I found him intelligent and insightful. A background check revealed many unsavoury things about him. So I cannot vouch for his integrity. Yet the debate on Temangalo has been ill-informed, lacking in perspective and full of partisan rancour.
Over the last 10 years, four NSSF MDs have been fired amidst investment scandals. This means that average life expectancy of management is 2.5 years. The exit of managers is often characterised by a lot of political buccaneering. This has haemorrhaged the Fund of any capital in the market for professionals with skills, experience and the integrity to manage it well. Thus, even if government wanted a competent person and advertised the job, only crooks would apply; Jamwa’s successor can only be worse.
It is for this reason that in spite of the question marks around his reputation, I was willing to let Jamwa serve his term. This would preserve some name for the Fund to be able to attract competent people. I wrote a series of articles defending NSSF and its decision to buy Temangalo because I remain convinced that the price was good and the project has potential to yield good returns on workers’ savings in spite of the irregularities with which the purchase was done. In such matters, my advice is consistent: punish the political culprits, don’t kill the project.
Many people responded to this by accusing me of defending Mbabazi. While I could understand their frustrations with government corruption in Uganda, it was also clear they were mixing NSSF with Mbabazi. This mix-up armed Mbabazi’s political adversaries with sufficient public support to settle scores with him. Yet in doing this (which is a legitimate political action) Mbabazi’s opponents cared little about what happened to NSSF. The public jumped onto the bandwagon out of ignorance, gullibility or (for our chattering class) a desire to score political points.
NSSF’s reputation was so badly battered. As always happens, it provided Museveni with the justification to change management. Yet Museveni is not going to appoint anyone competent but someone loyal to him. Therefore the result of any changes is not going to be the optimal one the public wanted i.e. competent management. It will be the political one i.e. subjecting NSSF to the whims of the president.
I am very sceptical of many of the fights against corruption in Uganda because corruption is the grease that turns the wheels of our politics. The grand don of corruption in Uganda is the president himself. If anyone sought to fight it, they need to begin with him. Short of that, we are deceiving ourselves. That is why I am always reluctant to expend my energy fighting a minister who, when fired, is replaced by yet another corrupt minister. The reader should now understand why I have not written an article on why I think Ezra Suruma and Mbabazi should be fired. Recycling thieves in government cannot be a formula for creating accountability.
I have met few Ugandans who appreciate the crisis in NSSF in the context of our nation’s political economy. Over the last ten years, the Fund’s portfolio has grown from under Shs 200 billion to over Shs 1.3 trillion in a country with total revenues of Shs 3.6 trillion per year. It is probably the only institution that can easily sign a land-purchase cheque of Shs 20 billion. Were this cheque to go to someone who can finance the opposition, Museveni’s candidacy can suffer a severe beating at the polls.
I was therefore not surprised by Museveni’s prolonged silence during the saga. I am sure he was trying to internalise the real meaning of NSSF in Uganda’s politics. His reaction to it would aim at two things: First, he would ensure that the next manager is a political cadre directly loyal to him – a Noble Mayombo of sorts. He or she would ensure that all decisions at NSSF protect Museveni’s political interests. NSSF would only buy land from a seller who is amenable to Museveni’s political interests.
Secondly, Museveni realised that NSSF has a lot of money that can be used to advance his politics. For years, Museveni has restrained himself on putting his fingers in NSSF coffers. Now he is going to. The next managers he appoints will be guys who can use the Fund’s money to promote the president’s campaign and even build a headquarters for the NRM.
So we have come full circle again: a genuine debate on accountability being used as an opportunity to extend Museveni’s personal control over institutions previously independent of him. It began with the police in 1999. As Justice Julia Sebutinde attacked police officers, she won the admiration of the public. I was lonely in criticising her. When the dust settled, Museveni used the weakened reputation of the police to appoint an army general to manage it. Now he has the police under his thumb.
Then he came to Uganda Revenue Authority (URA). Again, Sebutinde made headlines and won public acclaim. I was again lonely in warning that Sebutinde was laying a foundation for State House takeover of URA. When dust settled, Allen Kajina was appointed to head URA. Although she has proved to be a competent manager, her primary goal is to advance and protect the interests of Museveni over and above those of Uganda. Please watch who the next managing director of NSSF is going to be.

African leaders still held hostage to stone age politics.

Presidential pledges in Uganda today stand at a record Shs 120 billion. These are promises of assistance the president makes to different groups, individuals and institutions and are paid for by the state. They have been accumulating over the years, some for over a decade. Intended beneficiaries have waited for years only to see their hopes frustrated.

Presidential pledges are a primitive system of patronage. If a sub-county lacks a clinic or school, it should get it as a personal favour from the president. That should be a function of government policy through the national budget. Yet President Yoweri Museveni is not alone in sustaining this system. It is practiced by many of his contemporaries across Africa. These pledges reflect the neo-patrimonial nature of politics on our continent.

The word “neo-patrimonial” comes from Max Weber’s concept of “patrimonial rule”. Weber was referring to governance in small and traditional pre-capitalist European principalities where decision-making was highly personalised and arbitrary. The state in Africa is neo-patrimonial because it combines the formal structure of a modern bureaucratic state with informal and highly personalised rule where informal practices trample over formal rules; presidential donations disregard the budget.

Karl Marx argued that the way people organize themselves to solve their basic economic challenges – how to clothe, house and feed themselves – requires a “superstructure” of non economic activity and thought. The superstructure cannot be picked randomly, Marx reasoned, but must reflect the foundation on which it is raised. For Marx, therefore, no hunting community could evolve or use the legal framework of an industrial society and similarly, no industrial society could use the conception of law and government of a primitive hunting village.

From this perspective, many scholars on Africa have argued that presidents on the continent are captives of the social forces around them. By presiding over largely agrarian societies, presidents cannot avoid ruling like African chiefs of old – for example Nyungu ya Maawe of the Nyamwezi, Jaja of Opobo or Kabaka Junju of Buganda. Museveni is only a reflection of his society’s level of social development.

But Marx was broader in his grasp of these issues. Although many people consider him a structuralist – a lot of his arguments reflect this tendency – he also recognised the role of agency in social change. He noted, for example, that when economic conditions change, so do social institutions through the catalytic function of ideas. Although Africa has remained largely agrarian, a significant part of our economic, political and intellectual life has changed. We should be able to register some change.

Only President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has attempted to banish this neo-patrimonial politics from his leadership style. He makes pledges but only of a symbolic nature. Thus, when Kagame attends a fundraising, he will make a token promise – say of a goat or of US$ 200 – only to meet social expectation. If a community has no clinic or a school has fewer classrooms, the matter is addressed through government policy and the national budget. This way, Kagame has avoided the Nyungu ya Maawe mentality.

President’s office is under clear instructions to meet his pledges within 60 days of making them. Everyone around the presidency in Kigali will tell you that failure to do so has serious consequences. Thus, there are no communities, individuals and groups in Rwanda frustrated that a presidential pledge was not met.

Rwandans therefore consider their president an honest man and trust his word. Even his worst enemies will admit this. Save for his authoritarian style, Kagame has defied many retrogressive African political practices. The lesson: although Africa’s agrarian social structures are obdurate, there is room for agency i.e. a committed leadership can alter them and modernise our continent’s governance.

One gets the sense that Kagame has a highly cultivated sense of shame. He is clearly afraid to be seen to say one thing and do another. Possibly he falters sometimes. But there is a clear and sustained effort to exhibit a high level of integrity in his actions. Yet the opposite seems the case in Uganda. Museveni makes little or no effort to ensure that his promises are fulfilled suggesting the president is a liar. Even the people of Luwero who financed his guerrilla war with promises of compensation still gather outside parliament – 20 years later – to claim their money.

The inability of Museveni to keep his word speaks volumes about his moral character. The list of his empty promises goes beyond presidential pledges. In 1986, he promised to rule for only four years and hold elections. Instead he extended his rule by another five years which later turned into six. People began to question his integrity. In 1996, he made an unequivocal promise not to run for a second term, which he breached without apology or explanation. In 2001, he promised that he was running for his last term in order to organise “peaceful succession.” Instead, he amended the constitution to remove term limits and ended up succeeding himself.

This deficit in Museveni’s moral character will have powerful consequences on his legacy and on Uganda’s progress. Julius Nyerere presided over a declining economy and an authoritarian state in Tanzania for 24 years. Yet Tanzanians hold Nyerere in high esteem. Reason: whatever mistakes he made, his citizens felt Nyerere made them in an honest attempt to do good for Tanzania. On the other hand, Museveni has presided over a fairly democratic government and a rapidly growing economy that has brought prosperity to many. Yet he may not enjoy Nyerere’s status. Why?

Museveni’s sustained failure to project a high level of integrity has undermined his moral standing even among those closest to him. Many around him indulge in theft possibly because they have no moral bar against which they can hold themselves. The public too have limited faith in the integrity of our president. When he gives an investor a piece of land or forest purely for developmental reasons, people suspect he is doing so out of some pecuniary interest. They resist. The lesson: It is not the so much that leaders do, but what the public thinks were their motivations, that makes them great.



Laetitia Bader from Human Rights Watch accuses me of justifying restrictions imposed on independent media in Rwanda by the RPF government. I do not know how she came to this conclusion. But I have a fundamental philosophical difference with her. I believe that freedom is not a gift to the governed from their rulers. It is, as Kwame Nkrumah wrote in Africa Must Unite, “the precious reward, the shining trophy of struggle and sacrifice.” Freedom of the press in Rwanda will not come from the magnanimity of the government but from the struggle and sacrifice by its journalists.
I have always argued that the biggest threat to press freedom in Uganda is not the state but the market. The media grave yard is littered with newspapers that closed because readers gave them a vote of no confidence using their wallets rather than because they were shut down by the state. The inability of media institutions to recruit, harness and retain talent has created an exodus of the best journalists from news organisations to other businesses, NGOs, the government, and out of Uganda. This coupled with a small private sector (for advertising) and lack of a large educated middle class (for reading) has greatly undermined the cause of press freedom.
The situation in Rwanda is worse because its intellectual class there is even smaller. The intellectuals outside of the state and the market i.e. in civil society are too few to support a vibrant media. I argued that therefore, government actions against the media should be seen as a consequence rather than a cause of the Rwanda’s democratic deficit. The good news is the Rwanda government is investing in mass education and is promoting private enterprise growth. This will inevitably produce the middle class and a sizeable private sector to support democratic politics.
No where in my article that Bader was responding to did I justify government actions against the press. I have raised my concerns about the treatment of journalists and newspapers with Rwandan leaders including President Paul Kagame. I have found the Rwandan leadership extremely eager to listen to my views on why they should be tolerant even though their journalists can be extremely atrocious.  Bader referred to Beneventura Bizimuremyi who wrote an article with a picture of Kagame next to that of Adolf Hitler. He accused Kagame of committing genocide adding that the Rwandan president will commit suicide like Hitler. When police summoned him, he escaped to Uganda where he has been seeking a visa to be resettled in Netherlands. Apparently, some Rwandan “journalists” have learnt how to exploit their government’s paranoia with the press to create an easy way to get asylum abroad.
Bader knows that no media in the West would do such a thing because they exercise maturity in reporting. In a volatile situation like that of Rwanda, you need even greater care. It should not therefore be surprising that police summoned him.
I am attracted to Rwanda because of its accomplishments, well recognising that it has weaknesses. I know that most outsiders are attracted to our failures rather than our accomplishments. Increasingly, we as Africans have caught this disease. I focus my analysis on Rwanda’s achievements because they can work as lessons for Uganda. But that does not amount to justifying every wrong of its government.
Since 2000, Rwanda has developed the best and most effective government Sub Sahara Africa has produced over the last 50 years. Anyone with knowledge of Africa’s failures would not fail to see how the RPF government has set itself apart from the rest of the region in terms of discipline, hard work, honesty and focus. For the first time in decades, an African government is reconstructing a national vision.
It is not only me who sees this. Leading personalities in politics (Bill Clinton, Tony Blair); academia (Michael Porter, Paul Farmer, Michael Fairbanks); in business (Joe Richie, Bill Gates); in religion (Rick Warren) are flocking to Rwanda. All these people have taken its citizenship and also taken on the role of advisors to Kagame.
This poor and obscure landlocked country had been written off as a failed state only 14 years ago. Today, it has cofounded everybody by initiating one of the successful institutional and economic turnarounds in living memory.
With these achievements to its credit, news comes that a journalist has been arrested or a newspaper has been shutdown. Sometimes, the “journalist” is a fake: one politician paid money to defame his adversary. The paper printed 200 copies that were hardly read by anyone. The injured politician leverages the state to take revenge on the journalist. News spreads internationally that Rwanda is killing “independent media.
” The costs on the government’s reputation far outweigh the benefits which accrue to the individual politician. It therefore seems to me that it is not in the self interest of the Rwandan state to arrest journalists.
Bader is hostile to Rwanda’s laws on genocide and divisionism. A nation’s laws are shaped by its experience and history. If you form a Jihad in Palestine or Afghanistan you would be seen as a liberation fighter. If you formed a Jihad in New York, you would be smoked out by the FBI as a terrorist. If you said that you wanted to commit suicide just before boarding a plane at Entebbe, officials there would laugh at you. If you did so in Los Angeles, you would be whisked off for questioning by the FBI.
Only 14 years ago, Rwanda lost nearly a million people in genocide. The mobilisation for the genocide was conducted using the mass media. The victims of the hate campaign were the Tutsi who now lead the government in Rwanda. Their experience with the mass media is not as an instrument of democracy but of extermination. It is that psychology that shapes their stance on media freedom. To ignore this reality – their experience – would be naive. In Uganda, the media has historically been an instrument of democracy. That is why press freedom enjoys broad national support. Not so for Rwanda because its experience is different.



Uganda is now caught up in the contradiction of extreme wealth alongside excessive poverty and extreme luxury alongside mass deprivation.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


A great business can close in infancy, not because it is loss making but because it cannot get credit to overcome its initial cash flow constraints.

Friday, April 1, 2011


An African leader who fights corruption will face resistance from powerful vested interests using democracy to subvert his reforms.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


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

Friday, March 18, 2011


Foreign intervention should not seek to win the war for Libyans. It should give them the tools to do so themselves.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Thus like many millenarian cults, many people supporting Besigye believed in their own self-righteousness and assumed everyone shared their outrage.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Will Museveni use his 2011 national victory to retire gracefully like Mandela and Nyerere or entrench himself in power like Fidel Castro and Gaddafi?

Thursday, February 24, 2011


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

Thursday, February 17, 2011


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

Monday, February 14, 2011


Using robust data, it is theoretically possible but realistically improbable Besigye can- not just win, but force Museveni to a second round.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Past experiences show that America is willing to countenance democracy only when it produces outcomes favourable to its interests.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The electoral promises President Museveni is making to win elections now – UPE and USE – are creating conditions like those of Ben Ali.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


The best solution for that country is to allow Ouattara and Gbagbo to contest in the real court of effective state formation – the military.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


The recent indictment of leading and powerful Kenyan politicians by the International Criminal Court (ICC) presents as a serious dilemma. By all conventional accounts, Kenya is one of the most successful democracies in Africa. It has a free press. It has a multiparty political system. It has seen change of government from one president to another; and from a ruling party to an opposition party in 2002. Its leaders are elected through competitive elections.

In January 2008, there was widespread violence in the country resulting from a disputed election. Thousands died. Powerful politicians have been named as masterminds. There have been domestic and international pressures on the Kenyan government to bring them to justice. But the government, itself a coalition of all the key political players in the country, has been reluctant to do so hence the intervention of the ICC. Opinion polls suggest that 85 percent of Kenyans support this move.

I have talked to many Kenyans who support the ICC indictments, arguing that this impunity should not be tolerated. I respect the motivations behind this particular reasoning. I also feel the emotions of those who lost loved ones; having to suffer the pain of seeing the perpetrators of this injustice walking scot free. All this shows the major limitation of most discourse on democracy in Africa; the tendency to reduce it to a few rituals while ignoring its substance. In this case, we see a divergence of interest between the popular will of the people of Kenya and the interests of elected leaders.

Yet given a choice between the limitations of Kenya’s democracy and the human rights fundamentalism that drives the ICC, I choose the former. For whatever the constraints on the ability of Kenya’s democracy to reflect the will of the ordinary person, its politicians are connected to the electorate and can be punished in elections for their actions. If their decisions cause a disastrous political outcome, they will suffer the consequences; they bear responsibility for their mistakes.

On the other hand, the ICC is led by international bureaucrats armed with an abstract notion of justice that has little reference to the Kenyan context. If their blind pursuit of justice undermines political stability in that country, they do not suffer the consequences of their actions or be held accountable for their actions. Theirs is power without responsibility; for Kenyans, misrule without redress.

The ICC indictments are yet another step in the increasing efforts of the “international community” (actually read the West) to regain control of African affairs lost through decolonisation half a century ago. The accused politicians may be guilty. However, who really should have the final say on justice in Kenya: the elected leaders of that country or some remote and non-elected bureaucrats in an international institution far removed from the day-to-day challenges of the country.

A blanket attempt to impose abstract notions of democracy, justice, human rights, free markets etc on societies without reference to context undermines stability of our nations. For example, you cannot plan markets; they emerge spontaneously from people’s desire to trade. Bill Easterly’s comment that “free markets work, free market reforms don’t” captures it best. You can create conditions that favour the growth of free markets, but you cannot impose a free market system on a society.

Justice, democracy and respect for human rights grow out of a people’s political struggles for their own emancipation. They cannot be a political imposition from the international community. A significant cause of Africa’s continuing crisis has grown from this attempt to impose textbook solutions on our countries.

Efforts by the “international community” to wrestle control of key decision-making power from African decision makers to international institutions are counterproductive. For example, there is a belief that multiparty politics and competitive elections are the solution to every political problem regardless of context. This is the solution that was imposed on the Ivory Coast and the results are already beginning to show. The “solution” is now threatening to lead to the dismemberment of the country.

Like old fashioned colonialism before it, the new struggle to take away our right to self determination is couched in the language of “humanitarianism.” The imperial powers that colonised Africa in the 19th century claimed they were doing so for our own good – to liberate us from slavery, slave trade, the tyranny of our customs and the despotism of our chiefs; they were intervening to protect us. That is how Uganda became “a protectorate”.

After a few decades of retreat, this attempt to regain control over how we manage ourselves has regained currency. Today, we are being presented as hapless victims of our rulers. The defence of our human rights is not a product of our own political struggles to liberate ourselves from domestic tyranny. It is a product of an international obligation “to protect” us. We are not active agents in our own emancipation. We are passive recipients of international charity.

Thus, every aspect our social life is being shaped by those who say they care deeply about us – more than we care for ourselves. Reporters Without Borders is the agency that fights for our freedom of the press. IMF and World Bank fight for us to have free markets. ICC renders to us justice against our elected leaders and war lords. Human Rights Watch defends our human rights. World Food Programme feeds us. The UN gives us peace keepers. Red Cross treats our sick. French or British troops defend our sovereignty. The EU monitors our elections.

The subjective motivations of those who seek to be our saviours may be noble. But the objective outcome of this blind pursuit of ideals without regard to our context is likely to cause more problems than it purports to solve. In any case, behind this humanitarianism lies other sinister interests whose motives are not noble. Our founding fathers did not sacrifice so much for independence to see it just taken away in the name of a self righteous international obligation to protect us. It is my prayer that the African Union stands united in opposition to attempts to subject our political problems to bureaucratic solutions through institutions over which we have no say.


Sunday, January 9, 2011


In December 2010, The Independent celebrated its third birthday. Given the high mortality rate of newspapers in Uganda, it is really a miracle that we are still alive – and growing. Over the last three years, The Independent has consolidated its place within the Ugandan news and opinions market and grown into a respected and influential publication.

 We at The Independent take little credit for this achievement. The real heroes in this unprecedented growth are you, our readers and advertisers, who have supported us even when our work has fallen below your expectations.

Given this support, we asked ourselves what more we can do for you. Should we host a big party to celebrate with you this achievement? Should we send each one of you a souvenir? Or should we place a big advert in the magazine thanking all of you for your unwavering support? We know all our advertisers. But we do not know all our readers because they are a large number of anonymous people in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Juba. We decided that the best reward is first and foremost to uphold and improve on our mission to promote free and unfettered democratic expression.

However, that was not enough; we felt the magazine needed to improve its look. We agreed to give you a better designed and printed magazine, a look that will be attractive to the eye and a design that will allow smooth eye navigation of its pages. But we also decided to improve the editorial content of your magazine – make it more in-depth, introduce an international column and add more variety and guest writers to supplement our team of young, talented and ambitious reporters.

The new product we have designed for you will be Shs 4,000 per copy and the new advertising rate card will be communicated soon. We are confident that you will find this product more informative, more analytical and better designed, but most important, true value for money. If there is any part of the improved design and content that does not please you, kindly inform us as always via the emails provided on the content’s page. We will be all happy to listen to your concerns and respond to your need in every possible way.

The Independent is not a business like any other. It was set up first and foremost to expand the frontiers of liberty, freedom and democratic expression. However, we realised that we can only pursue these objectives when we are financially viable and economically sustainable. Thus, the search for profit is not primary to our business model; it is only derivative. We seek to be profitable only in as far as this helps us sustain ourselves as a platform for professional journalism that is not beholden to political and business interests.

This is not to say we are blind to the political imperatives of the country and the interests of business. In fact, The Independent believes in free choice of citizens in both politics and in markets. We believe that the best economy is one organised around a free market ethic; where the state creates an enabling environment for individuals to innovate and create wealth. However, we also believe that man is not subordinate to the market. Rather the market should be subordinate to man; hence we need a strong state that can ensure an effective regulatory framework to cushion society against reckless behavior by unscrupulous individuals in the market.

We welcome views as diverse as diversity itself. We encourage our readers to participate in the magazine by contributing articles and letters to the editor. We have a website where anyone can go and upload any opinion, however offensive but not insulting or insensitive, and we leave it there. The debate on our website is often heated, although sometimes it degenerates into unsubstantiated allegations and indecent squabbles. We appeal to our readers to exercise the freedom to use our site with responsibility; if you abuse any free platform, you create justification for its curtailment.

We are redesigning the website to make it more interactive and to give it more features – a social media section, complete with audio and video interviews and daily podcasts. We will have also a section for freewheeling debate on major national and international issues. The new website has created a section for our readers to engage in citizen reporting. You can write a story for The Independent online and upload it yourself from wherever you are.

We know that we can never be perfect. Many times our stories impress some and annoy others. Our opinions, especially my personal opinions, do not always agree with those of some of my most committed readers. Many of you get frustrated and angry at this. But always remember that The Independent was not set up so that people can agree on beliefs. On the contrary, it was set up to harness the intellectual diversity in our society, to show the world that can disagree without being disagreeable.

One of the challenges our democracy faces is that many participants in national debate are intolerant of the opinions they disagree with. Instead of responding to issues, they answer with personal insults and false accusations. This behavior is injurious to the creation of a democratic culture where people agree to disagree. Across Uganda’s political divide – whether it is the opposition or the ruling party – there is too much intolerance of diversity. We implore our readers to enjoy even those opinions they violently disagree with.

Thus, as we enter the new year, we at The Independent promise you more hard work – to always strive to our level best to uphold the principles of professional journalism: to be truthful and accurate, fair and balanced. We will also continue to give you better insight into the news events and better analysis of those events enriched with the most details of what goes on in the corridors of power.

We hope that you will find the new product enjoyable to read and educative and illuminating in its editorial content. We also hope you will find our redesigned website a wonderful experience. Please accept our best wishes for the new year.