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

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.