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, August 29, 2012

Museveni’s mission to Somalia

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

Kagame victim of own success

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

Uganda’s anti-corruption rituals

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

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

Rwanda’s donor aid cuts

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

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

Stiglitz’s Mubiru Memorial Lecture

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

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

Democracy holds NSSF hostage

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

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

Mrs. Museveni’s life’s journey

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

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

Get government out of business

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

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

Rwanda’s biggest security dilemma

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

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

Democratisation in Egypt

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

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

A weekend visit to Kalangala

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

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

Uganda’s possible Tahrir Square

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

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

Africa’s political risk profile

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

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

Prof. Ayittey’s postings on Rwanda

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

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

How to change Kampala (Part 2)

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

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

How to change Kampala (Part 1)

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

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

Healthcare for the rich

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

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

Africa versus East Asia

Why South Korea succeeded where Uganda failed

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

Building a state from scratch

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

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

Reflecting on the banning of A4C

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

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

Rwanda’s brand problem

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

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

Should governor Mutebile resign?

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

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

Lessons from Kony 2012

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

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

Inside the West’s double standards Part II

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

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

Inside the West’s double standards Part I

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

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

Rwanda and its critics

Inside one nation’s struggle against deeply entrenched prejudice

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

Inside Rwanda’s skills gap

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

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

Who is Bahati’s bill meant to dupe?

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

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

Can MPs improve oil contracts? Part II

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

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

Can MPs improve oil contracts? Part I

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

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

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In defence of Agaba and Komakech

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

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

Reflecting on last presidential election

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

Before you listen to “experts”

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

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

Who is parliament speaking for?

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

Museveni’s rupture with traders

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

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

Electricity cost going up 40%

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

Looking at failure of public services

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

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

The political value of corruption

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

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

A battle six years in the making

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

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