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 23, 2015

The solution for Burundi

Do the suffering people of Burundi a favour in their ongoing civil war; don’t help them

Burundi seems to be sliding into chaos. Innocent civilians are being killed in droves. News reports from the capital, Bujumbura, are both sickening and horrifying. Everyone wants the international community to do something. It is human nature to be revolted by such human suffering and desire to do something to save the lives of innocents who become victims of such madness. But this human instinct for kindness is rarely a basis for good policy. On the contrary, contemporary history is replete with examples of interventions to save human lives that make a bad situation worse.

The battle for Kagame’s soul

Inside the struggle by Rwandans to get their president to run again in 2017 

And so it was that on December 6, I was present at a Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) meeting to discuss the “third term”. Attended by over 3,000 party delegates, members wanted President Paul Kagame to pronounce himself – there and then – that he would be the presidential candidate of the RPF in the 2017 elections once the constitution is amended to remove term limits on the presidency. The meeting was charged. Delegate after delegate spoke with passion on why Kagame should be their presidential candidate.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Besigye’s campaign promises in perspective

Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential candidate, Dr. candidate Kizza Besigye and his supporters claim President Yoweri Museveni has destroyed Uganda and their campaign is to save the country from catastrophe. Yet Besigye is making campaign promises that will require trillions of shillings to fund. If Museveni has destroyed the country and its economy, where is Besigye going to get the money? He says it is available in our treasury but is being misused on a bloated payroll of political appointees. Inadvertently Besigye is acknowledging that Uganda’s economy under Museveni has grown tremendously and is now able to generate enough revenues to pay better wages to public sector workers.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Inside Besigye’s promises

Why the belief that his campaign promises are workable is an admission that Museveni presidency is a success
Dr. Kizza Besigye and his supporters say President Yoweri Museveni has destroyed Uganda. So their campaign is to save it. As part of this, Besigye is making campaign promises that will require trillions of shillings to fund.

Obama’s contempt for Africa

Why the U.S. president always feels compelled to lecture to Africans and my obsession with his meddling

It has become custom for U.S. President Barak Obama to constantly volunteer unsolicited advice to African people whenever a given country is going through some major event. So when Nigeria was going into elections, Obama recorded a video: “For elections to be credible they must be free, fair and peaceful,” he lectured Nigerians, “All Nigerians must be able to cast their ballots without intimidation or fear. So I call on all leaders and candidates to make it clear to their supporters that violence has no place in democratic elections and that they will not excite, support or engage in any kind of violence before, during and after the votes are counted…”

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The politics of campaign promises

Why Besigye’s promise to cut down the number of political appointments in government is a pipedream

Opposition presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye has promised a 50% increase in public sector wages. According to his handlers, he will save money by cutting wasteful spending on political appointments like RDCs, on the second largest cabinet in the world, and on the 114 presidential advisors and assistants President Yoweri Museveni has. He also plans to reduce the number of districts and the size of parliament.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The politics of campaign crowds

Why this is likely to be a two horse race between Museveni and Besigye leaving Mbabazi a distant third

Last week the three frontrunners for the presidency kicked off campaigns showing their political muscles with crowds. If this was a measure of potential performance in the election, Kizza Besigye would knockout President Yoweri Museveni and Amama Mbabazi in the first round. While Museveni and Mbabazi had spent a lot of money to bus in people from all corners to attend their rallies, Besigye’s supporters needed little or no mobilisation. They just came by themselves and literally gave him money in expression of support.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lessons from NRM primaries

Why the chaos and violence in the ruling party are a signal of its strength and weakness of the opposition

The just concluded parliamentary and district primaries of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) were characterised by unprecedented violence, vote rigging and organisational chaos. For many analysts, this is evidence of NRM’s organisational incompetence and therefore a sign of its imminent collapse. These analysts predict that those who lost in the party primaries feel aggrieved and are now easy prey for the opposition. Sadly, this is a false hope. On the contrary, the opposite conclusion holds more water – that NRM’s chaotic election is a sign of its strength, not weakness. It is evidence that the opposition has little chance in this election. Here is why.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The dynamics of election violence

Does beating, jailing and killing of opposition supporters improve Museveni’s electoral fortunes?
There is one thing on which President Yoweri Museveni and his opponents agree: that employing violence against them gives the president an advantage. Museveni and his handlers use violence perhaps in the sincere belief that it weakens his opponents. The president’s opponents always complain that violence meted out against them is the reason they lose elections. Both sides are wrong and here is the statistical proof.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The problem with the 2016 election

Museveni and his opponents are involved in a quarrel over our past. We need a debate about our future
It seems NRM has decided to use violence to win next year’s presidential election. Problem is President Yoweri Museveni has always been a net loser when he has used violence against his opponents.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The challenge of economic growth

The debate about the future of Uganda that our presidential candidates should be conducting

We are in the middle of an election campaign and, because our country is poor, the biggest issue should be how to make it rich. For about 30 years, the incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni has been working to grow the economy. To get the best assessment of how he has performed, I go to an organisation that is very good at measuring such things; the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF has data on the economic growth rates of 189 countries since 1950. Its website shows how Uganda has grown over the past 25 years. It also allows us to compare Uganda against the rest of the world.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Amama Mbabazi’s losing strategy

How Uganda’s elite pundits are misunderstanding the election dynamics and why Mbabazi should worry

There is a widespread perception among a large section of the Ugandan elite class that former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi has overtaken Kizza Besigye as the main opposition candidate for next year’s presidential election. It is possible this is happening but highly unlikely. There has not yet been a scientific poll to give us real numbers. So for now all of us have to work on our intuition, but most critically on our understanding of the dynamics that drive our insight into our electoral politics.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

About our collective delusions

Besigye’s messiah complex and the triumph of power over values in The “Democratic” Alliance

For most of the last week of September, leading opposition figure, Dr. Kizza Besigye, was a subject of vitriolic attacks by many of his former admirers. All because he refused to endorse former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, as joint opposition flag bearer for next year’s presidential election. Yet none of his critics cared to hear Besigye’s reasons. Instead he was accused of being selfish and power-hungry.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Putting corruption in perspective

Stealing public funds. About 80,000 children die of preventable diseases each year in Uganda because public officials have stolen money for immunization


Two weeks ago, I said on the NTV News Night show that the existence of corruption in a country does not automatically impede its ability to develop, thereby letting loose the dogs of intellectual (actually mostly emotional) war on twitter, with some accusing me of endorsing corruption. Yet many successful countries had high levels of corruption during their transition from poverty to riches.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Divided they stand, united they fall

Why the opposition is courting danger in seeking to field one candidate and the risks of a three horse race

Last week, the opposition was involved in skirmishes regarding the selection of a joint presidential candidate under The Democratic Alliance (TDA). The alliance seemed biased on selecting Amama Mbabazi to lead the fight against President Yoweri Museveni. But the most fanatical supporters of the opposition prefer Kizza Besigye. It will be extremely difficult for TDA to convince all sides to field one candidate. Here are the underlying factors.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Nyakairima and UPDF’s soul

How Nyakairima took UPDF out of headlines and has left a professional respected military

Sometime in 2003, President Yoweri Museveni chaired a meeting of the army high command to discuss highly sensitive matters. The proceedings leaked to me. I was happy to publish a story about them in Daily Monitor, omitting the more sensitive aspects. The president invited me for breakfast at State House Nakasero over the story. He wanted to know my source. He said as a patriotic Ugandan I should know that officers who leak highly classified information are a risk to national security. “We will not harm this officer or officers, not even demote them,” Museveni assured me, “But we need to know so that we do not give them access to national security secrets.”

Monday, September 14, 2015

Give Rwandan politics a chance

Why opponents of removing term limits should listen more to Rwandan citizens than their own theories and the preaching of America

Last week, the United States issued a statement calling on Rwanda not to amend the constitution and remove term limits on the presidency. America carries a false sense of morality, believing its own myth that her political values are superior and should be the guide for other “lesser” nations. Yet it has one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional political systems in the world and has consistently failed to live up to its self-proclaimed values. But that is a subject for another day. For now, let us debate Rwanda.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

On the FDC presidential debate

Why our frustration should'nt lead us to behave like a drowning man who clings onto a crocodile

And so it was that on the night of August 30, NTV treated us to a debate between Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) contenders for party presidential flag bearer, Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu and Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye. The fact that there is contestation for the leadership of FDC is a breath of fresh air compared to the NRM’s sole candidature syndrome.
I wonder why NRM does not concoct some semblance of competition within the party just to pretend to be democratic.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Lessons for opposition from opinion polls

Ugandans seem unhappy with Museveni but they don’t seem to be willing to accept his opponents either. Here is why

We are exactly six months away from elections and recent opinion polls are already giving us a glimpse of things to come. The polls reveal that there is widespread voter fatigue with President Yoweri Museveni. His popularity has fallen from 68% in 2010/11 to about 51% now. This is a borderline position that if anything adverse happens, like we see the economy slowly slipping downhill, Museveni’s margin may go further down. Such a crisis can change people’s moods, thereby increasing voter turnout. This would force Museveni into a second round, a situation he can only recover from by employing a degree of violence that forces his opponents to pull out of the election.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The dilemma of Africa’s reformers

How corruption becomes a necessary vice for successful politicians who win elections by denouncing it

Here is a thought experiment. Imagine you are a presidential candidate for the 2016 elections in Uganda. You have all the good policies and ideas. And you want to build a winning electoral coalition. What is the most critical thing you need? It is building an organisational structure that allows you to reach all parts of the country.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Why Obama cannot liberate Africa

This article was written for The Guardian

How regurgitating stereotypes and prejudice about Africa easily gets you audience in Western media

So I chanced upon an article by a one Patience Akumu (`Why Obama doesn’t understand the lust for power of our African leaders’, The Guardian UK, Aug.2). To Akumu, Africa needs President Barack Obama’s lectures because “his powerful words are the kind of inspirational tool we Africans – both young and old – need to lift our downtrodden and intimidated souls…?” The author also says that Africa was better under colonial rule than after independence.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The problem with missionary politics

Why obsession with presidential term limits in Africa is a secular gospel based on faith than historic facts 

US President Barack Obama excited a section of Africa’s elite when he denounced African leaders who rule for very long, some even dying in office. This seems common sense. But how long is long? The ancient Romans thought a year was long enough. When in 509 BC they abolished monarchy and established a republic, they created a senate that would elect two councils (later tribunes) who would serve a one-year non-renewable term. When in 132 BC Tiberius Gracchus attempted to violate this rule and run for a second term, senators led by Scipio Nasica accused him of trying to become king. They attacked him wielding clubs in the Forum and killed him. So by the standards of the ancient republican Rome, Obama’s eight years is a very long time for a leader to be in power.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Obama in Kenya

Although Obama behaved better in Nairobi compared to Accra, here is why I still have a bone to pick with him

So finally, U.S. President Barak Obama visited his ancestral homeland of Kenya to a rousing welcome. This was understandable because for most of recorded history (a history largely, if not entirely, written by our conquerors) we have been presented as inferior. In almost every book, movie or news story on television, radio and newspapers, we are depicted as poor, hungry, or sick and in need of assistance from external benefactors. Where a story of our social initiative is told, we are depicted as violent, incompetent and corrupt hence incapable of self-government. Obama excites our imagination because we see in his success the image of a future we aspire for.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Against the democracy priesthood

Why Rwanda should follow the judgment or misjudgment of its citizens rather than the dictates of theory

In mid-July, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Global Competitiveness Report where it listed Rwanda as having the 7th most efficiently ran government in the world. It was ahead of Switzerland and Luxembourg, the only two European countries on the list. In the same week the upper and lower houses of parliament in Rwanda voted by 100% and 99% respectively to amend the constitution to remove term limits on the presidency. In our “intellectual” debates, we would say the coincidence was because President Paul Kagame bribed the WEF for this rating.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Shattering utopias of African elites

How political debate is divorced from our revenue and skills reality on state delivery of public goods and services

When I was in boarding secondary school in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we used to eat maize porridge every morning for breakfast, posho and boiled beans every lunch and supper. The same experience characterised our meals at Makerere University in the mid-1990s. My dad and his contemporaries have amazing stories of their school experiences in the 1950s and 60s. In those golden years, students in boarding secondary schools, but most especially at Makerere University, would have eggs, sausages, bacon, bread with jam and butter, milk and sugar at breakfast, rice and chicken for lunch etc. Professors Holger Hansen, Nelson Kasfir and the late Joel Barkan have recounted these stories to me as well.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The likely dynamics of 2016

How Museveni and the opposition are likely to structure their campaigns and the risks and advantages of their likely strategies

The battle between President Yoweri Museveni and his erstwhile ally and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is likely going to be nasty. The president’s handlers are likely to brutalise and humiliate Mbabazi. Ironically, this is what Mbabazi needs to build his profile.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The age of human rights imperialism

On May 20, the American Congress held a hearing on the “deteriorating human rights situation in Rwanda”.

The timing was surprising because there have hardly been incidents of human rights abuse in Rwanda for a while. Instead the hearing took place against the backdrop of widespread demonstrations in the US against police brutality meted out against African American males.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Thinking others behave like you

How the arrest of Rwanda’s chief of intelligence in London shows the British government projecting its behavior on RPF

Let us imagine a situation where a Spanish judge indicts 40 top Israel generals. The judge alleges that in 1933, Jews formed a terrorist organisation in neighboring Poland aimed at exterminating the German people. He further alleges that in 1939, Jews exploited circumstances of World War 11 to execute genocide against Germans. If there were any killings of Jews by any Germans, the judge alleges, it was spontaneous self-defense.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Heresy about DR Congo’s Mobutu

Why there was never a South Korean but a Congolese miracle

Let us present an alternative history of the world. The year is 1960 and we have two countries - Mexico and France - each with a per capita income of $100. Both countries have emerged from colonial rule, Mexico by neighboring Brazil, and France by Nigeria. Almost 70% of the people of Mexico are peasants; the figure for France is 99%. Both nations are ruled by military strongmen who want to industrialize their countries in order to raise the standard of living of their people.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The trouble with Mbabazi’s candidacy

In challenging Museveni, Mbabazi may have made his boldest political move ever but equally the most fatal one

On Monday Amama Mbabazi declared his intentions to challenge President Yoweri Museveni for the leadership of the NRM and the country. The message launching his campaign was the most mature. He did not make scathing personal attacks on Museveni, accusing him of being a despot and of destroying the country. Instead he positioned his bid as a contest over the country’s future rather than a quarrel over its past. He acknowledged the achievements Uganda has registered over the last 50 years. His message was contrary to the militant and vitriolic rancour his daughters and in-laws have been spewing on social media.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Why Africa should leverage her strength

Our continent needs to focus on its positive attributes and use those to inspire future generations

The definitive clash of wills during the Second World War that paved the way for the defeat of Nazi Germany was the battle of Stalingrad. Soviet leader Josef Stalin had ordered the Red Army to fight to the last man to stop the Germans from taking the city which bore his name. Any retreating soldier would be summarily shot. He sent in Nikita Khrushchev as the political commissar to enforce the order. Khrushchev implemented this order with unparalleled harshness. Propaganda stories in newspapers, television, and motion pictures showed scores of retreating troops being shot.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

African elites and Mzungu worship

Exposing the hidden bias behind our obsession with Western goodness and Africa’s dysfunctions 

The greatest triumph of the colonial state was not the integration of our economies and social/political systems into the international capitalism system. That could have been achieved without colonialism and via free trade. Colonialism’s greatest triumph was the colonisation of our minds. Today we see everything Western through rosy lenses. Conversely we see everything African through lenses tinted with poisonous acid. We are so quick to cheer the good in Western society and blind to its political and social pathologies. We are equally unable to see the boundless goodness in Africa and quick to condemn every dysfunction we imagine.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Rebuilding the FDC brand

What FDC needs to do to reinvent itself and generate morale among its supporters 

After his defeat in this month’s elections, Ed Miliband did the honourable thing and resigned the leadership of the British Labor Party. Miliband followed an evolving tradition of unsuccessful political party leaders in the United Kingdom – Neal Kinnock, John Major, William Haig and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown – resigning after electoral defeat. This practice is good. Ideally, a political party leader who loses an election should give a chance to new ones to test their mettle and, hopefully, bring new ideas and zest to the party.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nkurunziza’s slippery slope

How the current crisis in Burundi is likely to ignite a regional conflagration 

Pierre Nkurunziza wants to remain president of Burundi. His opponents don’t want him to. Nkurinziza says the constitution allows him another term in office. His opponents say the Arusha Accords, which formed the basis of the constitution, do not. The Constitutional Court of Burundi ruled in favour of Nkurunziza. His opponents reacted by organising mass demonstrations on the streets of the capital, Bujumbura, and beyond. This seemed to take the country to the precipice. Seeing vulnerability, some army officers staged a coup, which Nkurunziza’s spokesperson called a “joke.” He was right! The coup makers lacked sufficient support in the military and police. That sealed their fate.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Re-examining the impact of elections

Why elections in India select criminals for politicians but produce dedicated public servants in Norway and Sweden

I have argued before that the very specific way democracy has evolved in Uganda is injurious to the common good. I use the word “very specific” because I am aware that other countries have had a different experience. Yet Uganda is not unique. Last week, I concluded this column showing how India faces a similar crisis as Uganda. Indeed, many democracies in Africa may have faired better than autocracies. But they too have evolved a pattern of politics where the public sector hardly embodies a collective vision. Instead it reinforces a pattern of politics that confers privileges on a few at the expense of the many.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The dynamics of Uganda’s elections

How electoral competition eliminates public spirited candidates and increases the numbers of self-interested ones

Around election-time,many candidates for office from across the political divide come to me for advice or assistance. We discuss practical political issues: How do I raise money for my campaign? Who are the individuals (there are hardly any organisations) I can approach for financial contributions? Who are the political godfathers (in the church, state or business) I can court? What issues should inform my platform? Which political party ticket should I stand on? In answering these questions, one realises how far removed from theory our actual politics is.

Monday, May 4, 2015

When should Kagame retire?

The benchmarks that Rwandans should discuss as forming the basis for sustainable peaceful transfer of power

President Paul Kagame believes in presidential term limits and desires to retire in 2017. I say this with a lot of confidence because I have had many discussions with him on this matter and his views have been consistent. He is also an admirer of former Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere, whose example of voluntary retirement inspired(s) him. Fortunately for Kagame, he can still retire. The question is: When? Unfortunately for him, 2017 is not an appropriate year. Tanzania in 1985 was very different from Rwanda today.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Xenophobia in South Africa

How the flaws in the post-apartheid political settlement have shaped the current anti-immigrant sentiments

Last week, “popular” anger in South Africa exploded into a new wave of violence. Youths wielding machetes and looking like Rwanda’s interahamwe in 1994 roamed the streets burning and/or slashing their victims without pity. The violence was both saddening and illuminating. It was saddening because it reinforced the stereotypes about Africans as being of barbaric disposition. It was illuminating because it demonstrated the fundamental flaw in the political settlement in post-apartheid South Africa.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The war against NSSF and Umeme

How improved performance of the two companies tends to attract increasing hostility from parliament and the public

The Members of Parliament in Uganda, supported by a loud section of our chattering elite class, seem determined to hold to wrong things dearly even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Last year, a select committee of parliament recommended that government terminate a concession agreement with electricity distributor, Umeme. It provided considerable grist to the anti Umeme mill. Then two weeks ago, another select committee recommended that then-minister of Finance, the chairman of the board and the managing director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) are punished for buying shares in Umeme; a company they claimed is “making losses”. Again, the anti NSSF-Umeme coalition went wild in celebration.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

To stay or not to stay

How the debate on amending the Constitution to remove term limits is evolving in Rwanda and the issues to consider

President Paul Kagame recently said he does not want Rwanda to amend the constitution to remove term limits. But I do not think this will stop calls by ordinary citizens who want him to stay. If I were not conversant with Rwanda, I would have thought this is an argument by the president’s courtiers telling lies to retain power. Whoever underestimates the amount of pressure on Kagame to stay should try a referendum. Indeed Kagame has rigged the debate by taking a position. This places senior politicians and military and security chiefs in a difficult position of having to openly disagree with their boss. But even this may not stop the momentum that has begun at the grassroots.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Reforming education in Uganda Part II

How Uganda’s politics cannot create a government that delivers public goods and services efficiently

Last week, I proposed the need to rethink the role of the state to fix our education system. I argued that we should separate the financing of education from its provision. The state should retain a role in financing and wherever possible outsource provision to the private sector. I proposed that we do this by giving vouchers to poor parents to send their kids to good private schools.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Looking at Museveni-Kagame frustrations

Unhappy with their officials, what the two presidents are asking for is a return to the past, not a leap to the future

Three weeks ago, President Paul Kagame; during a government leadership retreat, expressed disaffection with top officials for delaying government projects unnecessarily. Then last week, President Yoweri Museveni, during Uganda’s leadership retreat, expressed a similar sentiment about his ministers.

Kagame and Museveni’s frustrations provided considerable grist to their critics’ mill. I received many cheeky messages saying: we have always told you that these governments are not working; now the two presidents have admitted it themselves.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Reforming education in Uganda

Why government should separate financing of education in order to allow poor families access quality education

On Sunday, I attended a global education forum in Dubai. Sheik Mohammed Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda were there as well as former presidents, Bill Clinton (USA), Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria), former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair and education ministers of several countries and cities. The main challenges were: how do we increase access to education? Is this possible without compromising quality? How can education be made affordable? What curriculum can best prepare students to face the challenges of modern life; like employment? What should be the role of governments, the private sector, parents, churches, and citizens in increasing access to education and improving its quality?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The attempted coup against Oyo

What Batooro have failed to do about the kingdom and how it forced the king to live in Buganda

In early March, David Kijanangoma, a grandson of King George Rukidi III announced that he had overthrown King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba’Iguru Rukiidi IV of the great Kingdom of Toro. He said he had decided on this coup in large part because his cousin; Oyo, has abdicated his duties as king. He charged that Oyo is an absentee king who lives in another kingdom, Buganda, only going to Toro as a visitor.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fooling others for self aggrandizement

How US uses the language of freedom and human rights to undermine the cause of democracy in other countries

Almost a month ago, Fareed Zakaria hosted Barack Obama on his CNN show, GPS. Zakaria asked the U.S. president why America supports dictatorships like the ones in Saudi Arabia and Jordan when it is supposed to promote democracy around the world. Obama said he has to deal with the world as it is, not as he would wish it to be. America needs (and has) allies but some of them do not share its values. Yet he has to work with them to promote America’s interests. He said he cannot force these allies to adopt American values but he can (and does) try to influence them to reform through quiet diplomacy.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Re-thinking our democratic institutions

The pathologies of Uganda’s LC system and the need for a new conversation on how to reform it

On the temple of Apollo at Delphi is inscribed the motto “meden agan” (nothing in excess) in honour of the ancient Greek statesman, Solon (circa 638 to 558 BCE).  Solon understood that too much of anything is always bad. For example, if you disperse and constrain power through myriad checks and balances, you make it dilute and ineffective. If you concentrate it too much, you make it arbitrary and destructive. In designing a constitution for Athens (594 BCE), he balanced the power of popular assemblies with property qualification. Aristotle understood Solon and saw both democracy and aristocracy as dangerous extremes. So he favoured a timocracy i.e. rule by honour – a mixture of democracy and aristocracy. This insight was lost when the NRM was designing the current LC system.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What can you do for your country?

Why we should stop complaining about what our country has failed to do and ask what we can do

It is very hard to get things done, even at the smallest level. But it is very easy to sit and complain about things. Reading social media, one gets the sense that we have increasingly become a complaining nation, not a doing nation. Everywhere complaints abound of our failing healthcare and education system, of corruption and abuse of office. But one hardly reads a story of what those complaining are doing to change the situation. Are we waiting for intervention from God?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Somehow, the opposition is maturing

The obstacles to building an effective opposition and advancing democracy without “regime change”

Last week, the NRM and opposition leaders agreed on 43, out of 48 proposed electoral reforms. This is contrary to the doomsday scenarios its hecklers have been presenting that there is no chance in hell for NRM to accept reform. To deepen democracy, the opposition should talk to NRM. Negotiations would be one of its many instruments – others being using the mass media, organising rallies, street protests, using courts and lobbying powerful players inside NRM, donors and President Yoweri Museveni personally.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rethinking institutions in Africa

Why poor countries may need a more activist president, one willing to intervene to get them to work

Let me do what the Germans call Gedanken (a thought experiment). Political power in most of post-colonial Africa has tended to be personalised. We feel that this is bad and tends to undermine the ability of the state to serve broader social goals. Personalised power also tends to be arbitrary. But why don’t David Cameron and Barak Obama in the UK and USA personalise power? Could it be that over hundreds of years, power in UK and USA has been institutionalised so much so that an attempt to personalise it cannot be contemplated and that if anyone leader tried, they would not succeed?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The pathologies of Uganda’s democracy

How it has facilitated a politics that has undermined the ability of public institutions to serve the common good

To explain the dysfunctions in the public sector in Uganda, we need to understand how political power in our country is organised, how it is exercised and how it is reproduced. For example, how does President Yoweri Museveni build his electoral coalition? How do other elected officials – members of parliament and local councils – build successful political careers? Often, our debates tend to moralise, praise, pontificate and condemn but they rarely analyse and illuminate the salient issues that shape politics.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A new intellectual discourse for 2015

African intellectual elites personalise their analysis even as they accuse African leaders of personalising the state

On Jan.1, I went to Nsambya Hospital in Kampala where my cousin was hospitalised. The hospital is owned and run by the Catholic Church. The buildings many of which were constructed in the 1960s are now old and murky, with little renovation since. The wards are crowded, nurses underpaid, the doctors struggling to meet pressure and the gardens are overgrown. This is the same thing I have witnessed in Mengo, Rubaga, and other non-government Church-led health facilities. Even at International Hospital Kampala (IHK) and Nakasero Hospital, owned by private investors and a bit better managed, I see many weaknesses and incompetence.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Behind Museveni favourable polling

Why the opposition should adopt a new strategy if they are to remain relevant and build their credentials as a viable alternative

An opinion poll by Daily Monitor published on Jan.12 has given President Yoweri Museveni a commanding lead of 57% against leading opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye’s 8%. Many in the opposition will likely dismiss the results of the poll, allege that Museveni bribed Daily Monitor or the polling firm; Ipsos, or allude to a mythical “fear factor.” Hiding behind these excuses has in the past denied the opposition an opportunity to critically assess the situation and conduct painful self-examination.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Inside Kalinaki’s book on Besigye

How Museveni repeats the mistakes he accused Amin and Obote of and how we can begin a new conversation about it

Daniel Kalinaki’s book, Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution, is one of the most compelling pieces of writing I have read in the recent past. It is simply unputdownable. As a story about Besigye’s ambitions, ideals, aspirations, illusions and delusions, it is spiced with scintillating anecdotes of the infightings, competitions, manipulations and betrayals of Uganda’s politics. It is a feast for Uganda’s elite served by an unstinting host.But as an analysis of the ills and remedies of Uganda’s pursuit of some democratic ideal, I felt Kalinaki did little reflection.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The crisis of Africa’s intellectual elite

How the West has built a global incentive system that sustains a negative narrative against Africa

Steve Bikoonce said the greatest weapon in the hands of an oppressor is not his armies and arms but the mind of the oppressed. Antonio Gramsci had made a similar observation regarding forms of domination. He argued that a ruling class does not dominate subordinate classes simply through [its] state’s instruments of coercion and repression (as Karl Marx had posited) but through the development of a dominant ideology, which he called hegemony.