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Monday, 31 August 2015 05:16 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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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.

So what has happened to reduce Museveni’s margin? Immediately after the 2011 elections, I wrote an article: “Why Museveni won and Besigye lost and what can be done for the future” which, if you read today sounds quite prophetic. I argued then that the main opposition candidate, Kizza Besigye, is able to rally his base but unable to grow it. This is because his message, even though powerful, has grown stale. His passionate attacks on the government for corruption and incompetence have become too repetitive to attract new voters looking for a more calm and sober alternative to Museveni. Since then, this new voice has emerged in Amama Mbabazi. But it has not made the fundamental difference I expected and I will explain why.

 
Monday, 24 August 2015 06:18 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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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.

Now, in most poor countries, modern institutions like political parties, farmers’ cooperatives, labour unions and other civic associations to link candidates and their programs to targeted voters are either weak or absent. This is especially so in those parts of the country where most voters are – rural areas. The solution in our context is to identify powerful pillars of opinion (influencers) in the different ethnic and religious communities as the building blocks of your organisational infrastructure. These include influential prelates, powerful traditional leaders and other pillars of opinion such as respected elders, successful businessmen, articulate youths, teachers etc.

I admit that because of rapid growth of the economy over the last 28 years, the explosion in education and the spread of access to mass and social media, Uganda has a large community of citizens whose primary identity is not religious or ethnic. These are the urbanised second and third generation middleclass citizens on social media. Many of these can be efficiently reached and mobilised through their hobbies like sports and entertainment, or through their professions (lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers), or occupations (small and medium scale traders in the informal sectors – boda bodas, barbers, vendors, kiosk owners, bartenders), etc. However, the vast majority of voters are still located in the religious and ethnic sphere.

 
Monday, 17 August 2015 06:04 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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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.

Africans have been involved in struggles for the improvement of their political systems without Obama. Through street protests, civil wars, military coups, court battles, and mass media debates, Africans have always fought for what is good for them. True, progress has not been a constantly improving curve. There are always gains and losses, progress and reversals. But this is normal because political change is difficult to organise and results often come at a creep, not a gallop. The political history of Western European and North America over the last 200 years attests to this. In fact African nations are outperforming Western nations in the speed of our progress. None of the Western nations enjoyed as much democracy as African countries enjoy today when they had Africa’s current very low levels of urbanisation, industrialisation, per capita income, government revenues, education attainment, and small size of the middle class.

 
Monday, 10 August 2015 05:43 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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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, 03 August 2015 05:03 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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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.

Yet although he bears “our skin”, Obama represents the power of those who seek to dominate us by destroying our self-confidence. Therefore his speeches reinforce a pattern of contempt that his predecessors have purveyed for decades. Thus, although his speech in Nairobi (compared to Accra in 2009) was less of headmaster lecturing his pupils and recognised the transformative changes taking place on our continent due to our initiatives, he still castigated us. His comments on political violence and corruption in Kenya continued the tradition of lecturing to us. Why does America feel obliged to comment on how African nations govern themselves, something he does not do in Western Europe? Who gives Obama and the US the moral right to lecture to Kenyans about their governance?

 
Sunday, 26 July 2015 21:29 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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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.

The parliamentary resolution was not surprising because on almost every important indicator – rate of economic growth, decline in infant, child and maternal mortality, doing business reforms, improvement in life expectancy, fighting corruption, public confidence in government institutions, women representation, etc. – Rwanda is either number one or among the top ten countries in the world. And this in a country that had been written off as a failed state only 20 years ago! This explains why Rwandans want the leader who has presided over this miracle to continue in office. It is possible Rwandans are making a mistake. But they should be allowed freedom to try and to err; that is how Rwanda will learn and grow.

 
Sunday, 19 July 2015 21:22 By Andrew M. Mwenda
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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.

In those days, salaries for teachers, nurses, doctors, lecturers and other professions were high, affording government employees a decent lifestyle without being corrupt. The public service embodied a public spirit and public sector workers pursued a collective vision. Many scholars argue that as economic decline and inflation eroded the value of the wages of government employees, corruption became the main source of sustenance. However, I have grown suspicious of almost everything written about Africa.

So recently I got my very brilliant son (in the African usage of that term), Ian Ortega Aliro, to compare the figures of 1960s and today. The data is diverse, but we can use a snapshot of it. In 1962, Uganda had a population of seven million people. However, there were 323 students enrolled in S5 and S6 and 800 at Makerere. Surely, the colonial government could afford to feed students in high school and at Makerere on sausages and eggs; it had very few mouths to feed. The Obote administration pushed the enrolment in S5 and S6 to 4,220 in 1970. By 1970, intake of Ugandan students at Makerere University had grown from 120 in 1962 to 870 per year, a humongous leap.

 
Friday, 10 July 2015 07:44 By. Andrew M. Mwnda
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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.

Mbabazi does not have a powerful message or a charismatic personality to excite voters. All he needs to do is provoke the state to brutalise him. That is what will win him sympathy. Museveni is likely to fall into this trap in part because he seeks security in brute force and in part because the benefits of this strategy may exceed its costs – if well executed.

 
Monday, 06 July 2015 12:16 By Andrew Mwenda
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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.

Why would the US congress be bothered by human rights in Rwanda, a country 15,000 miles away, when many of its own citizens are being killed by a run-amok police while others are being sent to jail in droves? In the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s, the government of Rwanda used to be highhanded. It relied on the systematic use of force to consolidate power to a significant degree.

 

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