Monday, 29 September 2014 05:38
By Andrew M. Mwenda
I spent the first week of this month in Dubai. Now I first visited Dubai in 1996. It was, I thought then, a big city. I have since visited this desert town almost every year since 2002. But compared to today, the Dubai of 1996 was a small well-knit city, cozy and personal. You could literally walk the streets window-shopping from one shop to another and feel connected to it. There was an occasional shopping mall or arcade, but one could count these on the fingers on one palm. There were also many hotels within walking distance of each other.
Walking down any street you could accidentally bump into many Ugandans visiting the city and walk down to a nearby to café to gossip about President Yoweri Museveni’s schemes to keep power, corruption in the government, and institutional dysfunction in our country. Dubai airport itself was beautiful but familiar – not different from other airports around the world in size or grandeur. But one felt that the place was different, that something big was happening. It was all in the air, a beehive of activity.
Compared to now, Dubai of 2004 (a decade ago) was a little town. Today, Dubai is not just a city. It is a mega city, a sprawling metropolis with a jungle of sky-scrappers, twelve lane streets, air-trains, flyovers, shopping malls, all clans of the most expensive cars, golf courses, tennis courts and the world’s tallest building, the world’s most expensive hotel etc. The old city is almost dead. The new one is impersonal, connected only by technology. Although it looks magnificent, today’s Dubai also feels artificial. It lacks character – like many North American cities. Today’s Dubai may be flash with money but it lacks the kind of taste one finds in Paris, Brussels, and Rome.
Monday, 22 September 2014 05:37
By Andrew M. Mwenda
Why American media should listen to the views of Rwandans about freedom in their country
A month before the Africa-America Summit in Washington DC, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda shuffled his prime minister (who was from the same Rwanda Patriotic Front political party as the president) and replaced him with another from a different political party. It was not big news in Rwanda because power-sharing in that country has been entrenched in the constitution.
Indeed out of the top four positions in Rwanda, Kagame’s RPF only holds the presidency of the country; the Social Democratic Party holds the presidency of the senate and the prime minister slot while the Liberal Party holds the position of speaker of parliament. While such coalition governments are common in Europe and Israel, there aren’t any examples in most of Africa.
This political arrangement has taken the heat out of Rwanda’s electoral process. For example, during election campaigns, competing candidates in Rwanda do not attack each other in an adversarial manner. Campaigns tend to be soft and boring. This has led some observers to claim there is limited political contestation in the country. However, it should be obvious that the power-sharing arrangement in the constitution creates an incentive structure that discourages competing politicians from being adversarial. This is because politicians do not want to antagonise their opponents too deeply given the likelihood that they will serve in the same cabinet.
Monday, 15 September 2014 06:06
By Andrew M. Mwenda
Six reasons why Pastor Martin Sempa and his army of religious homophobes go against the teachings of Jesus
Since the Constitutional Court declared the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) unconstitutional in a case where I was a petitioner, there has been a lot of hate mail against me on Facebook. Some people claiming to be Christians have even usurped God’s power and sentenced me to hell. Critics recite the Bible chapter and verse to justify the necessity for the AHA. I am keenly aware of how people instrumentalise the Bible, the Koran and other religious teachings to justify their personal prejudices and hatreds. For example, a gentleman came to my office after the court ruling looking distraught. He told me in a sincere manner that: “Andrew, my Christian teachings do not allow me to accept homosexuality… That is why this law is absolutely necessary.” Now I know this gentleman to cheat on his wife almost daily (adultery) and lie about it without any feeling of remorse. He reminded me of a Muslim girlfriend when I was young on Kampala’s dating circuit. She would come stay a weekend with me making love (fornication). But she would refuse to eat pork saying her Islamic teachings forbade her to do so. But then she would drink alcohol. Many critics of homosexuality commit myriad sins daily – fornication, lies, envy, greed, drunkenness, etc. But they sound holier than thou when condemning homosexuals.
However, the particular hostility to homosexuality by many Ugandans who use Christianity to justify their stance cannot be found in the teachings of Jesus Christ. First, Jesus teaches us to hate sin, but to love sinners. The Christian response to homosexuals would be to help them find spiritual salvation, not to send them to jail for life. It is an abdication of their responsibility as Christian shepherds when pastors like Martin Sempa fail (or refuse) to help homosexuals find salvation through the church and try to use the state to punish them.
Monday, 08 September 2014 06:00
By Andrew M. Mwenda
How adherence to public procurement is inflicting high costs and creating a disaster for the country
When David Jamwa was appointed Managing Director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), he found the Fund in the final stages of procuring a contractor to build a 29-floor Pension Towers on Lumumba Avenue. Roko Construction won the tender of Shs $21m. The structure did not optimally utilize the land and its value as its rate of return was estimated at 18%. Jamwa asked the architects to design a new structure to maximize returns from the plot.
The NSSF architect did a new design of 52 floors. It was given to a quantity surveyor who returned a sum of $55m as its likely cost, which would have increased the rate of return to 18%. Meanwhile, Roko were already on the site excavating the ground. Jamwa asked them to excavate according to the new design to create six underground parking floors instead of two as previously planned. They were willing to build the new design at the sum given by the NSSF quantity surveyor. Jamwa wrote to PPDA to give a waiver so that instead of re-tendering (which would last another two years), NSSF keeps Roko by single sourcing.
Monday, 01 September 2014 05:34
By Andrew M. Mwenda
How adherence to public procurement is inflicting high costs on the taxpayer and creating a disaster for the country
Public procurement procedures have become a noose around the neck of Uganda. Over the last 16 years, nearly every major government contract or tender has violated some procurement procedure. This often leads the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Police, State House, security services, PPDA, Parliament and the press to intervene and investigate. Once this happens, the contract gets bogged down in endless quarrels and recriminations. The State is paralyzed to act while citizens are denied the service. By the time it is resolved, it is five or six years later and the contract sum has tripled or quadrupled.
Many Ugandans think that violation of procurement procedures is a sign of a corrupt intent. This leads them to believe that adherence to the rules is a sign of an honest and transparent procurement process. Both these assumptions are only partly true. Formal procedures can be used to create opportunities for corruption. For instance, a public official can frustrate a government contractor by being excessively proceduralistic in the hope of a bribe to speed things up. The counterpoint is that violating a few rules may not always (and necessarily) be motivated by a corrupt intent but by mere pragmatism. This is because rules can sometimes be stupid, arcane and mutually contradictory.
The opportunities and risks China faces as it begins its transition from middle income status to a rich nation
I spent the whole of last week in China literally flying from one city to another – sometimes covering two cities per day. The speed of change in China is mind boggling. I had not visited Beijing since 2008. In just six years, I could not recognise it. Even cities that I had visited in 2011 have expanded so rapidly I could not recognise them either. Skyscrapers grow like mushrooms even in rural areas where small towns are building high raised apartments to accommodate the mass of people leaving farms.
In 1984, Beijing was a city ruled by bicycles. From the video documentaries of that age that I have, you can hardly see cars on the streets. Today, China has overtaken the United States as the largest car market in the world. During rush-hour, it can take someone four hours to drive the 40km from the airport to Tiananmen Square in spite of the impressive investments in rails, highways and flyovers. Even in the small cities and municipal towns I visited, like Wei Hai and Qingdao, China’s success is evident.
Why Africa needs trade and investment from America, not lectures on democracy and human rights
Last week, we were in Washington DC to attend the America-Africa Summit. China, the European Union, India – even Turkey – have all held summits on Africa and with African leaders to discuss how to engage our continent in trade and investment. Given that America is governed by a “black” president, and given the hope and expectations many Africa elites had in Barack Obama, it is interesting he has joined the new “scramble” for Africa this late in the game. Good that Obama thought of his “home” even belatedly.
I was struck by exhaustion and spent much of my time on a drip in hospital than at the summit. However, I was impressed that Obama avoided bringing in the issue of governance (democracy, human rights blah blah blah) on the agenda and hence focused on common interests through trade with investment. I was pleased not because I think governance issues are not important – I think they are very, very important – but because they should be left to local players. If Africans want democracy, they should fight and sacrifice for it and not outsource it to Americans.
Will the anti gay community try to write a new bill and mobilise quorum in parliament to pass a new law?
Last week, the Constitutional Court in Uganda declared the Anti Homosexuality Act null and void because it was passed illegally i.e. without quorum. Since then, a chorus of Western media has been arguing that the courts did this because of pressure from their governments via suspending and withholding aid. Equally baffling was the claim that the decision of the court was delivered at the time it happened in order to help President Yoweri Museveni arrive in Washington DC for the America-Africa summit in order to meet Barack Obama with a better face.
Western society has increasingly grown arrogant and self-obsessed. For them nothing happens elsewhere in the world, but most especially in Africa, which is not a reflection of what they have dictated. In our struggle for democracy, it is not the voice and sacrifice of domestic actors that count but rather the pressures and demands of Brussels, Washington, Paris and London. Even in economic policy change, it is not the interests of locals but the pressures of World Bank and IMF that will be credited for reform. Thus, from the perspective of the Western media, the efforts and courage of progressive intellectuals, journalists, lawyers, judges and gay activists amounted to nothing in the struggle for gay rights in Uganda.
How power sharing in Rwanda has worked and the lessons Ugandan politicians can draw from it for our good
Just imagine that you wake up tomorrow morning and find the following in Uganda: Yoweri Museveni is still president of the country. His vice president is Mugisha Muntu. The speaker of parliament is Olara Otunnu. Museveni has just reshuffled cabinet and replaced Amama Mbabazi with Nobert Mao as prime minister. The deputy speaker of parliament is Nandala Mafabi. And Kahinda Otafiire is deputy prime minister. All these men are not yelling and shouting at each other. Well this is because of the above power-sharing arrangement. To make it work, there is something called a Political Parties Forum where differences between the different political parties over public policy are debated and final positions are adopted entirely through consensus.
In this forum, all political parties regardless of size have equal representation and the chairmanship rotates among each one of them every month. No voting is allowed. If there is a dispute over a given policy, they are required to sit and negotiate until a compromise is reached. They can hold as many meetings as possible until a compromise is arrived at.
When you interview the leaders of these different parties, they say they accept this approach to national politics. They argue that this is because the winner-take-all political competition among different parties almost tore the country apart. They say now the country needs to heal wounds and achieve a minimum political consensus in order to achieve shared objectives.