August 18, 2015
At the official launch of the innovative collaborative Master of Research and Public Policy [MRPP] Programme, the first of its kind in Africa, held on August 13, at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, courtesy of the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research Organisation [PASGR], a professor from one of the universities asked a sarcastic question, causing titillation among the academicians standing near him to cough into their wine glasses!
Are African leaders who are ardent advocates of the doctrine of ‘African solutions to african problems’, aware of the existence of this programme which focuses on addressing the continent’s public policy issues, the professor wondered?
Opposition leader and President Museveni’s arch-rival Dr Kizza Besigye once lamented that intellectuals had passively watched as Uganda descended into, what he often refers to as bad governance, and had not done enough to reverse the trend. Well? They have done something about it. After three years of collaborative work between PSGR and 12 partner African universities consisting of Egerton University, Maseno University, Mzumbe University, Uganda Martyrs University, Uganda Christian University, the Universities of Dar es Salaam, Ghana, Ibadan, Lagos, Jos, Sierra Leone and Botswana formed a network to train professionals with the right competencies to change the governance conversation in Africa.
That the monumental launch was graced by Dr Willy Mutunga, the Chief Justice and president of the Supreme Court of Kenya, who delivered the keynote address, indicates appreciation of the programme at the highest levels.
A senior policy-maker, Mr Henry Rotich, Cabinet Secretary for the Kenya national Treasury, caused a furore when he alluded to the misnomer of public policy being influenced by skewed political considerations rather than informed by objective facts elicited from research a spanner the MRPP professionals will have to remove from the works!
In partnership with individual academics and researchers, higher education institutions, research think tanks, civil society organisations, business and policy relevant researchers, PASGR designs and delivers short professional development courses for researchers and policy actors and facilitates the development of collaborative higher education programmes. Their vision statement ‘a vibrant African social science community addressing the continents public policy issues’ is pertinent.
Talking of partying reminds me of a European ambassador at an embassy party to commemorate Uganda’s Independence Day in Khartoum in the 80s, who breached protocol by refusing to toast to the health of then president Milton Obote and the Republic of Uganda because, as he put it, “African governments spend all the aid they receive from us to buy wine and ostentatious SUVs instead of using the money for purposes for which it is given and have the audacity to invite us to witness the foolery”. I unwittingly narrated this to a member of a delegation from the ruling Uganda People’s Congress to president Jaffer Muhammad Numiery’s Sudanese Socialist Union General Conference.
A ‘common text’ from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Kampala to Uganda’s diplomatic missions later slammed a moratorium on embassy parties. Apparently, the delegate had squealed!
A rejoinder to the professor’s question was posed several years ago by Independent magazine proprietor Andrew Mwenda, ‘Does Africa have a unanimous voice’ in solving the kind of problems Muamar Gaddafi faced towards his tragic end, he asked? African solutions to African problems did not exist, he concluded. But he was partially wrong as the launch demonstrated.
Even though a common African political voice does not exist, an academic one has been contrived. If I may paraphrase what secretary-general of Kabaka Yekka Daudi Ocheing said in preamble to his ‘Gold and Ivory’ allegations in Parliament implicating Dr Obote and Idi Amin, culminating in the first and perhaps last successful ‘motion of no confidence’ in the government, sparking off a governance crisis Uganda seems not to have fully recovered from, the professor’s question was ‘of great weight’!
Mr Baligidde, a former diplomat, is Director of Uganda Martyrs University Rubaga Campus.