What is Africa's (political) problem? (Daily Monitor (Uganda))


A government that started off not just seemingly refreshingly intellectual and determined in 1986, by 2015 had degenerated into a feudal system of patronage and institutional breakdown of a kind that only Zaare, now DR Congo, under president Mobutu Sese Seko ever got to in the East and Central African region.

It would offer some consolation to narrow it down to President Museveni and the NRM alone, but it is not so.

Turn next door to Rwanda.
Even more than the early years of the NRM from 1986 to 1991, the first five years of the Eritrean government from 1993 to 1998 and the first year of Mwai Kibaki’s government following the departure of president Daniel arap Moi, no government in the Eastern and Central African region has been as glowingly praised both across Africa and in the Western world as that of the RPF in Rwanda after 1994.

Rwanda, especially after 2000 when Paul Kagame rose to full, public control of power, could do no wrong.

Rwanda was the leading country in the Third World, scoring an A in everything Internet use, every child, it seems, had a laptop, highest number of women MPs in the world, governance A, economic growth A, accountability A, healing a society traumatised by genocide A.

Now to 2015. Having made it clear that he would not seek a third term as president and his admirers in Uganda’s media having fallen for that, the latest we hear is that Rwanda has set a new world record in unanimity of political views.

Apparently, only 10 people in the entire Rwanda opposed the lifting of the presidential term limits imposed by the constitution.

Only 10 people, it has to be said for emphasis. Not even North Korea, East Germany or the old Soviet Union ever got to that level of absurdity.

Rwandans have come so under the control of president Kagame that none dare answer him back, none dare be arrested, and so even when it is obvious that it will look bad for 99.999999999999 per cent of the country to support the lifting of term limits, not one Rwandan official (not even the many who left good jobs in sophisticated European and American cities to come and re-build their country) dare advice the RPF party against such a claim as only 10 people opposing the lifting of the term limit.

In Kenya, relative political is maintained but only at the cost of East Africa’s biggest economy being stuck for the last 40 years in an embarrassingly feudal-tribal mindset.

Unlike Uganda and other neighbours that attempt to downplay tribalism, in Kenya a supposedly sophisticated society posturing as a digital technology hub, tribalism is as naked as in Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi.

A presidential candidate wins, not by persuasive debates and detailed policy proposals, but at the last minute by allying with a rival or like-minded colleague from another region, which rival or colleague brings in the votes of that region in one bloc.

In other words, for Kenya to remain stable it has of necessity to remain very corrupt and a blind eye must be turned to that corruption.

Similarly, for the NRM to maintain a hold on power for nearly 30 years, the formula has not so much been the control that President Museveni has over the army, but the blind eye he turns to corruption by top NRM officials, ministers and military officers.

After holding together for 10 years, Burundi suddenly is plunged back into a political crisis and a military coup that nearly succeeded in May, all because of president Pierre Nkurunziza’s adamant wish for yet another presidential term.

Even if, in a strictly legal sense he had a right to run in 2015, did he have to politically, given the amount of resentment it was provoking, not just among the Tutsi minority but his own Hutu ethnic sub-group?

So let’s do a head count to 1997 when the Bill Clinton administration described the “new breed of African leaders”: South Sudan, Eritrea, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda. To that add Kenya, Central African Republic, Burundi and Somalia.

The whole of eastern and upper central Africa is seated on a ticking time bomb.
In Uganda, the unresolved political questions seem both in the ruling NRM and the Opposition parties.

Lately, I am turning more and more to the Uganda Protectorate as a guide on how to better understand Uganda. I am reading more and more books by the early British explorers, colonial administrators and Christian missionaries.

These Europeans seemed to have a much clearer understanding of Uganda’s history, customs, societal structure, norms and political organisation than even we the Ugandans.

The Europeans, when one reads their books about Uganda, seem to have a more coherent, objective and detached view of the matters that have troubled us for decades than we do.
In our political debates and analysis since the mid-1950s, we are typically emotional and sentimental. We tend to personalise the problem to “bad leaders” or “bad people”. We are unable to stand back and view the matters before us with an impartial, historical eye.

We also can’t seem to use our minds or see far ahead enough into the future. We enter political alliances without having studied the issues in enough detail and understanding.

Then when we inevitably fall out with our coalition partners, we blame the personal evil or bad traits of that former ally, rather than it as a result of complicated political developments and clashing interests.

On a single page, page 175, in his 1971 book “Buganda in Modern History,” D.A. Low, Professor of history at Surrey University in England captured the crisis within Uganda’s political parties of the 1950s and 1960s better than decades of newspaper articles and radio debates by Ugandans have done.

Amazingly, what Prof Low described in 1971 is exactly what is still going on today, in the NRM, UPC, DP, FDC and other parties.

Europeans, Indians and Chinese don’t have districts, special MPs representing them or cabinet ministers but they dominate the Ugandan economy.

Ugandans have nearly 100 Cabinet ministers, hundreds of MPs, more than 100 districts and thousands of local councillors, and yet they are growing poorer and more disempowered every year. Why?

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