Charles Onyango Obbo

Why S. Africa’s xenophobic killers should come to Bunyoro in Uganda for class

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, April 22  2015 at  01:00

In Summary

After Yoweri Museveni and the NRM/NRA came to power, farmers and landowners from other parts of Uganda, especially the north and east who were thought to be sympathetic to UPC, were chased out of places like Kakiri and some areas of Mukono, and their property grabbed


As we watched our brothers in South Africa looting the property of African immigrants there in xenophobic attacks, and killing them, I still asked myself what good can come out of this.
So, comparing what is happening in South Africa to other xenophobic or ethnic-cleansing types of attacks elsewhere in Africa, lo and behold, I came to a strange conclusion.

If you want to do xenophobic-type things with finesse, then the best place in Africa where you can learn the most classy form of it is in Uganda’s Bunyoro region.

In Kenya, in the post-election violence of early 2008, the militants in the Rift Valley attacked and killed “foreigners” from other parts of the country, burnt their homes, and stole and ate their cows.

In South Sudan, as we have seen over the last year, the Dinka and Nuer have been murdering (and raping) each other, and many parts of it have fallen back to the Stone Age.

After Yoweri Museveni and the NRM/NRA came to power, farmers and landowners from other parts of Uganda, especially the north and east who were thought to be sympathetic to UPC, were chased out of places like Kakiri and some areas of Mukono, and their property grabbed.

When the rebellion broke out in Teso in the late 1980s, the “Banyarwanda” cattle keepers in the area were attacked, some killed, and their cattle stolen.

In 1972, Afande Field Marshal Idi Amin expelled the Asians, took and redistributed their property, and run the economy to the ground.
In 1979 when Idi Amin fell, his “people” were attacked, but the most tragic ethnic cleansing of that period was of the Ugandan Nubians. Large settlements of Nubians, especially in places like Bukedea in Teso and around Bombo, were destroyed, and several of them killed.

They fled to Nairobi, and among other things, it took many years for kabalagala-making and elegant mukeka (palm leaves mats) weaving to recover.

I remember reading a poignant statement by an Asian who was waiting outside the British High Commission along Parliament Avenue then, to get a visa to the UK after Amin expelled them.
The Asians endured long queues, with some Ugandans looking at them with pity, and others with glee, as they were hoping to take over their property.

A dry-eyed Asian businessman who was waiting in the queue looked upon the Ugandans, and shook his head. He said something like; “I feel sorry for this country, it is finished. Its economy is going to collapse?”
Why, you might ask.

It was not because the Asians were leaving, he said, rather it was because the Ugandans being left behind were too stupid to seize the economic opportunities staring them in the face. “If it was an Asian, he would dash quickly to make ice cream and sell it to the Asians being beaten by the sun in the queue for days at the British High Commission and make some good money.” The Ugandans merely stared at them then went home at sunset to gossip about it.
He was right.

The South African xenophobes also showed a lot of stupidity. One of their ministers said the foreigners should “share their trade secrets” with South Africans, if they wanted to be spared.

Usually, we complain when prices are too high. But in South Africa, there was anger (by rival local shopkeepers) that foreigners were pushing them out of business by selling their goods more cheaply.

So in the end, townships folks attacked the migrants’ shops that sold stuff cheaply. They beat and burned some of them – but without getting their trade secrets first.

In Bunyoro not too long ago, the “children of the soil” rose against Bafuruki (internal migrants), especially the Bakiga.

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Charles Onyango Obbo

On King Mutebi’s 60th birthday; we go back 23 years before his coronation

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, April 15  2015 at  01:00

As Kabaka Ronald Mutebi turns 60, it is as good a time to go back to 1991/1992/1993 as the issue of the restoration of the kingdoms bubbled.
We like to forget, but some of us have that annoying habit of remembering. The euphoria around the National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) rise to power was still high then.
I was a junior editor at the now defunct Weekly Topic, and used to write a very short column there titled “In A Few Words”. My belief then (and still today as Twitter proves), was that there was nothing important in this world that cannot be said in less than 300 words.
Some of my pro-monarchist friends, especially Ken Lukyamuzi, were making very forceful arguments for the immediate restoration of the kingdoms so that Mutebi could be crowned. However, Lukyamuzi was also leading a loud constituency that was opposed to President Yoweri Museveni’s aggressive policy (continuing Milton Obote II’s) to return to the Asians’ property that Idi Amin had grabbed after he expelled them in 1972.

I took to my little column to say I supported both the restoration of the kingdoms, and the return of the property of the Asians, because at base, they were the same thing. Giving the kingdoms back was restoring to the people a way of life that had been stolen from them at the point of a gun. Restoring Asian property was giving back to a people a livelihood that had been stolen from them at the point of a gun.
I remember one evening going to Bat Valley, where then Afrigo played, and a group of monarchists grabbed me, took me to their table, to say they were happy I had argued for Buganda to “get its things back”, but were unhappy that I had brought in “Zizinga” by mixing in the issues of the Asian property.

Later, a bunch of progressives also took me aside to say the opposite – it was fine to restore Asian property, but not the kingdoms because they were “reactionary and archaic”. I am a cheap date, so they could afford to buy me soda for my time.
By 1993, we had started The Monitor, and most of the controversial debate around the restoration of the kingdoms took place there. The Monitor’s view was that the Constitution must be amended for Mutebi’s coronation to take place.
The monarchist’s were angry, calling for a boycott of The Monitor, because they said “their man” Museveni had given them their things and there was no need for the law. We received death threats, and as I revealed once before in this column, The Monitor boss Wafula Oguttu’s family was directly threatened. One day he went home to find his wife frightened, and asking him that they should flee town. Waf being Waf, he held his ground.

The NRM left wing then was also angry with The Monitor, because they said we were fighting to help revive and entrench a “long dead feudal order” in law.
Some people around Museveni also didn’t want the law, but for the very opposite reason – they were very foresighted, I must concede, and wanted the kingdoms restored by Executive order so that the chief could use the threat of withdrawing it in future to keep the monarchs in line.
That was when I first met current Buganda prime minister Charles Peter Mayiga. Mayiga agreed with our argument that if the kingdoms were given as a birthday or Christmas gift by the NRM, and was not written into the law, it could be taken away at a whim. That while entrenching it in law didn’t mean they wouldn’t be abolished again by law, it made it harder, and therefore we wouldn’t easily go back to the crisis of 1966 again.

Mayiga, however, wanted a softer tone in expressing these issues.
Our other ally was then NRM/NRA star Lt Col Serwanga Lwanga. At a time when hardly any other figure in the government or military from Buganda could dare stick their necks out on the issue, Serwanga argued that Buganda should not be seen to be seeking special treatment. That Buganda’s interests would be more secure in a law that restored all kingdoms, than a government order that gives only them their kingdom back.

Because that would also restore the Ankole Kingdom, there was a sub-opposition that revolved around local sensibilities on Obugabe.
In the end, our tendency won. Now think back a few years ago at the height of the tensions between Buganda and the Museveni presidency, what would have happened if there had been no law restoring the kingdoms?

So, in naming Mayiga as Katikkiro, Kabaka Mutebi couldn’t have made a better choice. Not only is his politics generally moderate, but from way back when he was younger, Mayiga was always able to think clearly through the fog and deafening political noise. Happy birthday Kabaka.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian AFRICA ( Twitter:@cobbo3

Charles Onyango Obbo

One of these days, terrorists will finish us but luckily, we can do some smart things about it

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, April 8  2015 at  01:00

Kenya and East Africa will probably take a while to forget the early morning Thursday massacre of 148 in an attack by Somalia al-Shabaab militants on a college.
At least four gunmen stormed Garissa University, about 330 kilometres northeast of the capital, Nairobi, before dawn. They took students hostage, sorted them between Muslims and non-Muslims, and slaughtered the non-Muslims. After the first few days of shock, inevitably recrimination – especially over perceived State failures – has set in.
Away from the heart-breaking scenes of families dealing with loss of their loved ones, and the big guns that are out, the Garissa massacre tells us some troubling lessons about terrorism in the region.

It seems, first, that terrorists understand how African States work – they concentrate a lot of their security assets to protect the capitals, leaving few resources to secure the rest of the country.
In the early years, the terrorists also concentrated their efforts in attacking soft targets in the capitals and big cities, because the impact and the international headline premium are bigger.
However, since the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi in September 2014, all the big Shabaab attacks have been in cities and towns far away from the capital. It is probably a lesson Africa’s terror groups have learnt from the narrow-mindedness of Nigeria’s Boko Haram, which doesn’t venture too far from the northeast region in wreaking its mayhem.

Yet it nearly succeeded in bringing down the Nigerian government, and certainly cost president Goodluck Jonathan an election. For the terrorists, it costs fewer men and treasure, and the risks are lower. It might take longer, but eventually they are able to bleed out the government.
What Boko Haram, and now Shabaab, are teaching us is that to survive the threat, African states will have to reorganise the logic on which they have been based over the last 100 years. The one fact that strikes me most about the Garissa attack is that one of the masked attackers was identified as a Kenyan national, Abdirahim Abdullahi, described as an A-grade law graduate.
He is from a middle class family, and disappeared in 2013. His father, a government official in Garissa, reported him missing, and even suggested that he feared the young man had joined Shabaab across the border.

It raises pretty much the same debate that is happening in the West, about why middle class students, who go to some of the best universities in the world, run off to join Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to behead people. The main explanation is that they feel alienation and unloved by the societies their parents emigrated to.
In Africa, the argument has been young people, after spending years in school; get very frustrated when they end up unemployed. Extremist groups offer them brother and sisterhood, plus some “purpose”.
The best solution to all these is education reform. First we must end the Museveni-fuelled hostility and disinvestment in the liberal arts and social sciences. Along with that, introduce more open and critical thinking in schools. If a student can only cram and is not allowed to challenge the teacher or question the wisdom of the textbooks, how can he be expected to question a jihadist mullah?
The education reform will not so much offer more practical skills training, as changes students’ view of themselves as free individuals.

The education system we have actually already produces some students who have skills to be so-called “job creators not job seekers”. The bigger problem is that they are not confident in their power as individuals who can remake and reorder their world.
Finland, one of the world leaders in education, and the envy of many, has been foresighted and is tackling this problem with what is considered the most radical change to a learning system.
It is getting rid of “teaching by subject” and replacing it with “teaching by topic”.
An education official was quoted saying; “What we need now is a different kind of education to prepare people for working life.
“Young people use quite advanced computers. In the past, the banks had lots of bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed.

“We therefore have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.”
So the good Finns are introducing “phenomenon” teaching. As one newspaper described it, a teenager studying a vocational course might also take lessons which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.
You not only change young people’s view of how events are connected, but you dramatically increase their options in life. A violent sheikh recruiting an Engineering major to be a terrorist bomb-maker, would encounter a student who has knowledge of world history and thus less susceptible.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian AFRICA ( Twitter:@cobbo3

Charles Onyango Obbo

It is exciting and disturbing, where years of election theft are taking us

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, April 1  2015 at  01:00

Something both strange, but a little familiar too, just happened in the hotly contested Nigerian election.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was complaining almost as loudly as the main opposition, Muhammad Buhari’s All People’s Congress (APC), that it was being cheated.
In fact when it came to the voter card electronic readers that failed miserably in a few places, the PDP was totally against it, but the APC was for it, arguing that the technology reduces the ability of the government party to steal the vote.
They are wrong, but it was interesting that the e-reader failed when president Jonathan arrived to vote, and he had to stand around in the sun wiping sweat from his face for nearly 50 minutes before he could be sorted out.

There were no such problems for Buhari.
We have seen this ruling party and candidate complaining in Uganda before. Despite a reputation as election fiddlers, the NRM – and President Yoweri Museveni – in 2006 grumbled that Kizza Besigye and his Forum for Democratic (FDC) were rigging the election.
By 2011, things had heated up. At one point in the campaigns, Museveni was almost hysterical, accusing Besigye of stealing his votes.
Many people were amused, dismissing it as a ploy to cover up the NRM’s well-known sleight of electoral hand.
But after Nigeria, and earlier in countries like Ghana, I think it is time to look at what is happening.

Maybe we are missing something. It might well be that after years of losing through rigging, and the failure of electoral reform, Africa’s opposition parties are learning from the rulers and diversifying their electoral strategies to include cheating.
And that is worrying ruling parties not because it will cost them elections, they can always announce victory for the president whatever the actual ballot says, but because it suggests election theft has had unintended frightening consequences for them – they forced the opposition to get very sophisticated in counter-subversion.
That skill could be more dangerous for African rulers, than even the threat of a guerrilla war.
Let’s explain. Until now, the main way opposition parties countered government was through vigilance, and exposure on FM radio and other media, and the Internet.
The final threat was violence. However, opposition post-election violence, unless it is on a mass national scale, always plays in the hands of incumbents.

It allows them to change an electoral contest into a law and order issue, and take the battle to the ground where the State almost always has more resources than the Opposition – guns.
Before opposition parties never invested in electronic surveillance; hacking phones of electoral commissioners and the president’s campaign managers; and raising money and infiltrating sympathisers who are very hard to detect in electoral bodies.
Now in Nigeria, and last year in Mozambique, we are seeing Opposition activists hacking electoral commission websites. In the case of a Mozambique municipal election, they even altered results.
In this digital political and electoral warfare, Opposition parties are able to get a level of “force” equalisation that they would never even have dreamt of in the analogue age.

It is much more difficult to catch these digital warriors, because they don’t need to meet in large numbers in a place to plot. And if they are good, they can make it all but impossible for your average African regime to find the point from which they are using their computers. More worrying for despotic and vote-cheating states, is that unlike during the traditional election period, the war doesn’t end there. With these kinds of capabilities, the opposition can be on a permanent war footing, hacking government websites, accounts, stealing state secrets that are stored on computers anywhere, and leaking them – or threatening to.
Therefore years of opposition frustration at being cheated, and their inability to foil ruling parties, may not result into a big electoral reform movement.

It seems to be mostly giving rise to a technology movement subversion. This has several elements; social media has armed people claiming election theft with a new weapon, and as we can see in Nigeria, even before the results were announced a strong anti-legitimacy narrative had developed around Jonathan, making it all but impossible even if he won fairly for the victory to be universally accepted. Election results, even when unverified, get posted quickly on social media and commented on by blogs, in ways that were impossible 10 years.
So years of election are not leading to more open polls. Rather, the anti-rigging counterinsurgency is slowly making it impossible for incumbents to win fairly and claim legitimacy.
The best thing would have been for incumbents not to steal elections in the first place. The next 10 years, will be full of surprises.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian AFRICA ( Twitter:@cobbo3

Charles Onyango Obbo

Why Ugandans think we are headed in the right direction; the case for a rethink

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, March 25  2015 at  02:00

Last week, Daily Monitor reported that there were “mixed reactions” to an opinion poll by the American firm International Republican Institute (IRI) that about 69 per cent of 2,402 respondents in the survey said Uganda is headed in the right direction.
The Opposition groups were dismissive, suggesting it was a two-penny piece of pro-government propaganda, and government folks were happy, saying it proved that President Yoweri Museveni is doing a good job.
But there was one striking finding - 69 per cent of respondents said the government was not doing a good job fighting corruption – exactly the same percentage as those who thought the country was headed in the right direction.
Like in many other things, the best thing about an opinion poll is not what it says, but what it doesn’t. The IRI opinion poll points to what might be a fundamental problem in the way we have analysed Ugandan politics, especially Museveni’s never-ending rule.
This analysis has been informed by many premises, one of the more dominant of them being that older Ugandans who lived through the terrible years of Idi Amin, the Milton Obote II period, and the disastrous few months of the Military Council of the Okello generals, were the core support of Museveni. And that all he had to do to maintain their support was not to be as bad as Amin, for example.
However, the premises went, younger Ugandans would respond differently. As older Ugandans died off, and young people born or who grew up under Museveni and didn’t have the experience and memories of the 1970s and early 1980s came into their own, they would not be hostage to that history.

They would demand more political space, insist on honest elections, be impatient with corruption, and would not tolerate a president for life. In short, they would have higher demands and expectations than their parents and grandparents. And that when they became the majority of the population, as they now are, Museveni would be in trouble.
If I may wear my dispassionate part-time intellectual’s hat here, there was no evidence for this. They were premises based on conventional wisdom. Let us even take the argument often made by Museveni himself, that his National Resistance Movement (NRM) and National Resistance Army (NRA), was a movement of “young people”.
Museveni was born in 1944 (I say that fully aware that Ugandan Opposition think he was born earlier), it means when he went to the bush in 1981 he was 37. That is young, yes, but he wasn’t spring chicken either. Several figures in the NRM and NRA were, in fact, far much older than Museveni.
So young people were followers, yes, but not leaders of the NRM/NRA.
Earlier, in 1980, the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) claimed the mantle of being the youth party. Again, several idealistic young people were drawn to it, but its leadership was generally over 35 years old.
Therefore, the notion that young people are the sharp end of the revolutionary spear in Uganda, is generally not borne out by evidence.
It was, therefore, dogmatic to assume that young people would seek a better Uganda than their parents. The evidence suggests that they might actually have lower standards.

But even that shouldn’t be misunderstood, because it only tells us the context they use to judge the performance of the NRM government.
Older Ugandans’ view of what Uganda should be was based partly on the independence nationalist ethos, shaped by the tail end of the colonial experience, and more universally, some pan-African aspirations.
The nationalist ethos was that we would build a good society, and the colonial and pan-African element inclined us to prove the racist Europeans wrong, and show we were equals and would craft prosperous democratic societies. On the whole, that became a failed project.
Young people are driven by different forces –digital technologies (mobile phones and the Internet), and ubiquitous satellite TV.
My sense is that today, Ugandan youth make their broader political decisions in a highly relativist context, not in absolutist idealistic ways like their parents did.

Whether or not local media report it, they are able to follow stories about the Central African Republic, South Sudan, the Boko Haram insanity in Nigeria, Libya, Islamic State’s mayhem in Iraq and Syria on the Internet or via CNN or BBC.
Their parents and grandparents didn’t have that luxury. My reading, following young people’s blogs and social media posts, is that they then compare this with what is happening at home; and as long as things are better, they will give the Museveni regime a passing mark.
While some years ago Museveni had to be better than Amin and Obote, now he has to be better than the worst of the villains in the rest the world. His job has gotten easier, because there are some really terrible fellows out there.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian AFRICA ( Twitter:@cobbo3