Wednesday April 18 2018

Here, some fine speculation on Uganda’s new athletics glory

 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Uganda just had a fabulous outing at the just-ended 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. Three gold, one silver, two bronze – all in athletics and boxing.
Until the dying hours of the game, Uganda was even ahead of African long-and-middle-distance-running powerhouse Kenya! In the end, we placed 15th out of 39, not bad for a country whose funding for athletics you can put in a small envelope, and where training facilities are abysmal.

Some wags have quipped that our medal winners, “sound suspiciously” Kenyan, with “Kip” “Che” and even “Mutai” names.
If you think of East Africa as one big village, then the issue doesn’t arise. They are all children of the village, and the village has raised them. But even without that, remember our friend military strongman Idi Amin?
We nearly went to war with Kenya in the mid-1970s because Amin laid claim to all the areas in Kenya inhabited by people with “Che” and “Kip” names. He said they were once our lands. Amin was correct that chunks of western Kenya and the Rift Valley were once part of Uganda.

His mistake was to view history as static. Without sweating the issue, borders and people’s have moved dramatically in Africa over the last 125 years.
So, how come, Uganda is doing well again in athletics, despite the lack of State funding? Part of the explanation for this, as for several other African countries, goes back nearly 30 years. As we have hinted before, it was when the economy was freed and the foreign exchange was liberalised.

No one thought of the impact of this on sports. But from once closed places like Ethiopia, across the breadth of the continent, the fact that sportsmen and women could go abroad and earn big dollars in things like marathons, bring it home, keep it in a bank or exchange it at market (not government-fixed) rates perhaps provided the biggest impetus for Africans to become world-class athletes.

People might fight for their nation, but they don’t run or play for it despite the fact they often claim that they do so for flag and country. There’s no way an African will go to run in the New York marathon, win $250,000, bring it home, hand it to the Central Bank for, say, Sh1,000 to the dollar and then withhold 50 per cent of it (so he gets Shs125m), then sit back and watch the president’s sister-in-law being allocated $200,000 at the same rate, and then she sells it on “the Kibanda” market for Sh3,000, and make a profit of Sh400m. He won’t run again.
So the most far-reaching sports policy was the institution of free foreign exchange markets.

Secondly, the Internet. Take Kenya’s powerful man Julius Yego, the African and Commonwealth record holder in the javelin. He taught himself to throw the javelin using YouTube.
Many relatively “poor” African athletes who can’t afford a foreign coach, now need only a good Internet connection, and before long they are away to the races. If you look beyond sports, there are things like the black natural hair movement, which has been fuelled by a unique nexus of the Internet and Afropolitanism.

But geography also matters. If you are in a region of early success stories in a sport (long and middle distance in the Horn and East Africa), you can tap into the training ecosystem for the sport (eg training partners and private training camps in Kenya) and lift your game.
You can see that Southern and West Africa, which have had historical success in the sprints, do better in those sports than East Africans. The day an East African wins the 100 metres gold at the Olympics, it will signal some dramatic social or economic shift.

There are a couple of other factors one could list, but we shall end with an economic – the uneven spread of the benefits of economic growth, and corruption.
Difficult sports like boxing and long distance running are still the preserve of “the rest”, not the upper class. It’s conceivable that a minister’s daughter can become national tennis champion, and a deputy prime minister’s son can become a top golfer. But there is no way the president’s favourite nephew would be the national marathon record holder.
That is more likely to go to a “Kip” from the mountains, and the leading hurdler will probably be a “Bua” from the north – or Naguru working class quarters - all largely marginalised areas.

Sports is one area where patronage and nepotism don’t work. A State House can ensure that the First Lady’s niece wins the national beauty contest. But it can’t make the president’s inept brother-in-law the national cross-country champion.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3

Wednesday April 11 2018

This corrupt, ‘collapsing State’ of Uganda…how come it doesn’t die?

 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

A few days ago, the colourful-tongued East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) legislator Mukasa Mbidde, was at it again. In a TV talkshow, he said: “Can you name one single public institution that doesn’t require urgent investigation and overhaul in Uganda? If you do, then we should hand the collapsing State to that institution to manage”. Dramatic. At about the same time Mbidde was serving up his volleys, the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), released the list of 1,000 African entrepreneurs from across Africa that the programme will support this year.

The foundation said, “more than 151,000 Africans from 114 countries worldwide applied to join the 4th cycle of The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s 10-year, $100 million Entrepreneurship Programme.” Its release and news reports noted, “Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya have dominated the list with 258, 126 and 74 successful candidates respectively. A similar trend was seen last year where the three countries dominated in the same order”.

That Uganda is the second largest cohort does not “flow naturally” from the common facts. We do not have the second best business schools or universities in Africa; our public education isn’t the second best (in fact recently, President Yoweri Museveni was quoted as saying Universal Primary Education had become such a shamble, anyone who could afford should send their children to private schools and leave it to the poor); we do not have an enterprise or start-up fund; we have nothing that on the face of it, would place Ugandan candidates in such an advantageous position. Until you look closely, and think twice.

Mbidde might want to go back to a revealing statement President Museveni made nearly 20 years ago. Like today, contractors and suppliers to the government hadn’t been paid, and they were going out of business in record numbers.

At a press conference, the president said he felt their pain and hectored the Ministry of Finance to urgently deal with the payments. Then he added a rider. He wondered why people did business with his government.

He himself, he said, wouldn’t do business with it! Mbidde, therefore, was asking for what, in many ways, is impossible. And Museveni was speaking to the same reality nearly 20 years earlier, though he saw it as a problem rooted in bureaucratic malaise and corruption.

Uganda desperately needs an effective and honest government that builds dams, standard gauge railways, expressways, and provides public goods on time and on budget. At the same time, there is something in the DNA of the country that is opposed to centralisation.

This is one of the reasons why Uganda was a British “protectorate”, not an old school “colonial possession”. The most successful (productive) centralisation and State-building phases Uganda has ever seen, occurred during Milton Obote and Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) rule between independence and the coup of 1971. The bulk of the country’s infrastructure, and the hard backbone of its economy, was built or laid down between the colonial period, and significantly in the eight years of Obote 1.

The UPC was largely a party of the marginalised areas of Uganda, and disefrachised and nationalist constituencies in the south.
Coming from the north as he did, Obote also had a more sophisticated centralising mindset, that understood how to bring the neglected parts of the country to the table in Kampala so they could partake of the fruits of independence. His socialist-lite ‘Move to the Left’ was part of that. After him, the militarism that characterised his second rule, and that has been heightened during Museveni’s era, are really projects in continuing centralisation.

For Museveni though, the wrinkle is that he has also unleashed counter-centralisation forces through liberalisation and privatisation of the economy. However, the vast private education system, which took off in a big way in 1988, is now producing its second crop of the “Pure Private Student” – ie kids who went to private nursery school, private primary school, private secondary and high school, and private university, without for a minute having set foot in a taxpayer-funded educational institute. Before 1986, that was impossible.

Parents’ private money, and the sprawling private education apparatus have accumulated a large knowledge resource outside the public sector, and because they need to make a return on the investment, seems we have reached a point where, emotionally and for practical reasons, they have become mostly focused on finding yields outside the patronage and corruption-riddled public sector.

That partly explains the seeming discord Mbidde speaks of, a public sector that “require[s] urgent investigation and overhaul” and a “collapsing State”, at a time when a pan-African enterprise programme receives applications from “more than 151,000 Africans from 114 countries worldwide”, and Uganda provides the second highest number of successful applicants.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3

Wednesday April 4 2018

Just how crazy is Museveni’s ‘WhatsApp Tax’? Maybe not

 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

President Yoweri Museveni’s proposal for a specific tax on “over-the-top” platforms (OTTs) - such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Twitter, and so on, has been met with ridicule and criticism. For now, setting aside the criticism, and accepting that these OTT services should pay their share of taxes, the question is “how?”

The Twitter and Instagram apps, among others, are outside the jurisdiction of the Uganda government, so the easiest way to tax them would have been if Twitter and Facebook had offices in Uganda. Because they don’t, the second easiest way would be to have these services sold as a required fixed bundled service with every SIM card. But that poses another problem, because a farmer in Mukono, might have no need for Facebook, so why should she pay for it with the SIm card?

The telcoms argue, rightly, that right now, these services are taxed because people use their mobile data – or Wi-Fi service - to access them, and the companies pay taxes on them to Uganda Revenue Authority based on minutes used.

So there’s no need to introduce a specific hard-to-manage tax. Furthermore, the President proposes that data and OTT use, which is educational, not recreational and dedicated to lugambo (gossip, and idle talk), not be taxed.

Which only complicates matters further. If I use my data to share a cartoon making fun of Museveni, his idea is that I should pay some kind of tax penalty on that. But if I immediately hand over my smartphone to my niece to research her science project, no tax should be paid on that bit of data! I will not dwell on how you can beat everything the President is proposing, and focus on the positives.

Technically, it is possible to segregate this type of use. If the Kampala government can do it, the technological leap it would have achieved would be so massive, it would place Uganda way up there with the South Koreas.

It would require a level of investment in science, digital infrastructure, reconstituting Uganda in the ultimate meritocracy, and catapult us into a new universe of enlightened government we have never even dreamt of before.

However, there are a few other ways Museveni might achieve his goal of raising even more money, easily. The simplest way is to make it easy for people to buy SIM cards, and to increase the number of Ugandans with access to mobile phones, which is becoming increasingly difficult under the “mad man” rules rolled out every other week by the Uganda Communications Commission.

According to the latest data from the National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U), 24.8 million Ugandans - 70.9 per cent of the population - own mobile phones. Also, just more than 13 million Ugandans, about 32 per cent of the population, have access to the Internet.

Imagine what would happen if mobile phone owners were 30 million. Assume that allowed MTN micro-loans and saving service Mokash to grow to 4 million active users; the impact it would have on the economy and the bottom line of the partner bank, which is easier to tax and collect, would be huge.

Also, without even having to gun for Kenya’s 90 per cent, Uganda should just aim to double the number of people with access to the Internet to 64 per cent.

Museveni would have more than the taxes he wants, and economic growth too, without placing an additional burden on anyone. But that would require opening up and reforming the telcom market in ways some of the very companies complaining about the “WhatsApp tax” have used their near-monopoly power to prevent.

It could also mean a lot of blood on the floor, and quite a few companies, like struggling Uganda Telecom, would have to be allowed to die.

Uganda could get there the India way, thanks to the country’s richest man Mukesh Ambani. For those who haven’t been following the story, Mukesh Ambani in mid 2016, launched a telecom venture called Jio and shortly after unleashed the JioPhone.
To get the low cost 4G LTE phone, you pay the equivalent of Shs82,000, which is refundable if you return the smartphone after three years. To qualify for the refund, you need to top up the phone for Shs82,000 a year, or a minimum of Shs2,700 a month.
And then, the killer. Jio offered very cheap data – and FREE VOICE CALLS FOR LIFE!

A stampede followed, with the network signing on average seven customers every single second of every single day.

With more than 100 million new smartphone users, very many people in the digital economy were making loads of new money, with some music streaming recording 300 per cent growth. And that is how you do it – by growing the pie. Mr President, call Mukesh Ambani.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3

Wednesday March 28 2018

Museveni meets Kagame: This story is 120 years old

 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

A while back, I was having coffee with a famous Ugandan doctor in Nairobi at a fancy café in the suburbs.

We spoke about exile life of Ugandans in Kenya in the 1970s and early 1980s, and the status of affairs back home in the Pearl of Africa.

Very casually, he threw me a mind-bender: “You know, in the 1960s, the Ugandan middle class was larger than Kenya’s. In fact, it was the biggest in East Africa. Today, it is so much smaller than Kenya”, he said. “That really sums up the tragedy of Uganda’s lost years.”

I had never even remotely heard anything like that. I have looked at various numbers, read lots of stuff, but I haven’t conclusively resolved that claim by my doctor friend.

If you figure that the colonial experiences of Kenya (a settler colony), and Uganda’s (a protectorate governed through indirect British rule) were different, you can see how the fact that Uganda had a larger indigenous land-owning class nearly five decades earlier than Kenya, where they only “fell into things” after independence in 1963, it begins to make sense.

Which begs the question, how did Uganda’s middle class form around land? There are a 100 reasons how, but one is particularly intriguing, and little understood – or denied.

Recently, Rwanda and Uganda have been having their seasonal bouts of bad political blood. On Sunday, the leaders broke the ice when Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame visited and held talks with President Yoweri Museveni in Entebbe.

At the end, Museveni tweeted: “I thank him [Kagame] for honouring my invitation. Uganda is home to Rwandans, literally and metaphorically (emphasis mine).”

I would have added historically too. Conversations about Uganda-Rwanda relations since about 1981, have been framed largely in terms of gratitude. That Ugandans took in Rwandan refugees from 1959, and they should be grateful. That they were ungrateful for our hospitality, some joining Idi Amin’s intelligence services, and later Museveni’s Luweero war hence their persecution and expulsion in 1982-83 by the UPC government.

That they helped Museveni win his rebellion hence the NRM should be grateful to them. Or that we backed the Rwanda Patriotic Front, and therefore, Kagame & Co. should be grateful. And on, and on.

But it is not that easy. Belgian colonial rule sent thousands of Congolese, then Rwandese fleeing to Uganda from early in the 20th Century well before independence.

While, indeed, Britain divided Uganda broadly into a north that was a labour reserve, and later funnelled into “low value” jobs like being askaris, the south was slated for agriculture and to man the technocratic and bureaucratic ranks.
But to fully understand this British decision, one needs to look at the “existing conditions” in the south that incentivised that decision.

Exploiting abundant cheap Rwandan (and some Burundian and Congolese) labour for its farming and cattle keeping, the south of what is Uganda today, was already slightly more developed than the rest. There was already some “infrastructure” that made the decision to concentrate agricultural development in the south logical.

But the decisive point came with the Rwanda revolution in 1959, in which thousands were massacred and the whole largely Tutsi ruling class fled. The majority of the Tutsi elite (teachers, catechists, small farmers, traders, government officials) of that time came to Uganda, along with the wananchi too.

(They had the kind of impact in the wider Ankole and Buganda, that Ugandan exiles had in Kenya. As this column noted before, the fact that you had Uganda university lecturers teaching secondary and even primary schools in Kenya during their years of exile, led to a highly-educated cohort who gave it the technological lead in the region of the last 20 years).

No other country in East Africa had such a high influx of an elite coming into its borders as refugees, and injecting in so much skilled labour in the first 60 years of the 20th Century as Uganda did – until, ironically, the Ugandan exodus to Kenya started in the 1970s.

The reverse process happened in 1990. When the RPA started its war in 1990, and then took power in 1994, it had a base that had received education and exposure in Uganda, and by now, many other parts of the world, that it wouldn’t have had if they had remained in Rwanda, oppressed by its quasi-apartheid system that kept Tutsi marginalised.

The (inconvenient) point here is that if you forget the last 50 years, and go back to the period between 1908 and 1968, the most decisive in shaping Uganda today and creating its early middle class, perhaps the most important African influence was what came from Rwanda.

And, then, the Kenya-Uganda Railway, because without it, independence would have come maybe in 1968, not 1962.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3

Wednesday March 21 2018

Crisis of Uganda police, and that man Besigye (Part 2)



CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO  

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

Last week in ‘Kayihura and the ‘graveyard’ of our police chiefs: The untold story’, we looked beyond the municipal issues that have led to the crisis of the Uganda Police Force today, and the recent much-debated sacking of Gen Kale Kayihura as IGP.
Two of the crises, originated in part from outside our borders – the fallout between the anti-Mobutu allies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the August 1998 terror bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. At home, leading the police became too important and big to be left to professional police. It was, therefore, taken over by the apple of NRM’s eye – the military.

And, then, as we mentioned, in came Dr Col Kizza Besigye, a staunch NRM/NRA man-turned opposition renegade, who upended Ugandan politics. The Besigye story deserves many books. Journalist Daniel Kalinaki wrote a book on him Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution, and even he acknowledges in private that he only scratched the surface. So we will only do the equivalent of peeing into a hurricane here.
There is a reason, in addition to raw force, that Yoweri Museveni has lorded over this fair land for 32 years. He understands power dynamics like few others. He saw the Besigye challenge not just as a political fracture of the NRM, but a potential crack in its military armour.

Contrary to the view that to secure himself, he made the UPDF more partisan, he seems to have done the opposite - de-ideologised the rank and file of the army; sought a new pan-African raison d’etre for it; but stacked it with loyalist leadership. That de-ideologisation of the UPDF required that the police be more highly politicised, and its capacity for crude violence be amped.

A part of this repositioning was necessitated by the fact that Besigye humiliated Museveni in the north in 2001. Museveni, who was irritated at a result that cast him as a south-west Ugandan regional chief, decided it wouldn’t happen again.
So, first, he had to definitely end the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion in the north. Uganda divided its approach to supporting John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and backed the Sudan peace talks that started in 2002 (and ended in the Nairobi peace agreement of 2005 that set South Sudan on the path to independence). For Kampala, South Sudan created a buffer against Khartoum, effectively killing off its ability to support Joseph Kony further.

Next, Museveni sought to take away Besigye’s most potent rallying point – so the NRM’s one-party/no-party system was ended. But, of course, this opened the north to both UPC and DP, who historically enjoyed support in the region that had gone to Besigye in 2001. The expected result was that the NRM vote bloc would become marginally the largest. And so it has.
The new multiparty era, South Sudan peace deal and impending independence referendum, and the need to give the UPDF a grand purpose above new domestic rivals, led partly to Uganda becoming the first country to put boots down in Somalia as the pioneer AMISOM contingent in 2007. It was, admittedly, a masterful rebranding by the Uganda militariat, but it wouldn’t have played out this way without the series of events set off by Besigye.

Undercut from the north, Besigye’s base shifted to the south –mainly around Kampala. It was the kind of urban challenge Museveni and his camp have never really understood.
The response, largely managed by the police, was three-fold, and reliant on urban constituents, who would know better: First, co-opt boda boda riders as an informal intelligence network. Secondly, rally marginalised youth and the low-level criminal networks in the outskirts of Kampala into a militia affiliated to the police, to infiltrate and also beat down Besigye supporters and break up the “Walk to work” protests later.

To understand what went wrong here, we need to go back to Maj Kakooza Mutale’s controversial 2001 “Kiboko Squad”, which was largely an anti-Besigye militia.
Kakooza Mutale isn’t most people’s first choice of a roommate, and “Kiboko Squad” was a disgrace, but it had a “disciplined” element to it. More aligned to the UPDF than police, Mutale and company ran it closely. It would parade, and had command and control.

The need to de-couple these militia activities from the UPDF, landed them into police. To cut a long story short, it was over. Unlike 2001, by 2016, the police were now cobbling together the “Crime preventers”, a militia so divorced from Kampala, they needed to camp out in the Kololo Ceremonial Grounds.
Fifteen kilometres away in Kisangati, despite (or perhaps even because of it), the police blockade around his house, Besigye laughed into his tea cup – and Kayihura took another step closer to the edge of the cliff.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3

Wednesday March 14 2018

Kayihura and the ‘graveyard’ of our police chiefs: The untold story



CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO  

By Charles Onyango-obbo

No dismissal of an Inspector General of Police has ever been more discussed or caused excitement like that of Gen Kale Kayihura just more than a week ago. That is because no police force in Africa has been as controversial, and been so mired in partisan politics than Uganda’s during Kayihura’s reign, bar perhaps South Africa’s in the time of apartheid. However, Kayihura was just a cog in the process that brought the Uganda police to the strange place where it is today.

To begin with, I do not buy into the view that the Uganda police was still “anti-people”, “colonial”, and all the epithets NRM militarists like to hurl at it, and that, especially, Kayihura’s appointment was meant to cure that.
True, when the NRM took power in 1986, the police was a mess both operationally and ideologically, but sufficient reforms were undertaken, and within four years of coming to power, the Museveni government had actually changed the Force for the better.

The most professional era of the police was between 1992 and 1999, when John Cossy Odomel was IGP, and it became as technocratic as it ever was between 1999-2001 when John Kisembo was chief. The two Johns succeeded in making the Uganda police a boring place, which is a good thing, and this was a period when some of the most enlightened officers Africa will ever get into police leadership, like the urbane and cerebral Herbert Karugaba led the Criminal Investigations Department.
You just need to see Karugaba’s international career path after he left the Force to know what we missed.
So if we wanted to understand how and why the Uganda police fell down the hole, without dwelling too much on the folly of the men who have led it, and The Man who appointed them, is there a path to that? Yes. Three critical events changed the police force – mostly for the worse.

The first, was the August 1998 terror bomb attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. It was mind-bending to see how the atmosphere changed in the Uganda security sector. Because, at that time, Uganda was the undisputed regional geopolitical kingpin, it got dramatically sucked into the US-led war against global terrorism.
The anti-terrorism project internationalised the Uganda security services considerably, and brought a new prestige and access to resources (eg training in prestigious Western intelligence programmes, new forms of cooperation with the CIA), the job could no longer go to an Odomel or Kisembo.

It had to go to someone from the belly of the NRM militariat, with Luweero war pedigree.
However, if nothing else had intervened, the Uganda police would have been a lethal Force (dabbling in torture and all that), but benign and having some credibility and competence, as a law enforcement and crime investigation outfit. However, another event threw a spanner in the works.

In August 1998, the so-called Second Congo War started, after then-president Laurent Kabila, who had been helped to fight his way to power in 1997 by a broad coalition, including Rwanda and Uganda, fell out with his backers.
Uganda and Rwanda took to eastern DR Congo where they propped up various proxies, as Kabila stitched together an alliance, including Angola and Zimbabwe, to fight back. The important thing, both for UPDF and the police, is that soon our rogue officers, in cahoots with businessmen, were looting or trading in everything from diamonds, gold, timber, wildlife, and coffee from eastern DRC.

We had intense struggle across the security forces and agencies for leadership, because sections of the Ugandan security system became guards for our DRC bootleggers. It became very important that a lorry carrying illegal DRC timber should not be stopped.

That, really was the end for the high-minded officers, the ones who watch documentaries on the rise and fall of Rome on their DSTv in the evenings, and go to their children’s parent-teacher meetings.
The death blow, however, was to be delivered by one man – Kizza Besigye. Everything changed in Uganda from October 2000 when Dr Besigye announced that he would go for Museveni’s job in the February elections next year.

The lessons, and shock from that election, are what truly led to the militarisation of the police in April 2001, with the appointment of Lt Gen Katumba Wamala as IGP. It was also Dr Besigye’s return from exile on October 26, 2005, to run again in the February 2006 polls, that partly led to the appointment of Kayihura as IGP a few days later in November. Lt Gen Katumba hadn’t played along too well.

And so, next week, we shall look at how Dr Besigye rocked the boat, and by losing all the elections he has run against Museveni, ended up perhaps changing the country more than if he had defeated him and become president.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3

Wednesday March 7 2018

The death of Cheeye and untold meaning of Uganda Confidential



CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO  

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

Last week, a boda boda cyclist ran over and killed journalist and publisher Teddy Ssezi Cheeye. In a more extended article in this paper (‘Cheeye was a son of a gun…our son of a gun’, page 28-29), I look at some of the intricacies behind the founding of Uganda Confidential in 1990, its controversial path, and conflicted life of Cheeye. However, Cheeye apart, the birth of Uganda Confidential in 1990 was not accidental. It happened as a result of a series of events in Uganda and the world.

Over the weekend, with the country, especially Kampala, seemingly besieged by criminals, President Yoweri Museveni, who has based a large part of his legitimacy on ending this type of insecurity, took to Twitter to reassure a nervous nation. He said this spate of crime will be solved, like many others many in the past thought wouldn’t be overcome. “Many people did not believe that we would end shortages of sugar, soap, paraffin, beer, etc. - the so-called “essential commodities,” he tweeted. “All these, however, have been achieved”.

He does not say how the shortages ended. It was through privatisation and liberalisation of the economy. In the first two years of the NRM, it tried to solve shortages through improving production by State-owned companies and barter trade. It was a colossal failure, with shortages of milk, salt, sugar, beer, and soft drinks persisting until into late 1987.

Why did it fail? First, the Soviet Union and eastern bloc were teetering, so the market for barter, rather than for good old dollars, Pounds and yens was not there. Secondly, HIV/Aids began to take its toll, and it began to dawn that new sources of social energy and enterprise needed to enable Uganda cope with the economic burden. Thirdly, rebellion in the north and northeast were intensifying, and the economy couldn’t support both the wars and reconstruction.

So, in 1988, sound economic sense prevailed. Soon State companies were sold off, and the economy thrown open for businessmen and women to take over and provide the services and goods consumers needed, for a profit. The rest, as they say, is history.
Two things happened. At that point, continuing a practice from the past, some NRM big wigs had taken advantage of the shortages to make a fortune getting commodities at government-controlled rates and selling them on the open market.

In the country and within the NRM, there was discontent about the people who were “betraying” the revolution and using the State to enrich themselves. This was the line pushed by the ideological purists in the NRM, several of them in the Movement Secretariat, but they were at their sharpest in the Political Commissariat of the National Resistance Army (NRA), the precursor to UPDF.

Their ideas vehicle was the journal Tarehe Sita (February 6), marking “NRM Day”). Cheeye was working with Tarehe Sita when I first met him through Wafula Oguttu, who was then editor of the NRM-leaning Weekly Topic. I was Waf’s deputy.
Cheeye, like Waf - and progressives in NRM – were troubled by what they saw as the “hegemony of the right wing”, epitomised by the influence of politicians like Balaki Kirya, businessmen such as First Lady Janet Museveni’s uncle John Kazoora, and prime minister, then vice president Samson Kisekka.

Privatisation and liberalisation unleashed a lot of creative economic energy, but also a new round of corruption, and the inequality gap became glaring rather quickly.
He was a regular at Weekly Topic, and his sense of humour and political gossip about goings on inside NRM were always worthwhile. He was disillusioned with the losses the progressives were suffering. When he came up with his plan for Uganda Confidential, it was exciting.

Wafula and I agreed to find some time in our schedule to help Cheeye with Uganda Confidential at the start.
This background is important, because those looking at Uganda Confidential’s burn trail later, wouldn’t imagine that Cheeye was ever motivated by a noble purpose.
There was always a part of him that believed that the political and economic system had to be fairer. He was controversial, but what made him good, his fearlessness and passion, were also what made him disagreeable and led him to errors.

Cheeye didn’t have much formal education. He was mostly self taught.
He overcame odds that would have broken most people in similar situation.
The power that media success grants some journalists, can sometimes be much a politician like President Museveni has. Its temptations are enormous.

Cheeye at one point had the power to make or break. It got the better of him.
The tragedy of his death, then, is that his contribution to journalism might be difficult to tell above the noise of how he lived his life. But we shall try.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3

Wednesday February 28 2018

Is ‘Black Panther’ actor Kaluuya our child or not? Discuss

 

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

I am sure many readers of The Monitor in Kampala have watched or already read a lot about the ‘Black Panther’ film. It was a hell of a film, though by that I am not referring to its black cast, gorgeous “African” costumes, and nod to several rich and dark threads of our history.

It was a powerful exploration of global power, and among other things, touched on a matter that I didn’t think anyone else thought about: What would the world be like if one day an African country (Wakanda) had the means to be the unrivalled world superpower and a Hitler-like fascist (Killmonger) motivated by notions of the superiority of his/her race seizes power?

Then there was a small controversy on Ugandan cyberspace about two of the movie’s actors; Florence Kasumba, who is Ugandan-German, and Daniel Kaluuya, who is British. He was born and raised in “Bungereza”, though his parents were born in Uganda. Kasumba, at least, was born in Kampala.

With the film making waves, naturally many Ugandans were quick to claim Kasumba and Kaluuya, and to seek a bit of their star dust. Some people couldn’t have it. Kaluuya, especially, they said, couldn’t be a Ugandan because, to begin with, the Ugandan government does not support the arts.

In fact, the Museveni government doesn’t want to pay for any student to study any art anything at university. The award-winning Kaluuya, himself thanked British funding for arts for his career. In other words, if he had been back home, he wouldn’t have got on the big screen.

Fellows remember that the attempt to film that most Ugandan of stories, Queen of Katwe, ran into trouble before it got half way, and had to be completed in South Africa because State institutions made life hell for the producers.

The Uganda Revenue Authority even shook them down for extra cash. Because the act of arts funding - or doing anything by officialdom to support the creative - is unUgandan, Kaluuya couldn’t be Ugandan, the argument went. It would be like a cat claiming that the cow’s calf was its kitten.

Along with argument, came a criticism that some saw as our disgusting national opportunism: That, on the whole, Ugandans generally don’t help their people when they are struggling to rise, but are quick to claim them as representing the best of them when the fellows find global success or fame.

The second argument was a technical one. Though Kaluuya’s parents were Ugandan, he can only become Ugandan by formally exercising his claim, which apparently he hasn’t. But, the champions of Kaluuya-is-Ugandan say he wears kanzu at the premier of his movies and award ceremonies, so his heart is truly Ugandan.

I had noted all this with a passing interest, when a Ugandan friend brought up the Kaluuya issue, and told me of a conversation he followed on social media.
Apparently a “Ugandan-Briton” had argued forcefully that Kaluuya wasn’t a Ugandan, but he was a Muganda. That while one couldn’t be a Ugandan-Briton or British-Ugandan, one could be a Muganda-British, Munyankole-Briton or Japadhola-Briton.
My friend was not impressed. Whether knowingly our unknowingly, our Muganda-Briton had made a very profound point.

If you think of it, Uganda is a State like Britain or UK. There are citizens, but no people’s who are British; they are either English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and more.
These “more” are the folks from Jamaica, West Indies, India, Nigerians, Ugandans, and so forth, who came to Britain and became British citizens, but not as Ugandans…but as Baganda, Acholi, the sub-nationalities that are equivalent to English, Scots, and so forth.

It is probably why, the same people who now claim Kaluuya as our own, who was not born here, reject the Asians who were born here, but they or their parents were expelled by Field Marshal Idi Amin in 1972.
Why? Because they see citizenship as negotiable and malleable. You can buy citizenship, or be naturalised, as much as you can be born a citizen. These people do not see Asians, who are citizens of Uganda, as “our people” because they lack what a mischievous Kenyan editor likes to call “sufficient tribal content”.

Sub-nationality or tribe is not negotiable. You cannot apply to be a Muganda. You are born a Muganda, a Musoga, a Mukiga despite where geographically your birth takes place. For that reason, while you could be stripped of your Ugandan citizenship, you cannot be stripped of your tribe.

Kabaka Ronald Mutebi or President Museveni cannot strip you of your Bugandanness, because it is located in places that even a king or president-for-life can’t touch – in the deep recesses of culture, collective spirituality, and history.
It seems this one should be one way. Kaluuya is not a Ugandan. For now, though, he is a Muganda-Briton.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3I am sure many readers of The Monitor in Kampala have watched or already read a lot about the ‘Black Panther’ film. It was a hell of a film, though by that I am not referring to its black cast, gorgeous “African” costumes, and nod to several rich and dark threads of our history.

It was a powerful exploration of global power, and among other things, touched on a matter that I didn’t think anyone else thought about: What would the world be like if one day an African country (Wakanda) had the means to be the unrivalled world superpower and a Hitler-like fascist (Killmonger) motivated by notions of the superiority of his/her race seizes power?

Then there was a small controversy on Ugandan cyberspace about two of the movie’s actors; Florence Kasumba, who is Ugandan-German, and Daniel Kaluuya, who is British. He was born and raised in “Bungereza”, though his parents were born in Uganda. Kasumba, at least, was born in Kampala.

With the film making waves, naturally many Ugandans were quick to claim Kasumba and Kaluuya, and to seek a bit of their star dust. Some people couldn’t have it. Kaluuya, especially, they said, couldn’t be a Ugandan because, to begin with, the Ugandan government does not support the arts.

In fact, the Museveni government doesn’t want to pay for any student to study any art anything at university. The award-winning Kaluuya, himself thanked British funding for arts for his career. In other words, if he had been back home, he wouldn’t have got on the big screen.

Fellows remember that the attempt to film that most Ugandan of stories, Queen of Katwe, ran into trouble before it got half way, and had to be completed in South Africa because State institutions made life hell for the producers.

The Uganda Revenue Authority even shook them down for extra cash. Because the act of arts funding - or doing anything by officialdom to support the creative - is unUgandan, Kaluuya couldn’t be Ugandan, the argument went. It would be like a cat claiming that the cow’s calf was its kitten.

Along with argument, came a criticism that some saw as our disgusting national opportunism: That, on the whole, Ugandans generally don’t help their people when they are struggling to rise, but are quick to claim them as representing the best of them when the fellows find global success or fame.

The second argument was a technical one. Though Kaluuya’s parents were Ugandan, he can only become Ugandan by formally exercising his claim, which apparently he hasn’t. But, the champions of Kaluuya-is-Ugandan say he wears kanzu at the premier of his movies and award ceremonies, so his heart is truly Ugandan.

I had noted all this with a passing interest, when a Ugandan friend brought up the Kaluuya issue, and told me of a conversation he followed on social media.
Apparently a “Ugandan-Briton” had argued forcefully that Kaluuya wasn’t a Ugandan, but he was a Muganda. That while one couldn’t be a Ugandan-Briton or British-Ugandan, one could be a Muganda-British, Munyankole-Briton or Japadhola-Briton.
My friend was not impressed. Whether knowingly our unknowingly, our Muganda-Briton had made a very profound point.

If you think of it, Uganda is a State like Britain or UK. There are citizens, but no people’s who are British; they are either English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and more.
These “more” are the folks from Jamaica, West Indies, India, Nigerians, Ugandans, and so forth, who came to Britain and became British citizens, but not as Ugandans…but as Baganda, Acholi, the sub-nationalities that are equivalent to English, Scots, and so forth.

It is probably why, the same people who now claim Kaluuya as our own, who was not born here, reject the Asians who were born here, but they or their parents were expelled by Field Marshal Idi Amin in 1972.
Why? Because they see citizenship as negotiable and malleable. You can buy citizenship, or be naturalised, as much as you can be born a citizen. These people do not see Asians, who are citizens of Uganda, as “our people” because they lack what a mischievous Kenyan editor likes to call “sufficient tribal content”.

Sub-nationality or tribe is not negotiable. You cannot apply to be a Muganda. You are born a Muganda, a Musoga, a Mukiga despite where geographically your birth takes place. For that reason, while you could be stripped of your Ugandan citizenship, you cannot be stripped of your tribe.

Kabaka Ronald Mutebi or President Museveni cannot strip you of your Bugandanness, because it is located in places that even a king or president-for-life can’t touch – in the deep recesses of culture, collective spirituality, and history.
It seems this one should be one way. Kaluuya is not a Ugandan. For now, though, he is a Muganda-Briton.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3

Wednesday February 21 2018

The politics of blood in Uganda – and a song



Charles Onyango-Obbo

Charles Onyango-Obbo  

By CHARLES ONyango-obbo

I am trying to find the politest word to describe the alleged decision by the Uganda Blood Transfusion Services decision to turn down the opposition Forum for Democracy Change’s (FDC) blood donation drive – or the alleged action by the police to block it!
Let us say it is “distressing”. However, I also understand that a cowardly (or cautious) Blood Transfusion Services might fear punishment for taking blood from an FDC drive at its headquarters, at a time when an acute shortage is being seen as the result of the wider incompetence of the Kampala government, and the virtual collapse of Uganda’s national health sector.

Basically it could be construed to mean that the blood service is buying into the view that the FDC, outside government, is able to do something that the State, with all the billions of taxpayers’ money, can’t achieve. And if that is true, then the logical conclusion also holds true – that the NRM government should give way to FDC.
The blood donation controversy, however, is part of the bigger question about the shrinking space for the opposition, non-State players, and the media in Uganda. So that is the matter we shall explore.

It is true that the Opposition, civil society, and the independent press can sometimes threaten the power of the incumbent regime and Big Man in ways that can lead them to lose power. In reality though, the biggest beneficiary of political and civil society opposition is almost always the government.
The Opposition and independent media are, in reality, unpaid employees of the government that they rail against.

One man who understood this was former Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki. The 10 years of Kibaki administration between January 2003 and August 2013, were the freest ever for Kenya in media and civil society terms.

The late 2007-into-early-2008 post-election violence period in Kenya, produced its worst political crisis since independence, but something extraordinary happened in the next five years – some of the most dramatic economic growth, innovation, smart investment in infrastructure, and far-reaching constitutional reform that Kenya had ever witnessed.
Kibaki was not a great democrat. He was gifted with reasonably high emotional intelligence, and Old Makerere pride. He tolerated freedom for very utilitarian reasons. As his aides would confide, he didn’t like surprises, so he gave people free rein so he could know how everyone was thinking.

Among other things, his rule hobbled civil society without the need for repression. Because of the free wheeling environment, civil society spent more time arguing against each – e.g. on the issue of whether Kenya should have a presidential or parliamentary system in the constitution.

Secondly, among many other things, it enabled the emergence of a rich policy environment, at a time when the country would otherwise have been in crisis, and allowed a period of both private sector and government innovation.
Right now, there are many troubling problems in Uganda - runaway corruption, and the emergence not just of criminal networks that are becoming a threat to social order, but seem to have taken over different sections of national security systems – in turn leading to dangerous rivalry between them.

If there had been greater rule of law, access to information, and protection for independent media and civil society, they would all have functioned as President Museveni’s Ombudsmen of his government and security services, raising the alarm on abuse, theft, and all other harmful behaviour.
He wouldn’t be facing the global embarrassment of aid suspension from donors, who are doing so because he can’t get a handle on corruption. One day Uganda is being hailed, and the Museveni regime is harvesting global diplomatic points for one of the most progressive policies towards refugees, next day his regime is being cast as a blood-sucking regime whose officials are looting refugees’ money given by donors.

Information even circulated on social media that his much fought-for constitutional amendment to lift the presidential age limit and make him president for life, might have been possible partly because MPs were bribed with donor refugee funds to vote for it!
So, what would a thinking government do with the Opposition push to donate blood? If I were president (never mind that I will never be), I would have asked all Ugandans to join the government in its mobilisation for blood.

Then, I would say, “I would like to urge the Opposition, for this once, to put politics aside, and join me in this noble exercise”. That would put them in a spot. If they came along, they would seem to be getting aboard the NRM’s yellow bus. If they rejected it, they would look petty and unfit to govern, and some of their supporters would break ranks with them.
There is actually a very good song everyone knows about this approach to issues. It is titled Dance With My father, by Luther Vandross.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3

Wednesday February 14 2018

State should stay the hell out of people’s gardens and ranches

 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Gen Salim Saleh, Presidential Adviser on Military Affairs, and coordinator of Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), was reported by the Daily Monitor to have “demanded” that the government bans the export of unprocessed grains.
“Due to lack of enforcement of standards and open border policy, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudanese informal traders flock the villages from border to border in search of low priced and processed grains,” Gen Saleh said at a food security event organised by Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) in Kampala, according to the report
He added: “As a result, Kenya, a country always in deficit, formally exports more grain than Uganda. Unless addressed, Uganda will remain a source of cheap, poor quality grain to the region and investors will continue to lose out in spite of their contribution to the national coffers.”

According to Gen Saleh, in November last year, the paper reported him saying, “Uganda exported more than 600 tonnes of unprocessed sorghum, more than 3,000 tonnes of maize, 9,000 tonnes of beans, 2,000 tonnes of millet all in raw form.
“A kilogramme of processed maize costs Shs1,500 as opposed to a mere Shs500 farm gate price”.

On the face of it, Gen Saleh sounds correct. Uganda would do much better, and create more jobs, if it exported processed grains.
The small problem here is that the farmers will not get the Sh1,500. They will still get Sh500 – and even lower, because the Sh500 is driven by demand from the region.
Last October, for example, The East African reported that because of poor harvests due to weather in neighbouring countries, “Uganda has come to the rescue of Kenya and Rwanda, selling both countries more than 11,502 tonnes of maize worth $6.65 million over the past two months…”

Without that demand, farm gate prices would fall sharply. Who would benefit? The fledgling Uganda food processors, who would now buy cheaply. Not surprisingly, some Ugandans are alarmed that the call to ban exports of unprocessed is designed to benefit a few “processors with powerful friends”.
The second problem is that it is based on a misunderstanding of how regional food markets have been reshaped. First, Uganda cannot be a champion of an East African integrated market, and begin pushing for curbs on food exports.

To complicate matters, the farmers in Sebei, rural Bugisu, remote Kisoro, or West Nile, really don’t sell to Kampala or the big towns. In Sebei and Bugisu, they sell to Kenya; West Nile they sell to DR Congo and South Sudan; Kisoro to Rwanda, and so on. And it’s not one way. The biggest market for coffee grown in western Kenya is now Uganda. A few days ago, we all read that “Uganda overtook South Africa for the first time in November as the largest source of goods ordered by Kenyans…which saw electricity and food imports shoot up.
“Kenya’s monthly import bill from Uganda jumped more than two-fold to Sh7.59 billion compared with Sh2.93 billion in October, marking the highest ever recorded monthly imports value from the land-locked country…”

What many people think of as national markets being the same as geographical markets, is a long dead idea. In fact, if Gen Saleh looks back to the trade figures from five years ago, Uganda’s most lucrative export to then still stable South Sudan was not beer, sugar, or food. It was mobile phones, yet Uganda doesn’t even have a factory that boxes phones.
Fourthly, the biggest losses Ugandan farmers suffer is not from exporting unprocessed foods. It’s from post-harvest losses. Nearly 87 per cent of Uganda’s farmers suffer post-harvest losses, and in an eye-popping figure, by 2014, in just two districts —Mubende and Masindi— they were registering more than Shs26b in post-harvest losses every year!

The losses must be scandalously higher today. If you want to help Ugandan farmers, fix post-harvest losses and waste. In fact, doing that alone would lead to an oversupply and price collapse, if that is what processors want.
Fifth, it is bad – and dangerous - politics. Because of the food market structure, and add to it poor infrastructure, if Gen Saleh got his wish, already marginalised areas of Uganda would become poorer.

Back to our farmers in rural Kisoro and Sebei. While they wouldn’t be able to sell to Rwanda and Kenya respectively, they wouldn’t be able to get their produce to Mbarara or Mbale either. They would incur big losses, if they tried.
Sixth, it’s discriminatory. Why impose curbs on beans, millet, maize and sorghum, not beef, milk, chicken, bananas? I can see accusations being made that it’s because President Museveni is a rancher. If you don’t pay for people’s seeds, farm labour, fertiliser, cattle dips, and chicken feed, me thinks you should just stay the hell out of their farm gates.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3