Charles Onyango Obbo

Why no ‘big’ presidential aspirants from outside Ankole-Kigezi? Here’s an answer

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, October 7   2015 at  01:00

There is something unusual about the forthcoming election.
For the first time in a long while, in terms of what at this stage one might call the “main contenders” come from what, really, is a small corner of western Uganda.
Basically the Ankole-Kigezi belt, and all of Bunyoro, Tooro, and Rwenzori swathes are, like the south, east, north, and West Nile almost onlookers.

Those who like to look at things in ethnic terms would say the election is shaping up to be a sectarian western Uganda race. It is not, the contest is even smaller. If this race were happening in the 1800s, it would be a race between clans.

Also, by the look of things, for the first time since 2001, there is no strong female voice on the frontlines of the campaign, nor indeed a woman, in the race that is unfolding.
What the hell is going on?

The possible absence of women jostling with the men for power might be an indictment of Uganda’s politics, a result of the belief that the kind of change they seek can no longer be delivered in the current environment.

They have a point. When you have a female Member of Parliament kneeling before the President to read a petition declaring him sole NRM candidate, you know the game is over.

And for good measure, I saw photographs where some political supplicants were kneeling for Amama Mbabazi and his dear wife Jacqueline.

But that this could be an Ankole-Kigezi scrap tells an even more intriguing story. It suggests that Uganda’s regional and tribal politics, might have had the opposite effect – it could have partly detribalised our politics.

Also the NRM’s authoritarian politics and early one-party politics, has turned it into the kind of parties – the Democratic Party, the Uganda People’s Congress, the Conservative Party (CP) – that it tried so hard to kill.
To this latter point we shall return in future, for today let’s explain the detribalisation idea.

During the NRM’s one-party/no-party era, parties were allowed to operate newspapers, have offices, but not conduct any other activity, including running against NRM.

Unable to organise freely nationally, they were confined to the petty politics of the headquarters, and the disgruntled elite around Kampala.
Ugandan politics became an affair between people who knew each, and were even family friends.

The scuffles in UPC involving Cecilia Ogwal and people like James Rwanyarare was a battle between the rump of the UPC politburo that Milton Obote left behind when he fled in 1985 after the coup. These fellows were friends.

Even today, the feud we see in UPC involving Olara Otunnu and Jimmy Akena is nothing but a quarrel in the family compound.
These are all Obote’s biological and political children.

In DP, Ssebaana Kizito, Nasser Sebaggala, Erias Lukwago and other party stalwarts is a tussle not just of men from the same Buganda region, but also chaps who have eaten together for a long time. In that sense, DP boss Norbert Mao is a partial outsider.

Now because NRM had used the police, army and law to make it impossible for other parties to organise nationally, it never developed organic (emphasis on organic) party structures to compete against them either. It was happy, as it is today, to use muscle.

But that also meant that the regional fights that you read in history, that happened in “UPC Buganda” and were then introduced inside the UPC as part of the many factional fights, didn’t happen inside NRM.

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Charles Onyango Obbo

What do Somalia sheep, goats and Ugandan doctors have in common? You’ll be surprised

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, September 30   2015 at  01:00

This is a story about a Ugandan doctor.
He has discovered some very exciting things about Ebola that I don’t understand, but clever people who know their medicine are jumping up and down about.

How did he end up in Canada?
To that, we shall return after a journey through, of all places, Somalia.

The men of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) are serving bravely in Somalia as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission, Amisom (despite the fact that someone is “eating” their salary and their pay is in arrears by months, according to Daily Monitor).

However, that “failed” Somalia where UPDF is keeping the peace, exports nearly 5 million goats and sheep a year – more than any other country in the world. They also export more than 340,000 cattle and 77,000 camels, raking in an estimated $360 million a year.

Okay, Uganda might not be in goats and sheep so we can’t compete there, but we are – if the picture President Yoweri Museveni paints daily is to believed – a cattle people. But that broken Somalia where UPDF is keeping the peace, also exports more cattle than we can dream of.

When the UN released those figures of Somalia livestock exports, most of it to the Middle East, the big Ugandan story was the announcement that the government was to help export Ugandan university graduates to go and work in Saudi Arabia as “houseboys and housegirls” (or domestic professionals, as I would refer to them).

I am one of those who thinks a graduate working as a domestic assistant, is more honourable than one who begs or sits around waiting for the dream job to come along, but we shall not go into that today.

Anyhow, when we published the story, a Ugandan noted that it was an irony. Uganda was keeping the peace in Somalia, he said, but that Somalia exports more livestock than Uganda. And now Uganda was sending its graduates to the Middle East, some of whom might end up herding the goats and sheep Somalia exports there! It was too much for him, he said, he needed help to understand it.
The Uganda government too, was in the process of exporting health workers to Trinidad & Tobago.

One story that explains the structural reason why the Museveni government has fallen in love with this people export business, came from an unlikely source.

On the website a Ugandan, Agnes Nanyonjo, published an article titled “Ugandan innovation could end up being manufactured elsewhere: the plight of a young scientist in Africa”.

It is the story of a Ugandan doctor, Misaki Wayengera. Watching the Ebola epidemic in Uganda in 2000 and 2001, as a student at Makerere Medical School, Wayengera was determined to do something about it.

After his internship in 2005, Wayengera went for graduate training at the University of Toronto. As Nanyonjo tells it, his dream, among other things, included “inventing an HIV-1 cure and rapid tuberculosis diagnostics”.

He returned to Uganda, and plunged himself into his pursuit, researching the Ebola virus. His aim was to “come up with a simple and accurate test which would be able to detect several strains of Ebola in less than 15 minutes for use at the community level”.
He made progress, but couldn’t go further because he lacked funds.

He wrote to the President’s Office in 2008 for financial support, and after two years of waiting he got a reply. To their credit they acknowledged he was doing the kind of stuff Uganda needed. And they would support him. Nothing happened.
Museveni got to learn of his case, was unhappy that his office had kept Wayengera “on bitala” for two years, and made all the right noises. Nothing happened.
Then Wayengera applied for funding from Grand Challenges Canada in 2013. They gave him Canadian $100,000.

They said they would award to him an extra one million dollars for his research, if matched by financial commitment (of any value) to the project by his home government.
Wayengera tried, tried, and tried, nothing.

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Charles Onyango Obbo

The death of Aronda: Last reflections on the meaning of his time and season

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, September 23   2015 at  01:00

I don’t remember ever seeing Brig Kasirye Gwanga as sad and angry as he was after the death of his friend, Internal Affairs minister and former Army chief Gen Aronda Nyakairima.

And Kasirye Gwanga said some things, suggesting Aronda didn’t die of a sudden massive heart attack, but was done in by evil people. It can be hard to deal with loss, particularly if the deceased was someone like Aronda who seemed to evoke deep attachment from his friends.

I didn’t know Aronda personally. Just professionally in his role as soldier and government official. And as a journalist, I have lots of stories about him.
One of the last times I mentioned him in this newspaper, I had the book, kitchen sink, door mat, and cow dung thrown at me by mighty men.

I am glad, though, that it didn’t take his death for me to compliment him. Three years ago, Aronda was Chief of Defence Forces. I wrote then about a meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa of the army chiefs of the countries that had troops in Somalia.

Now the Ethiopians, when it comes to military matters, tend to have a chip on their shoulder. And when the issue is Somalia, they can be remarkably insightful, but by the same token, very dismissive of others’ views.

A top African Union official at the meeting, knowing how the Ethiopians operate, was to witness something he wasn’t prepared for. In Aronda, they finally found a man they could respect, he was to tell me. Aronda had “displayed a level of political astuteness rare among these African generals”, he said.

I dig this up not to eulogise, but to help us examine how much Aronda was a man of his time and season. For while he was not perfect, Aronda represents a disheartening trend.

As with flawed, but yet lovable, NRM bush figures like former deputy prime minister Eriya Kategaya, in recent years too many of the better and more moderate voices in the UPDF and ruling party have died, leaving behind the more disagreeable ones, and creating space for the obnoxious and near-insane elements to rise.

Thus, however much one might have faulted Aronda, his passing means the country will probably end up with a low quality replacement.

In some ways, it is things like those that make men like Kasirye Gwanga indignant, because for people like him, it will always be, and has to be, what “this thing” they fought for has become.
Many years ago, Prof Mahmood Mamdani used to speak about these things. Mamdani himself wasn’t in Uganda in the early 1980s when the Yoweri Museveni-led guerilla war, in which Aronda fought, was taking place.

He had made some critical noises, and Milton Obote’s UPC government had chased him away and tried to strip him of his citizenship.

Mamdani used to say the thing that struck him, meeting many Ugandans and middle class elements from Kampala, was that they carried on as if nothing of significance was happening in Luweero where the Museveni insurgency was based. However, there was plenty happening, and that indifference, he hinted, meant that these people were never prepared to deal with and influence events in NRM when it took power. A handicap, you might say, that continues.

But what was happening in Luweero? Former prime minister Kintu Musoke once put it well in a conversation in his study at Lungujja.

He told me; “We all talked about revolution. We wrote, we discussed, we published, we agitated. But that is all we did”, he said.

“Museveni and his comrades did one better. He actually put his neck on the line, took up arms, and did something about it”.
You have to give a fellow his due. Men like Aronda seized their moment when they had to, when many didn’t, and won their fight.
But his story reminds us that war is often the easier part. The most difficult thing is dealing with victory and peace.

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Charles Onyango Obbo

East Africa has changed: Give Museveni coffee so he can wake up to this new world

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, September 16   2015 at  01:19

With all our attention focused on crazy things President Yoweri Museveni’s camp is doing to run former premier Amama Mbabazi and his presidential ambitions to ground, and the pummelling that the Uganda Shilling is getting in the money market, many of us missed something big.

Yes, whether Museveni, Mbabazi, or Kizza Besigye becomes the next president will determine the shape of Uganda’s future, of course, but it will not be a game changer. What will, and offers citizens the opportunity to exercise their sovereignty and industry, is what happens next in the East African Community (EAC).

In that regard, a milestone came on July 1, 2015 that wasn’t marked with any fanfare in Kampala, Kigali, Bujumbura, Dar es Salaam, or Nairobi.

For on July 1, the EAC Common Market entered into effect. In Uganda, we were too preoccupied with the Museveni-Mbabazi battles. Kenya was too busy pimping up for the visit of US president Barack Obama. Tanzania was in the throes of the ruling CCM nomination, and what appears like a resurgence of the opposition ahead of the October election. Burundi was convulsed by president Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term grab, and Rwanda too was peering at the board, looking to engineer a third term.

If the letter and spirit of the EAC Common Market was to be observed, a Ugandan should be able to travel and trade with and in Kenya without any hindrance, and a Kenyan to do the same in Uganda.

And it’s here that we shall make a future for ourselves. An economist who knows these things tells me that in common markets, 80 per cent of trade is usually intra-company trade.

Thus Uganda sugar has been available in Kenya for over two years now. Now with the common market, expect more of it in Kenya. Countries don’t trade. It’s companies and individuals that do. Uganda and Kenya are mostly addresses for them.

For companies like Nakumatt, now functioning in a common market, it makes even greater money sense to have a regional supply chain. Thus if Uganda sugar is the cheapest, it will stock all its stores in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda with Ugandan sugar. If the best and cheapest packed juice is from Kenya, it will stock its stores in Uganda and Rwanda with juice from Kenya.

So today for a Ugandan producer, the goal should not be “to export to Kenya”, but to sell to Nakumatt, Tuskys, and Uchumi in Uganda, and let them do the export for you if your product is superior.

Now, like sugar, the Kenyan maize is lucrative, but a hot political potato. But that is if you are exporting dried maize in sisal bags.

The dynamics change if you are exporting maize flour. Uganda grows maize more cheaply than Kenya, so there is a killing to be made here.

The way to do it though is not to set up a maize milling and packing plant in Kampala. Take it to Busia, Tororo, or Mbale.
Again, this requires an understanding of the changes underway in the region – something that the chaps at Tororo Cement understood years before anyone else did.

If you drive in western Kenya and the Rift Valley, nearly every one of five giant lorries that you meet is a Tororo Cement truck.

Now Buganda has been pushing for “federo”. With the 2010 constitution, Kenya is the country in the EAC that is closest to being a federal state.

This means Uganda has a near-federal state to its north, South Sudan, Kenya to its east, and possibly soon Tanzania to its west.

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Charles Onyango Obbo

79% of Ugandans born since Museveni took power; how that affects the future

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Posted  Wednesday, September 9   2015 at  01:00

There is an “innocent” yet subversive free tool online at the website
You go in, type your birth date, and it will tell you how many people in your country – or the world – are younger or older than you.

If you are my age, and therefore no longer spring chicken, you can be shocked by how “old” you are if you are not clear-headed about these issues of mortality.

We used the tool to establish a simple fact: What percentage of the populations of the countries of Africa’s 15 longest-serving leaders were born after they came to power?

Depending on how young a country is (and also its birth rate), the percentage of the population could be higher. Therefore, you can have a leader who has been in power for longer, having a lower percentage of his population born under him than one who has been in power for a shorter period.

For example, Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza has been in power for 10 years, and snatched an illegal third term recently to give himself another five – 35 per cent of the Burundian population was born after he took office.

Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power longer, 16 years, on the other hand has 31 per cent of the population born after he took power.

The winners were probably not very surprising. Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos came out tops, with 85 per cent of his country’s population born after he took power in 1979.
Zimbabwe’s “Uncle Bob” Mugabe breathes heavily down his neck in second, with 83 per cent of that fair nation’s population born after be became chief.

The motherland is a strong third, with 79 per cent of Ugandans having been born since Yoweri Kaguta Museveni ascended to the chair in January 1986.

If Museveni were to enjoy good health, and rule as long as Manasseh, king of Judah, who reigned for 55 years – i.e. until 2041 when he would be 96 –the number of Ugandans who were born before he took power would be statistically insignificant.

But we are kidding. The pertinent question is how does a country that has had an executive president for that long, not a titular head of state like the Queen of England who, by the way, is 89 and has been on the throne for 63 years now, turn out?

We actually have an example of that is not barely 40 years old.
Sobhuza II was paramount and then king of Swaziland for 82 years, the longest of any real life executive monarch in history. Swaziland is the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
I read Sobhuza’s story, and it’s very dizzyingly colourful, though morally disgraceful. The man did his best to fill the Earth, as the good book commands.

He took at least 70 wives, and left behind 210 children.
You see where this is going. When a ruler stays in power for so long, and most or all of his country is born after he took power, the later morality of the land is often likely to be the morality of his State House or court.

So based on that principle, what is the mental architecture of the post-Museveni Ugandans who will take over in the years to come likely to be?

To start with, because most Ugandans were born in the age of the Museveni free market, I think by the time he leaves office all socialists in the country will have died.
After all, some of the last truly great ones, Dani Nabudere and Chango Machyo, have sadly since left us.
So, for those who believe in the free market, have no fear, “communism” is unlikely to return.

That said, most Ugandans alive today don’t know what a free election looks like. The future of electoral democracy, you might say, is not terribly promising.

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