The Cranes have already won the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations

I have a delightful controversial and cantankerous dentist friend in Kampala, and he had an example of this phenomenon

Wednesday January 18 2017

Cranes midfielder Tony Mawejje (R) takes a shot

Cranes midfielder Tony Mawejje (R) takes a shot during the Ghana-Uganda match that saw Uganda lose their first game on Tuesday. Photo by Aminah Babirye 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

And so this week, finally the Cranes, after nearly a 40-year absence, began their quest to win the Africa Cup of Nations.
In many ways, they don’t actually have to win Afcon. Just making it to the final is enough.

I have a delightful controversial and cantankerous dentist friend in Kampala, and he had an example of this phenomenon.

There was a time, in the Western world at least, when French actress Brigitte Bardot was considered to be the most beautiful on the face of the earth. Now 82, at the height of her career in Hollywood in the 1960s and 70s, my dentist buddy liked to cite a poll taken of the men of the world. They were asked whether they would want to spend a night with Bardot, but no one would know it, or walk down the street hand in hand with her, be photographed, and make the pages of a glossy magazine.

Nearly all the men said they would prefer to be photographed with Bardot, than spend a secret night of passion with her! So be it with the Cranes! But we have discovered many other things in the excitement that has swept the country following their qualification.
One of them is one aspect of patriotism. You can say anything, make all manner of outlandish claims about the Cranes, as long as they are positive and mobilising support.

No one is going to shut you down, or accuse you of having lost your objectivity for claiming they are the most beautiful team in the world.

Today a woman can walk down Kampala Road with the Uganda colours and slogans hailing the Cranes painted on her body and not be arrested.

She will be celebrated as a true patriot. If the same woman walked down the same street the next day with a deadly mini, a mob would pounce upon her and Ethics minister Simon Lokodo would run her out of town. The beauty of the Cranes’ fortunes, therefore, is that they give us the freedom to do the most stupid things in their name, and not be called out. Turns out we actually needed to.

But it has also opened up opportunities to discuss exactly how we bring glory to our countries. I have a rather philistine view. The best way to bring glory to your country is not to specifically set out to do so. It seems the path to making your country proud is to start out working selfishly for yourself and family.
I have never met a footballer or athlete who set out as a little boy, to fly his nation’s flag, although some publicly claim to do so.

Fabulously wealthy Americans like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, today give a fine face to US philanthropy as they spend their billions saving the world. But they had to make the money first. If we want honest rich Ugandans who will also create serious charities, we should encourage people to be enterprising and grow rich for themselves first, not for Uganda.

The same thing should go for football. Very many of, especially, the West African teams, at Afcon have nearly 90 per cent of their players kicking the ball for European and Asian clubs.

If you set out to just play for your country, you might not get even six decent games a year, and you will go hungry. You won’t be paid. But if you are playing for a European club with money, you are pampered, get world-class training, get a fat pay cheque, you become good, and return to play for your country basically as a subsidy. Free national service.

Any African country that wants footballing glory today therefore should encourage their players to go away. The Cranes, and other successful sports people like Stephen Kiprotich, are wonderful because they ennoble our hypocrisy – and even delinquency.
They can spend many lonely hours and days struggling to find excellence, without a penny or care from the taxpayers, government, and even their relatives. Then they make it big on the world stage, and all of a sudden they become a symbol of what is best about our country.

The thing about that is that even if we invested totally nothing in them, they can’t refuse to wear the flag on their vest at Afcon or the Olympics. It is the one time when stealing the sweat of a private citizen is considered not to be corruption, although some bad mannered journalists sometimes like to bring these issues up.
I am rooting for the Cranes to win. But it is not really essential at this point. It will be a bonus. They will not be loved any less.

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


War, peace, and food: Uganda tries, fails to out-run its shadow

In the Teso region, former minister of Defence Peter Otai and his comrades, started the Uganda People’s Army (UPA) rebellion

Wednesday January 11 2017



Charles Onyango-Obbo

Charles Onyango-Obbo 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

I am going off totally on the deep end and wild speculation here, so you don’t have to come along.

Thirty years ago, two interesting things happened in Uganda. Spirit medium Alice Lakwena, having started her war in late 1986, was defeated in November of 1987.

In the Teso region, former minister of Defence Peter Otai and his comrades, started the Uganda People’s Army (UPA) rebellion.

Both wars produced shocking savagery and violence, and started a series of events, including two years later, the Mukura massacre in Kumi in which 70 people were locked in a train wagon and basically boiled to death. More precisely, they suffocated when a fire was lit by the wagon in which they had been crammed.

What interests us today are the unintended consequences of these two events.

There was large displacement of people in Teso, and nearly all the cattle in the once cow-happy region were lost. Many were eaten by combatants on both sides, and quite a few were ferried to stock the farms of victors and opportunistic business people in other parts of the country.

Today, there is a hysterical outcry over corruption, but you can’t fully comprehend it without also looking at our history, dating back to the time of military ruler Idi Amin, through the war that ousted him, the Luweero war against Yoweri Museveni’s NRA rebels during the Milton Obote II period, and the subsequent wars in the north and northeast of the NRM era.

These conflicts created war booty. Generals and soldiers looted, and there was a window that allowed it to happen, because they were the spoils of battle. During the Luweero war, some of the sights were dramatic. You would see military UNLA trucks driving through Kampala loaded with mattresses, mabati taken off houses, goats, and occasionally frightened women perched on top of the booty. Among other factors, this watered the seedlings of corruption, creating a permissive culture that treats public and private goods as capture for victors (political and military) and combatants (civilian and military).

However, as has been noted before, the war in Teso left land unused as people fled, in much the same way it had happened in Luweero during the bush war.

Ditto in the north during the long years of conflict there. My suspicion is that these wars take too many farmers off the land, creating greater demand for the food grown by the farmers in peaceful areas.

A lot of the displaced people, many of them previously subsistence farmers, move to urban and peri-urban areas for safety, and have to buy food. For the people in the IDP camps, they get rations from humanitarian agencies, which in turn buy quite a bit of the food from suppliers around the country.

Because demand and prices are high, farmers make a lot more money without doing anything smart on their land. They become richer, but also become bad farmers in the process, corrupted by good fortune.

But then the wars end. There was a small agricultural boom in Teso after the war, with rested fertile land and without cattle, they grew things like potatoes. They flooded the country. Luweero and other previously war-torn areas also saw similar benefits.

With well-fallowed land, the farmers could get high yields and bring produce to market at competitive prices, as happened in Teso, without any innovation.
Now, we have a “problem”. The money earned in the easy times wasn’t ploughed back into farms. It was squandered in alcohol and polygamy, so many farmers didn’t accumulate capital.

Climate change has hit, and many farmers didn’t learn any lessons in hardiness or become innovators from the tough times – because they were either off their land, or were on it making a lot of money from their gardens just by throwing seeds through the window.

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As we open 2017, Ugandans are unlearning everything they’ve known for 54 years

The gloves were off. It was nasty. But there were also some very valuable insights. Among the things that struck me were two

Wednesday January 4 2017

Christians praying during celebrations to usher

Christians praying during celebrations to usher in the New Year in Wakiso District on January 1, 2017. PHOTO BY JOSEPH KIGGUNDU 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

As 2016 ended, the most serious debate about Ugandan politics was not in the mainstream media. It was on social media and, especially, Facebook.

The gloves were off. It was nasty. But there were also some very valuable insights. Among the things that struck me were two. First, some former NRM supporters are saying things about the government of President Yoweri Museveni that are, almost word for word, the criticisms that NRM hardliners labelled against the “northern regimes” of the 1960s, 1970s, and early 80s.

Secondly, what crudely passes for “class analysis” is once again returning to Ugandan politics.

In all the bitterness, I think something wonderful has happened. We are at a point where, finally, the ground has been laid for a more scientific study of our political problems.

Ugandan politics had historically been framed along two paths. The first, that British colonial “divide and rule” policy had created deep cleavages, underdeveloping the north, and dooming the people there to be in lowly manual labour, and at best the army.

The main south was designated for commerce, agriculture, clerical and high bureaucrat jobs, but without the hard power of the army.

The lines were, of course, not so finely drawn, with the east and west falling somewhere in between.

Then it went horribly wrong, with the north leveraging its domination of the military to grab power. At its best, it resulted into a coalition between the northern elite and the south (like during Milton Obote 1 and early in Idi Amin’s rule).

At its worst, it led to the second path along which politics in our country has been framed. Namely that a northern militariat, having no local commercial base, preyed on the richer south. That took the form of forceful grabbing of property (during Amin’s time), and corruption.

And when it came to politics, faced with the risk that power would slip into southern hands in 1980s, the Military Commission conspired with the UPC to steal the election.

And southern resistance to extortion and expropriation resulted into savage use of force by the State. The first dispute we saw in that regard was the face off between Obote and Kabaka Mutesa, leading to the 1966 crisis, the storming of the Lubiri Palace, and subsequent abolition of kingdoms.

So we are in 2017. True, one region, the east, has not provided a president. But if you consider a president and vice president as a ticket, the east had Specioza Kazibwe, who was VP from 1994 to 2003. And, indeed, before her between 1963 and 1966 William Wilberforce Kadhumbula Nadiope III, was Obote’s VP. From the conduct of both Nadiope and Kazibwe, we can get a general sense of what a president from eastern Uganda would look like.

So from the south, we had an executive prime minister (Ben Kiwanuka) one titular president (Kabaka Mutesa), two executive presidents (Yusuf Lule and my favourite man Godfrey Binaisa). Actually, make that three, because despite the Presidential Commission of 1980, Paulo Muwanga was the effective president.

We have had three from the north (Milton Obote, Idi Amin, and the duo of the Okello generals Tito and Basilio).
And counting all the VP, prime ministers, 2nd, 3rd, and I don’t know what else prime ministers, every part of the country has had a chance to sit at the table – either at the front or second row.

Except for the short-lived period of Kiwanuka in 1962, the rest of the regimes have had corruption, nepotism, violence, and people have tried to cling to power.

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Coffee man Rugasira, a new world, and the election that disappeared

Rugasira probably unnerved Kigongo and her camp with his sleek social media campaign

Wednesday December 28 2016



Charles Onyango-Obbo

Charles Onyango-Obbo 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

As the strange and laughable events of 2016 come and go in Uganda, the cancellation of the December 16 election for the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce is definitely among the top six.
Trade and Industry minister Amelia Kyambadde scrubbed the event, citing “serious” “national security threats and concerns”, following a letter from the current chair of UNCC Olive Kigongo.
When you read of “national security threats and concerns” you think uprising, violence, terrorism, but no. In reality it was a fear that youthful outsider, author and chief of Good African Coffee was going to win and upset the old UNCC guard.
Rugasira probably unnerved Kigongo and her camp with his sleek social media campaign.

Still the old Chamber of Commerce and Kyambadde were right to worry an uprising, an insurgency. However, it was not of the gun and bomb type. It was of the paradigmatic variety.
Rightly or wrongly, Rugasira represented that shift. Kenya underwent this change a short while back, with the election of a relatively Rugasira-type good man called Kipprono Kittony as its chairman.
Traditionally, chambers of commerce in Uganda have been trade associations. They were organisations that enabled buying and selling of goods, i.e. helping Ugandan maize producers sell the stuff to Kenyan processors.
UNCC is still partly stuck in that mould, and only managed a half successful transition to a business association. What does that mean? A business association is more sophisticated, putting together business people dealing in a more diverse back of goods, including services.

So if government passed a law opening up the energy market to private money, with generous terms, a tech company might want to find local partners for an investment in a solar power plant in West Nile, and a deal to sell the surplus to Umeme.
The current shift is to chambers of commerce as enterprise drivers. This is a highly innovative space, and it is not just sophisticated, but involves positioning for businesses that don’t exist yet. It is here that I think globally-minded and tech savvy people like Rugasira would help our economy.
Even if the powers that be feel threatened by Rugasira the person, a forward-thinking minister or government should still look to bringing people with his profile to the UNCC.

I speak with quite a bit of knowledge on this. When I was leading editorial operations at Mail & Guardian Africa, we did several business, enterprise, and innovation events around Africa either as media partners or conveners and brought some of the richest people on the continent and the world to the room.
We did two Zimbabwe events, Ghana, both focusing on the natural resources investment; we did thought leadership events on cities as economies, with some wonderful convenings in Johannesburg and a blow away day in Lagos with the visionary then-governor Babatunde Fashola.
We did Ethiopia; financial inclusion with several companies, including Samsung and Visa; and a several-times-over subscribed Kenya-South Africa summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.

The latter was a classic entrepreneurship platform. Kipprono (or simply Kip as he’s known) flew in with a planeload of future-looking business leaders. There were ministers in the room, who mostly sold Kenya’s strategic and anchor position on the edge of the Indian Ocean rim. Safaricom telco CEO Bob Collymore typified this shift with his presentation. He didn’t sell mobile phone services, or even his company’s M-Pesa, the world’s most successful mobile money payment platform.
He spent quite some time speaking about the Safaricom Academy, which hadn’t opened yet. It’s a place even many Kenyans don’t know about yet.

Question is why? As anyone who follows these things knows, the money in voice is over. Half the people who call me do so on WhatsApp, Facetime, or Skype.
The money for mobile phone companies going forward is in data, payment solutions, and the internet of things (IoT). That means more people who develop things like M-Pesa, WhatsApp, Uber, WeChat, the homestay and accommodation app AirBnB, and so on.
And for IoT things like the box that controls the lights and security system, and even sprinklers, at home, that I can manage remotely over my phone. That means in addition to software, smart hardware.

Safaricom is looking to raise a generation of innovators who will create software and hardware that people will control using their phones over their network in the years ahead.
When that will happen, what type of products they will be, no one knows. But it will happen. It’s interest nationally and abroad, is to get people into a creative pipeline that makes that end possible.
Ms Kigongo is probably a wonderful woman, but she’s not the person to conceptualise that world. You may not like him, but this is more like Rugasira’s thing.
The alternative is for Uganda to miss the boat again.
Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3


Uganda ‘in outside countries’ – Chameleone, busuuti, kanzu and how others see us

And now away from the road, to music. A Kenyan friend’s son is so madly in love with Chameleone, that when his “Wale, Wale” comes on TV, there must be silence in the house

Wednesday December 21 2016



Jose Chameleone. File Photo

Jose Chameleone. File Photo 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

There is just about enough time to squeeze in a column before the curtain comes down on 2016. And so time to chew on Uganda 2016.

And my search starts along a Nairobi street.

For a couple of weeks now a huge billboard has come up along the road that I drive to work. It has a huge photograph of some well-groomed folks dressed in Ugandan kanzu and busuuti. It is not advertising Uganda or a Ugandan product.
It is a Kenyan product expressing its East African side.

On the opposite side of town, there is another billboard by the same company. It has elegant Rwandan dancers, balancing those small baskets on their heads.

It is not a Rwandan advertisement. It is a Kenyan company advertising showing its East African feathers.

None of them refer to either Uganda or Rwanda. But most, if not all, people immediately catch the cultural reference to the two countries.

And now away from the road, to music. A Kenyan friend’s son is so madly in love with Chameleone, that when his “Wale, Wale” comes on TV, there must be silence in the house. He stands close to the TV to watch it play out.
It ends, then normal life can resume.

He knows where to find it on her home. When she is dropping him to kindergarten school in the morning, she must play it or else he won’t get out of the car.
And when he is cranky at home, she plays “Wale, Wale” and he calms down.

Consider this against a discussion I had with a friend who is a cultural chronicler. He had recently returned from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and had seen something that had messed with his end.

Once, Congolese music ruled not just Congo, but East Africa, and the world. At home it has deep history, and its stars are iconic.

But in eastern DRC, he told me, “there is more Ugandan music played than Congolese music. It’s the only music that has dethroned the local fare”.

The thing about all these stories, is that in both Rwanda’s and Uganda’s case, what represents the two countries at their best are not what the two governments spend their monies promoting abroad.

In Uganda’s case, if truth be told, even the adoption of the kanzu and busuti have themselves been conflicted, with some ethnic nationalists seeing it as the “dress of Buganda”, not Uganda.

Thus ahead of the Commonwealth (CHOGM) meet of 2007, one could see this in that richly-funded but controversial “Gifted by Nature” campaign which ran globally. This underlying contradiction was evident, with a greater emphasis on mountain gorillas, national parks, and mountains, than the diversity of Ugandan culture as there was a lack of certainty about what it comprised.

So what changed? For starters, there is always the fact that even for Ugandans on the intellectual left who are given to making these arguments, their political heroes – Kabaka Mwanga and King Kabelega – are represented wearing kanzu, giving it a revolutionary pedigree.

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When you see Museveni walking on the road at night…

The photographs of President Yoweri Museveni walking across Mpologoma swamp bridge on the Mbale-Tirinyi road at dusk, to headline his new “war” on environmental degradation, were a little strange and even comical, but the cause is noble

Wednesday December 14 2016

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The photographs of President Yoweri Museveni walking across Mpologoma swamp bridge on the Mbale-Tirinyi road at dusk, to headline his new “war” on environmental degradation, were a little strange and even comical, but the cause is noble.

A broad daylight event, including a symbolic dredging of the swamp would perhaps have spoken better, but it’s good that the President has shifted the spotlight on the environment.

I was last in that region not too long ago, to visit my good old friend and fellow Ugandan-Nairobian Erich Ogoso. The event itself involved some serious pre-visit discussions over a small but touchy issue. Because I am a vegetarian, a plan had to be hatched to explain to his mother, who was going to host a couple of us friends to lunch, why I wasn’t eating her chicken and beef. And to make matters worse, because I am also a teetotaler, I was not going to drink her ajon.

How do you tell a proud grandmother from eastern (and northern) Uganda that a grown man with a long beard couldn’t eat meat or drink ajon, and that it was not an insult?
In the end, advance warnings and a good long warm hug settled the issue.

But the issue of meat (which at a broader level is one about our cattle economy), and agriculture are playing out into a big environmental issue in ways not many appreciate.

I was shocked by what the combination of population growth and the popularity of rice growing had done in the Pallisa area. The invasion of the wetlands, and the withdrawal of water from the swamps like Mpologoma were alarming.

The problem was not the rice growing per se, but that it was being done unscientifically killing off the wetlands. The sight of the rice extensive rice paddies themselves is impressive, but the environmental cost is high. Within a few years, that area will run out of water.

But Pallisa is a microcosm of what is happening all over Uganda. As this column has noted before, the lower eastern Uganda (as have areas like Masaka and Isingiro) went through their first phase environmental crisis some years ago.

With lands unable to support growing populations and both small scale farming and cattle keeping, families moved to the wetlands of Busoga and Buganda, especially Mukono. They were our first “environmental refugees”, and have exported the crisis to these regions. A similar environmental crisis pushed many people out of Kigezi to, among areas, Bunyoro.

But conflict, and the fact that 30 years of President Yoweri Museveni’s rule, its authoritarian aspects notwithstanding, have also provided the longest period of stability for areas in Uganda outside the north, also have played a role.

The 1978/79 Tanzanian-led war against field marshal Idi Amin, fought mostly in the west and south west Uganda, disrupted the peasant economies there.

Then the NRA/NRM war two years later led to the destruction of the peasant economy in Luweero and surrounding area, and some dislocation in a few areas in the west.

Post-1986 many peasants, and small holders, who were farmers and cattle keepers in these areas were vulnerable.

To survive, they sold their land to a rising middle and money class that arose partly from the corruption of the NRM period, but also from the stability of it that allowed an extended period of capital accumulation unprecedented since independence.

The land sales by small holders, and the rise of a deep-pocketed class has resulted in fencing, closing off once communal water sources, cattle grazing corridors, or new farming methods that have killed off the natural vegetation that allowed peasant-level cattle keeping (e.g. varieties of grasses that removed ticks off cattle) in western Uganda and the southwest.

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What? How can a soldier lose an election happily as in Gambia? A Ugandan answer

The events in The Gambia last week, surely, are a feast for thought. Yahya Jammeh, an eccentric, half-insane soldier who seized power 22 years ago, held an election. It was a free election

Wednesday December 7 2016

Incumbent Gambian president Yahya Jammeh (C)
Incumbent Gambian president Yahya Jammeh (C) leaves the polling booth after casting his marble for presidential election in a polling station, in Banjul on December 01, 2016. AFP photo
Gambia's President-elect Adama Barrow looking
Gambia's President-elect Adama Barrow looking on following his victory in the polls in Kololi on December 2, 2016. AFP PHOTO
By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The events in The Gambia last week, surely, are a feast for thought. Yahya Jammeh, an eccentric, half-insane soldier who seized power 22 years ago, held an election. It was a free election, the first surprise. Then he lost it. No surprise there.

However, he didn’t, in Uganda fashion, arrest the winner, opposition candidate Adama Barrow, or muddle up the vote. In less than 18 hours after the polls closed, Jammeh had called the election commissioner to tell him he was conceding defeat, and to let Barrow know.

In the evening, he went on TV and conceded. Perhaps knowing how deep the distrust of him was, he called Adama and put him on the phone speaker on air.

It was totally unexpected, because ahead of the vote Jammeh had arrested, tortured, and even killed opposition figures. And, borrowing a trick popular in Uganda and increasingly in Africa, he shut down the Internet (CIPESA, a leading centre for research on ICT policies in Africa, cites revelations at the recent Forum for Internet Freedom in Africa 2016 that this year, Uganda Internet shutdowns could have cost the country $26 million).

Again, like some people who will remain unnamed in Uganda said of Museveni, Jammeh – who once said he could rule up for up to one billion years – said he had had an encounter with God, who had told him he was destined to win.
So when the vote-counting went freely, Gambians started smelling something unusual.

Even after it emerged that Jammeh had made some noises about accepting the result, it was only after the Internet shutdown was lifted that it became clear that he had embraced the will of the people.

There are a lot of as yet uncorroborated stories about other factors that were behind this unusual, and celebration-worthy, turn of conduct by Jammeh. Reports say the army, told him they would not accept a rigged vote.

If he won, fine, they said. But if he lost, he goes home.
Jammeh has been involved in a trade dispute with Senegal, and his already wobbly economy was hurting.

The Gambia, as one can see from the map, is a think strip of territory that cuts through Senegal from the Atlantic in much the same way Lake Kyoga does in northeast Uganda.
The shortest routes between north and south Senegal, therefore, are through The Gambia.

However, in February Gambia increased tariffs at two main ferry crossings.

The Senegalese decided to take the long way around The Gambia on a national highway. With its puny economy, the loss of business and blow to The Gambia was massive.

Word also has it that a bit of Senegalese pressure, and a menacing look from Nigeria, where President Muhammadu Buhari himself became the first Besigye to win an election in the country, persuaded Jammeh that the regional atmosphere wasn’t conducive to election rigging.

But all this might be taking away credit from Jammeh. He might actually have had a political conversion on the road to Damascus.

In any event, two remarkable things happened. The Gambia became the first country in the world where the lifting of an Internet shutdown was a sign that a strongman was going to accept election defeat.

Secondly, Jammeh became the first president in Africa of recent times who came to power in a coup, who accepted an election defeat, conceded, and folded his robes peacefully and went home.

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Massacre in Kasese, and what we can learn from the 1966 Buganda crisis

Before the slaughter in Kasese at the weekend, in which some reports allege that as many as 95 people could have been killed in clashes between security forces and Rwenzururu King Mumbere’s guards

Wednesday November 30 2016

1966 Crisis was a bubble bound to burst

Buganda royal regalia. Such centuries-old cultural treasures of Buganda were destroyed in 1966 following an attack on the palace by government troops commanded by Idi Amin. File Photo. 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Hours before the slaughter in Kasese at the weekend, in which some reports allege that as many as 95 people could have been killed in clashes between security forces and Rwenzururu King Mumbere’s guards, President Yoweri Museveni had just published an article on the meaning of foul-mouthed Donald Trump’s victory in the US election.

At one point, he wrote that: “Many of the [African] stooges or foreign oppressors spend a lot of time looking for foreign sponsors, rather than looking for ways of how to reconcile with their own people” (emphasis mine).

Whether, as the government says, it was the king’s royal guards who attacked the security forces first, or as Rwenzururu activists say, it was a premeditated “massacre” against the king’s palace staff, it was a dramatic and tragic failure of the local reconciliation process that Museveni wrote of.

The photographs of piled up bodies of half-naked men, who seemed to have been killed execution-style, conjured up shocking scenes from some medieval slaughter, or the closing battle in the Season 6 finale of Game of Thrones.

For capturing some of that madness for posterity, journalist Joy Doreen Biira, was arrested and faces charges of “abetting terrorism”! Beyond the decades-old grievances with the politics of successive central governments in Uganda that have driven these conflicts in the Rwenzori region, something more disturbing is going on.

Mumbere is a king who, much like the rest of the “monarchs” in Uganda, got his kingdom back partly through the calculation that the would be vessel for channelling support to President Museveni.

These kingdoms are not financially autonomous, still dependent on the State for largesse and upkeep. Even in the face of sharp disagreements, it is hard to imagine that communication would have broken down so much that the weekend slaughter couldn’t have been prevented. The fact that there was a breakdown, therefore raises the question of how we got here. For decades now in Uganda, the preference has been to privilege violence. Ugandans who have chosen peaceful, non-violent – and played by the book – have been swatted away, beaten down, jailed, or even killed.

But those who took up arms quickly got an olive branch, and patronage. Without well-developed mechanisms to solve the political grievances that lead to violence, there was always a risk that psychopaths like the Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, who could not be won over by the usual blandishments and groceries would come along, and tip the cart. And that is exactly what happened. In its early years, the ruling NRM had many people who had the skills and understanding of how to do political conflict resolution.

But they fell by the roadside, because it is not a neutral activity. If there are adept political deal makers in a government, and the regime relies on them, it has to give them power to do deals, and accept that they will share in some of the glory. That glory in turn becomes political capital that they can leverage. Invariably, it means sharing a bit of power with the big man. Not surprisingly, that road was quickly closed.

Today, as the FDC people know better than anyone else, even an election in Uganda is a war. It would seem then that all claimants on the centre, are being driven to extremes. In 2009, a similar confrontation nearly developed between Buganda Kingdom and the government. It was averted not because there was an institutional safeguard, but in large part because of geography – Buganda is too central – and also Kabaka Ronald Mutebi had calm enough nerves not be pushed over the cliff by humiliation.

He learnt his lesson well, and has since pushed changes in the Lukiiko (parliament) and his cabinet, which have elevated moderates and sidelined hotheads. Not many men with some power easily understand that you don’t get to fight the next battle if you are dead.

King Mumbere, it would seem, doesn’t have the wits for this kind of long game – and thus either has lieutenants who didn’t weigh the risks of going on the offensive, or didn’t know how to surrender quickly or flee to avoid a bloodbath if it were the government forces that set upon the royal guards.

Whatever mistakes were made, we are where we are now. There were those scenes of fires burning in Mumbere’s palace. They are familiar. We first saw them in 1966, with Milton Obote and Gen Idi Amin standing over on a hill, looking at the Lubiri palace after it was attacked.

If that 1966 crisis taught us anything, it is that a people always outlast a regime. But our history also teaches us that wise men and women should not wait to find out what happens at that point. They prevent it.

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


Some bad ‘tribal days’, but the better side of Ugandans will still win out

The Directorate of Public Prosecutions has now murder charges against Matthew Kanyamunyu in connection with his alleged recent shooting of Kenneth Akena

Wednesday November 23 2016

L-R: Ms Cynthia Munwangari, Deceased Kenneth

L-R: Ms Cynthia Munwangari, Deceased Kenneth Akena (His death was portrayed in ethnic limes in the media) and Mr Matthew Kanyamunyu 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The Directorate of Public Prosecutions has now murder charges against Matthew Kanyamunyu in connection with his alleged recent shooting of Kenneth Akena.
That is as it should be - that Akena’s suspected murderer gets tried in court.

This tragedy, however, was particularly depressing on many levels. First, that Kanyamunyu allegedly shot Akena for scratching his car in a parking lot!

Secondly, it was also one of the lowest moments in recent times for how it was portrayed in ethnic limes in the media (“Munyankore shoots Acholi”), and of course social media. The rage there was quite remarkable.

I didn’t expect that today, one private citizen’s crime against another would be so generalised to an ethnic group and even region. As a good friend in Uganda who knows a lot about the risks involved here used to tell me, “tribal gaming is very tempting, but it is the one genie that wise people should never let out of the bottle”.

Yet, as Frederick Golooba-Mutebi argued in his column in The East African, it helps to understand where the anger is coming from. One source, he noted, is what many perceive as the rampant sectarianism in Uganda today.

One could also add that the Kanyamunyu-Akena incident also tapped into a potentially explosive factor that people from areas that went through a lot of pain, as the north did in nearly two decades of rebellion, feel when during peace time, one of their “survivors” is killed by what they see as a “representative” of their oppressors.

In post-conflict societies, such issues are always a time bomb and intelligent people would do well to be alive to them.

The good thing is that there is a powerful counter-narrative that showed that Uganda society, and elements of State policy, reveal a big-hearted country.

Since South Sudan went back to the killing fields in December 2013, it has resulted in another influx of refugees in the region, and a record number into Uganda.
Various reports have noted Uganda’s “unique and generous foreign policies”.

A long article on the refugee crisis by the Norwegian Refugee Council noted two elements. One, that those who flee to Uganda “automatically receive refugee status”.

In some countries, if you flee there with murderous soldiers or rebels on your heels, you still have to go through a process to qualify as a refugee, and you can be sent back where you ran from if you don’t.

Secondly, it spotlighted that most times “there are no typical refugee camps, but instead there are settlements where people can build houses and grow their own food”, adding that; “For example, since hostilities broke out in South Sudan in the beginning of July, the number of settlements has increased from 16 to 19 in Adjumani District”.

That number, according to the latest information, has gone up.

What makes this quite remarkable is that Uganda is relatively a tiny country, compared to Tanzania – which is nearly four times bigger.

In the past, especially in Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania, the combination of generous land size and progressive ideology made it a good country for refugees, with many being offered citizenship.

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Trump has been on the way for 20 years. Let’s welcome him

As President Barack Obama said ahead of the US November 8 election, whatever the outcome, the sun would rise the next morning

Wednesday November 16 2016

Republican presidential elect Donald Trump speaks

Republican presidential elect Donald Trump speaks during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016. AFP photo  

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

As President Barack Obama said ahead of the US November 8 election, whatever the outcome, the sun would rise the next morning.

He probably wasn’t thinking that the amoral and unhinged Republican candidate Donald Trump would land an “unthinkable” win. Some commentators are arguing that even Trump himself didn’t expect to win.

But even as his victory’s roils the world, there are actually many good things about it.

I understand the idea of a “young” and “evolving” democracy, but was always disturbed by the concept of a “mature” democracy.

The US, after more than 200 years, was considered one of the oldest and most mature republican democracies in the world. It was one of the things that made a Trump victory unthinkable. A second grade fascist like him was not supposed to win in a grown up liberal democracy.

When the US lectured African countries about democracy, the retort from our strongmen and their henchmen and women was almost standard. “It took the US more than 200 years to get where it is, it should not expect us to be at the same stage after ‘just’ 50 years of independence”, they would say.

This notion of a mature democracy was reactionary in two ways. It denied human progress, because it suggested political development had reached a point beyond which it couldn’t progress.

In addition, by presenting liberal democracy as the omega, because it is essentially Western, it denied the possibility that non-Western civilisations could improve upon it. In that regard, it was also racist.

Secondly, it defied the laws of nature and history. To conceive of democracy as mature, and the apex, denied the reality that all human constructions that rise (empires and everything else) must also fall.

The Trumpian fall of American democracy, therefore affirms a truth about human society, more than a Hillary Clinton victory would have. Hopefully we will now have greater clarity in the scholarship on nations and the nature of power.

The other key issue is that along with nearly 30 years of modern globalisation, we had also seen a classic Marxist counter “glocalisation” movement.

In other words, as the world became one through a common pop culture, a neo-liberal intellectual orthodoxy, international finance, and so, blurring national borders, there has also been a resistance not to get to get lost in it. Local identities reasserted themselves, and in Uganda we saw that variously through things like “Ebyaffe” (the demand for and restoration of traditional kingdoms).

The glocalisation forces can be good and bad, but have unleashed creativity. They produced the Nigerian film industry Nollywood, and the unique brand of Uganda hip hop and its stars like Chameleone.

And because they happened during the “second wave” of democracy in Africa, when economies and media were being liberalised, it got to a point that in early 2000s, even without a law requiring it, FM radio stations in countries like Sierra Leone were playing nearly 100 per cent local music!

Politically, these anti-globalisation forces expressed themselves in the rise of secessionist and separatist movements (Eritrea and South Sudan), or return-to-the-motherland campaigns (the Rwanda Patriotic Front war).

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