Are Uganda’s MPs greedy, or is it our country that has changed?

Ugandans are up in arms after Parliament budgeted Shs67.7m on burial expenses for each MP who dies

Wednesday September 21 2016

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Ugandans are up in arms after Parliament budgeted Shs67.7m on burial expenses for each MP who dies.

It seems what made this particularly difficult to swallow is that a few a days earlier the same Parliament had passed a budget of more than Shs 64 billion for the purchase of vehicles for MPs of the 10th Parliament.

At the rate Parliament is going, it might not be surprising if next year they introduced a wedding allowance for the single MPs who get hitched – or veterans who divorce and remarry.
Outrageous as these things are, however, they are fairly common even in private companies.

What is telling is how Parliament has decided to deal with. It is a smart thing to prepare for death. In Africa, perhaps the people who do it best are the South Africans.

There are about 19 million South African adults who are insured (50 per cent of the population), but the majority are only insured for funerals.

Our Parliament should have borrowed a leaf from there – make reforms that grow the insurance market and buy funeral insurance for MPs. It is cheaper, and some of the money could actually go to their families.

And that is the interesting point here, why don’t the MPs do that? The answer leads us to something bigger than Parliament.
In the early days of The Monitor, a bunch of us six idealistic guys owned it. It seemed the right thing to do to have a car allowance for the directors, who were also owners. It was our money, after all.

In 2000 Nation Media Group bought into Monitor. The “historical” directors’ car scheme remained, but it changed into an interest-free loan. It was not just because we no longer owned everything the issue went to fundamental differences about the way “old” Kenyan capitalism and Uganda’s post-1986 variety viewed wealth.

Old Kenyan money thinks the best thing is to make a company profitable, pay the owners a handsome dividend from the profit at the end of the year, and they can buy a car of their choosing. Also pay workers good bonuses, and from it they could retire their loans, including the cheap car loans.

At base, what they fundamentally changed were the incentives.
Now, theoretically, they focused those who were minded to work toward profitability and growth, because it was the only way they could get the dividends and bonuses.

We shall not judge today how that turned out, but these differences are not small. Today, I am doing a media startup again, and I would not even dream of going for the model we used in our early inexperienced years at The Monitor.

At the political level what is happening in Parliament is not much different. To appreciate it, let’s go back to the making of the 1994-95 Constitution.

Though it was leftist in its thinking about “giving power to the people” in the Resistance Councils, when it moved to the centre and embraced free market economic policies from 1988, the NRM maintained the logic of the people being at the centre of things, and owning the factors of production.

The 1995 Constitution thus declared, for example, in a rarity for Africa, that the land in Uganda belongs to the people!
It was a specific concept of citizenship – that Uganda, its economy, and so forth, was what its people, not the government or the rulers, made it. Truly revolutionary stuff.

In recent years, we have seen a big reversal. A re-growth of the state, an attempt to roll back even the people’s rights over land.
Compare for example that by the end of the 1990s, there was a consensus of sorts that our ethnic make-up and the geographical areas where we lived needed to be united as markets.

That has changed now, and instead we have a record 116 districts, tribal hamlets. The majority are new, and some are undermining the idea of a national market for goods and services (Kiga labour is chased from Bunyoro because they are bafuruki). We were supposed to be sovereign entrepreneurs in that business market. Today the main market that exists is the political market. Most young Ugandans don’t know a rich man or woman who didn’t start by stealing from the government or a State parastatal (or NGO), or made money doing anything else other than selling stuff – or air - at inflated prices to the State.

1/2 next

The ‘South Sudan Report’ and the morality of profiting from a neighbour’s misfortune

The “Rwandaphonie” business people in eastern DR Congo stash their money in Rwanda, because there, it is safe from seizure from the bouts of “anti-Tutsi” politics that often erupts there.

Wednesday September 14 2016

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The much-anticipated report on corruption and war-profiteering in conflict-wracked South Sudan was published on Monday.

Produced by investigative unit “The Sentry” co-funded by American actor George Clooney and activist John Prendergast, it spent two years following the money trail.

It reports some extraordinary looting, nepotism, and corruption by the South Sudan political and military elite who have made themselves rich while the country has been impoverished by a civil war of their making.
There are no saints and villians, both President Salva Kiir and his former deputy and rival Riek Machar have their snouts in the murk.

The report makes for sad reading, but one cannot help reflect on the ways in which South Sudan is different from almost every country in the region. Almost everywhere else, you have a few years of idealism and an attempt to do good after independence or liberation. Then the “revolution” stalls or is hijacked, and the corruption starts. No such thing for South Sudan.

The new country hit the ground stealing, so to speak. The other thing, which shouldn’t really be surprising, the report says the top leaders in the country have invested in property in neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. It also says that they have interests in Australia.

Army Chief, Gen Paul Malong, also the grand polygamist of Juba, and the man blamed for a lot of the recent madness in the country, has at least two luxurious mansions in Uganda in addition to a $2m mansion in Nairobi.

It’s last bit that interests us most today, because Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia have also been the regional mediators.
If you are God-loving or a human rights activist, you would find something terribly wrong with that because it seems the three countries are actually profiting from the conflict in South Sudan, so how can they be expected to go the extra kilometre to make peace there. And wouldn’t the ability of the belligerents to invest in these countries give them an easy way out and thus remove the incentive for them to compromise for peace?

However, the South Sudan conflict has also stunk up the neighbourhood, increased regional risk, and taken away some points from its attraction as an investment destination. The loss, some economists argue, is higher than the gain. But if you flip the argument, you could argue that because neighbouring countries also get refugees (as dramatically illustrated in Uganda’s case with the new flood of South Sudanese refugees), suffer from loss of trading opportunities, and are hit by the “stink factor” referred to earlier, they deserve some “compensation”.
Profiting from a neighbour’s misfortune is one way of doing this.

These events, however, also point to some changes in our region, as indeed the rest of Africa, since the economic liberalisation wave kicked off at the end of the 1980s.

There are more private businesses, more rich people, and more thieving politicians who are skimming off the fat.
All these people now need “first stop” destinations where they hedge against future instability at home, a place where they can keep their money, buy expensive homes.
Next, they move to “second stop” destinations – London, Geneva, New York – where they stash their wealth to hedge against the bigger “Africa risk”.

For this reason, it has become important for countries to invest in “stability” in ways it wasn’t 30 years. The reward for being viewed as stable can be huge – both honest and crooked people – will take their money out of their countries and put it in yours, giving your economy – especially the banking sector – a liquidity boost. If you get it wrong, like South Sudan has, everyone will steal and take their loot out. It’s a diverse business with a grey (or even dark) side, because you don’t just need stability. You also require a certain permissiveness that guarantees these people who bring their money confidentiality. In otherwords, that no one in Kampala will come to ask Malong where he found the $2 million to buy his villa.

For example, it is said that Paul Kagame’s Rwanda, the anti-corruption republic, has not really ended corruption as such, it has driven a lot of it off the radar. So what do Rwanda’s corrupt do? They use Uganda and Kenya as their “first stop” destinations to stash their “unexplained surplus”. On the other hand, the “Rwandaphonie” business people in eastern DR Congo stash their money in Rwanda, because there, it is safe from seizure from the bouts of “anti-Tutsi” politics that often erupts there.
So there is that bit - a “first stop” destination can also be a sanctuary. It’s complicated.

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

Phew! Here’s how much the world has changed since Cranes made AFCON finals

I was driving to Entebbe early last Sunday evening, and the first half of the historic clash between The Cranes and Comoros to qualify for the African Cup of Nations had just ended.

Wednesday September 7 2016

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

I was driving to Entebbe early last Sunday evening, and the first half of the historic clash between The Cranes and Comoros to qualify for the African Cup of Nations had just ended.

I can’t remember a time when Ugandans were so collectively ecstatic, totally crazy, and had so much belief. For many reasons, The Cranes have become the national big fix.
I posted a poll on Twitter asking, “Who are East Africa’s most badass football fans?”

There were 842 votes by the time the poll closed exactly 24 hours later on Monday – no vote fiddling and election officials that can’t read maps here.

The result? Ugandans- 65 per cent. Kenyans 21 per cent. Tanzanians 9 per cent. Rwandans 5 per cent.

When the final whistle was blown, The Cranes had floored Comoros 1-0. Not a killer punch, but a winning one, enough to take us to the AFCON finals for the first time since 1978.

Now, you might say it was inevitable the Ugandan fans would win the poll, but no. My experience is that when a matter involves East Africans, we generally tend to vote fairly in these online polls. In other words, East Africans don’t always vote for themselves when they don’t think they deserve it.

A few days earlier, I had asked again on Twitter; “Kenya is East Africa’s top start-up nation. Who’s most likely to oust it from the EAC lead?”

This article was written Monday evening with two days to go, but this was the result: Rwanda – 58 per cent; Uganda – 24 per cent; - Tanzania – 18 per cent.

Again, smells like a reasonable vote.
The Cranes is an unusual creature. It’s probably the last national institution in the country that is not only most representative of the “face of Uganda”, but it and a section of places like Makerere University, is one the last standing public meritocracies in the land.
Their qualification to AFCON finals is therefore worth a lot. Which is one of the reasons we referred to it as “historic”. To better illustrate that, let us look at how the world has changed since we last qualified.
•It was 12 years before the Internet, as the World Wide Web, was invented in 1990.
•It was six years before the CD-ROM was invented in 1984.
•Perhaps one of the most remarkable things is that it was four years before Aids was first identified in Uganda in 1982.
•It was 12 years ahead of the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.
•Our man in Zimbabwe, Uncle Bob Mugabe, is 92-years old and has been in power since 1980, the fourth longest-ruling African Big Man. But that Cranes slot in the 1978 finals, was two years before Mugabe “ate the chair”.
•Today, the population of Uganda is 40.32 million. In 1978 there were “only” 11.82 million of us.
•At that time, the Lord’s Resistance Army chief Joseph Kony was 17 years. Commander-in-Chief Yoweri Museveni was a youthful 34. While we are on the subject, we might as well say that Kizza Besigye was 22 – and his and Museveni’s paths hadn’t crossed yet.
•The Cranes played in the finals six months before Idi Amin’s fateful invasion of Tanzania in October 1978, and his army’s occupation of the Kagera Salient. You can see that our imperialist tendencies didn’t start a few years ago. They go way back, as The Crusaders song would say.
•The Cranes head coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic was a small kid of nine with a running nose.
•No member of the qualifying Cranes squad had been born. We are still checking, but we have not found evidence yet that any of their parents had even met by then.
•In 1978 Uganda had 20 districts. That number has grown nearly six fold to 116 today. In other words, apart from our international borders, the mountains and hills, and big rivers and lakes, there is no relationship at all between the political map of Uganda today and that of 38 years ago.
•AFCON 1978 was played between March 5 and March 16. It’s interesting what the most popular songs in the world, including Uganda, then were. The song that ruled February 1978 and ushered in March was “Stayin’ Alive” by the pop music group Bee Gees.
As the tournament was played, it gave way to “Love is thicker than water” by, again, the Bee Gees. And as the tournament ended, another Bee Gees song, “Night Fever” become the big hit.

On Sunday, Ugandans gave the Cranes love that was thicker than water. The victory set off some very high Sunday night fever.
Now all the Cranes have to do in Gabon next year is to stay alive, and the thing is ours.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapedia and Africa explainer Rogue Chiefs.

Twitter:@cobbo3

Africa’s next frontier: A Nairobi letter to President Museveni

In Uganda, we are still functioning with an old fashioned mid-20th Century Conference Centre, which is not possible to rig up with all the new clever conference tech

Wednesday August 31 2016

President Kenyatta (R) and President Museveni

President Kenyatta (R) and President Museveni in Nairobi. PPU photo  

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

President Yoweri Museveni attended the just-ended Tokyo International Conference for Africa’s Development (TICAD), in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. I would have wished to give him this letter.

It’s for a good reason, one would say, but working in Nairobi has become nearly impossible the last couple of months. Every few days, roads are closed because a Big Chief or a global conference is in town. And with that, an already nightmarish traffic gridlock gets worse.

So why is this resurgence happening in global activity in Nairobi? It’s a long story, but partly to understand it, we need to jump to the central African edge of the East African Community, to Rwanda.

Rwanda has also become a big conference scene, and though small, the things it has done with its relatively new national airline Rwandair, and the massive policy and infrastructure investment it has made to become an attractive international conference venue, it was threatening to eat all of Kenya’s lunch.

With its new Convention Centre, and the big remake of an already well-functioning Kigali for the July African Union meeting, Rwanda with that stroke has become easily the most competitive conference venue between here and Cape Town.

The difference is that Rwanda has had to work hard for it; Nairobi is a more “natural” city to do these things, all it had to do is make it easy. The result is obvious. When I first came to Nairobi some years ago, in the space of a month I would have been to all the top hotels in the city. Today, there are so many new international hotels, I have not been to three quarters of them.

In Uganda, we are still functioning with an old-fashioned mid-20th Century Conference Centre, which is not possible to rig up with all the new clever conference tech. And we are missing out in the conference feast. We should style up, because for Nairobi and Kigali, the conference business is something bigger.

So what is happening? First, as immigration and terrorism become ever bigger global issues, they are impacting how the world meets and discusses. It is important to understand this, because if you do you will figure that it will also lead to a new kind of regional balkanisation.

While, to the annoyance of radical pan-Africanists China, India, Japan, and the US will continue to hold “African conferences” to which all our leaders gather to be told how to develop the continent, increasingly these kinds of events will take place in Africa.

The conference business is therefore not a passing cloud. There is a long-term shift that makes it good investment, because it will be around for a while.

Secondly, while the Internet has reorganised the way the world works and trades in, especially, “digital” goods, these goods still have to be physically transported. That book you ordered from Amazon still has to be sent to your physical address in Kampala.

And that growing trade with China, well, someone still has to carry back the flasks, fake hair, and bad furniture. There is a kind of trade route winding around the continent, and it is being defined by airlines like Emirates, Qatar, Turkish Airlines, in addition to the older ones like British Airways, although the latter hasn’t spread much.

The real trick, though, is how to get people and goods around Africa once they land on the continent. For that, the national airlines of Africa do the donkey work.

Right now the continent has four workhorses – Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, South African Airways, and Rwandair.
If you are coming to a conference in Africa, or flying goods around, the chances that you will use one of these airlines is probably 75 per cent. It’s no accident that Cape Town/Johannesburg, Ethiopia, Nairobi, and Kigali are also the leading conference hubs on the continent.

Conference economics creates the infrastructure – better airport facilities, hotels, etc., - that is good for travel and business. But most critically, as intra-Africa trade grows and more and more countries make it easier for Africans to come in and out, the winners are going to be the countries that make themselves part of the pipeline for that trade.

1/2 next

A plan to end our Olympic misery: How to win several golds in 2036

The sensible thing for us to do is focus aggressively on granting licences for sports schools. These schools could get some form of tax and import duty exemption

Wednesday August 24 2016

Kiprotich was Uganda's hope for an Olympic

Kiprotich was Uganda's hope for an Olympic medal in the Rio 2016. He finished a distant 14th, some four minutes and 48 seconds after winner, Kipchoge 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The Olympics have ended in Rio, and how different this one was to London 2012.

In 2012, at about this time, we were swooning because Stephen Kiprotich had bagged our first Olympic gold in over 40 years in the marathon. It was an emphatic win too for Kip.

This time, he was humbled, dropped brutally at the three-quarter point. The marathon is an unforgiving race, as those who have tried it will testify. When I last tried the Nairobi marathon, I ended up sitting on the side of the road, shoes off, toe nails peeled off, crying for my mother.

So Kip was brave, fighting on to come home 14th. Solomon Mutai came in 8th.

To put matters against a bigger canvas, Kiprotich’s reign is the normal expiry rate of Olympic champions – don’t let the remarkable example of US swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt fool you.

Because we have politicians and a president who have kept themselves in power for 30 years, some might think that longevity at the top of the game is a normal human condition. It is not.

I have also read a lot of laments about how our government, and African regimes in general, treat their sports people badly. Yes, they do. But I am not about to call for government money to be invested in national sports.

Britain is truly a remarkable country in the progress it has made in the Olympics over the years. This time it came second to the perennial Olympics topper the USA in medals standing.

The thing about the US and Britain, is that they were probably the two countries at the Olympics where no taxpayer’s money is spent on national sports or the Olympics team.

The US Olympic committee doesn’t get a penny from the federal. Zero. In Britain, it is funded by proceeds from the National Lottery, which was set up by UK prime minister John Major in the mid-1990s, and a bit from the exchequer.

Yet they managed to beat countries like China where the government pours in hundreds of millions of dollars. As we look forward, we need to borrow a leaf from those two countries. When private or quasi-money comes into sports, it reduces inefficiencies.

Sports where countries are not competitive are shunted aside and denied money, and the nonsense of sinking money into a sport for “national pride” is banished.

When there is money from the Treasury, you begin to have things, as I have read in the Uganda media, like people arguing for the inclusion of omwesso in future Olympics to give us a better chance of winning. If you think you can beat those Korean or Chinese kids who play video games until they run mad at omwesso, you need to think again.

The sensible thing for us to do is focus aggressively on granting licences for sports schools. These schools could get some form of tax and import duty exemption, and allowed to buy public land cheaply to set up.

A ruthless system would then be to scout for talented kids from school fields, and even along village paths, in the country. They would be required to have a passing grade, but would get scholarships into the sports schools.

1/2 next

Long lines like to form behind good things…so be it with Ugandan ideas

“Thinks & Drinks” is therefore an attempt to create a queue behind Uganda ideas – and to meet people who dress badly, have natural hair, and when they see all the clouds around us, don’t fold in their chairs

Wednesday August 17 2016

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

You might, you might not know these people in Uganda. But the world knows.
Sophie Musoki writes a food blog called “A Kitchen In Uganda”. She started cooking in her mother’s kitchen, would take photographs, and post them on her blog. Then magic happened.

Isaac Oboth is easily the most exciting young videographer in Africa. He has done a lot of work, but he showed a lot of flair and gumption with his work on the coronation of Sanusi Lamodi Sanusi as the Emir of Kano in Nigeria. You should look at it, drones and all.

And then there is filmmaker Isaac Nabwana, the godfather of Wakaliwood, improvisional director extraordinaire. The other an article said he had created (I would add for the price of a good bottle of wine), easily the most riveting action movie scene in Africa.

And they are only the tip of an iceberg. Where do these people come from? What are the forces that drive them? What do they reveal about our future? And how many of them are still there who have not emerged?
If you think hard what is happening here, it is remarkable. Sophie had to be a good cook, to understand photography, and to be able to write now. There is no school where you can learn all three things at once.

A few weeks ago, I called Isaac. After some trying, I got him. He was somewhere in Ivory Coast doing a shoot for Swiss food and drinks giant Nestle.
So a group of us talked, talked and talked, and decided we shall find a way to bring this new tribe together and toss about some ideas over drinks and snacks.

On September 2, it will happen over a “Thinks & Drinks” in Kampala in a friend’s office garden (please rain, stay away) and, later, hopefully other African capitals.
We shall have a Ugandan who knows these things present to us 10 of the best photographs of Uganda of the last 30 years, and what they mean. Yes, we shall hear the story of “Who Killed Captain Alex” and the other things the boys in Wakaliwood are brewing. We shall be told a story of the hidden secrets of Uganda’s gardens, and the smart things we can do with our soil. And we shall hear how things like our ancient caves have inspired a new generation of design.
Mostly, we are hoping to have fun doing it.

Secondly, you encourage people who have some disruptive ideas sitting in their laptops but are shy about bringing them out, to find the courage to do so.

In the long-term, if we can do it long enough, we are hoping we create an “ideas market” that will attract capital and technological investment in those areas.
Some of these things are self-fulfilling prophecies. When the Kenyan capital Nairobi got the moniker “Silicon Savannah”, when technology writers in the world were looking for an “African Silicon Valley”, they flocked to Nairobi. And soon, even things that were not part of the innovation industry, became part of it. And that created a supporting narrative, that got more of the global innovation crowd to come, and created more noise about “Silicon Savannah”.

Think of it this way. A venture capitalist has $100 million to invest in an “emerging market” start-up. A Ugandan developer has a very good health app. A Kenyan developer also has a health app, but not as good as the Ugandan’s. However, he and his board have read in Wired and Tech Crunch about Nairobi as Africa’s cutting edge innovation city with a “growing ecosystem” to support new ideas.
They have not read anything about Kampala’s technology scene, where this brilliant health app has been developed.
Where do you think the board will vote to invest?
Not too long ago, I was in Rome to do some work on East Africa with a think tank there. One evening we piled in cars going to look for a restaurant to have dinner. It was winter, and we hadn’t booked a table. We drove around looking for a restaurant with a queue tailing into the street. If a restaurant had a queue in winter in Rome, then it was darn good, a veteran of the city told us.
So we found our long queue and lined it, shivering in the cold. We were handsomely rewarded for the pain.
“Thinks & Drinks” is therefore an attempt to create a queue behind Uganda ideas – and to meet people who dress badly, have natural hair, and when they see all the clouds around us, don’t fold in their chairs.
They believe that in some way, they are the birth pangs of a new society.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapedia and Africa explainer Rogue Chiefs. Twitter:@cobbo3

In future, beautiful girls will want to marry a Ugandan farmer again

My friend, there will be a lot of mouths to feed in this part of our world in the years to come. In his lifetime, Saleh might actually see the most eligible bachelor in Uganda being a farmer, though his farming pageant will have nothing to do with it

Wednesday August 10 2016

A tobacco farmer. File photo. 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Recently, there have been a series of stories in the international media like the BBC and The Economist about African “city slickers” returning to the land to try and make a fortune in farming.
I have several friends in Kenya and Uganda who are going back to the land, building a home, doing a farm, and such things.

This revolution has been well underway, and I guess the fellows who first fully understood its texture in the Uganda media were Daily Monitor, with their introduction of the pop-rock farming pull-out, Seeds of Gold, that was a big hit, and led to an equally popular spin-off in its sister publication Daily Nation in Kenya.

The interesting thing about this is that the people going back to the land are not the ones the government has been cajoling to “return to the land”. The government has spent its money and energy trying to get the youth, especially unemployed ones, to go into farming.

There was even that Miss Uganda beauty pageant organised by my friend Gen Salim Saleh, to make farming “sexy” for the youth. All these attempts have failed.

I am a compassionate man, but honestly poor people should stay off land. It’s disaster, and they should ignore the politicians telling them to go and farm. They are better off hustling in the city.
The city slickers are not the target of the government. They are being driven to the countryside by the forces of the market, and lifestyle choices.

The problem with past plans to get people back to the land is that they were purely economic. But a life where you wake up at dawn, farm, go to sleep, wake up to go to the gardens again is dreary, let’s be honest.
The city slickers are seeking other things: quiet to read a book, escape from the madness of the traffic, and the sounds of the birds.

But something else more fundamental has happened in Uganda, as in the rest of Africa that explains this further.
For all the problems this country and parts of Africa still has, this is the longest period of peace (meaning where you live generally free of fear that soldiers will kick in your door and murder you) on the continent.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan early this year remarked that an African living today is several times more likely to die in a car accident than be killed by a bullet of a rebel or a government soldier.

This has done several things. In Uganda, if you live outside the northern and northeastern regions that were plagued by war after President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986, for the first time since independence we have had the largest cohorts of fathers who have died peacefully in their beds, and passed on the family jewels to their children.

Ugandans in their late 30s onward, therefore, have a social obligation to the land imposed by the nature of the transition of parents, that previous ones didn’t.

The investments some of their parents had made in their land back home, means the cost of continuing their work is relatively lower today, than in the past, because they weren’t destroyed in political chaos.
If NRM people understood this, they would realise that in the past they had actually figured how to get Uganda working again, so today they would be focussing on ensuring political stability, as opposed to regime perpetuity, but that is a topic for another day.

Then there is technology, particularly the Internet. Knowledge that’s easily picked from the Internet means people going back to the farms don’t have to be shackled to an expert to do so. They just need to Google it. And they will have knowledge beyond what our institutions can teach.

And the mobile phone and Internet too mean that you are not disconnected from the rest of the world, or Kampala. If the nanny runs away and leaves the children alone while you are in kyalo, you will know immediately and return. And you can follow the results of the Manchester United and Arsenal from your banana garden in Fort Portal like someone I know, without being consumed by FOMO.

The city slickers also understand something – what the demographic trend in Uganda and East Africa means. If you are sinking money into farming, most of the people you will feed are toddlers, or haven’t been born yet.

My friend, there will be a lot of mouths to feed in this part of our world in the years to come. In his lifetime, Saleh might actually see the most eligible bachelor in Uganda being a farmer, though his farming pageant will have nothing to do with it.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapedia and Africa explainer Rogue Chiefs. Twitter:@cobbo3

Something is wrong in Museveni’s court. It’s dropping the big balls

Uganda pushed former vice president Speciosa Kazibwe to be the new African Union Commission chief – and she lost. So was the problem that Kazibwe was a bad candidate, or that her sponsor, Uganda, has become a toxic referee?

Wednesday August 3 2016

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Uganda pushed former vice president Speciosa Kazibwe to be the new African Union Commission chief – and she lost.
So was the problem that Kazibwe was a bad candidate, or that her sponsor, Uganda, has become a toxic referee?

I think in this case, it was the referee, although the peculiar problems the AU is facing now means many countries are looking for a candidate with a reputation for bureaucratic competence, which is why Botswana’s Foreign minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi emerged top.

In the end, though, even she failed to muster enough votes. So Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stays on, until January when Africa’s Big Men and Women will try again.

Going into the campaign for the AU chieftainship, however, some unusual things had happened. To begin with, Uganda had announced that it was withdrawing from the US-backed AU manhunt for Joseph Kony.

Granted, the AU mission is woefully underfunded and is badly organised, but Uganda’s position was still surprising. First, the anti-Kony campaign in CAR started as a unilateral Ugandan project, then the Americans joined it.

Reports were full of praise for the UPDF, with American officers saying it was the most able combat force they had dealt with in Africa.

The Kony hunt seemed to cement President Yoweri Museveni’s role in the region as co-sheriff with the US, in an enterprise stretching from UPDF’s role as the “first mover” force in the Somalia peacekeeping operation.

It was striking that Uganda was pulling out of the Kony chase, without any sign that the mission was being converted into something new, which would have enabled Museveni to leverage having boots in a fragile sub-region.
Then came Uganda’s threat to pull out of Amisom, the jewel in the crown of its external expeditions, over funding. The international community (read the West) is reducing, though marginally, funding to Amisom, and seems to be holding up disbursements over corruption. Amisom can fight al-Shabaab, but bookkeeping seems not to be its strong suit.

One issue that has not been written about much, is that the West’s military spend in Somalia overall is not reducing. The money that is being taken away from Amisom, is actually being funneled into building the Somalia National Army. In that sense, it is the right thing, because the Amisom mission was, ultimately, meant to weaken al- Shabaab to a point that the Somalia state-building project could happen.

Whether that can even succeed at all, is debatable, but Amisom cannot argue against its logic. After all, Amisom should be alive to the risks of becoming too vested in Somalia’s instability because rogue elements in its militaries are profiting from it.

During the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Museveni said Uganda would reconsider its position on withdrawing from Somalia.
Earlier in the year, Uganda had also been forced to withdraw its forces from South Sudan, where they were then backing embattled President Salva Kiir in his deadly battle with his former VP Riek Machar.

There is a view that Uganda was outfoxed by Ethiopia and Kenya in concert with other international players. Uganda, some sources say, had shifted toward the hardline in Kiir’s camp that opposed any power sharing with Machar.

Separately, Museveni had also become a “distracted” chief mediator on the Burundi crisis, which led to manoeuvres to bring in former Tanzania president Ben Mkapa as the day-to-day overseer of the process, and leaving Museveni in-charge of the “overall thing” as a kind of headmaster of the talks.

It was against this background that Uganda put forward Kazibwe. It was a regional power in retreat, emasculated by the difficult campaign by Museveni against Kizza Besigye in the February election, and especially the post-election crackdown on the Opposition.
Even though analysts have been speaking of the deterioration of “strategic thinking” around Museveni’s court for a while, this state of affairs is truly unusual.

There is a view, popular with foreign businessmen who do deals in Uganda, that all this lack of geopolitical calculation is “evidence of the exit of Amama Mbabazi” who fell out with The Man last year, and ultimately went on to challenge him in a futile presidential contest.

1/2 next