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.

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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.

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I hate bailouts, but here are three smart ways to spend that Shs1.3 trillion

I was appalled to read recently in Daily Monitor that the government might dole out Sh1.3 trillion of taxpayer’s money to bail out a clutch of struggling companies

Wednesday July 27 2016

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

I was appalled to read recently in Daily Monitor that the government might dole out Sh1.3 trillion of taxpayer’s money to bail out a clutch of struggling companies.

It was hard to find a company, even the steel mills, that did not have a political back to State patronage.
Some of them are shambolic trading companies. Even more galling was to read that less than 10 of these companies are among the top 100 taxpayers in Uganda.

Doctrinally, I am opposed to this kind of thing. Even a company that is “strategic” needs to be run properly.
The argument is that the difficulty of these companies are not of their own fault. South Sudan went to war again, and they lost their market. Oil has taken long to come online and their plans were scuppered.

The shilling has fallen on its ass against the dollar, and the big infrastructure projects they were banking on have not come through.
But assume, for a moment, that this Sh1.3 trillion were to be given out, how could it be done well?

1. If the problem is consumption, then the Sh1.3 trillion should be given not to the troubled companies, but to taxpayers in the form of cash handouts. But there would be a catch.

The stressed companies would be required to organise bazaars, say once a month, and the taxpayers who got the cash would be obliged to buy from them – but only if they offer a better price than everyone else in the market.

How would this help? It would force these companies to be more efficient, and position themselves to face the market, not State House.

2. I realise though that might not solve their liquidity problems fast enough. However, owners who have already run their businesses down, failed to hedge intelligently against forex movements, or to buy risk analysis that would have told them that South Sudan was more likely to go south again, cannot do much to bring competitive products to bazaars.

The solution then would be to explore the use of secondary markets to provide capital to those among them with high growth potential. Kenya has a version of this in its Alternative Investments Market Segment (AIMS). It provides a less arduous method for small and medium size companies to access the capital markets.

So all the distressed companies would list at least 60 per cent of their shares on this new alternative market. And if this were to happen, government could even increase the bailout to Shs3 trillion.
The same principle outlined earlier would apply. The money would be given to taxpayers, and they would be required to use it to buy shares in the companies.

However, they would be free to choose which ones to invest in.
If a company doesn’t get 51 per cent of its shares subscribed, it would be shuttered. The taxpayers would have voted it as useless, and lacking confidence in its ability to grow.
The management of the viable ones that make the cut would have to change. The old owners would be allowed to buy back all of their shares from their portion of the profits.

After three years, all the taxpayers who got money and bought shares would begin paying back to the Treasury back 50 per cent of their dividends for the next five years.

3. I have a Kenyan friend who manufactures parts for his very interesting technology business in China. After many trips and shipments, he got a call from a Chinese trade promotion agency.
It helps companies that were trading with China in technology, as opposed to those dealing in low value products – like sapatu or plastic buckets, for example.
They told him that the Chinese government had waived his visa fees for future trips.

He made another trip to China, and three months late he got another call. The Chinese government was giving him export credit, and henceforth it would pick up 90 per cent of the cost of freight of his goods to Kenya!

Now that is how serious governments back their companies. My friend was being supported to buy from China, and was being locked in so he could not move to make his parts in Vietnam or Dubai.

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The road to heaven is paved with Ugandan eggs. Seriously

I have great respect for Abel Rwendeire, the deputy chair of the National Planning Authority (NPA), so when recently he was quoted in Daily Monitor saying Uganda will not achieve middle income status by 2020, I could only take him seriously

Wednesday July 20 2016

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

I have great respect for Abel Rwendeire, the deputy chair of the National Planning Authority (NPA), so when recently he was quoted in Daily Monitor saying Uganda will not achieve middle income status by 2020, I could only take him seriously.

By that, it is estimated that, on average, every Ugandan would be earning $1,033 (Shs3.5m) per year or $86 (Shs290,000) per month.
Rwendeire’s view, it must be said, was not that it won’t happen. Rather he was managing expectations.

“Meeting the lower-middle income status doesn’t mean that poverty shall come to an end. It also doesn’t mean that everyone will benefit from that process of Uganda becoming a middle-income country,” Daily Monitor quoted him telling reporters at a Kampala briefing.
This is the point at which one would say that this stuff from the government about ending poverty or becoming a middle-income economy is old hogwash, impossible to achieve in a country like Uganda that wallows in corruption.

Yet, because of Ugandans remarkable ability to swim to shore through turbulent seas, I believe it is possible.
Likewise, the magic economic potion is not in the big grand billion dollar infrastructure projects, but in the small stuff.
Granted, it is often not easy to execute in practice, but if I were asked to choose only one thing we had to do to gain middle income status in under five years, I would say unlock opportunities for women.

Several studies have in recent years compared female-headed and male-headed households. The results were as clear as they were unexpected. The households headed by women were better off.

The researchers put the results down to the different spending behaviour between men and women: women re-invest 80 to 90 per cent of their income back into the family, whereas for men it’s 30 to 40 per cent. It’s for these reasons that in Kenya, these days, some cooperatives pay farmer bonuses to the wives, not husbands.
But we cannot do only one thing to become rich, so if we had to throw in a second thing, it would be something very unglamorous – eradicate malaria in Uganda.

A 2011 study found that malaria eradication produced 0.3 more years of schooling in the area where the intervention had taken place, compared to the rest of Uganda. But most importantly, it corresponded to an annual income gain of between 3 per cent and 11 per cent depending on the conversion rate used.

That is as far as the things the government can input into goes.
There are lots of possibilities in the open market. Let’s illustrate.
Whenever I come to Kampala, I have a driver who, I believe, will one day be a very rich man. Every time I find he has done a small hustle and added to his property or the money in his bank account.

One of the last times, he was going to get in the egg business. He told me an incredible story. I think it was the government and a business lobby had gone to the Middle East, and found a rich sheikh who couldn’t get enough eggs.

He was told Uganda could supply all his needs. Plans were made, and the chap landed a huge cargo plane in Entebbe to buy up this surplus mountain of eggs.
Let’s say after some days, the plane flew back, half empty. We just didn’t produce enough eggs. With that revelation, he had sensed an opportunity.

Now, I just did a road trip, one in a series I hope shall in the goodness of time end in a book and other media products. I took a flight to Kisumu, then a car across the border to Tororo.
For those elite intellectuals who comment about regional politics and haven’t crossed the land border to experience how this “one-stop” border point thing is working, I say don’t write a thing again until you have. There is a revolution happening out there.

Anyway, that whole journey is shorter than landing in Entebbe and making it into Kampala on a day when traffic has gone mad or the road has been closed because some foreign president is visiting.
I asked my Kenyan driver if he had been to Uganda. Yes, he said, he comes often to collect eggs, which he then drops in Kisumu and Mombasa.

He didn’t notice I was startled, because I was wearing sunglasses. Kenya, this humble man told me in a matter of fact way, doesn’t produce enough.

“Without your eggs, some places I know in western Kenya and the coast wouldn’t get any,” he said.
And that sets the scene for part two of this story next week.

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

Why did Rwanda succeed where South Sudan has failed? A rogue view

It’s tragic to see yet more bloodbath in South Sudan, a barely five-year-old independence sullied by a descent into fratricidal barbarity yet again

Wednesday July 13 2016

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

It’s tragic to see yet more bloodbath in South Sudan, a barely five-year-old independence sullied by a descent into fratricidal barbarity yet again.
What happened to South Sudan, after a generation of fighting for freedom?
My mind took me more than 30 years back. I went to school with both Sudanese and Rwandan refugees, and I always had great affinity to them.
But now I am older, my beard greying, and much wiser in the ways of the world, and I think the different outcomes that we have seen in two countries – Rwanda and South Sudan – where refugees, many of whom were living in Uganda, took power, re-established their citizenship as free men and women, and went about creating a new life for themselves, were always there.

Both the Rwandan and Sudanese refugees were into sports. But very different sports. The Sudanese were big on football. Our football captain Taban and goalkeeper Nathan at St. Leo’s in Fort Portal were Sudanese. Both went on to find national fame in the sport, Nathan even doing a stint as Cranes goalkeeper.
The Rwandans played basketball, and were supreme in tennis. They also dabbled in track and field events, but mostly stuff like high jump, that suited their light frame.
The Rwandans were into the arts, books, film. The Sudanese tended to be more steeped in family, in a “tribal” sort of way. The Sudanese were womanisers. The Rwandans more abstemious.

Looking at both, at first take, the Rwandans were more princely, and had a lot more sav•oir faire. The Sudanese were more magisterial, and had guts and gumption. These looked like men who could lead nations and conquer the world. The Rwandans came across like they would make good company, club, and gallery leaders.
But a few odd things stood out then. I knew many Sudanese boys and men, but hardly any Sudanese girls and women. They were out of sight, almost invisible. However, there were Rwandan girls all over the place.
As a simple idiot’s guide to a people, a good place to begin is the space the women have to be in public, and scrap for opportunities.

Those where women have public roles, generally tend to function better than the ones where they are hidden. They also tend to be adept at soft nimble organisational skills – like running a school, hotels, logistics services, and so on.
It seems now the strong assertive young Sudanese men we grew up with, and who were supposed to lead the world, didn’t know how to follow. They all wanted to be chiefs – Salva Kiir, chief. Riek Machar, chief.
Many SPLM/A cadres couldn’t settle for being small. Even when they all had was a grass-thatched house, they planted a status symbol in the form of a brand new Range Rover at the entrance of the hut. But an economy that has only a hut to offer to a minister, cannot afford a Range Rover.

No problem, with oil and donor money pouring in, they got it the old fashioned way – they stole it. Corruption consolidated in South Sudan before even the government itself could. Then every commander became an independent warlord with a little barracks of men loyal to him.
In Uganda, for example, with a long history of states (whatever primitive stages they were in) there tends to be a greater acceptance of hierarchy. So when President Yoweri Museveni rode victorious into Kampala in 1986, he was clearly The Man, the First Warlord, The Chief.

In Rwanda, already doctrinally inclined to give women an active place in public life, they offered them leadership and soon had the world’s highest percentage of women in Parliament.
The soft skills, cleaning up and fixing the city, and doing the things that require nimble and bureaucratic skills – setting up state institutions, rules for trade, fixing roads, potholes – soon kicked in, and lo and behold, Rwanda is where it is today.
In South Sudan, meanwhile, even by the time the madness broke out in December 2013, girls were more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than complete primary education.
Not too long ago, a friend asked me to meet with a South Sudan diplomat who represents his country in a European country. He came with another Juba envoy in a leading African country.
He was the great moderate, my friend told me. Their voices on the South Sudan crisis needed to be heard, he said.

We met for lunch at a fancy Nairobi restaurant. I hardly touched my food. This great moderate South Sudan ambassador was 10 times worse than our Hajj Abdul Nadduli in his old bad hardline days.
I called my friend and told him, “If this guy is a South Sudanese moderate, then I don’t even want to live in the same town with a hardliner”.
South Sudan can be saved. But not by its men.

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

The 1976 Entebbe raid changed how East Africans fight their wars

The 40th anniversary of the Entebbe raid, in which Israeli commandos rescued majority Isreali hostages aboard an Air France plane they hijacked and landed in Uganda, caused quite some controversy this time

Wednesday July 6 2016

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The 40th anniversary of the Entebbe raid, in which Israeli commandos rescued majority Isreali hostages aboard an Air France plane they hijacked and landed in Uganda, caused quite some controversy this time. This, no doubt, was because it was really the first time the event was commemorated in any significant way because Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited for the day.
Netanyahu’s brother, Yonatan Netanyahu, was the officer who commanded the Entebbe rescue, and the only Israeli soldier who was killed in the July 4, 1976 raid.
Amin’s son, Hussein Lumumba Amin, issued a statement saying his dad was not in cahoots with his Palestinian buddies, but was trying to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians for the hostages’ release.

In an interview with Daily Monitor, First Deputy Premier, Gen Moses Ali, who was Finance minister at the time of the raid, argued that Ugandans should not participate in the commemorations. His argument is one that some Ugandan nationalists both on the left and right, including many who hated Amin, have made. That a patriot should not dance with the enemies of his or her country.
To President Yoweri Museveni, the issue is clear. The hijackers were terrorists and the Israelis were right to rescue their people.
The more fascinating question to me has been the bigger geostrategic one – what was the wider regional and even global impact of the Entebbe raid, which to this day remains largely unprecedented.

Signs are that without it, the combined Tanzanian-Uganda exiles’ campaign that ousted Amin in April 1979 wouldn’t have happened in the form it did. Nor would the Museveni-led NRA war that brought him to power in 1986; or the Rwanda Patriotic Army return-to-the-motherland war.
The Entebbe raid exposed Amin as a paper tiger, and had the effect of emboldening his enemies, including Uganda exile dissidents.
But perhaps the biggest blow geopolitically was that it put to the lie the idea, popular then, that there was deep solidarity between the Middle East Muslim states and Amin.
In that period, with the Entebbe hostages the biggest international story, it seemed strange that a military transporter would leave Israel for East Africa and Arab intelligence didn’t get a whiff of it. If they didn’t, then they were woefully incompetent, a fact Israel would have noted with delight. If they did, then they betrayed their ally Amin, by not tipping him off.

Even if the Israeli mission hadn’t been tracked inward, certainly from Kenya where it stopped to refuel – and Amin reputedly had his intelligence network active – it should have. It wasn’t. It all exposed a then-isolated Amin regime weakness.
Aware that indeed he was vulnerable, Amin moved to invade Kenya, which had collaborated with the Isrealis. Kenya had always had a different position on Idi than Tanzania, where ousted Milton Obote was living in exile.
Its policy was highly influenced by the magendo (smuggling) mafia, who were profiting immensely selling stuff to a broken Ugandan economy and smuggling its coffee.

The Amin threat on Kenya, forced Kenya to give more wiggle to anti-Amin exiles in the country, and to warm up to Tanzania, with which it was having a regional cold war on the issue of Amin. That in turn enabled Uganda exile groups in Tanzania and Kenya to collaborate in ways they couldn’t before the Entebbe raid.
That Amin was caught out revealed sharply that he and his lieutenants just didn’t have an asymmetrical security mindset. In addition, the Israelis razed his airforce that, at that point, was the most formidable in the region.
After his stand-off with Kenya, Amin invaded eastern Tanzania in late 1978 again, to show he was no walkover after the Entebbe humiliation. Big mistake. Amin must have expected the Tanzanians to hit back.

However, they didn’t do it the way he expected. Having learnt that Amin was a linear thinker, they did two things different. First, they didn’t hit back at him alone. They came with Ugandan rebel groups.
Then, secondly, they didn’t drive in on trucks and armoured cars. From the Tanzania-Uganda border, they mostly walked all the way to Kampala. With a large part of his airforce destroyed in the 1976 raid, Amin couldn’t harass the walking Tanzanians and Ugandan dissidents from the air.

And because they were on foot, they could veer off the highways and along the bushes, leaving Amin’s mechanised battalions on the roads with no one to fight, and then having to confront their foes on ground they couldn’t fight on. They were hammered.
People like Museveni and his FRONASA took the lessons to heart and mastered the asymmetrical game. They later walked the war against Obote, and as an offshoot the Rwandans walked theirs too – and then did the same against Mobutu.
That’s the short of it.

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