Uganda is Not Spain

The Ugandan cyberspace went abuzz (see this, this, and this, for instance) following Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s quip a few days ago that Spain is not Uganda. Many commentators lamented at the implicit disdain that the Spanish Premier had for Uganda. Few, however, paused to consider why it is that Uganda is the country that first came to mind when Mr. Rajoy needed a representative state that did not have its sh*t together.

One exception is Daniel K. Kalinaki of the Uganda Monitor who tries to grapple with some of the difficult questions that many have skirted when reacting to Mr. Rajoy’s unfortunate comments:

“As far as making comparisons between the sizes of the two economies and their place in the world, Rajoy was speaking the truth, brutal as it might sound to our patriotic ears. The world would notice if Spain became bankrupt because of the size of its economy, which is several times bigger than ours, and its more central place in the international economy.

……..I am concerned about the ill-advised rants by foreign leaders such as Rajoy. I am concerned about the snide references, from James Bond movies to American TV series, of Uganda as a war-plagued basket case. I am also concerned about the misrepresentation by opportunistic do-gooders like Jason Blair and his Invisible Children.

………… We gloss over newspaper stories that speak to the modern-day horrors of parents tying their ill children to trees because there is no proper medical care available for them from a government that spends Shs350 billion a year in sending its officials and cronies to foreign hospitals. Where is the outrage over that?

……. I am proud to defend my country when our honour and genuine achievements are disparaged, but I am unable to find it within myself to ride the bandwagon of empty, predictable navel-gazing, played to a cyber gallery, while ignoring the potholed boulevard of our broken dreams.”

More on this here.

Africa’s Singapore or Uganda waiting to happen?

Yet Rwanda has one huge advantage: the rule of law. No African country has done more to curb corruption. Ministers have been jailed for it. Transparency International, a watchdog, reckons Rwanda is less graft-ridden than Greece or Italy (though companies owned by the ruling party play an outsized role in the economy). “I have never paid a bribe and I don’t know anyone who has had to pay a bribe,” says Josh Ruxin, one of the owners of Heaven, a restaurant in Kigali, the capital.

The country is blessedly free of red tape, too. It ranks 45th in the World Bank’s index of the ease of doing business, above any African nation bar South Africa and Mauritius. Registering a firm takes three days and is dirt cheap. Property rights are strengthening, as well—the government is giving peasants formal title to their land.

That is the Economist on Rwanda. I remain cautiously optimistic about Kagame’s brand of effective authoritarianism. I just hope that he will not be tempted to degenerate into the Musevenis of this world.

We finally have a winner for the Mo Ibrahim Prize

UPDATE: Check out the Mo Ibrahim Index of Governance here. The usually suspects – Botswana, Cape Verde and Mauritius –  lead the pack.

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The BBC reports:

Former Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires has been awarded this year’s $5m (£3.2m) Mo Ibrahim prize for good governance in Africa.

The prize committee said Mr Pires, who stepped down in August, had helped make the archipelago off the West African coast a “model of democracy, stability and increased prosperity”.

The prize is supposed to be awarded each year to a democratically elected leader who has voluntarily left office.

There has been no winner for two years. The committee said there had been no suitable candidate.

The $5m award, given over 10 years followed by $200,000 a year for life, is the world’s most valuable individual prize. The previous winners are Botswana’s President Festus Mogae and Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano.

In case you are wondering why African incumbents – including Cameroon’s Paul Biya and Senegal’s Wade – do not find the world’s most valuable individual prize worth their time check out an earlier post in which I attempted to calculate the opportunity cost of accepting the award. Notice that my calculation did not factor in the probability of not winning the prize even after stepping down or that of winding up at the Hague or dead.

The prize is a nice carrot and is part of a larger and highly commendable, I should add, attempt at an ideational change on what it means to be a good president. But it almost naively assumes that the only reason autocrats stay in power beyond their “use by” date is for the money.

If that were the case Gbagbo and Gaddafi would surely have done the right thing.

If I were on the committee I would ask Mo to consider channeling some of the money from years without winners to countries with promise – to help facilitate institutional reforms – all in an attempt to make the environment safe for the incumbent and his cronies in case he chooses to step down.

The other dimension of the (origins of) Congolese Conflict

UPDATE: Stay updated on the run-up to the elections in the DRC here.

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In reaction to Dodd-Frank many in the blogosphere, including yours truly, have insisted that the problem in eastern Congo is not a law enforcement problem but a governance problem whose solution must come primarily from Kinshasa.

Often ignored is the regional dimension of the conflict.

The involvement of Rwanda and Uganda in eastern DRC (in the first and second Congo wars) have been excellently documented in Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (the author also blogs at Congo Siasa).

The invading forces may have left, but the geopolitical posturing remains and has consequences for the flow of arms and mushrooming of militias in the region.

Here’s a short documentary on the same.

This is not to simply vilify Uganda and Rwanda – one could argue that the presence of rebels from both countries in the Congo provided legitimate grounds for an invasion.

The point here is that the regional dimension of the conflict should not be ignored even as we insist that attention should shift to Kinshasa in an attempt to provide a lasting end to the conflict in eastern DRC.

Is Uganda experiencing its 1991 moment?

UPDATE II: Angelo over at TIA offers an analysis of the ongoing situation in the development of Uganda’s oil sector. After months of under-the-table maneuvers by the executive it appears that the Ugandan legislature has finally found its voice. Angelo credits this both on the rise of independents and internal divisions within the ruling party, NRM.

Perhaps in an attempt to deflect from its recent woes the government has also been trying to prosecute those involved in the mega-corruption surrounding procurement for construction projects in the run-up to the commonwealth summit in 2007. Senior officials, including a cabinet minister, have since resigned over this saga.

Many of us thought that the oil money would buy Museveni more time in State House, Entebbe. But the other thing the discovery of oil has done is increase the stakes. It remains to be seen how far Ugandan politicians and their coalitions within and without NRM are willing to go in order to get their fair share of the cake. I would not want to be M7 right now.

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UPDATE: Joel D. Barkan has a nice piece outlining Uganda’s and Museveni’s many challenges are potential scenarios of the continuing struggle for accountable government in Uganda.

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The early 1990s were a heady time on the African continent. Student riots, mass strikes, opposition rallies and international pressure were causing many a one party African dictator sleepless nights.

By dint of history, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda escaped the winds of change that were sweeping through the continent. Having brought stability to Kampala and most of southern Uganda following the 1981-86 bush war, he had gone ahead to preside over the longest stretch of sustained economic growth in Uganda’s history. Many loved him. He was able to sell his weird idea of no party democracy to the masses. As a result Uganda’s first multiparty elections took place in 2006, a full 20 years after Museveni came to power.

But the long honeymoon for Museveni – the champion of Ugandan security and growth since 1986 – appears to be in its twilight. Since the last elections early this year, protests have rocked Kampala and other major urban centres across the country. Earlier today on twitter Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda argued that Museveni’s success will be the source of his downfall. Economic growth has created a lot of powerful forces with a lot to lose as Museveni continues to restrict political space in his bid to cling to power.

In a new article in the Journal of Democracy, Angelo Izama, another Ugandan journalist, echoes the same claims. The Ugandan masses can no longer tolerate the regime’s sins of misgovernance. High level sleaze in government, economic mismanagement (recent walk to work riots were in reaction to high inflation, partly related to runaway campaign spending by Museveni) and general fatigue with the overbearing Ugandan securocracy have ignited protests by the masses, beyond those called for by the main opposition party.

By all accounts Museveni is in a tight corner, despite his 68% win in the February 2011 polls.

But as many Uganda experts would quickly add, do not count M7 out just yet. The recent discovery of oil in the Lake Albert region is expected to provide a steady supply of cash to prop up the regime into the immediate future. Furthermore, the Ugandan opposition remains divided and unable to come up with a singular message against the regime’s many failures in the recent past.

That said, the cat appears to have been let out of the bag. Like many of his regional counterparts back in 1991, Museveni will have to make significant concessions if he is to survive the latest street protests.

But just how much time does Museveni have?

In my view, a lot of time. This is partly because Museveni has successfully convinced Ugandans – including many in the opposition and media that are opposed to his rule – that he is indispensable. Many, in the same breath, decry the sleaze and economic mismanagement in his administration but admire his regional military adventurism and opportunistic “independent mindedness.”

There is simply no compelling (and credible) replacement for Museveni in the public psyche (yet). The opposition leader Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s personal physician turned foe, is a pale shadow of his former self.

The other reason is Uganda’s weak civil society – a direct product of the country’s tumultuous history since the mid-1960s. Not enough indigenous independent wealth has been created to support a nascent opposition and civil society movement as was the case in Kenya, among other early experimenters with electoral pluralism, in the early 1990s.

Being the adroit politician that he is, Museveni will definitely play this reality to his advantage into the foreseeable future.

For the sake of Ugandans and the hope of a freer East African Community, I hope I am wrong.

african presidents and the “elites” around them

This is the first of many installments on African presidents. I am currently researching the nature of presidential power in Africa.

First on the list is Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Mr. Museveni has been in power since 1986 and is pretty much convinced that he is God’s gift to Uganda has just won another 5-year term in office. The picture below is a screen shot from a recent tour of an area of Kampala to launch a cooperative society.

More Village Chief than President

Notice the state and size of the presidential “red carpet.” Also, everyone but the president has to make do with plastic chairs. This picture, in many ways, is a metaphor for most African societies. In many countries only the “Big Man” gets to sit on the “carpet” while everyone else has to languish in the dust, including elites around the president.

This state of affairs creates perverse incentives that are inimical to economic growth. If I am an elite – even one who is close to the president – why should I invest in creating a carpet of my own if I know that the president will take it away? The result is poverty and material want that extends to the heart of power and elite-dom.

In a way EVEN the political elite in Uganda are poor. They may have some wealth stashed abroad but their realized standard of living within Uganda is not elite. If they get sick they have to fly to Kenya, South Africa [who’s elites have done slightly better at local accumulation] or further afield for treatment. Oftentimes even their 4X4 vehicles get stuck on the non-existent roads that they have refused to build and maintain. A mastery of the art of surviving [living day by day] is not restricted to the hoi polloi. Even the elite lack the requisite stability to escape the surviving mentality, even though they may not necessarily be surviving materially.

This is the reality for most of the Continent.

Next time, something on the false largesse of the likes of the late Omar Bongo Ondimba (the very short guy in the middle of the crowd in this video)

quick hits

Ugandan walk to work protests continue, despite the arrest of key opposition leaders.

Mutiny spreads in Burkina Faso. Compraore has been in power since 1987 after he ousted Thomas Sankara.

Benin’s Yayi Boni might have stole his way into a second term. I hope he is not planning on extending the presidential term limit in Benin.

museveni is on the ropes

With 72 cabinet ministers Uganda reeks of instability. Leonardo Arriola, a Political Scientist at Berkeley, has made argued that African presidents create bloated cabinets to buy off opponents when they feel insecure in power. Uganda’s Museveni might be doing just that. In office since 1986, Mr. Museveni just won another 5-year term in office with 68% of the vote, or so the Ugandan electoral commission would like us to believe.

The opposition parallel vote tallying system was sabotaged by security forces in cahoots with cell phone companies (these companies should be fined in other countries in which they operate…). The main challenger, Mr. Kizza Besigye, claims that the last count he got showed Museveni at 50.8% with him second at 42.5%. The final official tally gave Mr. Museveni a landslide win of more than 40 points.

It is now quite possible that a majority of Ugandans do not want Museveni in power. Given his long tenure and the recent terror events that could have boosted him with a “rally around the flag” effect, his poor performance at the polls should be cause for concern for stability in Uganda. Too bad he will soon have oil money to create even bigger cabinets and buy more tanks and anti-riot gear, if he so wishes.

Ugandans may have to wait for quite a while before they experience their first ever peaceful transfer of power.