Andrew Mwenda and the Oil Debate.
As the Parliamentary ad-hoc Committee continues its probe into the Oil Industry that has for long been shrouded in secrecy, public debate and discussion on the oil sector is still spirited as it were in the aftermath of Hon Gerald Karuhanga -Youth MP for western Uganda, tabling documents before parliament alleging bribery and corruption amongst government ministers Hillary Onek, Sam Kahamba Kutesa and PM Amama Mbabazi. Andrew Mwenda - the Strategy and Editorial Director of the Independent Magazine, in the latest issue of the same magazine (November 18-24, 2011), continues to rubbish the “Karuhanga documents”, rebuke Uganda’s elite class on being “shallow” in debate and analysis. He further brings to light the historic perspective on how MPs have abused parliamentary privilege before in 1966 and the current power struggles in NRM for possible succession of President Museveni.
Mwenda has in many forums before decried the state of corruption in this country, demise of functional institutionalism and the blatant abuse of offices by politicians and public servants too. He has indicated before how poorly paid civil servants now own fancy apartments and big businesses in Kampala all through corruption and embezzling tax payers money. It is no secret that President Museveni has presided over this rot and decay in the public service. Instead of comprehensively reforming and re-structuring the civil service towards better service delivery and performance, he has used it to build and keep a strong hold on political power. Mwenda has indicated before that by creating opportunities for the elites and civil servants to profiteer and benefit from corruption through creating unnecessary administrative units like districts, semi-autonomous bodies, President Museveni has co-opted these elites into the eating circle and thus entrenched his political power. It is clear that the President does not have the political will and guts to fight corruption in Uganda. I find it bizarre that Andrew Mwenda, the man who has says and believes that “Corruption is the way the system works not the way it fails”, can be the same man to believe that President Museveni can fight corruption, when it forms the foundation for his plan to build more political power. Andrew has gone on to conclude before that - “President Museveni is not corrupt in the sense of gaining wealth. He is corrupt in a sense of using money to attain his political power interests.” Andrew Mwenda should have known better that he could not get any credible or worthy results with the oil documents the moment he took them to President Museveni.
Another interesting facet in his arguments is insistence to take the documents to President Museveni. This is testimony to the death of institutionalism in this country. Andrew has always condemned the death of institutionalism in this country- where every interest group e.g. women, tomato vendors, cattle herders, market traders, etc. all want to take their grievances to the President. Needless to say, this is an unfortunate precedence that undermines the development of institutions, rule of law and democracy. Andrew, as a preacher of institutionalism, should have probably taken them to Uganda Police or Director of Public Prosecutions or IGG or Parliament. The very practice that Andrew condemns is exactly what he did. It is clear he was not being any different from the Women groups, Market Vendors and Taxi drivers that always want audience with the President on even the most trivial of matters. And that brings us to probably the reason why Andrew sought audience with the President only. He knows well that if these documents had been tabled before Police or IGG, these institutions don’t have capacity to investigate and conclude them. It is a sad irony that we can’t find resources to build capacity for various government agencies to perform better but we can afford to hire international investigation firms to verify documents. Andrew should be condemning this in the strongest terms possible or at least lobby for capacity building in Police, IGG, DPP so that they are able to comprehensively investigate and conclude such cases. Andrew knows that the failure of institutions over the last two decades under the stewardship of President Museveni is the reason why he could not trust Police or IGG’s office to do a good job with the oil documents.
Mwenda further intimates that at the heart of this oil debate is a power struggle to succeed President Museveni within the NRM, and it is for that matter that some individuals within the NRM party and parliament are hell bent on bringing down Amama Mbabazi. Whereas this may be true, we don’t do ourselves any favours when we don’t reflect on why this is so. President Museveni has mentioned before how only he has the vision for this country and has not made any effort for his party to openly and freely discuss the issue of succession and change of leadership in the party. There is a widely held view that only President Museveni can deliver the presidency to NRM. If the NRM party made clear its leadership and succession plans, and allow for discussion and agreement with all and sundry, we would have less power struggles in the party. Andrew as an insider should be tipping the President to emulate his (Andrew’s) hero Mandela by engaging a clear and well-articulated succession plan so that the party has less intrigue, bickering and disharmony. It absurd that PM Amama Mbabazi, the man perceived to be President Museveni’s choice for successor is also hesitant to firmly but respectfully express his vision to serve this country if given opportunity. In the latest media reports, PM Amama makes a reserved and cautious expression of interest in top seat. It is clear he doesn’t want to be “misunderstood” by the President.
Finally, Andrew’s constant attack and rebuke of Uganda and Africa’s elite class as being shallow in debate and analysis of issues is reckless and unfair in equal dimension. He divorces the context from his argument and conclusion. Andrew well knows that for the last decade or so, with the liberalization of the education sector, academic excellence in exams and papers has taken precedence and killed off avenues for students to read and learn material outside the examinable curriculum, research and innovate stuff. So this elite class is a product of the education system that was not supported by the NRM government for the last two decades. If the government had extensively extended support to public libraries, youth learning centers, school libraries and laboratories, technical colleges etc. our education system would be churning out better graduates, students and citizens with that are hungry and willing to read, research , learn, innovate and disseminate information. It is well known that research has no audience or respect in this government. I wish to think that for modern society to have an elite class that is well -informed, learned and articulate on matters of economics, environment and sustainable development; it must have the minimum basics i.e. high literacy levels, information technology, internet accessibility and technological advancement. Andrew knows the government’s UPE and USE are more of quantitative than qualitative programs. The government project to lay fiber optic cable to boost access to faster internet has delayed for over two years. Andrew rightfully credits President Kagame for investing heavily in computer/information technology and internet access in Rwanda to the extent that school children in rural areas have access to computers, laptops and internet. This is alien to Uganda even in districts like Iganga that are on a major route connecting us to Mombasa and Nairobi. Only children in Kampala Parents School and other uptown learning centers can access laptops and internet in Uganda. So the government has neglected this integral IT infrastructure that would go a long way in building and informed and articulate society. Mwenda knows that despite Presidents Museveni’s desire and dreams to develop Uganda into a middle income economy characterized by a vibrant business sector, high per capita income, growing middle class all denominated by a performance driven service sector, good infrastructure, institutionalism and rule of law, he is not the man to lead us to this promised land.
Without a doubt, he has done his wonderful contribution to this cause and it is only prudent that at every time that Mwenda gets his audience, he should advise him to allow for stable succession and change of leadership. It is evident that the current oil saga and wanton corruption in both the public and private sector are signs and symptoms of a dysfunctional system that president Museveni continues to preside over. It is futile to call on him to reform, he needs to allow for succession and reforms be implemented by a new team.