As the Ugandan president marks 37 years in power this week, it is just right to spill the seven secrets that have helped Yoweri Museveni reign for all those years.
One: Eating unprocessed food. From what he tells the public, Museveni abhors food made in factories. No wonder he has remained a farmer all these years, taking real milk from the cow, and eating millet. Recently, when the Ukraine thing came up, he disclosed his partiality for cassava to those who were crying about the rising bread prices. If a man who could afford the most expensive foods sticks to stuff from the soil and the cow, don’t ask his secret for health and success.
Two: Using the opponents’ greed. Uganda’s political graveyard hosts ambitious politicians punctured over their raw appetite for money and power. Museveni watches politicians’ open mouths as they gobble up what comes their way and, when they throw up on their suits and skirts, no voter wants to touch them with a ten-metre pole. From the opposition, many jump ship inspired more by appetite than conviction, so they get resented both where they went and where they left.
Remains in touch
Three: Neglecting nothing and nobody. Lesser (wo)men in the establishment only deal with fellow big people. But Museveni remains in touch with an unfathomable number of “small” people. Once in a while, he mentions a “nobody” somewhere who drew his attention to something that turned out to be of significance. So he does not miss out on information as other big people do. Yet he is also the biggest consumer of intelligence in the land.
Four: Patience, patience, patience! Like the proverbial rat that lives long enough to eat the cat’s skin, Museveni bides his time. He is not excitable. During the Covid outbreak, he tried to teach this virtue to the public and got us to endure the long lockdown, by explaining how as an underresourced guerrilla force, his army used to freeze for hours, days, waiting to hear, see, get a whiff of the enemy’s movement. It worked, and Uganda had one of the most impressive rates of corona non-transmission in the world. It works for him, as his opponents rush to their political destruction.
Quest for knowledge
Five: Knowledge. The man reportedly has an incurable quest for knowledge — past, current, and future. Those who have made presentations to him say it is terrible to go to him without being thoroughly prepared, as he can poke holes in any razzmatazz that is not solidly grounded in knowledge.
Six: Selecting battles wisely. Recently, Museveni told Ugandans that a project he had been pursuing with Russians had not matured for he had slowed on it, as it was upsetting Western allies. This doesn’t need belabouring: Ugandans have a saying of a deer that evades the hunters being hard to cook when its time comes — its flesh having been hardened with age.
Seven: Lady Luck. Nobody can spend a lifetime without being visited by Lady Luck but most of us ignore her, while Museveni embraces her. His mind is always prepared to grab a chance and then shape it, and examples are many.
Thirteen years ago, Museveni found a bunch of university students tinkering with a small car they had made running purely on electricity. He entered it and ordered it to be driven around. It was a nightmare for his security as there was even no room for a bodyguard in the little basket. He could even have been electrocuted. He decided to fund their research and innovation and last year, Uganda-made electric buses started plying Kampala city with zero emissions. In fact, Museveni already ordered a ban on importation of buses.
Thirty-seven years and still counting. Last week, Vice-President Jessica Alupo announced that Museveni will be running again in 2026. If he wins in 2031, it will be 45 years, then possibly eyeing 77 years. That would be a poetic sign-out!
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: email@example.com
How South Africa, US elections could shape Tshisekedi’s bread in Kinshasa, By Charles Onyango-Obbo
The conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the future of the giant country, and that of President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa could be dramatically altered by two distant elections. The first is South Africa’s May election, and the second is the US presidential vote in November.
A region already in turmoil was plunged into a new crisis when the M23 rebels returned to war after a nine-year hiatus, blaming Kinshasa for reneging on the terms of the political settlement that ended the fighting over a decade ago and for the persecution of the Kinyarwanda-speaking people of the country. That persecution has, in recent months, become a full-on ethnic cleansing campaign.
The M23 has since had its tail high, with a string of military victories that have seen it capture swathes of territory. The long-running, largely ineffective UN peacekeeping force, Monusco, which failed to pacify the region, has begun a phased withdrawal, in the face of popular Congolese anger against it.
The East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) was bedevilled by the murkiness of Congolese politics and retreated at the end of 2023 after barely a year.
In Kinshasa, the war rhetoric and accusations and attacks against Rwanda for backing M23 — a charge Kigali denies — has reached fever-high, with President Tshisekedi threatening to march into Rwanda.
That has further inflamed sentiments against Congolese Tutsi, with daily reports and social media videos of lynchings. It also seems to have driven the Kinshasa government into a deeper alliance with FDLR, the largest of the 120 rebel groups in eastern DRC, which comprises elements blamed for the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994, and who fled and set up shop in eastern DRC after their defeat by the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).
In recent weeks, a force from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has stepped in to help the Kinshasa government. Anchored by South Africa, which plans to have nearly 3,000 troops, it is looking to defy an inescapable trend of the past 60 years: Every foreign force has, in the end, lost its shirt in Congo.
Two South African troops have already been lost in shelling of their camp by the M23, and the rebels are alleged to have shot at one of its helicopters.
The two main opposition parties in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), seen as a largely white party, and radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by Julius Malema, have both been very critical of South Africa’s return to the Congo war theatre. They argue that the South African Defence Forces is a shambles, and the money spent on the DRC intervention would be better invested back home in an economy with the highest unemployment in Africa.
Three months before the election, most polls and analyses project that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) could have its worst performance at the ballot since 1994, when it won power following the end of apartheid.
While it could still win the most votes, it will be less than 50 percent, which will force it to govern as a coalition with parties that oppose its DRC project. A South African withdrawal, or significant cutback, would all but collapse the mission unless Tanzania steps up to the plate.
That is unlikely — at least not until after the October 2025 election. Tanzania, after all, did not join the ill-fated EACRF mission.
A lot would then rest on the US position. The US has flip-flopped on the eastern DRC conflict, bouncing between criticising Rwanda for alleged support of the M23, scolding Kinshasa for aggravation, and playing mediator.
In recent weeks, though, it has cosied up to Tshisekedi, and even briefly whitewashed the FDLR, calling it simply a “negative force,” a move from its previous categorization of it as a terrorist organisation, which seemed to sweep its genocide credentials under the carpet.
Scrambling to stem the shock, the US representative at the United Nations in New York, quickly put the FDLR back into the “terrorist organisation” box.
Regional analysts in East Africa, and many people in Rwanda, think Washington’s posture in DRC is driven by the need to get a slice of its vast precious mineral resources.
They specifically point to the heavily US-backed Lobito Corridor, a 1,344-kilometre railway project linking the Angolan port of Lobito to DRC through Zambia, through several large mineral deposits.
It is also a foil to China’s Road and Belt and would checkmate rival Russia’s further advance towards Southern Africa through a Central African corridor.
Many opinion polls, most of them admittedly shabby, have former US President Donald Trump, who will be the Republican candidate, leading incumbent Democratic President Joe Biden. Trump is an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin and will dismantle many of Biden’s sanctions against Russia, imposed after it invaded Ukraine two years ago. He is unlikely to put a premium on the Lobito Corridor, as Biden has.
But, most of all, Trump, wearing his racist cap, didn’t—and won’t—give a hoot about Africa, and will not lose sleep over the DRC.
With the ANC humiliated at the polls and Biden defeated, the geopolitical dynamics that Tshisekedi has exploited against both M23 and Rwanda could disappear. He could be on the run. M23 would get a leg up and, if took most of eastern DRC, it could well finally seek autonomy.
Or Biden could win, as the more thoughtful American pollsters and commentators predict. And the ANC could lose.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3
Strengthening the state in Somalia, By Chris Oberlack
In Somalia, the decade-long partnership between the government, the World Bank, and the UN demonstrates how collaboration between humanitarian and development actors is critical to state-building and delivering tangible support to citizens.
Since the collapse of the state three decades ago, Somalia continues to face significant challenges, including high levels of conflict and violence, an unfinished political settlement, weak government institutions, recurrent crises, and significant levels of socioeconomic exclusion.
Today, over 70 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, and approximately a third require humanitarian assistance. In this context, an important factor in the success of this partnership has been the ability to maintain a shared strategic objective to build a more stable and visible state that delivers for Somalis, while strengthening resilience to overcome crises and helping the country address the drivers of fragility that undermine peace and development.
The partnership between the government, UN and World Bank provides support to those in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, while building the capacity of the state to administer and deliver predictable support across the country.
Joint priorities focus on strengthening human capital and enhancing resilience. The key challenge is how to strike the right balance between addressing the vast immediate needs today, and building sustainable country systems and institutions that can last for the long term.
Over the past decade, this partnership has evolved significantly. While many actors channelled short-term assistance outside of state institutions, since the adoption of a provisional constitution in 2012 this partnership deliberately focused on long-term support to Somali government institutions.
This helped pave the way for the debt relief process through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, which led to increased development assistance in 2020 through financing from the International Development Association (IDA).
However, the debt relief process coincided with a confluence of shocks – Covid-19, a desert locust outbreak, and heavy floods – that deepened socioeconomic challenges. IDA re-engagement therefore brought crucial development financing to Somalia to complement humanitarian assistance.
In addition, IDA grants enabled the Government to scale-up ‘people-centred’ support and strengthen the capacity, visibility, and presence of the state. Given that the majority of Somalia’s population has grown up without functioning state institutions, this approach has been important to help mend a fractured social contract.
In practice, this means that for several projects, IDA resources have been channelled through the Government to UN agencies and NGOs to deliver World Bank-financed operations. Through this unique approach, the Bank provides predictable development financing and strengthens the Government’s ability to manage a growing development portfolio and respond to shocks.
It leverages the operational presence and capacity of UN agencies to deliver assistance to communities on the ground. This partnership model, representing approximately a quarter of the World Bank’s $2.3 billion portfolio in Somalia, extends across six operations.
For example, the $418 million World Bank-funded “Baxnaano” Project has provided predictable cash transfers to 200,000 families in Somalia with the support of UN agencies. Through the project, WFP delivers emergency cash transfers in response to shocks and Unicef helps build social protection systems that are essential for direct government management of safety net programs in the future.
The Somalia Urban Resilience Project, in collaboration with United Nations Office for Project Services (Unops) and Internal Organisation for Migration (IOM), strengthens local government systems to support service delivery and resilient infrastructure in urban areas, including those hosting internally displaced people. Several other projects, ranging from crisis recovery to health and social protection, also use this operational partnership.
Though there have been challenges in operationalising this approach, collaboration across these sectors is critical to enhance the Government’s capacity to administer services for its citizens moving forward.
Through a joint liaison function, supported by the UN Partnership Facility under the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund and the World Bank’s Somalia Multi-Partner Fund, this partnership has also helped advance the strategic dialogue on shared priorities and ensure close coordination on security and political developments.
The experience in Somalia underscores how operational partnerships can advance the strategic vision to build a more capable state that delivers services for its citizens in a complex FCV context. While there is still a long way to go, the last decade and recent achievements, including the completion of the debt relief process, have shown that significant progress can be made if the Government and international partners align strategic priorities and financing.
Looking ahead, an approach anchored in government leadership and impact-driven partnerships must continue to support Somalia’s state-building journey.
Building on the lessons learned from this partnership – including as part of the World Bank’s new country strategy for Somalia – will be crucial to continue building government institutions, strengthening intergovernmental relations, enhancing resilience to crises, and providing access to basic services to millions of Somalis.
Importantly, this can also provide a roadmap for how governments, the World Bank, and the UN can come together to deliver in other fragile and conflict-affected settings.
Chris Oberlack is UN-World Bank Liaison Officer and Miguel de Corral is Senior Operations Officer, FCV Group, World Bank
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