Connect with us

Strictly Personal

These are tough times; happy (and not-so-happy) New Year! By Jenerali Ulimwengu

Published

on

The pious hopes we habitually exchange around this time every year do have a purpose, and that is mainly to put all our travails to the side and dare to think up new realities we have not been blessed with thus far. So, we hope against hope that this coming twelve months will usher in greater joy than we have had, better lives, and more happiness.

All that is in order, for we are told that those who cannot hope are condemned to be hopeless, and the hopeless are a damned lot. So, let us wish each other a very happy new year and lift our gazes to the horizon to discern our blessings such as they are.

That does not, in any way, excuse us from coming to grips with our lived reality and to recognise our failings, with a view to finding ways to remedy them. And since our problems are legion and cannot be wished away even in a lifetime, let us tackle those we can tackle at a tactical level while we keep in mind those other that we can reserve for more strategic consideration.

In this country, the most pressing problems we have are naturally those we have to consider existential, by which our very survival might be threatened. Even whittled down to the basics, these will remain innumerable. But we can try to name a couple we can identify with a sense of urgency.

Off the top of my head, without necessarily seeking to be alarmist, I see a likely inability to feed ourselves. The rains have been capricious in many of our provinces, not very different than in many of the countries in the neighbourhood, where the “myth” of climate change has taken on a cloak of reality.

To make matters worse, the so-called Ukraine war continues to put a heavy strain on world food and energy supplies, with most devastation felt in our kind of countries and economies.

So, while we take measures to grow our strategic food reserves, we have to watch out against waste at all levels. We have seen for ourselves that food is a finite item, and that it could run out; in certain cases, it has indeed run out. So, it is urgent to protect what we have, as we continue to strive to get more.

One method of this protection is to take concrete measures to wean our people off rainfed food production, by enabling them to collect water by building dams to prevent water from escaping to the ocean, a most silly example of wastefulness.

It is rather funny that people join in congregations praying to the Great Wizard for the rains to come, and when the rains do indeed fall, and in great torrents, they stand around and watch as all that water runs off to the ocean.

However great as an engineer, God does not build dams.

Another point to consider on this trajectory is to show respect for our farmers and peasants, those on the battlefront of food production.

Our rulers have to realise that this category of people is simply the most important group rendering the most vital service to us all. I have for long adopted this useful mantra: If you eat, you are into agriculture.

This reality must be reflected in all our policies and programmes, including budgetary allocations, extension services, and fair pricing structures. It is only a soulless government that sets aside more money for ministers’ SUVs — for sufferers of the Beyoncé syndrome —than for tractors and fertiliser.

This point has been made since forever, but our rulers seem to have stuffed their ears with cotton wool. You just cannot rule over a poor country such as ours and behave with such arrogance and nonchalance.

Looking at the government vehicles and other conspicuous expenditure, we have the most expensive government around, but the same government begs to build pit latrines!

These, then, are the basic problems that we have to grapple with, and at the base must be the realisation that matters are likely to get tougher, not easier. The “Ukraine war” is not ending any time soon, and its effects are likely to have a lasting effect.

We are essentially nations of beggars. Fortunately, those from whom we beg have themselves hit a rough patch, suffering multiple winters of (their own) discontent, exacerbated by Putin’s war. They are not likely to pay heed to our cries of self-inflicted hunger. The “deafness” of the donors — wholly understandable in the circumstance — should be a wake-up call for us to come to our senses and stop behaving like beggars with expensive tastes.

These are tough times, and they are likely to get even tougher, as I have pointed out above. Our government should demonstrate that it is aware of this, and take the requisite measures to soften the impact imposed by these economic realities.

Issues like the Ukraine war are clearly beyond our power, and no one can blame the government for what is happening outside our borders.

But, as I have said, some problems are firmly within our reach, and all that is needed is a little conscience and respect for our people.

With this end-of-year thought, I wish all readers a very Happy and Thinking New Year!

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Strictly Personal

Umeme, grain and coffee: Why Kenya should fear Uganda’s economic gamble, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Published

on

Uganda, the 1990s shining Africa poster boy for privatisation, is engaging in what could be East Africa’s biggest economic liberalisation reverse gear. Last year, the Uganda government formally announced it would not renew the contract of electricity distributor Umeme in 2025, when its concession expires, and that it will form a state-owned entity to take over its business.

The government’s main criticism of Umeme is its margins are too high, so it has failed to lower electricity costs, and the expensive rates have hobbled Uganda’s industrialisation ambitions. Umeme counters that it is just a distributor, and the high electricity costs are passed on from the power generators.

In two years, the debate will be resolved. Uganda will be in the midst of campaigns ahead of the January 2026 election, when President Yoweri Museveni, weighed down by the wear and tear of 40 years in office, will likely be bidding for a record-shattering ninth term, with his son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, among those trying to wrestle the crown from his head. It will be the worst possible timing because incumbents rarely make the most enlightened decisions during heated election campaigns. As the West Africans say, there will likely “be a lot of cry.”

Distribution concession

Umeme was formed in 2004 when the government of Uganda granted the distribution concession to a consortium belonging to Globeleq, a subsidiary of the Commonwealth Development Corporation of the UK, which held 56 per cent, and South Africa’s now inept utility corporation Eskom, which had 44 per cent. In 2006 Eskom exited the consortium, and Globeleq became the sole owner of Umeme.

The regional impact could be significant because, among other things, Umeme shares are cross-listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange. If it unravels, Kenyan shareholders would be left crying in their bowls, and we could be back to the feud over regional assets that followed the break-up of the first East African Community in 1977.

Too messy to swallow

The renationalisation of Umeme will not be unique. Kenya just tried to renationalise cash-haemorrhaging national carrier Kenya Airways but found it too messy to swallow. The recently elected new government of President William Ruto has decided to throw it back on the block.

The difference in Uganda is that Umeme is just the shallow end of the pool. There are other moves to renationalise the very lucrative liberalised coffee sector by granting a near-monopoly to a Vinci Coffee Company, owned by controversial and shadowy Italian “foreign investor” Enrica Pinetti, to process and export Uganda’s coffee. That would take Uganda back to the early 1990s when the disastrous Coffee Marketing Board was disbanded.

A similar move is being made to give the Grain Council of Uganda, on paper a non-profit membership organisation, the kind of sway over the country’s grain last seen in the colonial era.

The force behind the Grain Council is the otherwise amiable president’s younger brother, retired Lt-Gen Salim Saleh (Caleb Akandwanaho), a sly operator who is the second most powerful figure in the land. A nationalist and statist, Saleh has led a quiet but effective assault against laissez-faire liberalisation, which he argues has mostly benefited foreigners and left Ugandans with only holes in their pockets. He has taken over a large chunk of the country’s agricultural budget and several “development” functions under the amorphous state-created vehicle Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) that he heads and inserted disciples in key national economic institutions.

Return to old roots

This state of affairs is a dramatic return to old roots. Uganda launched the first of a series of economic liberalisations in the 1990s that were deemed impossible in Africa at the time and anathema in the hyper-nationalist traditions that were entrenched in post-independence Africa.

It was the first country in Africa to radically liberalise its foreign exchange market and still maintains one of the least-interventionist approaches to the money market on the continent. It was also the first in East Africa to pass laws that gave the central bank extensive independence.

It was the first on the continent in the early 1990s to liberalise the fuel market and scrap fuel subsidies. Again, in East Africa, at least, it is the government that meddles least in setting the price of gas at the pump. When fuel prices skyrocketed everywhere following the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, it alone was the East African government to flatly refuse to even consider a fuel subsidy and price cap, as all the rest of the EAC states did.

Price of food

Uganda, too, is the country where the price of food is most considered none of the government’s business. When Ugandans read stories and political fights over maize in Kenya, and the government setting the price, to some of them, it sounds like a tale about an alien planet.

The country and economy that Uganda is today are about to change. Some of the changes have to do with the politics of the Museveni succession and how the family and vested interests that have coalesced around the State House view their future security. A lot of it, though, is because of some good things: the rebirth of the EAC; the end of the wars in Uganda and the ushering in of the country’s longest spell of peace; the rebound of a post-KANU Kenya; and the Rwanda post-genocide recovery.

If there are two people in East Africa outside Uganda, who have edged Uganda to the fork in the road where it is today, they are Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and former Kenya president Mwai Kibaki.

The author is a journalist, writer, and curator of the «Wall of Great Africans». Twitter@cobbo3

Continue Reading

Strictly Personal

In honour of Komla African scribes should lead renaissance, By Elsie Eyakuze

Published

on

Somehow the only news we watch on the TV at home is offered by the Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation or any one of several Kenyan stations that the person who holds The Power chooses. As a result, I have been on an imposed “news diet” for a few years now.

It is nothing serious, just a touch of burnout with a soupçon of ennui for flavour. There are newspapers, too, but I am a decade past my paper-chasing days and I have noticed the click-bait flavour of headlines and I don’t like it.

In other words, I am growing older, crankier and particular about my news. This led me to believe that I am bored by the business that the industry might indeed be floundering — a position I do not really hold. After all, my job as a journalism-adjacent writer is to support the news and the people and institutions that bring it to us.

Maintain my optimism

I can’t afford to be cynical. I have to maintain my optimism and commitment, even through lazy editing in Tanzanian newspapers, and ulcer-inducing anxiety over Freedom of Expression when it is threatened.

But, yea, you know, it is 2023 — a year that honestly belongs in science fiction, not in real life. Like you, I get most of my news online these days, in small doses, and only when I want it. I have meandered off the path of keeping abreast into the woods of barely knowing what is going on, and it is has been wonderful for my mental health.

And that would have been that, but an energetic young journalist decided to invite me to the launch of the BBC’s Komla Dumor Awards, which took place last week in Dar es Salaam.

Apart from it being the Komla Dumor Award, there was a clear intention to spark some enthusiasm in Tanzanians to apply for the prize.

Observing old journalists encouraging young journalists while enjoying free snacks was just what the doctor ordered.

I watched young master Dingindaba Jonah Buyoya expertly handle a live recording of a show, saw a lot of familiar faces, and got reminded that journalism “is a calling, a vocation.”

Power of a calling

Nothing will kick the stuffing out of your cynicism like understanding the power of a calling, a vocation. There is a largely positive compulsion that drives people into journalism: Most of them are trying to help. They are hopeless romantics with a vision that the work that they do matters, that it can make the world a better place like a Michael Jackson song. So they take their notebooks and their electronics and venture forth to cover stories and bring them back to us in the comfort of our homes and devices.

If you spend any time thinking about it, this is a pretty radical thing to do. And we cannot live this modern life without the people who make it happen. The Komla Dumor Award is about fostering excellent African journalists, and I know exactly why young Tanzanians are hesitant to apply. I was a young Tanzanian once, I know.

They should take heart: If I managed to charm hard-nosed editors in Nairobi into letting me keep this gig, they can certainly conquer Africa, the BBC, and the world news.

We — I — need that from them more than they realise.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email elsieeyakuze@gmail.com

Continue Reading

EDITOR’S PICK

Musings From Abroad10 hours ago

Italian firm, Eni signs $8 billion Libya gas deal as PM Meloni visits Tripoli

With the aim of boosting energy supplies and other markets, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) signed an $8 billion gas...

Sports12 hours ago

Female Kenyan world marathon champion banned for five years over doping

A female Kenyan marathon world champion, Betty Wilson Lempus, has been handed a five year ban after she was found...

VenturesNow12 hours ago

South Africa’s FM, Naledi Pandor, wants quick solution to Ghana, MTN tax dispute

South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor wants the tax dispute between the tech company and the Ghanaian tax authorities solved....

Tech13 hours ago

Angola inaugurates new satellite control centre for ANGOSAT-2

Angola has inaugurated its first satellite control centre with the main task of monitoring the activity of the country’s satellite,...

Metro13 hours ago

M23 rebels take control of Kitshanga in eastern DR Congo

The M23 rebels have announced that its fighters have seized control of the strategic town of Kitshanga, in the Eastern...

Metro14 hours ago

237 African migrants rescued off Libyan coast

Not less than 237 African migrants were on Friday, rescued after their makeshift boat capsized off the Libyan coast while...

Politics14 hours ago

Kenyan opposition leader, Raila Odinga plans protest rallies, questions recruiting at IEBC

As part of the fallout from the 2022 presidential elections in Kenya, the opposition under Azimio La Umoja One Kenya...

Strictly Personal14 hours ago

Umeme, grain and coffee: Why Kenya should fear Uganda’s economic gamble, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Uganda, the 1990s shining Africa poster boy for privatisation, is engaging in what could be East Africa’s biggest economic liberalisation...

Culture15 hours ago

Nigerian singer, Mr. Eazi, expands business empire, buys shares in South African basketball team

Nigerian singer, Mr. Eazi, has expanded his fledgling business empire after he announced that he is now a shareholder in...

VenturesNow1 day ago

Ivory Coast to increase cocoa processing capacity with new plants

Ivory Coast, the largest cocoa-producing country in the world, has hinted that it will increase the amount of cocoa it...

Trending