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Politics Uganda

Andrew Mwenda to Obama: Missing the point…

Who cares about what Obama has to say about us when we’re this deep in trouble? A drowning swimmer really shouldn’t care about the guy on the shore shouting insults at him. He needs to concentrate on saving himself after which he can indulge in counter insults.

Mid-morning yesterday (30th July 2015), I happened to come across a Facebook post (entirely by chance since I hardly spend any time on Facebook nowadays as opposed to Twitter). The post happened to be a video shared by the famous Old Man of the Clan Andrew Mwenda. Forgive me dear reader if you don’t know what the Old Man title means – I also don’t. The video was a short clip about Air Force One. Within the first few seconds of the clip, I was shaking my head at the inaccuracies and wondering why Andrew had chosen to share that particular clip with all the falsehoods therein – right at the start. Two glaring ones were that the plane was specially made for President Obama and that it’s top speed of 630km/h (really? Probably miles per hour) happens to be the average speed of a Formula 1 car. Suffice to say, I stopped right there. After all, with all the coverage of Obama’s visit to Kenya, don’t we all know everything about that particular plane? But it was disturbing to see Andrew, who revels in providing accurate facts and figures about whatever topic he talks about (accompanied of course by a few Socratic sayings), sharing something with such blatant lies. Far more disturbing however, was his accompanying text:

Imagine this was said of a presidential jet of an African president and it would all be: “look how extravagant he is”. For an American president we take all this is right and necessary, don’t we?

Now – I don’t deny that America is flagrantly extravagant and that there is so much to dislike about the ‘Land of the Free’. What I simply don’t understand is why Andrew feels the need to draw comparisons with Africa. The first thought that came to me was “wait a minute – who made that plane? If Boeing is busy selling jets hand over fist, year on year, earning billions of dollars, then just their taxes surely can cover the cost of one of their products (along with all the expensive work required to fortify it). And if that is not enough, then the government of the USA can always top up with taxes from manufacturers like General Dynamics. If you’re Ugandan, you should know these guys. They own a company called Gulfstream Aerospace. They made our President’s jet“. But what was really bugging me was the fact that Andrew seemed to be suggesting that we shouldn’t call out African heads of state for extravagance (and other ills) simply because the Americans tend to behave the same way. In short – two wrongs do make a right – an attitude that completely puzzles me. Anyway, I posted a short comment and turned to other things.

Fast forward some 10 or so hours and an Al-Jazeera article with an eye-catching headline (”Africa to Obama: Mind your own business“) pops up on my Twitter TL. I opened it and was intrigued to see that it had been penned by Andrew. And boy was he on fire! As usual for the web, the comments section was also soon on fire. And then Twitter exploded (sort of) as well. It is easy to see why. Andrew wields a pen the same way I used to wield a table-tennis bat. He does have a way with words and his combative no-holds barred approach endears him to readers (including myself). Liberally quoting facts, figures and ancient Greek philosophers while weaving paragraphs with logic (sometimes deceptive), he appeals to our emotions and biases especially when tackling topics to do with the ‘Evil West’.

In this case however, alas! Inasmuch as he said a lot, just like his Facebook post, he completely missed the point. There’s absolutely no point in telling Obama not to lecture African leaders when, truth be said, the continent’s populace is faced with immense challenges that need solutions TODAY. Worse still, most of these challenges are being worsened, actively or passively, by the political leadership of the various countries on the continent. The same people the POTUS was talking to. Make no mistake – no amount of grandstanding and fiery anti-West rhetoric will hide the fact that we have astonishingly high unemployment figures coupled with an ever-increasing proportion of young citizens, awful public healthcare and educationtragically comic corruptionshockingly lousy infrastructurespineless authorities unable to enforce measures for the public good and extremely despicable politics. In my own country (Uganda), the daily news (print and broadcast media) is often so depressing that most of us have gotten immune to the kind of stuff that would make a grown up man cry. Whenever I travel upcountry, I am shocked by the absolute poverty on display everywhere. Don’t even get me started on issues like the frustrating inability of our police to solve crimes,  annoyingly bureaucratic government procedures and so on. And so Andrew – we really shouldn’t be spending our energy and resources compiling figures that prove the US is less of a democracy than us (by the way – no they really aren’t). We should instead be figuring out how to get out of the deep pit we’re in. Who cares about what Obama has to say about us when we’re this deep in trouble? A drowning swimmer really shouldn’t care about the guy on the shore shouting insults at him. He needs to concentrate on saving himself after which he can indulge in counter insults. At least the US is trying to address some of the issues mentioned in the article. Just before he travelled to Kenya, Obama was outlining steps to try and reduce on his country’s incarceration rates. Who wants to bet against them having comprehensive reforms in that area long before we do anything meaningful to reduce the grand theft of taxpayers’ money here in Uganda?

Incidentally, it is hard to understand why Obama’s speech to the AU attracted Andrew’s ire. If anything, it was pretty mild and I’m sure you’ll find quite a number of Africans agreed with even the ‘lecture’ portions. Which is probably why quite a number of tweeps and commenters wondered why the title was “Africa to Obama…” and not “Mwenda to Obama…”.  And upon examining Andrew’s piece, once can’t help but laugh at the hypocrisy and irony therein. He talks of “Flagrant hypocrisy”, “Dehumanising Africans” & “Lecturing Africans”. For each of these focus areas, one can find examples of the same being meted out on Africans by their leaders. What greater hypocrisy is there than castigating the West but flying there for medical treatment as soon as one catches a cold? Is there greater dehumanization than being treated like this? Or this? And is there any greater lecturer than Andrew himself who takes every opportunity to talk down what he calls the chattering classes and brainwashed elites (true to form, he mentioned them in the Al Jazeera op-ed)? Actually, upon reflection, I’d rather be insulted by a foreigner than my own countryman.

Finally, a word about America. As a scientist with extremely keen interest in all things to do with technology, I am acutely aware that there is something about America that somehow unlocks the creativity in people irrespective of their standing in society. Consider Tesla/Space X, WhatsApp, Sandisk, Yahoo and even Google. All these giant companies were either wholly or jointly founded by first or second generation immigrants. There is no way that governance doesn’t play a role in creating the environment that allows ideas to flourish and become billion dollar enterprises (over and over again). There’s no need to talk about the son of a Kenyan who became President. And so, whether we like it or not, we must accept that the US is better at this governance thing than us. Sometimes, you just have to accept that some people do certain things better than others. That is why you buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee instead of a Great Wall Haval H2.

jeep_gc OR  Haval_H2

And so, when people who are better at certain things than us talk, lets listen and learn from them. Getting worked up and going defensive (or going on a counter-offensive) is certainly not productive and when the Internet dust has settled, the same myriad issues we face will, quite assuredly, still be there. Probably worse.

Ciao.


For another opinion on Andrew’s Al Jazeera piece, please see Nada’s post here. I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiments.

5 replies on “Andrew Mwenda to Obama: Missing the point…”

This piece is riddled with intrigue coupled with blatant, razor sharp analysis and critique of a journalist for who many feel has fallen way off the wagon.This article owes it’s success to the candid revelation about the bloggers subtle but grave disappointment at the deplorable low depths Andrew has sank. It sickens him. And i for one do feel your pain.

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Razor sharp response to what is increasingly becoming an absurd about-turn of the man I once considered the best journalist this land ever produced. I am careful not to take conspiracy theories seriously but surely there must be something behind this man’s palling around the region’s dictators, from being a sober, impartial critic of these strongmen’s governance to an absurdly, intellectually dishonest, mischievous charlatan of an arse-licker ‘analyst’

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Mr. Mwenda, I strongly agree with 95 percent of all you have said in this article and commend you for highlighting them. However, please, realize that even this 95 percent is only infinitesimal of the rape on the African continent by the Western World past and present. Past is understandable, Africa and Africans did not know any better, but PRESENT is where there is the big question mark. Whipping up this Africa-centric-victim syndrome is accepting things as they are (past and present) which I find most disturbing.
Mr. Mwenda you also confuse me with this strange twisted logic that I don’t want to get into here; “The difference between Africa and these nations is that we are poorer in material possessions. But does their present wealth imply better governance?”

You also noted and rightly so that, “But it is also because we(sic) African elites(sic) have internalised the ideology of our conquerors that presents us as inferior, inadequate, and incapable of self-government.” This is where the critical 5 percent fall. When there is a revolution that transforms African nations into autopilot-mode; i.e, when Africans think African, develop their nations by themselves and with their resources, close all borders of the continent for about 30 years working for the good of the majority or all of its citizenry then the malaise and perceptions of Africa as you rightly mention here will change to the extent that the conditions of African Americans will indirectly change. If Africans are not respectable in Africa, why should African Americans be respected? ‘As you make your bed, so you lay on it.’ African nations cannot and should not be stuck on a colonized-victimized syndrome into perpetuity and continue on this blame-game when they deny themselves the power to take full autonomy of the political, economic, social, and legal machineries of governance.
Mr. Mwenda, I think you took some very low blows at our president to the extent I wonder how much of him you know to dole out such diatribe. President Obama is such a noble human being and way above the sickening impression you want to give the African population and the world. You noted;” In his speech to the African Union … Obama acted like a colonial headman lecturing the natives on how to behave as good subjects….Yet behind Obama’s seeming concern for our good lies the social contempt he holds us in.” Again, you note; ‘Contrary to Obama’s self-appointed role as the secular priest of good governance, Africans fight for more freedom, democracy, and clean government daily.’ These statements are way beyond pale I wonder the motives. The president has had worse. So, this is nothing.
President Obama is of African heritage, like all African Americans, but he is NOT African. He didn’t even have to go to Africa. He did not go to Africa to grandstand the African heads of state or Africans. He does care about people a lot and what about those he can trace his genes from?

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Wait your a scientist? Your a pretty good analyst for my typical idea of scientists.
You probably don’t wear huge spects too.
Anyway good job countering Mwenda’s defensive speech he had me for a minute especially when he played the racism card & then I realized back here in political black hole that is our country we have way bigger problems than some fancy guy’s take on what America is doing wrong.
Thank you I needed a scientist’s perspective!!

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I agree Andrew Mwenda is missing a point here and I believe he was not using his mind but rather he was on commercial trying to make more money for himself by trying to cover up our problems!! You see this is where the level of corruption has reached on our continent!! We have careful and vigillant. Andrew is no a journalist we once imagined but rather he has fallen and to the wrong side and as such he has become an instrument used by wrong elements. Just be ware!!

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