Response to Mr David Mafabi’s article titled, “ideological confusion”

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By Odrek Rwabwogo

One of my weekly installments in the ideology and mentorship column in the New Vision seems to have drawn the ire of Mr. Mafabi who chose to pull his pen out and vehemently object. This is as well that those who should lead these matters by virtue of their deployment or perhaps even conviction but quite often choose silence, are finally speaking. I am also glad that this might begin a debate for our generation over the interpretation of the elements and key adaptations of the Movement ideology through the changing seasons. Mr. Mafabi adds his voice to this debate and I welcome it.

Here are some corrections I would like to make in regard to what he posited:

“Rwabwogo’s article contributes to ideological confusion and is a study in eclecticism”.

There is a tendency to see the ideology of an organization as ONLY growing organically and to vehemently object to other ways in which one can improve and adapt it to the changing times. For many organizations that don’t overcome this dogmatic thinking, they have deep trouble growing beyond the founders. ‘Eclecticism’ (a tendency to borrow from various styles, thoughts and traditions) for which Mafabi accuses me, is actually the natural way ideas in an organization or nation grow and later discarded, if necessary, if they don’t measure up to the needs of society. For example Architecture, psychology, medicine and governance ideas are all eclectic. Let me explain:

The Mesopotamian kingdom around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (present day Iraq) built the first roads in 4500BC. The Romans, centuries later, picked the idea and built excellent cobbled roads we still see in Rome, parts of Greece and France and in 1820, John McAdam, a Scottish engineer, pioneered stone crushing and compaction for firmer roads. By 1870 with the discovery and drilling of the first oil well in Texas in 1859, an American professor invented the use of asphalt. A few years ago in Uganda, Dr. Bagampadde of Makerere university devised a new method; that of solidifying ant saliva and using it to make roads that last 30 years or more, a much higher proposition for a country that spends billions on the road infrastructure that collapses within 15 years.

Would you say that the development of the road making idea is wrong and humanity shouldn’t borrow from each other to solve our problems? Many years ago, scientists told us that if someone is sick, doctors should bleed them so that less blood in the body will help a patient recover. Today we know that this wasn’t right and caused a lot of death. We instead do blood transfusion. We put blood in the body instead of draining it. Is it bad to learn from others or circumstances and experiences to improve our thinking and behavior?

If you agree that learning and gelling ideas is a fine tradition, you need to know that the Movement Ideology too is partly eclectic. Our theory of fighting a protracted guerrilla warfare and working with peasants in the bush was largely adopted from Mao Zedong, our tools of analysis of the laws of social motion were learned, adapted and developed from Karl Marx and other philosophers of his time, our practice of teaching the common person to use a weapon was formed and tested in Frelimo’s liberated zones in Mozambique and since 1987, we have adjusted progressively to suit the political and economic demands of the time.

If it weren’t for this, would we have changed from a Movement system, even if this was largely in form not substance, to the multi-party system? A life well lived whether that of an individual or an organization, in my opinion, is eclectic and we should not be ashamed of saying this especially if we strike from firm principles such as those core to the Movement (Democracy, Nationalism, Panafricanism, Social economic transformation). We have borrowed and have remained flexible in order to be something to everyone and to be understood by all so as to govern and grow the country.

“Rwabwogo doesn’t specify the historical epoch. The mercantilist epoch was predatory and rapacious and the basis of construction of democratic institutions”

I am not sure that the lack of naming the period takes away the principle embedded in the argument. Yes, the mercantilist epoch was bad but I also know that there are nations that have used it in a rather commercial and competitive way without necessarily launching a war and pillaging in the 20th century and achieved immense success.

I think we should desist from picking only the negativity in a situation simply to justify our position. We need some rounded intellectual honesty if we have to face our problems and find solutions to them. Just to clarify for those who might lose meaning in the translation, Mercantilist behavior in simple terms, means taking raw materials from one country and processing at home and thereafter export back to that country where the raw material came from, your finished products. This is what colonialism was about; source the raw material for your industry and secure a protected market for your goods. Mercantilism also means imposing high taxes on export of raw materials from your country and giving huge export incentives for finished products out of your country. This gives a country a favorable balance of trade.

You can accuse Japan for the brief of occupation of China in the 1890s or her role in Korea, Burma etc but you can’t get away from the fact that South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, or even Japan in large respects in the last 40 years, focused their companies on importing raw materials in post war years and building local processing and export capacity that has built their ascent out of poverty.

Yes, we were invaded in Africa but so were many of these nations. Their ability to rapidly heal and use all their civil service commitment, business community acumen, discipline and institutions to compete for a top place in the world, simply takes the wind out of many of our arguments about our history and our nation building exercises in Africa. So, while we can be cynical in our approach to studying mercantilism and how it was bad, clearly we have a self inflicted black eye that we got to face and treat. How come others make good out of a bad situation pretty quickly (go visit Vietnam and see) and we make a lot more excuses for our people and our weaknesses?

“The Ugandan ruling class was an appendage of Managers of the enclave economy”

 

I don’t think in any way in my article I alluded to this not being a fact. I think rather than expand his view, Mr. Mafabi simply took a little thread out of my broader argument and made a case for this narrow prism that he wanted his readers to see through.

 

My broader argument was that if you take the three classes of the French society in 1789 as your starting point of analysis, you will notice how modern day ruling classes in Europe emerged. The French society on the eve of the revolution had the Clergy at the top of the food chain who owned monasteries and, therefore, controlled the transmission of knowledge. They paid no tax. These were followed in importance by the Nobles who sat both at the King’s court and in the provinces and extracted food, money and youth conscription into the army from the third class- the peasants and generally the commoners, who were highly taxed. The nobles too paid no tax.

Tucked away in the third category along with peasants and commoners at the bottom of society, was a rapidly growing segment of the French society feared and hated in equal measure by the establishment because of their influence, capital and knowledge. These were the emerging bourgeoisie class- the artisans, merchants, lawyers, doctors, etc who also bore the burden of tax and bribes to be able to trade. It is this last group that mobilized the peasants and other classes along the ideas of ‘Egalite, fraternite and Liberte’ to rebel against the status quo. It is these who eventually owned capital and the means of production, employing millions of workers flocking into cities from rural areas and eventually destroyed the privileged aristocratic classes of Europe replacing them with a new ruling elite that they (the haute bourgeoisie- bankers, industrialists etc) had immeasurable influence over.

I hope Mr. Mafabi knows that in the Agricultural age, land was the main raw material and those who owned large chunks of it, had power and influence; in the Industrial Age, Iron became the raw material and those with capital, factories and goods, led the charge in power relations. Today, those who own and control big data, one of the biggest tools to determine the treatment of today and tomorrow’s diseases, our food, education, science will have power in this and the centuries to come.

It is, therefore, always the struggle between the owners of the means of production and those who they employ, that eventually shapes power relations in society, produces compacts on which to base governance and allows or disallows those who become rulers.

My question was: Where do you place African countries that collapsed when the “appendages of managers of the enclave economy” as Mafabi put it, failed?

My argument was that the emergence of the ruling classes in these post-colonial nations was irregular, inorganic, not negotiated based on any economic or class stimuli and thus was prone to conflicts based on parochial and vertical interests (tribe and religion) and; those who won these conflicts and restored order, tend to become institutions in themselves and it behoves all societies that want to continue growing and answering the questions of tomorrow, to have a transparent debate about internal democracy of the institutions chiseled out of conflicts in a fragile society.

It this assessment Mr. Mafabi missed to pronounce himself on and instead focused on definitions of terminologies and he search for historical dates and their accuracy. While I acknowledge terminologies are important, they don’t dim the importance of the underlying principle of my argument.

“The state is always an instrument of the economically dominant class”

Certainly, no doubt about this but what point is being made here? What light is Mr. Mafabi shining here for those who want to find meaning? I thought Mr. Mafabi would acknowledge that a modern state derives and can only keep its coercive power from among other things, those it is able to tax in order to spend on that society in areas such as defense, education, health, technology etc. In fact a modern State’s capability to enforce tax compliance shows its ability to govern and its broad acceptability. It goes without saying, therefore, under normal circumstances, that those it taxes can and should hold it accountable or change the leadership of the state and alter its institutions if they like, its being “an instrument of the dominant economic class” characteristic not withstanding.

Fukuyama’s works is Neo- liberalist orthodoxy

I think this is another area that perhaps Mr. Mafabi wanted more to prove he has read Fukuyama’s work and less to challenge my argument. Just for the reader’s clarity: I used Fukuyama’s quote in my article in the context of his (Fukuyama) admiration of the performance of the strong Singaporean leadership and its state that gets things done even if this isn’t fully the traditional western liberal values it runs on. I didn’t use it in any way to deny the fact of Fukuyama belonging to the western chest thumping triumphalism school.

“There is a clear developmental framework in place going beyond recovery, construction and take off”

We have a major challenge here with Mr. Mafabi’s position but I think he needs to be forgiven, given that he might be speaking from a theoretical, hands-off perspective and yet my own approach to the matters of economy are real life scenarios based on day to day constraints we face in the private sector from production, to processing and marketing of the country’s products.

Let me give the reader just one example. In the last election campaign, the Movement government made a commitment to double the amount of exports in the next five years from USD3.2bn to at least USD6bn so as to help transit to middle income country status. To achieve this, we posted a requirement for additional capacity of USD300m from Milk, Rice USD376m, USD190m from Tea, USD2bn from coffee exporting 16m bags etc. The Ugandan milk market is just about less than one third of the Nigerian one, the latter at about USD1bn largely supplied by Western Europe. For UGANDA to supply this market, one must reduce the cost of air flight of cargo currently at an average of USD1.5 per kilo. In the current set up of the ministries of Finance, trade, works and foreign affairs, there is no export infrastructure, no uniform command centre organized in any way to support firms trying to export. We just have silos of ministries and departments disconnected from the most important agenda of the country. Yet for every business that attempts export, therein lies seeds of innovation, getting into the global value chains etc.

And the world is not short of examples on how to circumvent these problems and bring significant thinking in this area but there is no place to deliver this advise and it is effectively consumed.

So when someone says there is a “development framework for take off” I feel that they are simply either walking on egg shells trying to not offend anyone and so they choose jargon over truth or they perhaps are disconnected from what a country needs to transit to a new level of competitiveness or they suffer from both strains of the disease that cause induced blindness.

” There is ENOUGH internal democracy in the NRM”

 

I prefer not to stork more fires on this point but i am not sure Mr. Mafabi reflected on the use of the term ‘Enough’ in his text. There isn’t and shouldn’t be such a word immediately following the word ‘democracy’ because there can’t be a position of “enough” in the field of expanding the frontiers of debate, human freedoms and democracy in any institution in any country.

Humanity should be allowed to continue challenging itself to get to the best of worlds.

“Some of the more youthful echelons have started confusing biology with ideology”

I sincerely hope that this allusion to ‘biology being confused with ideology’ isn’t meant for me.

At 47 and my own worldview from when I was a university student some 23 years ago, looks down on judgments about people based on age, origins, money, looks, religion, names, Colour, relations, friends or any other shallow externalities that people use to pass sentence on others.

It isn’t just simply repugnant to me but such a waste to put any man or woman’s purpose on earth on such fleeting externalities as these.

Human beings are more than what their age or political inclination is.

Thank you.

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