Dear Andrew Mwenda

Dear Andrew M Mwenda,

 

You have become the news itself in recent times in a very interesting way. You constantly talk of intellectual engagement and debate in a way that restores hope for those who stop at listening to you, and ignore what your detractors say. I am one of those who love reading a well-reasoned argument and I have enjoyed reading those from you. I have of course also enjoyed reading and listening to your chest-thumping jokes, like the 2005 one, where you called Museveni a villager and called yourself a better President, and a security expert. Most recently, I loved your assertion of self-definition. You are Andrew Mwenda’s version of Andrew Mwenda, not what your fans and detractors perceive you as. Admirable.

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Andrew Mujuni Mwenda is Founder of The Independent magazine – Photo byJeniffer Cheung, taken at Yale University 

So, what is my problem? Why am I writing to you? I seek knowledge. I come to you for some elucidation on some things you have been saying/writing in recent times. The talk about occupying ‘intellectual’ spaces. The ‘worship’ of everything Socrates, (maybe even his fart?).

 

One of my friends Aaron Aroriza questions what it means to be an intellectual (while disqualifying himself from the tribe of intellectuals). I know that this is an old debate, and a definition may not suffice soon. But what do you mean Andrew, when you refer to ‘intellectual spaces? What context are you thinking of? In a European/American context, the debate is a non-starter. Those spaces are clearly demarcated. Capitalism has appropriated them to sustain its unsustainable non-human self. This is why you are ranked among the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy etc. As you know, Daily Monitor, or even your own The Independent does not have such rankings for Uganda’s thinkers, or the Global Thinkers for that matter. So, when you speak of intellectual spaces, do you want to define Uganda’s media space as such?

 

I do not want to offer the universities and other academic institutions as the closest we can come to finding Western intellectual spaces in Uganda. I assume that you and I agree that Makerere’s ambition of not becoming herself, but a Harvard of Africa (a duplicate of sorts) is misguided and very sad. This is what brings me to your fanatic worship of Socrates. I agree with some of the notions that the man espoused. Indeed, because of the education I have received, the Athens of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates is attractive. But is it good for me? Is it good for the Ugandan context? Is it even relevant?

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 is Mwenda becoming a Ugandan Socrates? 

I want to refer back to your views about the ‘Development’ of Kampala as a city. You have been full of praises for Jennifer Musisi’s policies of ‘developing’ the city. I call this phenomenon the New-Yorkisation of Kampala. I do not want to go into the colonial mindset, the civilise those who are not like you way of thinking. Turn everyone in the world into a shadow of yourself. Define development as the Westernisation of the world. I once read from Charles Onyango-Obbo, that Kampala may have a poor sewerage system because we have small pipes, meant for light White pupu, yet our people eat very organic and heavy foods thus their waste is too much for the small European pipes!

Andrew, when you refer to intellectual spaces, do you think of the thinker who knows that Socratic ideals may not be relevant to them and their society and thus have evolved their own ideals, which do not earn them a Foreign Policy Thinker ranking? Do you think your Batooro ancestors did not develop models of thinking? Do you think their organisation of society was thoughtless? I assume that you actually hold your ancestors’ philosophy and knowledge in high regard (my assumptions may be contradictory though). When you go to rural Tooro, do you see traces of ancestral philosophy, and organisation of society at play?

 

I will tell you of the Kiga. Whenever I go to Nyanja, where I grew up, I see things that have been written in books about the Kiga of old, still alive in how society is organised there. I have argued elsewhere that the success of the Local Council courts in our communities is due to the similarities these courts have to ancient justice systems, like the one the Kiga enforced. My thesis is that defilement, robbery and other cases are most likely to end up at the LC 1 court, because the courts espouse an idea of justice closer to the people’s philosophy than what the so-called ‘formal’ courts enforce. Of course the formal system came by force, let us call it the European system, and so did the education system, and indeed did Socratic ideals. The superiority undertones of these culturally specific systems could not allow them to see the humanity in the systems that the colonised organised themselves under.

 

Today, we see communities that still live by the systems and philosophies we have ignored or written off. They have evolved of course, but they have not turned into ugly imitations, mimicry of Western societies. We however pretend not to see them. The post-colonial state built on European ideology, and irrelevant to majority of its citizens works for the interest of those who created it. Not the Batooro, nor the Bakiga. Whenever the state makes a policy that is a little similar to our people’s philosophy, the policy works, even when the World Bank and other implementers of Euro-American hegemony oppose it. The LC justice system is the typical example. Andrew, does the intellectual space you refer to fit the society you live in? Does it even exist? Is it worthwhile, to create it?

 

I know that many are quick to label those they do not agree with as pseudo-intellectuals, so I will deliberately not say what I do for a living, because such titles are probably what blocks an important discussion we should have about our contemporary African society. You may not reply my letter Andrew, but I beg that you think about it. I trust my elder brother Simon Kasyate to remind you to look at it.

 

Yours sincerely;

BBM (also known as Furayide)

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27 thoughts on “Dear Andrew Mwenda

    • Dear Furayide, I find yo piece quiet an interesting one, & yo panafrican sentiments quite challenging.
      Yet I fear that in a bid to rethink our priorities and history as an African people, our passions my sometimes compromise our own assessment of the problem and make us accuse the wrong people and propose wrong solutions.
      For starters, I dont thnk that Andrew shd carry de cross of our stagnation as an African people, bse he has succeded in a field where the rules of de game are set and enforced by foreigners.
      If anythng, Andrew shd be hailed 4 reaching de peak in his field while bullying and beating the originaters at their own game. This infact is de Afn Prowess.

      The second Notion I beg 2 arrest is the insinuation that by being an avid admirer of Socrates, Andrew is falling prey to Western machinations and indoctrinations.
      With de utmost respect, I thnk yo passionate sentiments against de west and their ideals are threatening 2 cloud yo otherwise commendable intelligence, & barr u from clear analysis.

      First, it is not true that Socrates’ views, questioning, & analysis are western formented. Any attempt to rank them so is infact an unconscious admission that anyone and any view that is superior is rooted in the worst.

      There are Universal ideals, wisdom & intelligence that is rooted in the finest of men irrespective of their origin and colour. Socrates was such a man. such men as him, Plato and other reknown thinkers ought 2 be admired by humanity, irrespective of their location on the globe. Infact, any attempt 2 westernise their views shd be resisted with de viciousness it deserves.

      Finally I think What we shd ask from pipo like Mwenda is for them to use their intelligence and to spur the renaissance of African thought to do an a thorough study of The Afn society, its historical set up and ideals, if we wish to develop and do justice to our own history and attempt to advance.

      Otherwise, any attempt 2 demonise them is self defeating and an exercise in futility

  1. For quite a distance I was coming nicely along with you, as I share the opinion that Mwenda tends to frame his critical take on Ugandan (African) socio-political dynamics almost entirely in the Adam Smith tradition. However, you lost me when you reverted to the rather tedious romanticization of “our glorious past” and heritage. While I am bothered by the paucity of originality and meaningful divergences in our critical theory on social development, I am appalled by any suggestion for recourse to the philosophy of our forefathers. Their ideas, leave alone solutions, may not work for us today, simply because we are a different society. We are, unfortunately, as Achebe puts it, “beasts of no nation” because of the history of colonialism and imported/imposed technological advances. Our society has not evolved “naturally” such that it can continue steadfastly building on the heritage and philosophy of our ancients. There was rupture, a social big bang; what has resulted is a society with its own identity, not African in the traditional sense, not western either.

    I am persuaded that the “intellectual spaces” that need occupying in our context exist somewhere in the settling dust resulting from the confrontation between western thought, culture and technology and African (if we can find an average of it) reality.

    It is also disingenuous to advocate, however indirectly, the rejection of western civilisation model. First, because it is not race/culture specific. There is always something universally human in all cultures and there are many aspects of “European civilisation” that are decidedly African. Second, that it has gained world dominance may be because it has worked better than other models; human being are rational, you know. Thirdly, imitation does not necessarily result in “ugliness” and may not be worse than reinventing the wheel. The orients have perfected the system of copy, adapt and improve in their development model; they are not any worse off than us who frown at imitation as “mimicry”.

    To end with a Maoist (our Mao) image, it is better to copy and adapt a swimming costume than continue labouring in a tunic because that is how our people have always done it.

    • Maen, when you describe a contemporary idea of justice as ‘rather tedious romanticization of “our glorious past” and heritage’, I wonder what you think is Africa or Uganda today. I associate indeed, with the beasts of no nation, us who have been disoriented, us who aspire towards Western approval, but are we the majority? Do we use Local council courts for example? One of the effects of colonialism was to alienate the thoroughly colonised from those who do not lose everything. Thus, if I have a land wrangle with a neighbour, I will run to the corrupt western justice system, my relatives in Nyanja run to the Local council system. This system did not exist in the 1800s. It was brought by the NRM. Probably unknown to the NRM (who used it to mobilise resistance than dispense justice), they had built a system in touch with the philosophy of majority of the people. Todate, lawyers argue about the constitutionality of local council courts, while they work. Why do they work? How do we measure what works and what does not? Can we measure this system by western standards, masquerading as universal standards? You give an interesting example of the Orients. You conveniently forget how much of their development is based on their civilisation. The reason Chinese is now being studied in many countries, and considered essential for success in business. You think Ugandans speaking English will ever be more attractive business partners than the English? The world is looking for something it does not have already. It is not looking for mass mimicry. It is looking for originality. Not copy and paste. And if we look closely, the Orients are not merely copying and pasting, otherwise, they would be running KFC businesses in Kampala, than the Chinese restaurants sprouting.

  2. Thanks BBM.. well thought out letter to my good friend Andrew.. sometym back was pushed to refer to Andrew as “an African intellectual disgrace” for westernising his arguments…

    • Thanks for reading Ejibua. This is a discussion I feel all of us should have. Of course not to forget that Western ideas informed, justified and sustained colonialism and slavery – the same ideas we are told will liberate us.

  3. Your comment Maena is everything I wanted to say about this post. Thank you.

    Africans need to stop being proud and admit that our system is not working. The evidence is all around us. Get off that high horse.

    • Tinansubuga, I have given you an example, of where an African idea of justice is working, the Local council courts system. I appreciate if you deconstruct this example and show how unworkeable it is, compared to the western-type courts we have in Uganda. Thanks for reading.

  4. @Maena M: I really like the way you have put it, perhaps your rejoinder is rather thoughtful and logical than furayide! Let me try not to jump to any body’s defense but make sense of what ones “intellectual space” is and is not. First, i don’t think its fair to build your rebuttal around what you can’t explain or something next to emotions: that explains why this particular this entry is just spurious!
    Put simply, “Intellectual space” is a personal, innate “thing” just like one Furayide thinks and knows they are “capable of knowing” anything related to say, Mwenda, Finance, Sociology etc and are therefore capable of making logical commentary about that area. Iit has nothing to do with geography as you claim of “western intellectual spaces” rather a doctrine of knowledge. From an epistemological basis It has nothing to do with intelligence or personality rather the conditioning + ones ability to demonstrate that “they know” and stand by “what they know”. Mwenda, has on the big part done that well, atleast with some “facts” and honestly you don’t demonstrate any valid arguments why “New-Yorkisation of Kampala” doesn’t make sense for Kampalans or “Western” philosophy thinking is bad for pan-african discourse.
    Second and some sort of advice; your blog can be your brand, please don’t kill it by discussing emotions.

    Good morning 🙂

  5. Dear Writer this is a very comprehensive and interesting letter to Andrew. I would be brave to attempt filling Andrew’s shoes for a second.. what ever he really meant by intellectual spaces ? it is still a myth. Is Muwenda becoming Uganda’s Socrates? That is an exaggeration i would say no.. one can claim to be the best thinker but it finally goes down to reasoning . your questions are clearly calling for that. No matter how much we adopt from the writings of the likes of the Socrates’ of this world i still believe there is a lot of philosophy hidden in our cultural setup and way of doing things.. you have given a good example of the Lc. perfect.. so can we integrate the philosophy we adopt from writings into our cultures? in other wards can we make our own version of philosophy ? i am compelled to speculate that by the term “intellectual spaces” Andrew was more inclined to a western version than our own version. in other wards its a good call but in a wrong set up.. i keep asking my self why is man under utilizing his HUMAN MACHINE?

  6. Great there are still people out there who believe for Uganda to develop, it has to go back to its roots before thinking of what to borrow. Until we come up with our own development model like what South Korea, China, etc have done, I doubt if we can achieve a lot with copy and paste. I love ethno music (also known as world music) for the fact that it respects your come from before spreading its hands to borrow something from the rest of the world.

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