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Corruption and the Two Publics: An Address That Will Not Be Given at the Anti-Corruption Convention

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For the African bourgeoisie, the problem has always been subverting the civic sphere to feed the primordial sphere – the realm of the tribe, the cosa nostra that fuels the stealing in the first place. It made sense, was maybe even transgressive, as long as taxpayers money remained a colonial resource to which you were shut out. But the mbeberu is long gone. The taxes are ours. How can we continue to argue that theft is a revolutionary act, not a zero-sum game? By DAVID NDII.

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Corruption and the Two Publics: An Address That Will Not Be Given at the Anti-Corruption Convention
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All protocols observed. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, you are gathered here today to discuss corruption. I can say without fear of contradiction that this a subject that this gathering is imminently qualified to discuss. In fact, it is conceivable that a gathering of people as knowledgeable as you are in matters of corruption is unprecedented in world history. The scions of crony capitalism are here. The lords of the land grabbing establishment are here. The dons of the tenderpreneur mafia are here. The money laundering fraternity— the lawyers, the accountants, the bankers, property moguls—you are all here.

My good friend and anti-corruption guru John Githongo has opined that we have, over the last two decades, assembled one of the most elaborate legal and institutional anti-corruption infrastructures in the world. It has made no difference at all. Corruption has continued to flourish. Nations renowned for honest government, such as the Scandinavian countries, are not distinguished by anti-corruption infrastructure. The normal accountability institutions —auditors, parliament, police and the courts—are sufficient. To borrow from computing, corruption is quite evidently not a hardware problem. It is the software that is corrupted.

The Oxford dictionary has four definitions of corruption, namely dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power; the process or effect of making someone or something morally depraved; the process by which a word or expression is changed from its original state to one regarded as erroneous or debased, and; the process by which a computer database becomes debased by alteration or the introduction of errors.

I suspect that in this convention your deliberations will be largely if not exclusively concerned with the first of these, namely, dishonest and fraudulent conduct, steering clear of election fraud, nepotism, debasement of the national honours system, corruption of harambee and much more. I need not dwell on   the same since, as I have already observed, you are knowledgeable and experienced in those matters.

In this address, I will speak to the broader conception, namely to the process of alteration or debasement, or to borrow from the computer analogy, the corruption of software. I will do so by expounding on a theory of African politics due to Nigerian scholar Peter Ekeh known as the theory of the “two publics”. I will be quoting extensively from his paper Colonialism and the Two Publics in Africa: A theoretical statement published in the 1975 issue of the journal Comparative Studies in Society and History.

Ekeh begins with the proposition that in western societies, the public and private spheres are governed by the same moral values and ethical norms: “what is considered morally wrong in the private realm is also considered morally wrong in the public realm [and] what is considered morally right in the private realm is also considered morally right in the public realm.”

He proceeds to postulate that in post-colonial Africa there are two public spheres. There is the conventional public sphere which he calls the “civic or state” sphere, and another which he calls the “primordial” sphere. He then postulates that the private and the primordial public spheres share a morality that does not extend to the state public sphere:

“When one moves across Western society to Africa, at least, one sees that the total extension of the Western conception of politics in terms of a monolithic public realm morally bound to the private realm can only be made at conceptual and theoretical peril. There is a private realm in Africa. But this private realm is differentially associated with the public realm in terms of morality. In fact there are two public realms in post-colonial Africa, with different types of moral linkages to the private realm. At one level is the public realm in which primordial groupings, ties, and sentiments influence and determine the individual’s public behavior. I shall call this the primordial public because it is closely identified with primordial groupings, sentiments, and activities, which nevertheless impinge on the public interest. The primordial public is moral and operates on the same moral imperatives as the private realm. On the other hand, there is a public realm which is historically associated with the colonial administration and which has become identified with popular politics in post-colonial Africa. It is based on civil structures: the military, the civil service, the police, etc. Its chief characteristic is that it has no moral linkages with the private realm. I shall call this the civic public. The civic public in Africa is amoral and lacks the generalized moral imperatives operative in the private realm and in the primordial public.”

In western societies, the public and private spheres are governed by the same moral values and ethical norms: “what is considered morally wrong in the private realm is also considered morally wrong in the public realm [and] what is considered morally right in the private realm is also considered morally right in the public realm.”

Allow me to illustrate. Every day Kenyans gather to organize weddings and funerals. They contribute money. They form committees, and appoint treasurers to keep the money. This money is seldom if ever stolen. We do not hear that a funeral or wedding did not take place because the treasurer took off with the money. Once the mission is accomplished a final meeting is convened to “break the committee.” The treasurer presents his or her report. If there is a surplus, it is donated to the bereaved or the couple as the case may be. If there are debts, the committee deliberates on how to settle them. There are no laws governing these undertakings. Increasingly, in urban settings, the activities are multiethnic thus we cannot say they are governed by tribal law. This is the primordial public—scrupulously honest and conscientious. This in the country with arguably the most corrupt states in the world. Same people.

You see, the state realm was a colonial imposition. It divided Africans broadly into those who resisted, and those who embraced it. Moral values do not apply in the sphere of oppression. The same applies to those who embraced it. Theirs was opportunism. They were motivated primarily by material gain. Both united in subverting it but for different reasons, as Ekeh explains:

“The African who evaded his tax was a hero; the African labourer who beat up his whjte employer was given extensive coverage in newspapers. In general, the African bourgeois class, in and out of politics, encouraged the common man to shirk his duties to the government or else to define them as burdens; in the same breath he was encouraged to demand his rights. Such strategy, one must repeat, was a necessary sabotage against alien personnel whom the African bourgeois class wanted to replace.”

The state realm was a colonial imposition. It divided Africans broadly into those who resisted, and those who embraced it. Moral values do not apply in the sphere of oppression. The same applies to those who embraced it. Theirs was opportunism. They were motivated primarily by material gain. Both united in subverting it but for different reasons…

Now that the African bourgeoisie has made an appearance, it is opportune to elaborate on it. A bourgeoisie is a capitalist class. In Europe, the bourgeoisie is the social class which emerged both as cause and consequence of the industrial revolution and capitalist development.

“In the course of colonization a new bourgeois class emerged in Africa composed of Africans who acquired Western education in the hands of the colonizers, and their missionary collaborators, and who accordingly were the most exposed to European colonial ideologies of all groups of Africans. Although native to Africa, the African bourgeois class depends on colonialism for its legitimacy. It accepts the principles implicit in colonialism but it rejects the foreign personnel that ruled Africa. It claims to be competent enough to rule, but it has no traditional legitimacy. In order to replace the colonizers and rule its own people it has invented a number of interest-begotten theories to justify that rule. I shall call the ideologies advanced by this new emergent bourgeois class in Africa the African bourgeois ideologies of legitimation.”

The bourgeoisie is associated with wealth creation and materialism.

The African bourgeoisie’s legitimising ideology is, I think, encapsulated by that ubiquitous political mantra “maendeleo.” Maendeleo is not development. Literary, maendeleo is to get rid of backwardness, to become modern. To drink busaa and chang’aa is not maendeleo. Beer and whisky is maendeleo. The maendeleo ideology is what Chinua Achebe characterizes as a “cargo cult mentality,” a “tendency among the ruling elite to live in a world of make-believe and unrealistic expectations”.

Ekeh has introduced another important concept that needs a remark or two, and this is the idea of legitimation. Legitimation is the process of making something morally acceptable to society. Legitimation is also about assuaging one’s conscience that there is a just cause behind unjust things. The legitimation of colonialism entailed presenting it as a civilizing mission, casting African ways as barbaric and backward, and Christianity and westernization as progress, bringing light to the heart of darkness. The African bourgeoisie’s predicament can be put as follows. It lacked the leadership credentials in the primordial public sphere—that belonged to the traditional rulers who colonialism had emasculated. Its power and comfort zone was in the state public—the amoral domain of oppression. How to square this circle?:

“Anti-colonialism did not in fact mean opposition to the perceived ideals and principles of Western institutions. On the contrary, a great deal of anti-colonialism was predicated on the manifest acceptance of these ideals and principles, accompanied by the insistence that conformity with them indicated a level of achievement that ought to earn the new educated Africans the right to the leadership of their country. Ultimately, the source of legitimacy for the new African leadership has become alien. Anti-colonialism was against alien colonial personnel but glaringly pro foreign ideals and principles.”

The African bourgeoisie’s legitimising ideology is, I think, encapsulated by that ubiquitous political mantra “maendeleo.” Maendeleo is not development. Literary, maendeleo is to get rid of backwardness, to become modern. To drink busaa and chang’aa is not maendeleo. Beer and whisky is maendeleo. The maendeleo ideology is what Chinua Achebe characterizes as a “cargo cult mentality,” a “tendency among the ruling elite to live in a world of make-believe and unrealistic expectations.”

Maendeleo ideology was and in many ways remains a fig leaf to cover the political nakedness of the African bourgeoisie, its inability to provide leadership on foundational questions of nation-building, among them how to transform the amoral state public sphere into an authentic values-based governance realm. To ask these questions was, still is, to become an enemy of maendeleo. To persist was, still is, to invite repercussions. There is perhaps no better specimen of the moral and intellectual crisis of the post-colonial African bourgeoisie than the ideological, political and economic incoherence of the (in)famous Sessional Paper No.10 of 1965 (African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya).

Let us now consider the dialectics of the two publics. Dialectics simply means logic, or the process of reasoned inquiry. This will lead us directly into the subject of corruption.

On Friday you are hobnobbing with diplomats showing off your western sophistication, next day, you are being installed as a tribal elder adorned in monkey skins and porcupine quills Come Sunday, you are a suited picture of Christian piety buying indulgencies with money stolen from poor people. You are restless, troubled souls. This is what Ekeh means by psychic turbulence.

“Most educated Africans are citizens of two publics in the same society. The dialectical tensions and confrontations between these two publics constitute the uniqueness of modern African politics. A good citizen of the primordial public gives out and asks for nothing in return; a lucky citizen of the civic public gains from the civic public but enjoys escaping giving anything in return whenever he can. But such a lucky man would not be a good man were he to channel all his lucky gains to his private purse. He will only continue to be a good man if he channels part of the largesse from the civic public to the primordial public. That is the logic of the dialectics. The unwritten law of the dialectics is that it is legitimate to rob the civic public in order to strengthen the primordial public. (my emphasis)

Ekeh again:

“The native sector has become a primordial reservoir of moral obligations, a public entity which one works to preserve and benefit. The Westernized sector has become an amoral civic public from which one seeks to gain, if possible, in order to benefit the moral primordial public. Although the African gives materially as part of his duties to the primordial public, what he gains back is not material. He gains back intangible, immaterial benefits in the form of identity or psychological security. The pressure of modern life takes its toll in intangible ways. Behind the serenity and elegance of deportment that come with education and high office lie waves of psychic turbulence—not least of which are widespread and growing beliefs in supernatural magical powers. The primordial public is fed from this turbulence.”

I would like to believe that you recognize this description. Let me illustrate. On Friday you are hobnobbing with diplomats showing off your western sophistication, next day, you are being installed as a tribal elder adorned in monkey skins and porcupine quills Come Sunday, you are a suited picture of Christian piety buying indulgencies with money stolen from poor people. You are restless, troubled souls. This is what Ekeh means by psychic turbulence.

Corruption is a sine qua non of the post-colonial African State. You, ladies and gentlemen, are its handmaidens. Its unwritten law is that it is legitimate to rob the civic public in order to strengthen the primordial public. Until this law is repealed, so it will remain.

This then is the pathology of corruption. Corruption is a sine qua non of the post-colonial African State. You, ladies and gentlemen, are its handmaidens. Its unwritten law is that it is legitimate to rob the civic public in order to strengthen the primordial public. Until this law is repealed, so it will remain.

David Ndii
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David Ndii is a leading Kenyan economist and public intellectual.

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What Kenyans Have Always Wanted is to Limit the Powers of the Executive

As Kenya’s political class considers expanding the executive branch of government, no one seems to be talking about restricting its powers.

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The tyranny of numbers, a phrase first applied to Kenyan politics by one of Kenya’s most well-known political commentators, Mutahi Ngunyi, was repeated ad nauseum during the week of waiting that followed Kenya’s 2013 general elections.

In ads published in the run-up to the 2013 elections by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), people were told to vote, go home and accept the results. Encouraged by a state that had since the 2007 post-electoral violence dominated public discourse and means of coercion, the military pitched camp in polling stations. Many streets in Kenya’s cities and towns remained deserted for days after the polls closed.

According to Ngunyi, the winner of the 2013 elections had been known four months earlier, that is, when the electoral commission stopped registering voters.

In a country whose politics feature a dominant discourse that links political party and ethnicity, the outcome of voter registration that year meant that the Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto-led coalition, the Jubilee Alliance, would start the electoral contest with 47 per cent of the vote assured. With these statistics, their ticket appeared almost impossible to beat. For ethnic constituencies that did not eventually vote for Uhuru Kenyatta – the Jubilee Alliance presidential candidate in 2013 – a sense of hopelessness was widespread.

For them, a bureaucratic, professionalised, dispassionate (even boring) discourse became the main underpinning of the 2013 elections.

This was not the case in 2017.

Uhuru Kenyatta, pressured by opposition protests and a Supreme Court ruling that challenged his victory and ordered a re-run, met with Raila Odinga – his challenger for the presidency in the 2013 and 2017 elections – and offered a settlement. It became known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

In his 2020 Jamhuri Day speech, Uhuru reiterated that the purpose of the BBI process is to abolish the winner-takes-all system by expanding the executive branch of government.

As he explained it, the challenge to Kenya’s politics is the politicisation of ethnicity coupled with a lack of the requisite number of political offices within the executive branch that would satisfy all ethnic constituencies – Kenya has 42 enumerated ethnic groups.

The revised BBI report that was released on 21 October 2020 (the first was published in November 2019) has now retained the position of president, who, if the recommendations are voted for in a referendum, will also get to appoint a prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and a cabinet.

Amid heckles and jeers during the launch of the revised BBI report, Deputy President William Ruto asked whether the establishment of the positions of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers would create the much sought-after inclusivity. In his Jamhuri Day speech, the president conceded that they wouldn’t, but that the BBI-proposed position of Leader of Official Opposition – with a shadow cabinet, technical support and a budget – would mean that the loser of the presidential election would still have a role to play in governance.

One could not help but think that the president’s statement was informed by the fact that Odinga lost to him in both the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections –  this despite Odinga’s considerable political influence over vast areas of the country.

The 2010 constitution’s pure presidential system doesn’t anticipate any formal political role for the loser(s) of a presidential election. Raila held no public office between 2013 and 2017, when he lost to Uhuru. This did not help to address the perception amongst his supporters that they had been excluded from the political process for many years. In fact, Raila’s party had won more gubernatorial posts across the country’s 47 counties than the ruling Jubilee Alliance had during the 2013 elections.

While Raila’s attempts to remain politically relevant in the five years between 2013 and 2017 were largely ignored by Uhuru, the resistance against Uhuru’s victory in 2017 wasn’t.

The anger felt by Raila’s supporters in 2017 following the announcement that Uhuru had won the elections – again – could not be separated from the deeply-entrenched feelings of exclusion and marginalisation that were at the centre of the violence that followed the protracted and disputed elections.

The reading of Kenyan politics that is currently being rendered by the BBI process is that all ethnic constituencies must feel that they (essentially, their co-ethnic leaders) are playing a role in what is an otherwise overly centralised, executive-bureaucratic state. This is despite the fact that previous attempts to limit the powers of the executive branch by spreading them across other levels of government have often invited a backlash from the political class.

Kenya’s independence constitution had provided for a Westminster-style, parliamentary system of government, and took power and significant functions of government away from the centralised government in Nairobi, placing significant responsibility (over land, security and education, for instance) in the hands of eight regional governments of equal status known in Swahili as majimbo. The majimbo system was abolished and, between 1964 to 1992, the government was headed by an executive president and the constitution amended over twenty times – largely empowering the executive branch at the expense of parliament and the judiciary. The powers of the president were exercised for the benefit of the president’s cronies and co-ethnics.

By 2010 there was not a meaningful decentralised system of government. The executive, and the presidency at its head, continued to survive attempts at limiting their powers. This has continued since 2010.

As Kenya’s political class considers expanding the executive branch of government, no one seems to be talking about restricting its powers.

Beyond the minimum of 35 per cent of national revenue that the BBI report proposes should be allocated to county governments, it is less clear whether the country’s leaders are prepared to decentralise significant powers and resources away from the executive, and away from Nairobi.

Perhaps the real solution to the challenges of governance the BBI process purports to address is to follow the prescriptions of the defunct Yash Pal Ghai team – it went around the country collecting views for constitutional change in 2003-2004.

According to a paper written by Ghai himself, the Ghai-led Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) had no doubt that, consistent with the goals of the review and the people’s views, there had to be a transfer of very substantial powers and functions of government to local levels.

The CKRC noted – much like Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga now have – that the centralised presidential system tends to ethnicise politics, which threatens national unity.

Kenyans told the CKRC that decisions were made at places far away from them; that their problems arose from government policies over which they had no control; that they wanted greater control over their own destiny and to be free to determine their lifestyle choices and their affairs; and not to be told that they are not patriotic enough!

Yes, the BBI report has proposed that 5 per cent of county revenue be allocated to Members of County Assemblies for a newly-created Ward Development Fund, and that businesses set up by young Kenyans be exempted from taxation for the first seven years of operation. However, this doesn’t amount to any meaningful surrender of power and resources by the executive.

In emphasising the importance of exercising control at the local level, Kenyans told the CKRC that they wanted more communal forms of organisation and a replacement of the infamous Administration Police with a form of community policing. They considered that more powers and resources at the local level would give them greater influence over their parliamentary and local representatives, including greater control over jobs, land and land-based resources.  In short, Kenyans have always yearned for a dispersion of power away from the presidency, and away from the executive and Nairobi. They have asked for the placing of responsibility for public affairs in the hands of additional and more localised levels of government.

This is what would perhaps create the much sought-after inclusivity.

But as the BBI debate rages on, the attention of the political class is now on the proposed new positions within the executive branch. And as the debate becomes inexorably linked to the 2022 Kenyatta-succession race, questions centring on political positions will likely become personalised, especially after the political class cobbles together coalitions to contest the 2022 general elections.

Meanwhile, ordinary Kenyans will be left battling the aftermath of a pandemic, and having to deal with the usual stresses brought on by a political class seeking their votes for another round of five years of exclusion.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

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Democracy for Some, Mere Management for Others

The coming election in Uganda is significant because if there is to be managed change, it will never find a more opportune moment.

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Democracy for Some, Mere Management for Others
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Western powers slowly tied a noose round their own necks by first installing Uganda’s National Resistance Movement regime, and then supporting it uncritically as it embarked on its adventures in militarism, plunder and human rights violations inside and outside Uganda’s borders.

They are now faced with a common boss problem: what to do with an employee of very long standing (possibly even inherited from a predecessor) who may now know more about his department than the new bosses, and who now carries so many of the company’s secrets that summary dismissal would be a risky undertaking?

The elections taking place in Uganda this week have brought that dilemma into sharp relief.

An initial response would be to simply allow this sometimes rude employee to carry on. The problem is time. In both directions. The employee is very old, and those he seeks to manage are very young, and also very poor and very aspirational because of being very young. And also therefore very angry.

Having a president who looks and speaks like them, and whose own personal life journey symbolises their own ambitions, would go a very long way to placating them. This, if for no other reason, is why the West must seriously consider finding a way to induce the good and faithful servant to give way. Nobody lives forever. And so replacement is inevitable one way or another.

But this is clearly not a unified position. The United Kingdom, whose intelligence services were at the forefront of installing the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) in power nearly forty years ago, remains quietly determined to stand by President Yoweri Museveni’s side.

On the other hand, opinion in America’s corridors of power seems divided. With standing operations in Somalia, and a history of western-friendly interventions in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and even Kenya, the Ugandan military is perceived as a huge (and cut-price) asset to the West’s regional security concerns.

The DRC, in particular, with its increasing significance as the source of much of the raw materials that will form the basis of the coming electric engine revolution, has been held firmly in the orbit of Western corporations through the exertions of the regime oligarchs controlling Uganda’s security establishment. To this, one may add the growing global agribusiness revolution in which the fertile lands of the Great Lakes Region are targeted for clearing and exploitation, and for which the regime offers facilitation.

Such human resource is hard to replace and therefore not casually disposed of.

These critical resource questions are backstopped by unjust politics themselves held in place by military means. The entire project therefore hinges ultimately on who has the means to physically enforce their exploitation. In our case, those military means have been personalised to one individual and a small circle of co-conspirators, often related by blood and ethnicity.

However, time presses. Apart from the ageing autocrat at the centre, there is also a time bomb in the form of an impoverished and anxious population of unskilled, under-employed (if at all) and propertyless young people. Change beckons for all sides, whether planned for or not.

This is why this coming election is significant. If there is to be managed change, it will never find a more opportune moment. Even if President Museveni is once again declared winner, there will still remain enough political momentum and pressure that could be harnessed by his one-time Western friends to cause him to look for the exit. It boils down to whether the American security establishment could be made to believe that the things that made President Museveni valuable to them, are transferable elsewhere into the Uganda security establishment. In short, that his sub-imperial footprint can be divorced from his person and entrusted, if not to someone like candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, then at least to security types already embedded within the state structure working under a new, youthful president.

Three possible outcomes then: Kyagulanyi carrying the vote and being declared the winner; Kyagulanyi carrying the vote but President Museveni being declared the winner; or failure to have a winner declared. In all cases, there will be trouble. In the first, a Trump-like resistance from the incumbent. In the second and the third, the usual mass disturbances that have followed each announcement of the winner of the presidential election since the 1990s.

Once the Ugandan political crisis — a story going back to the 1960s — is reduced to a security or “law and order” problem, the West usually sides with whichever force can quickest restore the order they (not we) need.

And this is how the NRM tail seeks to still wag the Western dog: the run-up to voting day has been characterised by heavy emphasis on the risk of alleged “hooligans” out to cause mayhem (“burning down the city” being a popular bogeyman). The NRM’s post-election challenge will be to quickly strip the crisis of all political considerations and make it a discussion about security.

But it would be strategically very risky to try to get Uganda’s current young electorate — and the even younger citizens in general — to accept that whatever social and economic conditions they have lived through in the last few decades (which for most means all of their lives given how young they are) are going to remain in place for even just the next five years. They will not buy into the promises they have seen broken in the past. Their numbers, their living conditions, their economic prospects and their very youth would then point to a situation of permanent unrest.

However, it can be safely assumed that the NRM regime will, to paraphrase US President Donald Trump, not accept any election result that does not declare it the winner.

Leave things as they are and deal with the inevitable degeneration of politics beyond its current state, or enforce a switch now under the cover of an election, or attempt to enforce a switch in the aftermath of the election by harnessing the inevitable discontent.

Those are the boss’ options.

In the meantime, there is food to be grown and work to be done.

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Uganda Elections 2021: The Elephant Website Blocked Ahead of Poll

For about a month now, some of our readers within Uganda have been reporting problems accessing the website. Following receipt of these reports, we launched investigations which have established that The Elephant has been blocked by some, though not all, internet service providers in the country.

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Uganda Elections 2021: The Elephant Website Blocked Ahead of Poll
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Dear Readers/Viewers,

For four years now, The Elephant has been one of the premier online sources of news analysis in the East African region with a fast-growing readership across the African continent and beyond.

For about a month now, some of our readers within Uganda have been reporting problems accessing the website. Following receipt of these reports, we launched investigations which have established that The Elephant has been blocked by some, though not all, internet service providers in the country.

We have further ascertained that the directive to do so came from the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) and was implemented beginning 12 December 2020, when we noticed a sudden traffic drop coming from several providers in Uganda, including Africell and Airtel. A forensics report, which provides technical details on the blocking, is available here.

We have written to the UCC requesting a reason for the blocking but are yet to receive a response.

The Elephant wholeheartedly condemns this assault on free speech and on freedom of the press and calls on the Ugandan government to respect the rights of Ugandans to access information.

We would like to assure all our readers that we are doing everything in our power to get the restrictions removed and hope normal access can be restored expeditiously.

As we do this, to circumvent the block, a Bifrost mirror has been deployed. Readers in Uganda can once again access The Elephant on this link.

Thank you.

Best Regards

John Githongo
Publisher

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