by David Pier, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Reviewed in this essay:
Honeyman, Catherine A. 2016. The Orderly Entrepreneur: Youth, Education, and Governance in Rwanda. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.
Wiegratz, Jörg. 2016. Neoliberal Moral Economy: Capitalism, Socio-Cultural Change and Fraud in Uganda. London: Rowman and Littlefield.
Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame enjoyed stellar international reputations early in their presidencies, both being heralded as representatives of a promising “new breed” of African leaders (Oloka-Onyango 2004). In the wake of the Cold War, Western leaders envisioned a new global order based on free trade, not imperial sovereignty. Unfettered participation in global markets was seen as the best corrective for problems of social welfare in Africa and elsewhere in the global South. Projects of state-led developmentalism, which had been optimistically initiated across Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, were to be scrapped, with coercive pressure applied by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank as necessary. The activist use of state power to build and protect “free” global markets has been the core agenda of neoliberalism (Slobodian 2018). Since the fall of the Soviet system, Western developmental intervention in Africa has been dominated by the idea that better African integration into a global free market will produce not only improved economic growth, but also healthier, more politically liberal, cultures, where individual freedoms and talents will be respected and cultivated.
Museveni’s and Kagame’s international reputations benefited from their having taken power in the aftermath of disastrous periods in their countries’ histories. Museveni took control of a Uganda that had collapsed under Idi Amin’s mismanagement and international sanctions and had subsequently experienced a civil war between a restored Milton Obote administration and Museveni’s own National Resistance Army (NRA). In the late 1980s, the international community, which was looking for any kind of good news coming out of Uganda, found it in the charismatic, ranger-hat-wearing figure of Museveni, who, at least in the early years, seemed a saner, more practical, liberal-minded, and internationally cooperative leader than either Obote or Amin. Museveni agreed to accept the World Bank and IMF’s structural adjustment program, sending a clear signal that, despite his proclaimed socialist leanings, Uganda would be receptive to the emerging neoliberal world order. Beginning in 1987, Ugandan state controls on exports and imports were lifted, agricultural cooperatives pressured out of existence, international finance and currency options opened up, and state-owned industries privatized (Wiegratz 2016: 71). Subsequently, in the 1990s, Uganda experienced impressive GDP growth while inflation remained low. These on-paper economic successes—combined with the government’s moves toward democratic elections, the liberalization of the media, the welcoming of international NGOs, efforts toward the management of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the reserving of places for women in government—were taken as signs that structural adjustment was working. Uganda became a poster child for neoliberalism in Africa.
Kagame, for his part, reaped the reputational rewards of having restored order to Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide, in which hundreds of thousands of Kagame’s own Tutsi minority were killed. The causes of this violence are still hotly debated, but some scholars have suggested that the effects of structural adjustment, implemented in Rwanda in the early 1990s, must be taken into account as destabilizing factors. Structural adjustment entailed devaluations of the Rwandan franc that triggered inflation, an increase in health and school fees (Chossudovsky 1996), and a funneling of aid to ruling elites which encouraged a culture of impunity in government (Storey 2001). If Uganda was taken to be a neoliberal success story, Rwanda might have been considered as a counterexample. In its aftermath, however, the genocide was primarily interpreted as a product of cultural breakdown, ancient tribal hatreds, and pure evil. The World Bank argued that structural adjustment could not be blamed, because structural adjustment had been, in a time of war, only shoddily implemented (World Bank 1995). Thus, the neoliberal vision for Rwanda’s future survived unscathed.
In the wake of the violence, Kagame impressed many foreign journalists with his serious, and seemingly incorruptible, personality. Journalist Steven Kinzer wrote a highly flattering biography of him, A Thousand Hills (2008), which was followed by an even more hagiographic account, marketed to global business people, Rwanda Inc.: How a Devastated Nation Became an Economic Model for the Developing World (Crisafulli and Redmond 2014). This image of Rwandan exceptionalism under Kagame has been strongly encouraged by the state. In diverse ways, foreign visitors are made to know upon arrival that they are not entering an ordinary African country; if, for example, they are carrying plastic bags, they will be asked to surrender them at the airport—an introductory demonstration of the state’s adherence to international environmental ideals and its willingness to impose the rule of law on everyone without favoritism. Kagame’s Rwanda projects itself as a place where the proverbial trains will run on time, even if this necessitates highly autocratic rule. The targets of this spectacle of policed efficiency are foreign investors, who, it is hoped, will prioritize Rwanda over its seemingly less business-friendly neighbors. Rwanda easily bests all other low-income countries globally in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” ranking, which rewards states for cutting regulations, eliminating minimum wage and other labor protections, and making it easier for lenders to collect on debts (World Bank 2017; Hickel 2018). The state has explicitly taken Singapore, an authoritarian, business-friendly Asian economic “tiger,” as its model for development (Honeyman 2016: 7). Glowing reviews like that of Rwanda, Inc. suggest that this calculated nation-branding is having its desired effects on international business community perceptions. One cannot overstate the value of a narrative of African salvation in a global imaginary that tends to view the continent in Manichean terms of good and evil. If the Rwandan genocide was, according to this imaginary, the purest African evil, then the post-genocide revival is the ultimate African good, achievable only by an African saint in the figure of Kagame. Correspondingly, if Idi Amin has been inscribed as the international archetype of the bloodthirsty, buffoonish African dictator, then his successor, Museveni, is likely to be perceived as a paragon of steadiness and peaceability.
Highly critical accounts of the Kagame and Museveni regimes have of course also been published, in increasing number and intensity as the two presidents’ terms have extended long past their promised limits (Museveni is currently in his 32nd year of rule, Kagame his 18th). Critics have decried both leaders’ increasingly authoritarian forms of government (Tripp 2010, Kobusingye 2010, Tangri and Mwenda 2013, Reyntjens 2015, Purdeková 2015, Longman 2017), as well as their excessive uses of military force, in their own countries and the surrounding region (Dolan 2013, Prunier 2008, Rever 2018). Such accusations of authoritarianism and militarism do not, however, necessarily tarnish these leaders’ images in the eyes of global neoliberals, since neoliberalism has from its beginnings been about protecting economic freedoms from democracy. An authoritarian state that shelters the sphere of private property and markets will, to neoliberals, often be preferable to a democratic state that infringes upon it (Slobodian 2018). Militarism, too, is not necessarily a negative, so long as some of that militarism is channeled into the War on Terror—an unending, moveable war whose real purpose is the protection and advancement global investors’ interests (Klein 2007). So long as Rwanda and Uganda continue to present the right, investor-friendly, faces to the world, their regional military excursions and crackdowns on their own citizens are unlikely to jeopardize their international standing. It helps, too, that Uganda, and, increasingly Rwanda, are popular sites for born-again Christian missionary tourism and activism, with backing from powerful Christian lobbying groups. If these countries are seen as sites for the emergence of a neoliberal world order, they are at the same time seen as key African battlegrounds in a global religious war between Christianity and Islam, and born-again and non-born-again Christianities (Sharlet 2008, Boyd 2015).
The two books here under review provide valuable insight into how neoliberalism in Rwanda and Uganda is being implemented and experienced on the ground by ordinary citizens, three decades in. Catherine Honeyman’s The Orderly Entrepreneur: Youth, Education, and Governance in Rwanda (2016) is an ethnography of entrepreneurship education in Rwandan secondary schools. Jörg Wiegratz’s Neoliberal Moral Economy: Capitalism, Socio-Cultural Change and Fraud in Uganda (2016) focuses on cultural responses to neoliberal policy in the eastern Ugandan coffee-growing region, Bugisu. While both books critically examine neoliberal policies and discourses in their respective countries, they differ substantially in their approaches and tones. Wiegratz’s book is excoriating from start to finish, depicting a contemporary Uganda overrun by fraud, with neoliberalism as its underlying cause. The reader gets the sense that, if life is to improve for ordinary Ugandans, the whole neoliberal apparatus must be dismantled, and a democratic-socialist system restored in its place. Honeyman’s diagnosis is more measured. She points out the failures, paradoxes, and occasional absurdities of neoliberal Rwanda’s institutional push to develop a culture of entrepreneurship; yet, in the end, she seems to support the idea that the institutional cultivation of entrepreneurial culture is desirable and achievable—it just needs to be approached differently, in a more culturally attuned way, responsive to grassroots actors’ expressed needs and desires. The difference in the two scholars’ orientations may be attributable to their different working backgrounds. Honeyman has worked mainly as an educational project consultant and policy advisor, and correspondingly seems to be inclined to propose practical solutions that will enable institutions and individuals to better achieve what they say they want to achieve. Wiegratz, by contrast, has been a full-time academic, teaching and writing about political economy. Accordingly, he tends toward the broadest critical vantage point, tracing problems at the level of the whole system, and calling uninhibitedly for more radical, systematic, solutions. Both books are well worth reading, in that they give us rare pictures of Ugandan and Rwandan everyday politics, without the interpretive frames that otherwise dominate the literature on the two countries—namely, the 1994 genocide and its aftermath, the tyranny of Idi Amin, and the atrocities of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.
Cramming Entrepreneurship in Rwanda
The first revelation of Honeyman’s The Orderly Entrepreneur is that all Rwandan secondary school students are required to undergo a jaw-dropping six years of classroom training in “entrepreneurship”—with two classes per week in the first three years, and seven classes per week in the last three. Like much contemporary Rwandan policy, this seems to be at the direct behest of Kagame, who has proudly assumed the mantle, “Entrepreneur President” (Honeyman 2016, 26). Entrepreneurship has been much lauded in the neoliberal era, including at my own university, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where a center for Entrepreneurial Studies has recently been established with generous support from a private donor. In the background of today’s reverence for entrepreneurs are the writings of the early twentieth-century Austrian political economist, Joseph Schumpeter. Schumpeter seminally proposed the “humble entrepreneur” as the heroic world-maker of the capitalist age. Corey Robin suggests the humble entrepreneur stands in for the aristocratic warrior-hero of the bygone era of empires (2011). The entrepreneur is essentially someone who achieves innovation through a dogged pursuit of “getting a new thing done” (Schumpeter 1947: 225). What distinguishes the entrepreneur, for Schumpeter, is not so much a brilliant vision, as an indefatigable will to make new things happen on the ground. The entrepreneur alone has the single-minded drive to carry out the “gale of creative destruction” that is, for Schumpeter, the essential mechanic of capitalist progress (Schumpeter  2008: 84).
One may well wonder how entrepreneurialism, in Schumpeter’s sense, might possibly be taught—dogged disruptiveness seems to be an innate character trait, more than an acquired skill or body of knowledge. Looking at my university’s website, I see that our new entrepreneurialism program promises a “collaborative, hands-on, and results-driven learning environment” which will “develop skills and direct experience not found at other business schools”—in short, learning by practical doing. By contrast, in the Rwandan six-year entrepreneurship courses Honeyman attended, students learned entrepreneurship by laboriously copying corporate jargon from the chalkboard into their notebooks, sentence-by-sentence. While this teaching style is locally known as “chalk and talk,” the “talk” is often quite minimal, with silence marred only by the tapping of the teacher’s chalk against the board and the scribbling of words on paper. As Honeyman relates, most of what is to be copied from the board seems to be devoid of any stimulating content, consisting as it often does of either long lists (e.g., all the food products manufactured in Rwanda), or platitudinous definitions of terms (e.g., “manpower”).
Chalk-and-talk is, as Honeyman points out, a vestige of the old colonial system of education, in which the disciplining of Africa students in body and mind took priority over their intellectual enlightenment. Notably, this disengaged style of pedagogy continues in Rwanda at the insistence of the students themselves, as much as or more than the teachers. These students, whose families are paying steep fees to send them to school, are mainly worried about receiving their diplomas, which they see as key to their social mobility. To earn these diplomas, they must pass exams, and it is in their interest to keep the process of preparing for their exams as uncomplicated as possible. Thus, any digression from the script—any learning activity that cannot be precisely recorded and regurgitated on the test—is angrily rejected by the students. In Honeyman’s account, school for these Rwandan youth is not a place for intellectual exploration, but mainly for credentialing. One cannot blame the students for their cynicism about school but must rather blame the colonial history that made Rwandan schools what they are today. Indeed, we may interpret the students’ intransigence as a kind of symbolic passive resistance to a contemporary authoritarian state that demands their constant cooperation in its self-branding efforts, while providing them little benefit in return. The system can rob them of their time and their school fees, but it cannot compel them to be engaged and creative in the classroom. This is the paradox of Rwanda’s entrepreneurial education push, which pretends to be all about cultivating creative, self-motivated subjects.
This culture of verbatim copying seems, however, to be about more than just the testing and credentialing system or rote adherence to a colonial schooling tradition. A meeting among curriculum development officials, observed by Honeyman, demonstrated a peculiar reverence for the contemporary bureaucratic language of global business and government. Much of the group’s energy was spent trying to choose words to fill in a pedagogical document that would give it the appropriate aura of bland development prose. Should they say “respect his rights and obligations,” “defend his rights and obligations,” or “identify his rights and obligations”? Honeyman opines,
The discussion had begun to seem like a school workbook exercise, with blanks that each had to be filled in with the correct word. . . After the amount of energy these two groups had spent on seemingly simple questions of word choice, what I saw as the deeper issue—the actual skills an entrepreneur might need to develop in order to put this knowledge into practice in the Rwandan context—seemed almost beside the point. (2016: 57)
One can surmise that the language of international government and business means a great deal to these middle-class Rwandan school officials, but not as a medium of communication and conceptualization; it is, rather, the language’s performative potentialities that they are most interested in. To be well received as a man or woman of a Rwanda’s privileged, governing class, one needs to be able to speak this language flawlessly; any verbal slip-up could compromise the image of credentialed competency they have struggled to acquire for themselves. As Honeyman, drawing on Pierre Bourdieu, puts it, they are most concerned about developing cultural capital (ibid.: 132). The arduous copying in secondary school chalk-and-talk classes is a “laboring over language,” with the students’ upward mobility as its ultimate incentive (ibid.: 124). Honeyman reminds us that Rwanda is currently undergoing a radical language shift, with English replacing French as the country’s language of business and government. Thus, the issue of language competency is perhaps more important now than it has been since the colonial encounter. Rwandans are made to understand that their development hinges on their learning not just English, but a particular, globally powerful, corporate-bureaucratic register of English.
Underlying the Rwandan state’s unprecedented push to instill entrepreneurialism in youth is a familiar cultural inferiority complex: “In the mentality of Rwandans. . . they don’t have this entrepreneurial spirit,” complains one of Honeyman’s interlocutors (ibid.: 32). This fear, commonly voiced by Rwandans themselves, of an ingrained Rwandan “mentality” that is somehow unsuited for the challenges of today’s global capitalism, reprises the colonial trope of “tropical idleness,” and shows how old stereotypes continue to be reinforced by contemporary institutions and discourses. As Honeyman points out, a great many Rwandans are in fact already entrepreneurial, engaged as many are in small startup businesses, even as they pursue their schooling. Rwanda’s intensive entrepreneurship-education system strikes this reader, in the end, as a baroque, absurd, non-functioning solution to a problem that never existed in the first place. Its real purpose, one suspects, is to burnish Kagame’s international image as Africa’s Entrepreneur President, and post-genocide Rwanda’s business-friendly nation-brand. In her conclusion, Honeyman, while implying that she shares this critical view of the whole endeavor, is concerned to offer practical solutions that might make Rwandan entrepreneurial education better live up to its stated mission. Putting on her education-consultant hat, she suggests tweaks to the system, such as linking entrepreneurship examinations
to rewards that are more directly associated with entrepreneurial behavior, so that students will have more of a reason to put some effort into their entrepreneurship courses in the first place. A major part of students’ examinations, for example, could require them to present a detailed business plan to be accomplished for a fixed amount of money. Students from each sector or district presenting the most original and viable plans could be awarded that money, as a grant or guaranteed loan, for their top examination performance. (ibid.: 238)
I am skeptical that such tweaks would have their desired, motivating, effects. There is a reason Rwanda’s present entrepreneurship-education system is absurd and non-incentivizing, which has nothing to do with its faulty design. The problem, rather, is with the dictatorial rule of Kagame, combined with the inscrutability and nepotism of today’s global capitalist networks. It is these factors, after all, that overwhelmingly determine who among Rwandans will be successful and who will not. You don’t need a well worded business plan—you need an “in.” If students are not demonstrating adequate effort in their formal education, this is not, I suspect, something that can be fixed with a mere curricular redesign. Rather, the whole Rwandan system needs to be made more democratic, so that enterprising youth feel empowered within the country’s official institutions, rather than shackled by them. Ultimately, the free market cannot wholly supersede democracy as a motivator of people and their creative energies; this is what global neoliberalism has been unable to admit, and what may turn out to be its fatal flaw. Better, in my view, to read Honeyman’s incisive, well written, and often very funny ethnography as an exposé of one sector of a broken, undemocratic, system, than as a source of practical advice for improving entrepreneurship education in Rwanda.
Fraud in the Coffee Trade
Wiegratz’s book posits a grand shift toward a “neoliberal moral economy” in Uganda during the Museveni years. By “moral economy,” he means, roughly, economic practices (buying, selling, growing, saving, borrowing, etc.) together with their culturally embedded moral frameworks. The term is most strongly associated with E.P. Thompson, who used it to index the peasant economy, interwoven with traditional moral norms, as it came into violent confrontation with a modern, capitalist, economy, which had supposedly been abstracted from moral considerations (Thompson 1971). Amending Thompson, Wiegratz notes that the capitalist economy only claimed to have moved beyond morality: capitalist economies, including the recent neoliberal economies, are themselves moral economies, and should not be allowed to hide their moral underpinnings in order to seem natural, inevitable, and transcendent. Neoliberalism comes with its own unacknowledged morality, and it is this that Wiegratz intends to reveal and criticize in the contemporary Ugandan setting.
The term “moral economy” also works to position this book in Wiegratz’s discipline of political science, where “economy” still implies, for many, a sphere somehow separable from culture, where the quantitative analysis of so-called hard data is what really matters. Given the orientation of his discipline, Wiegratz is compelled to explain why ordinary people’s feelings about the economy are themselves worthy of intensive study, as inextricable components of that economy. To understand a phenomenon like neoliberalism, it is not enough to just look at economic statistics and official economic policies: at base, neoliberalism is a shared understanding of what kinds of economic relationships among people are natural and morally permissible.
Wiegratz finds a Ugandan moral economy rife with fraud, in which people have very little trust in one another and are intensively focused on short-term gains, with little hope for the future. Fraud is expected to occur at every phase of an agricultural commodity’s transactional life, from its agricultural harvest (when it may be picked prematurely), to its pricing by traders (when it may be weighed on rigged scales), to its international sale (when both Ugandan government officials and international buyers are expected to skim profits by various accounting tricks). Wiegratz uses the term “chains of fraud,” to describe this multi-level cheating, the benefits of which accrue mainly at the top. His mission in this book is not to prove that all these types of fraud are actually going on, though he believes they are. For his purposes, it is enough to show that people overwhelmingly perceive that such fraud exists, for the moral economy is composed of perceptions, which are important in themselves, whether or not they are verifiable.
To develop his thesis, Wiegratz draws mainly on interviews he conducted with farmers and traders in the Bugisu district of eastern Uganda, mingled with opinions taken from Ugandan newspapers and online discussion boards. Bugisu is a distinctive site for this research, in that it is Uganda’s most important coffee-growing region, which once boasted a powerful farmer’s cooperative, the Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU). With economic liberalization under Museveni, a diversity of traders and brokers entered the coffee market and were able to deal with farmers directly. The BCU, having lost its exclusive power over the trade, quickly disintegrated. Over the past three decades, Bugisu farmers have been living with the consequences of having lost an organization that gave them some collective power over the coffee business. Without the BCU, bargaining over coffee prices has been harder, with farmers usually ending up in a disadvantaged position relative to the traders and brokers who come to visit. Despite the increasingly accessible internet, they have little way of knowing what kinds of prices their crop ought to fetch on the current global market, and no way of limiting fraudulent practices like weighing-system tampering.
The BCU was, at the time of Wiegratz’s writing, undergoing a revival under the leadership of Nathan Mafabi, an outspoken rival of Museveni’s, who associates with Uganda’s opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). In general, eastern Uganda has been a hotbed of political opposition to Museveni’s regime, and one should not be surprised to read especially accusatory and pessimistic views emanating from there. Museveni, who has built his electoral coalitions in other parts of the country, has not lavished developmental favor on Bugisu or rural eastern Uganda generally. Meanwhile, the Bamasaba group, which resides in Bugisu, is one of Uganda’s more assertively ethno-nationalistic minorities, whose strong sense of independent cultural identity, focused on their traditional practice of male circumcision, fuels on-going opposition to the party in power.
Wiegratz does an excellent job of co-articulating these complex political, cultural, and economic areas of contestation. Indeed, a reader may be forgiven for wondering whether neoliberalism really is the main issue, when so much seems to be about party politics, and the propping up of a tottering authoritarian regime by petty theft. Anyone familiar with Uganda’s history under Idi Amin will find similarity between the fraudulent moral economy which exploded in the pre-neoliberal 1970s and that which exists today. It was in that earlier postcolonial era, as the formal economy collapsed, that (as Wiegratz acknowledges) a whole set of colloquial terms were coined for talking about corruption—for example, magendo (smuggling), mafuta mingi (‘lots of oil’—referring to tycoons on the black market), and bayaaye (thieving youth). M.B. Nsimbi’s Luganda-language novel Kulyennyingi provides a kind of compendium of fraudulent activities that were the stuff of everyday life during the Amin years, including weighing with rigged scales, adulterating trade goods, and so on (1986). When one looks at the bigger historical picture, then, is the moral economy of Museveni-era Uganda really so exceptional in its rampant acts and accusations of fraud? The historian Richard Reid has suggested that the true formative period of Uganda’s modern moral economy was neither in the turbulent postcolonial years of Amin and Obote, nor in the colonial era, but even earlier: in the mid-19th century, when the region’s kingdoms first became involved in the slave and ivory trade (Reid 2017). It was in that time, Reid suggests, that a culture of violent, competitive, predatory, ‘winner-take-all’ politics and economics took root in the region that would become Uganda. Provocatively, he sees both the Amin and Museveni regimes (and Kagame’s Rwandan regime as well) as latter-day manifestations of longue durée trends in the region. If Reid is right in suggesting that there is considerable continuity in Ugandan economics, politics, and moral imagination up to the present, what weight should be given to neoliberalism as an explanatory factor for present miseries? Has neoliberalism really made the Ugandan moral economy more fraudulent than it otherwise would be?
Wiegratz argues that it has. Neoliberal structural adjustment, implemented by the Museveni administration, laid waste to institutions like the BCU which once provided grounds for economic interactions based more on “fellow feeling. . . group morality. . . duties, loyalties, or responsibilities” (2016: 23). Almost as decisive as these concrete institutional changes have been changes in the moral-economic discourse. Any ills that may befall someone as a result of a bad economic transaction are routinely attributed to “the impersonal market and price system in faraway places” (2016: 154). Thus, when a farmer complains about an unfair price, the trader who is bilking him can say with a shrug “this is liberalization”—a phrase that has become, according to Wiegratz, an “all-round-effective slogan” (2016: 158). The Hayekian idea of a market that is supposedly beyond any single actor’s power to control, and thus serves as the fairest possible field of competition for everyone, is a convenient one for well situated Ugandans who prey upon the weak. The blame for cruel and outright fraudulent economic moves can always be displaced onto the putatively impersonal and amoral market. Wiegratz considers such neoliberal moralizing ultimately to be a “weapon of the strong” (2016: 145)—in alignment with David Harvey’s view that neoliberalism is little more than a “class project, now masked by a lot of rhetoric about individual freedom, liberty, personal responsibility, privatisation and the free market” (Harvey 2009).
Moral Neoliberal Economy is most edifying in its reporting of ordinary Ugandan farmers’ and traders’ stories and critical opinions about their economy and political system, often in their own words. In this respect, it has the strengths of an ethnography, although Wiegratz does not follow current ethnographic conventions as closely as Honeyman does. Whereas Honeyman is always careful to set the scene in which various opinions are expressed and actions observed—and conscientiously includes herself as observer in that scene—Wiegratz tends to maintain the top-down, wide angle view more typical of political science than cultural anthropology. Reading Wiegratz, one would at times welcome a more lingering, thorough, description of a particular ethnographic site and situation, to get a better sense of the micro-conditions that may be shaping a given group of informants’ particular expressions of opinion at a particular time.
Reading Honeyman and Wiegratz’s books, a picture emerges of profound popular discontent under these two east African regimes, which were so highly praised in their early years as models of economic and political liberalization. While neoliberal values of entrepreneurialism and free commerce continue to be preached from above and enshrined in official policy, ordinary Rwandans and Ugandans often do not take these values seriously—not, at least, as they are packaged by the state. Many are, in fact, already acting entrepreneurially in their daily lives, trying to run their own small start-up businesses. They do not, however, see their respective governments as helping them to do this; they believe, rather, that their rulers are wasting resources on pointless bureaucratic exercises, at best, or actively preying upon their own citizens, at worst. In each country, there is clearly a disconnect between the state and its subjects—one which is both reminiscent of regimes of the colonial past, and indicative of the workings of the contemporary, neoliberal, system of global power. If Kagame and Museveni have become increasingly autocratic as their presidencies have dragged on, this is at least partly because today’s international powers tolerate and even reward such behavior, so long as the autocrats in question continue to demonstrate that their countries are still open for global business.
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