Taking Down Andrew Mwenda’s Pseudo-Intellectualism

Andrew Mwenda. Picture: Facebook
Andrew Mwenda. Picture: Facebook

By Bernard Sabiti

We will start with definitions here:
1. Pseudo-intellectual. Noun. 1. “a person exhibiting intellectual pretensions that have no basis in sound scholarship.” 2. “a person who pretends an interest in intellectual matters for reasons of status.” 3. “a person who wants to be thought of as having a lot of intelligence and knowledge but who is not really intelligent or knowledgeable.” 4. “A person who affects proficiency in scholarly and artistic pursuits whilst lacking any in-depth knowledge or critical understanding of such topics.” 5. “A person who pretends to be of greater intelligence than he or she in fact is.”

Writer Marcus Geduld expounds on these definitions with examples. Says he: “Pseudo-intellectualism is a social stance. A pseudo-intellectual wants other people to think he’s smart. He will work towards that goal in the most economical way possible. An intellectual will read a whole book, because his goal is to understand the book. A pseudo-intellectual will read the Cliff Notes, because his goal is to convince people that he’s read the book. And you don’t need to read a whole book in order to make most people think you have. Cliff Notes are more efficient.”
Intellectual fraud on the other hand is willful misreading and or misrepresentation of facts, adopting selective approaches in analyzing issues, disregarding facts that make the intellectual uncomfortable depending in his or her interests. The good thing is, we have Daniel Patrick Moyinhan, the legendary US senator who gave us the famous “you’re entitled to your own opinion not your own facts” quote. Therefore, we can take down pseudo-intellectuals and intellectual frauds using the weapon they fear the most: Facts.

One of the most glaring examples of a pseudo-intellectual and intellectual frauds we have in Uganda is Andrew Mwenda. Having been taking this country and the region for a ride over the last several years, he is now being called out, especially after his recent opinion article published on Aljazeera’s website containing his criticism of US president Barack Obama’s speeches during his recent Africa trip (More on this later).

MWENDA IS IN GOOD COMPANY

Pseudo-intellectualism, and its more self-respecting cousin, intellectual fraud, have a towering legacy in history. History is awash with world figures whose thrust into national and global prominence wouldn’t have been except for their oratorical and or rhetorical gifts, their penmanship and spell-binding speaking abilities. Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, etc. Some of these giants of history would, as you know, later use their gifts for evil purposes, with tragic consequences of unseen before proportions. The former two used theirs for good and impacted the world positively. The latter two the opposite. But they all shared one thing in common: they could write, speak, or both, compellingly.

Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic invectives and other dangerous views, expressed in his Mein Kampf (My Struggle) biography sounded compelling and even reasonable to some in his day. When he came to power in 1933, the book became a best seller. His oratorical gifts had been identified by some of his superior officers after World War 1, making one of them to remark: “He’s a natural born orator. His fanaticism and populism captivates listeners, forcing one to think as he does.” His propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, knew he had an asset in his master’s ability to hook his audiences with his words. Most of his sweeping speeches however, contained very weak arguments that would not stand on their own if subjected to fair criticism. Except that there was no room for criticizing the Fuehrer as such an act was treasonous. That didn’t stop some critics from afar from criticizing his views. George Orwell, he of the famous “Animal Farm” classic wrote a drubbing criticism of Mein Kampf in 1940, tearing most of Hitler’s arguments to shreds, much to the Fuhrer’s chagrin. But oh, was he popular! You need to watch those WW2 documentaries (available on Youtube) to see the apoplectic and ecstatic responses of his audiences to his speeches, or read about how his Mein Kampf was a must own, given as a special gift to wedding couples, etc. Not all this adulation was forced.

What I am trying to say is that most of the soaring rhetorical stuff, oral or written, once removed from their emotional whirlwinds and platitudinal covers do not stand the test of time when subjected to tough fact-based, academic examination. Some of these views tend to be found incoherent, impractical, or even gibberish.
I hope you will not take this to mean that I am comparing Andrew Mwenda, who has not killed anybody, with some of the evil men of history listed above. All I am saying is that just because one has a way with words whether in spoken or written form doesn’t make them smart, truth tellers or even intelligent.

MWENDA’S ATTACK ON OBAMA

In his 1,065 word article published on the Aljazeera website a few days a go, Mr. Mwenda castigates Mr. Obama for “lecturing” to Africans during his recent visit to Kenya and Ethiopia and accuses the US leader of “flagrant hypocrisy.” He boiled down with some other accusations on his social media platforms to include Mr Obama’s use of Airforce One, his comments on term limits, and other issues. He has received mostly derision but also pockets of praise for this article. In analysing Mr. Mwenda’s charges against Mr. Obama one by one, I will start again with, just like I did in this article’s introduction, some definitions:

1. Whataboutism: a tactic used by the Soviet Union in its dealings with the Western world during the Cold War. When criticisms were leveled at the Soviet Union, for example on Human Rights, Stalin’s purges and executions, nuclear proliferation, the response would be “What about…” followed by the naming of an event in the Western world. This is a classic example of “tu quoque”, (Latin for “you, too” or “you, also”) the appeal to hypocrisy, a logical fallacy which attempts to discredit the opponent’s position by asserting the opponent’s failure to act consistently in accordance with that position, without directly refuting or disproving the opponent’s initial argument.
2. Fallacy (in Philosophy): The use of poor, or invalid, reasoning for the construction of an argument. A fallacious argument may be deceptive by appearing to be better than it really is. Some fallacies are committed intentionally to manipulate or persuade by deception, while others are committed unintentionally due to carelessness or ignorance (Mr. Mwenda, who regularly quotes medieval thinkers in his commentaries, one of his other silly, not-so-subtle ways of demonstrating to his audiences that he is intelligent, will have read Aristotle’s fallacies)
Whataboutism is therefore fallacy because the moral character or past actions of the opponent are generally irrelevant to the logic of the argument. One of the earliest uses of the technique was in 1947 after then NY governor William Averell Harriman criticized “Soviet imperialism” in a speech. A response in the communist party’s “Pravada” (propaganda newspaper) criticized the United States’ laws and policies regarding race and minorities.
Whataboutism is a technique still used by many repressive countries when western nations comment on their Human Rights abuses, bad governance, etc. Indeed the coverage of riots in the US such as in Ferguson, Missouri, following police shootings of black men, was intense in Russian and Chinese Media. Even North Korea released statements condemning the US’ treatment of its African American citizens!

Mwenda’s criticism of Obama’s “meddling” in African affairs by pointing to the ills of that country therefore is an old card that shocks no one that reads an occasional book. It’s a fraudulent, deceptive technique that supposes that two wrongs make a right. Malcolm X’s words become relevant here: “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against”. Does Mr Obama speaking the truth (on Africa’s corruption, violence, dictatorship) make those issues less important or less true because the person mentioning them is leader of a country that has a not so good historical record on the continent? Yes the CIA murdered Lumumba. That though was in 1961, over 50 years a go. Is that the reason The congo is still in the doldrums? The US also flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945, the only country since then where a nuclear bomb has been dropped. Hongkong, Malaysia, Indonesia and these other nations currently referred to as “Asian tigers” were once under similarly brutal colonialism. What happened there?

Yes, the West still has issues such as treating immigrants badly. But they admit to those mistakes and a significant chunk of their society rejects discrimination, at least institutional discrimination. That why Marie Le Pen’s FN, UK’s UKIP and other right wing parties have a hard time winning elections there. But even if they treat immigrants badly, how does that make Africa’s big men’s brutalization of their own people ok?

The US president’s trip to Africa cost American tax payers six million dollars, with Obama hopping on Airforce one so Obama is just as wasteful as the Jet owning African despots he criticizes, Mr Mwenda argues. Now, this is the most absurd of Mr. Mwenda’s criticism of Mr. Obama. America’s GDP per capita is $53,000. Uganda’s is $570. The Boeing Company that manufactures Air force One is an American company, so is General Motors, the manufacturers of The Beast, the US leader’s presidential Limo. Lest I forget, the Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, makers of the Gulfstream Jet, a favourite for Africa’s presidents, including our own Yoweri Museveni, is an American company too. There haven’t been reports of a jigger outbreak in an American city of late. Let the US leader enjoy his expensive, high presidential life because his rich country can afford it. The same can’t be said of our banana republic

WHY IS MWENDA RARELY, IF EVER CALLED OUT ON HIS PSEUDO-INTELLECTUALISM?

There are three major factors going for Mr. Mwenda as well as other intellectual frauds in Africa:
1. Very few Africans read
2. Those who do lack the time, means, and platforms of hitting back at them
3. Some do not think it is worth it.

I have read Mwenda’s writings for some time now, both before and after his metamorphosis. I have watched his commentary on Television and listed to on on radio. As a story teller, he is good. As an analyst of issues, he is not that good, even when he is at his best in terms of impartiality. Many people wrongly think that because a journalist can compellingly tell a story, he can also be a good commentator or analyst of phenomena. That is not necessarily true. His weekly, 800-word “Last word” columnn in HIS independent newspaper which I occasionally read doesn’t strike me as overly intellectual. I always marvel at the baseless swooning of some of his shallow followers in the comments section. Those who question his intellect he dismisses as Uganda’s “chattering class.” I guess like his dictator friends, he would rather have close to him only those that tell him what he wishes to hear.
I have also followed Mwenda’s other works including some high profile speeches, writings and presentations over the years, including those he makes at Rwanda’s ministerial retreats. I don’t think anyone has ever critically analyzed them. One that probably thrust Mwenda onto the international stage was his 2007 “TED talk” in which he railed against Foreign Aid. I doubt anyone ever did a critical analysis of that talk. On the face of it at least, it is a very weak, utopian argument that he makes, not dissimilar to many of his other writings. I know what kind of impact these feel good speeches and writings can have on any audience. I used to get that euphoric, utopian feeling whenever I read such kind of works. When I first read Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad Poor Dad”, I almost quit my sh700,000 a month job the next day. I desperately wanted to make “Money work for me” rather than the other way round. My then girlfriend (bless her) talked me out of it by asking a simple question: “What next when you quit?”. Similarly, I felt mad when I first read Dambisa Moyo’s “Dead Aid”. But I also worked in the Aid Industry and knew of the good that development assistance, despite its obvious limitations, was doing on the very basic level so I had to cool down. These superficial, feel good analyses only impress those that are not far-sighted or critical enough in their thinking or are simply unwilling or uncomfortable to face more cold realities by looking at the full facts.

As you all might know, Andrew Mwenda was not always like this. You can retrieve his “Mwenda’s Prison Notes”, an impressive prison diary he wrote when Museveni jailed him for calling him a villager in 2005, to get an inkling on his thinking then. Or you can similarly google the resignation letter from The Monitor which he wrote to then chief of the Nation media group. In those missives you will find a man that (while a little messianic) sounded as if he was ready to pay the ultimate price for fair, free and independent thought.

So, what happened to him?
That may be the Million dollar (could be Shilling, Franc, Pound, Euro, who knows?) question
———————————————————
Bernard Sabiti is a researcher and policy analyst. Contact me on bernardsabiti@gmail.com, and on twitter @BernardSabiti

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73 thoughts on “Taking Down Andrew Mwenda’s Pseudo-Intellectualism

  1. Until his complete metamorphosis about 5 years ago, I was an avid follower of Mwenda since about 1998. I keenly following his articles, watched his famous video on aid. Around 1999 or 2000 he visited his old school and gave us a glowing lecture. Given this profile, I am eminently qualified to give my (expert?) opinion about this gentlemen – He has been a tragic disappointment at best. Giving credit where it is due is one thing, mechanical attempting to twist facts, hoodwink the public that you are informed and impartial whereas not is another. Similarly, being an impartial intellectual is one thing, using the facade of an impartial intellectual to promote one’s PR business is another but you cannot promote the latter (which is actually legitimate and rewarding business) under the guise of the former. It is clear that as Mwenda’s businesses flourished and he started taking commissions from regional strongmen, powerful local politicians and lawyers, his the rigours of his views waned dramatically and became outright diabolical. That was when the man himself started revisiting and moderating his previous opinions under the pretext that it is natural for an intellectual to interrogate himself and not fear controversy . Were he a politician in a certain party, he would have certainly been accused of being a hypocrite and confused. It is not that Mwenda’s critics are fixated – I have read many people whose views I sometimes strongly disagree with – Obama, Wanyoto, Nagenda, Latigo etc but their arguments are distinct compared to others like Opondo, Mwenda et al. After it became crystal clear to me that Mwenda’s views (e.g. on role of state vis a vis private sector in social service delivery, corruption, social security etc) are irredeemably skewed, I have never read beyond the first paragraph of his writings or first minute of his debates. As such I have desisted from commenting on his views and probably wont for a long time after this post.

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  2. Beautiful piece. Much respect Comrade Sabiiti! I may add and say Mwenda has a Histrionic personality disorder (HPD)! I am proud of Ugandans like Sabiiti!

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  3. While most posts are praising your efforts at “undressing” AM, I’d like to play the devils advocate on this missive which looks more like character assasination to me;
    1) I am assuming to call out a Psuedo-intellectual, you must be some sort of intellectual yourself. you will agree with me that intellectualism/pseudo-intellectualism and fraud are interpreted differently by different demographics, faiths etc. Thinkers in the west seem to agree (with each other) that homosexuality is normal and thus a human right while intellectuals in the Arab world and indeed other parts of the world will vehemently disagree. For you to cleverly attack the man (labelling him a pseudo intellectual and fraud) while scarcely addressing the meat of his article I find rather distasteful with a hint fraud.

    2)for you to narrow down the reasons he has not been called out on his pseudo intellectualism to 3 points, disregarding those who consume his material and think it is important is not being objective. You only outline what you want your readers to believe, and going by their reactions, you are quite the story teller (jab intended), cleverly omitting things you think might leave the reader with impartiality.
    3) your article is littered with inconstitencies, semi-truths and poor writing;
    – if you’d done your research properly, you’ll find only immigrants of African descent are being brutalized in the US. The white immigrants of Irish or Italian descent etc have no problems.
    -don’t compare oranges with apples, where in the Asian countries you mentioned do you find the Natural wealth the DRC posseses, Japan’s only resource is their human capital. how many western listed companies are mining in the Congo? Why Libya and not Syria was attacked?
    – to criticise someone on use quotes from medieval thinkers while doing the same thing in the same sentence(your reference to Aristotle’s fallacies) is blatantly fraudulent.
    4) whataboutism – while you raise a valid point, you have have disregarded ‘moral authority’. you’ll agree with me that North Korea has no moral authority to preach to the US or indeed to any other country on democracy, likewise, the US whose police harrases it’s own citizens based on colour (despite admittence by authorities this still occurs), refers to corruption as lobbying, has no moral right to castigate African states.

    I think your ‘study’ or Andrew Mwenda’s intellectualism or lack thereof (in your opinion) is to meant to hide hide your own inability to discuss the issues raised in his article.

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    1. Micheal, Take your idiotic ideas to Mwenda’s newspaper. Have u ever been in the U.S.? Don’t think so. Are there some bad Cops ? Sure, just like everywhere in the World. Never heard self proclaim Old Man of the Idiots Mwenda talk about Blacks killing Blacks or Spanish in Campton south side. I am sure you never heard many Respected Black Leaders calling some of their communities to respect and cooparate with the Police. Stop running when an Officer tells u to stop. Try that in Kampala, Moscow or Pekin and see if you will go home alive. Atleast, US Cops have Camera and we can have a debate if a cop needs to go to jail. Never heard that Debate When a rich man Rwigara who refused Kagame’s monopoly business was killed in Kigali this year. Yes Google RWIGARA and see.

      I have leaved in the State for few years in a place that was majority Black folks and we never had an issue with Police. The problem we had of course was our own people with the same skin color stealing us, aaaaand we call Police.The truth is when someone break in to your House, or steal something, we all Dial 911. Are the Cops in Uganda or Kenya Angels ? Mwenda is making himself look stupid with this subject. What are his sources ? Angry black men on Twitter who think that they are the next Martin L. King. Go ahead, and keep drinking it. Did Mwenda get Killed when he attend Kagame’s meeting in the U.S. Last year ?
      Btw, Here are the few Things Obama has done for minorities, even though I disagree with him manytimes: 1 Rebuild the Economy, after Bush’s mess, 2 Free Health care after REP fought hard to block it ( By the way, is helping many poor people), 3 Giving 2nd chance Black man who committed crimes, 4 ending the Iraq War by saving young Black Marines’ Lives who go of the front line.

      What is M7 doing, except holding on Power and jailing his opponents. Sending our young men to fight wars across the Region. Corruption on the high level. All these are enough materials for the fake journalist to right but he can’t because he is corrupted. Does he want M7 to Die in the Office? At the end, you will be at the Wrong side of the History. And we will all remember how AM defended these Dictator because he sold his soul for the money. Shameless people.

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  4. I was not only astonished by brother Andrew Mwenda’s article against president Obama but i was also taken aback by his irrational political analysis. In his early days of political activism, Mwenda had convinced many that he is a Panafricanist of our modern time. However, it’s very unfortunate that he has become politically aggrandized by the M7’s political regime that has lost focus for the future of Uganda and has thus lost political legitimacy. He has become a defender of the political ills of the NRM government.

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    1. It is possible Andrew Mwenda was beaten into submission by the NRM marxist indoctrination machine. there were days when he would be hounded out of a radio talk show studio by the ever obedient police. Then there were days when he earned no less that UGX 200 million in government adverts in his independent weekly newspaper. Then there were days when he went overboard doing PR work for Paul Kagame and Museveni. Once he took on a full time PR business for NRM, and more specifically for Kagame and Museveni, his reasoning capacity deteriorated tremendously to the extent that he completely ceased to be rational and sometimes became incoherent. Whereas he might have exhibited some level of intelligence once he was subjected to NRM pay packages all sens of reasoning literally evaporated as he turned into a total NRM sycophant completely incapable of thinking for self but rather only used to echo as instructed from above.

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  5. Until his complete metamorphosis about 5 years ago, I was an avid follower of Mwenda since about 1998. I keenly following his articles, watched his famous video on aid. Around 1999 or 2000 he visited his old school and gave us a glowing lecture. Given this profile, I am eminently qualified to give my (expert?) opinion about this gentlemen – He has been a tragic disappointment at best. Giving credit where it is due is one thing, mechanical attempting to twist facts, hoodwink the public that you are informed and impartial whereas not is another. Similarly, being an impartial intellectual is one thing, using the facade of an impartial intellectual to promote one’s PR business is another but you cannot promote the latter (which is actually legitimate and rewarding business) under the guise of the former. It is clear that as Mwenda’s businesses flourished and he started taking commissions from regional strongmen, powerful local politicians and lawyers, his the rigours of his views waned dramatically and became outright diabolical. That was when the man himself started revisiting and moderating his previous opinions under the pretext that it is natural for an intellectual to interrogate himself and not fear controversy . Were he a politician in a certain party, he would have certainly been accused of being a hypocrite and confused. It is not that Mwenda’s critics are fixated – I have read many people whose views I sometimes strongly disagree with – Obama, Wanyoto, Nagenda, Latigo etc but their arguments are distinct compared to others like Opondo, Mwenda et al. After it became crystal clear to me that Mwenda’s views (e.g. on role of state vis a vis private sector in social service delivery, corruption, social security etc) are irredeemably skewed, I have never read beyond the first paragraph of his writings or first minute of his debates. As such I have desisted from commenting on his views and probably won’t for a long time after this post.

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  6. Political inclinations, theories,strategic imaginations and assumptions cant be avoided in the world we live in. Facts and deliberate fact twists is the greatest cancer activists of the time have, and of course the drama involved to impress.

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  7. I am here to learn. but the Andrew Mwenda of MONITOR FM/K.FM 2003 once placed in a closed room with the one of today could start a WW3

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  8. Guys, you are all victims of the disease you are accusing mwenda of having. Best you dont argue against the person but his ideas. Then we the readers can judge who the fraud is, if there’s one.

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  9. I find it odd, that all the intellectuals disregarding Mwenda’s intellect are merely undressing and revealing what no one needs to know and hear from them. Get down to the real issues, prove your “scholarliness” instead of throwing tantrums. Present an orderly argument against Mwenda and his president taking note of reality. Many of you question the dictatorial tendencies of the president but you have never stood up to be ultra vocal about what your stand is or at worst declare a bid for political leadership. With the great way your defending the whites I think your being breastfed by them. Can’t Africa be it’s own Africa, do we always need external interference. No one dares talk about the multinational companies that donate women’s bras fitted with magnets to cause cancer. No one ever speaks of the medication we take that is filled with refuse and real metal discs. Believe me, this is the truth. I mean, the celebration of how Americans own all that we delight in creates a great hunger for them to maintain the status quo. Imagine how they would feel if we made our own jets and would together as a block bargain our trade terms.
    Everyone hates Museveni, but as intellectuals I’ll listen to you best if you criticise him with a little more knowledge and evaluation than the public is going to fume about.
    America is not our Mummy. We are own on people, we should undress of the anger that has so blinded us.( The basis of Malcolm X’s transformation from violence to peace.)

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