Bigmanity: How consumptive politics feed sterile love for money, stokes violence in Uganda and Africa

Bigmanity: How consumptive politics feed sterile love for money, stokes violence in Uganda and Africa


I thought about writing an article by this title while in bed on the June 21, 2023. Perhaps what is in the title that is new to you is the word “Bigmanity”, the phrase “The sterile culture of money” and their linkage to violence in Africa.

I choose Uganda as a case study because it has had a lion’s share of violence within its borders over the past three decades it has been involved in many violence hotspots in Africa. Currently, and since 2007, its army has been at the heart of Al Shabaab insurgency in Somalia and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for years at great financial and human life cost. The United States of America – the best equipped military in the world – miserably failed.

Let me start by articulating and clarifying the word Bigmanity. This word was introduced in the discourses on network leadership and governance in African conflicts by a man called Mats Utas, in his article “Introducing Bigmanity and Network Governance in African Conflicts”. He developed his thoughts further in his 2012 article “Bigmanity and Network Governance in Africa”. He wanted to use Bigmanity and network governance to explain the proliferating web of violence within countries and regions on the African Continent.  

The word was derived from the phrase “big man” to refer to leaders or rulers who consummate all power and authority and wrap the two within themselves. They appear to loom big in such a way that their countries and their institutions tend to be subordinate to them. Words and phrases like neopatrimonialism, clientelism and patron-client system(s) are often evoked to unravel and explain how big men lead, govern and maintain power relations in their countries. We can rename Bigmanity as “Big Man Syndrome’ (BMS).

Bigmanity or Big Man Syndrome is based on social relations. A big man is a one who can create and use social relations to give him leverage over others production and functions in society. Mats Utas has observed that Bigmanity forms loose social webs based on ability to gather followers. Wealth gathering is part of the strategy. Economic wealth, access to land and formal political power – by hook or crook preoccupy the mind of the big man most of the time. The big man has the ability to command, to instigate mass action, create a following.

Creation of his own faction is absolutely crucial for his power and standing in the political spectrum, and he commits other men, women and their families to his faction. On the whole power is based on amassing wealth and redistributing with astutely calculated generosity. National resources, whether natural or financial are more or less his. This is reflected in the way he relates to the national budget in terms of ideas and allocations, and to the natural resources – how they are accessed, mined and used and who gets what, how and for whose ultimate benefit.

Thus, money is at the centre of Bigmanity. Also, at the centre of Bigmanity are loyalty and, unfortunately, violence. Those in the supply chain must remain loyal or else violence is reigned upon them, because after all the wealth they primitively accumulate has Bigmanity as its source. It is the big man who provides the economic power possibilities, protection and security to those within his circle of influence. When he withdraws economic supply, protection and security from them, they must crumble, often with catastrophic consequences.

It sometimes serves one right to avoid gaining from the power, authority, money, protection and security provided by Bigmanity. Frequently, conflicts increase room for Bigmanity. Therefore, where Bigmanity has been allowed to entrench itself, conflicts become an integral aspect of the leadership and governance of a country. A lot of money is spent on security, not so much to protect citizens as to protect power against the people. It is difficult to separate money and violence from Bigmanity.

Mat Utas teaches that Bigmanity is a response to the lack of formal structures. We may also add that it is a response to the collapse of formal institutions. In all circumstances, the big man wields a great deal of, often excessive social power across all social strata in the country. The social power is politically determined and exercised. The people engage in an ambivalent relationship with the state. The relationship is more and more pronounced when the state manifests more as a Deep State (where shadowy characters exercise more power and authority than elected officials).

When this is the case, people are lucky if they get quantity and quality of public services, because those who provide them primarily think about themselves. Indeed, the firms that provide the services may even be theirs or in venture with other, often foreign firms to maximise their dirty money. In the end it is Big man power and dirty money reigning violence on the people. Or else people may lose their land and livelihoods to Bigmanity and those associated with it or gaining from it politically, economically and socially.

It is most dangerous when kinship and ethnicity are at the centre of the violence, which is often the case in Africa. In such a reality separation, sacrifice and silence reign even at universities where in the past intellectuals used to speak for the people.

Often, where there is Bigmanity, money is pursued as a culture over and above traditional cultures. It is a sterile culture of money.  The culture of money in Big Man-run countries is always dirty. Money is dirty when it is sterile. Money is sterile when it is unfairly appropriated. This could be during budgeting when excessively huge monies are appropriated in ways that end up satisfying the big man’s wishes and choices that may have little to do with the country and its people. This explains why big men tend to become stinkingly rich after they have stayed in power for a very long time.

The philosophy of money and the violence of money are attuned to servicing Bigmanity and its fruits. One writer called Peebles (2012) has said that “dirty money” can manifest as a complex and as a taxation regime. 

One thing is true. Where the Dirty Money Complex manifests itself there too corruption reigns. No number of institutions established to fight corruption will succeed until Bigmanity, which propels and sustains the complex for its own advantage, has been brought to an end either by God or the people themselves. So long as Bigmanity predominates in African leadership and governance, conflicts and informal power and networks will continue to service de-democratisation of our countries.

The African Union is a grouping of Big Men. It cannot lead the crusade against Bigmanity on the continent. It can only serve their interests. Currently Bigmanity is promoting impoverishment, re-enslavement, de-nationalisation, dehumanisation, deradicalisation, de-intellectualisation, de-politicisation, de-socialisation, de-culturalization and monetisation and commodification of African life.

It is not rare for the big man to combine purity (supremacist tendencies), power and cruelty to maintain his privileged position in leadership and governance. Indeed, this combination repeats itself wherever Bigmanity has been allowed to rear its dirty head. Unfortunately, human life is losing value in many African countries. Things are more valued than people. This can be discerned from what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo where rebels and the armies of some Big Men of Africa are engaged in the resource conflicts of that country.

Therefore, if we want to see a conflict -free Africa that is committed to development, transformation and progress in the 21st Century, we must resolve in every country on the Continent to confront, reject and resist the virus of Bigmanity, and protect our institutions from it. We must reject and resist the informal power of Bigmanity and its networks in leadership and governance. Otherwise we forget meaningful development, transformation and progress and security of the future of our peoples.

I propose that our academic institutions in Uganda take Bigmanity as a fertile subject of study because it is at the centre of our economic, political and social processes. The ideas of Bonna Baggagawale, Myooga, Operation Wealth Creation and Parish Development Model have, in my view, Bigmanity at their centre, and are unlikely to benefit Ugandans in the long term. Because they tend to leave whole communities out of their dynamics, preferring to deal with factions or individuals, they are inherently conflictual and violent. 

The preferential allocation of money to them in the national budget, let alone the executive, legislative and judicial processes abetting them are also inherently conflictual and violent because of increasing influence of Bigmanity. Academics and intellectuals should be interested.

Academics must propose suitable topics to expose Bigmanity and its harmful effects on people and society. Intellectuals must articulate and clarify the conflictual and violent nature of Bigmanity in the short-term, medium-term and long-term, and use it to explain why we can never develop and transform our economy or progress meaningfully and effectively in the 21st century when this phenomenon enjoys centrality in the leadership and governance of the country.

For God and my country.

  • A Tell report / By Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula
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