America’s Favorite Tyrant

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More recently, corruption has even affected the country’s once lauded HIV/AIDS program. Following an audit by
PriceWaterhouseCoopers, more than $200 million in U.S. funding for Uganda’s AIDS program has been suspended, as funds were reportedly “missing.�

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is in Washington, D.C., this week where he is scheduled to meet U.S. lawmakers and World Bank officials concerned with the dictatorial trend his country has taken lately.

He can begin righting the course Uganda is following by assuring his U.S. supporters that he will not stand for elections next year, even though his rubber stamp parliament recently lifted term limits at his behest. He must also unequivocally declare that he will allow the return of his exiled chief political rival, Dr. Kizza Byesige – whom many believe was unfairly denied victory at the last elections through rigging – and that he will not be harmed.

The British government, Uganda’s major European backer, unhappy with the country’s polarized political atmosphere, has withheld millions of dollars in financial support. The United States can’t continue with a business as usual approach.

For many years, the United States has been a major supporter of Museveni’s government primarily for two reasons. The Americans claimed his government was a Godsend compared to previous Uganda regimes under Milton Obote and Idi Amin, distinguished by the thousands of Ugandans who died. Museveni was also embraced by the West because his government was one of the earliest to squarely tackle the HIV/AIDS scourge by mounting widespread public education campaign to promote safe sex and testing for the disease. Many lives were saved and the approach was credited with significantly lowering the HIV/AIDS incidence. Uganda became a model for other developing nations.

Recently, Mr. Museveni has shown his true colors. Ignoring the advice of his backers – including reportedly President Bush – he eliminated term limits, overnight reintroducing the prospects of a “life presidency� into Ugandan politics. He removed the one guarantee that his Western backers believed might separate him from his peers in Africa.

Sadly, the country has been bedeviled by corruption. A few years ago, the United Nations published a report criticizing Ugandan officials for looting mineral resources when Uganda’s army occupied eastern Congo, ostensibly to prevent insurgents from launching cross-border attacks. Senior military officials named included Mr. Museveni’s own brother, General Salim Saleh. Non of the officials were ever punished; the U.S. to its credit reportedly has barred Saleh from traveling here. Yet, other officials need to be similarly treated and ill-gotten assets frozen.

More recently, corruption has even affected the country’s once lauded HIV/AIDS program. Following an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, more than $200 million in U.S. funding for Uganda’s AIDS program has been suspended, as funds were reportedly “missing.�

Another scourge that has eroded Mr. Museveni’s reputation is the war in northern Uganda. The government has failed to defeat the brutal rebels of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in nearly 20 years. Critics contend that Mr. Museveni has never been serious in ending the war and that he has used it to punish the Acholi for resisting his ascent to power in 1986 and voting against him overwhelmingly in the last elections.

One of the government’s war strategies has been to confine 90% of the population of Acholi, 1.2 million people, in so-called Internally Displaced People’s camps, or “protected� camps. Despite the innocuous name, these camps are far from “protected.� They were supposedly established to last only a few months, in order to isolate civilians from Kony’s terrorists so that government forces could defeat them.

Yet some of the camps have lasted for more than 10 years.  The United Nations estimates that about 1,000, people die from hunger and diseases in these camps every week. This means that this year alone, close to 40,000 people have died. It is hard to imagine that anywhere else in the world, except in Africa, that this would not be labeled “genocide.â€? Children, women and the elderly die from lack of sufficient nourishment and medical supplies. Women have reportedly been either raped or killed by the very soldiers who are supposed to protect them. After a visit to some of the camps last year, the United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Ambassador Jan Egeland, referred to the situation as “the biggest forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today.â€? Mr. Museveni’s past argument was that once the war in Sudan ended, Kony’s terrorists would lose their sanctuary across the border and the war would end. The situation continues to worsen.

So while in Washington, Mr. Museveni will have many questions to answer. Mr. Bush claims that during his final years in office the U.S. will support democratization throughout the world. Mr. Museveni seems to be leading Uganda in the opposite direction. What will his hosts tell him this week?

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