President Obama: Don't Stop Democracy in Uganda

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The best thing that President Obama can do is to get on the right side of history and not stand in the way of the wishes and aspirations of Ugandans by sustaining Gen. Museveni

[Black Star News Editorial]

In the East African country of Uganda, where the United States has helped sustain General Yoweri Museveni for over 26 years in office, things are coming to a head.

Since Gen. Museveni stole Uganda's Feb. 18 Presidential election, the economy and political conditions have slipped rapidly.

The General, defying the Central Bank chief, had ordered the printing of billions of shillings, the local currency, to pay for votes throughout the country. The move triggered hyperinflation that now can't be contained. Fuel and food prices skyrocketed.

The primary leader of the opposition parties, Dr. Kizza Besigye, helped lead a "walk to work," campaign, to protest the rising prices. The campaign became hugely popular. During one of the walks, Dr. Besigye was beaten and shot in the hand.

But Ugandans had become defiant and lost their fear of the brutal regime. People continued the campaign even after scores were shot to death. During another walk, Dr. Besigye was beaten and chemical agents were sprayed into his eyes, forcing him to seek treatment in neighboring Kenya.

He returned home on the same date that Gen. Museveni was "sworn" in. The president's guests witnessed the tens of thousands who came to welcome Dr. Besigye at the airport; they vastly outnumbered the relative few at the general's inauguration.

At the same time, recently, Uganda's Parliament has become emboldened, taking the lead from ordinary citizens. Last year, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier, fearing that U.S. oil companies would be cut out from the country's lucrative new oil fields revealed that some oil executives claimed that European companies had paid bribes to leading Ugandan officials. These officials included then energy minister Hillary Onek and security minister Amama Mbabazi.

Onek is now internal affairs minister and Mbabazi prime minister. Both have resisted calls to go; meanwhile Gen. Museveni argues that documents implicating the officials were "forged." The implicated oil companies are Italy's ENI and U.K. Tullow oil.

Parliament has ordered both ministers to resign, in addition to the foreign affairs minister, Sam Kutesa, also accused of accepting bribes. Kutesa resigned soon thereafter, in connection with another alleged corruption scandal.

Uganda's Parliament also ordered that oil dealings be suspended, including those existing ones, until the corruption investigation concludes and strict laws governing the industry are enacted.

Now, as he sees democratic trends outpacing tyranny, the American-backed general, Museveni, is striking back. He assembled the Parliamentary Caucus of his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) for a closed meeting. The Caucus emerged and basically told the ministers, who are alleged to have received as much as $25 million in oil bribes, to ignore Parliament's order that they resign. Significantly, as a sign of his waning hold on power, some NRM Parliamentarians walked out of the meeting with Gen. Museveni; they can read the signs on the wall.

Gen. Museveni himself has announced that he will ignore the suspension of oil deals by Uganda's Parliament by taking charge of the industry himself. This is preposterous, since he himself was alleged to have accepted bribes and recently had to host a televised news conference to deny the accusations.

In the meantime, Gen. Museveni has ordered his security agents to block Dr. Besigye from participating in the "walk to work" campaign which resumed last week. Scores of armed services personnel have surrounded Dr. Besigye's home even though walking is not illegal.

Some of his colleagues arrested during last week's "walk to work" campaign have been charged with treason, which carries the death sentence. The repressive state is trying to intimidate its own citizens from walking.

Washington, Gen. Museveni's principal benefactor, remains mute to these disturbing trends. Instead, the only significant announcement with respect to Uganda was the revelation last week by President Barack Obama that American troops had deployed in the country to help the fight against Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) even though the brutal group is now several hundreds of miles away from Uganda.

Many Ugandans see this as the U.S throwing a lifeline to the general whose back is against the wall and they denounce such diversion. They would prefer to target the LRA after ending the ongoing tyrannical and corrupt regime, which in the past has used the LRA card to acquire U.S. financial and military support which are then deployed for represssion, rather than battling the insurgents.

The U.S. must end its hypocrisy--preaching democratization in Africa on the one hand while sleeping with the tyrant, Gen. Museveni, at the same time. The best thing that President Obama can do is to get on the right side of history and not stand in the way of the wishes and aspirations of Ugandans.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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