Uganda Dictator Test Case For Obama’s New Africa Policy

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On the violent military display against civilians--This is the real Museveni and not the one who was serenaded by many Western leaders as one of Africa’s emerging great democratic hopes. It is the Museveni some of us have known so well for the last 22 years.

[Global Africa: Analysis Of A Dictator]

Not many politicians these days have the guts to go out in the public and show their true colors. Indeed a good number of world leaders have several faces that they put on for the benefit of the world.

A good reminder is that of when Britain’s Prince Charles invited photographers for a photo-opportunity while on a skiing holiday and while he relaxed with his two sons while the paparazzi were flashing away, he told his sons how he hated one of the journalists who were standing nearby.

He never counted on expert mouth readers to come out with the exact words that he had said to his sons. Then what about former President George W. Bush when he was caught “effing” off another hapless journalist not knowing there was a live microphone around?

If events that have taken place this week in the East African country of Uganda prove anything, they will show that the Ugandan leader is one of those who so often wear different faces to suit the occasion of the day.

Is it not the same fellow who, 22 years ago stood on the steps of the Houses of Parliament in Kampala as he was being sworn in as the then new Ugandan leader and declared:“Ours is not a mere change of guard. We are determined to bring fundamental changes to our country.”

There are many different faces that Museveni showed the international community when he started a guerrilla war against the then government of President Milton Obote. One of them was that his guerrilla movement, the National Resistance Army (NRA) was forced to step in and protect the people of Uganda who were being persecuted and harassed by members of the then Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).

At every opportunity that he got, Museveni was proud to tell whoever would listen how his NRA guerrillas were the pride of Ugandans wherever they went with many people calling them “our soldiers.” Acts of rape, murder, looting was often assigned to the UNLA. This led Museveni to start calling his guerrillas, “the people’s army’s.” In other words, his was a discipline army that had to fight the evil and undisciplined UNLA.

For a leader who often refers to anybody who opposes him as “backward” one wonders how far back he himself is since he made himself president, prime minister, chief of police, chief justice and father of the nation.

Here is a leader who rarely delegates but often orders his subordinates to carry out his whims. The senseless loss of life that Ugandans have suffered in the past few days during demonstration in and around Kampala go a long way to show that here is a leader who will stop at nothing to show he is boss.

Part of the problem is that African tyrants have become used to getting aware with abusing their citizens, knowing that the outside world will remain mute. Well the violence in Uganda goes to the essence of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Accra Speech, in which he denounced African “strong men.” Clearly, this is a test case.

Imagine the U.S. President ordering the police in New York to stop Governor David A. Patterson from travelling to attend a youth meeting in Poughkeepsie simply because there was a minority of  people there wanting to break away from New York State and form their own state.

The U.S. President goes on to explain to the media that because Governor Patterson has for the last two years refused to take his calls, he would side with those in Poughkeepsie who want to break away.

He adds that it would be very dangerous for Mr. Patterson to travel for his meeting with the people of Poughkeepsie and that his security could not be guaranteed.

One may find this laughable but this is the scenario that has caused the deaths of over 20 people and injured hundreds more during the last two days. It is also the scenario that has caused local radio stations and a private TV station in Kampala to be taken off air.

Ronald Muwenda Mutebi is the “Kabaka,” or king of what was once a very powerful monarchy. He does not have a personal army as his father, grandfather and great grandfathers used to. His security detail comes from the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), the national army, of whom President Museveni is the commander-in-chief. The dispute originates from a divide-and-rule plan engineered by Gen. Museveni when he established minor ethnic chiefs’ titles. These were obviously meant to try and dilute the power of the Buganda king by breaking his kingdom into minor fiefdoms with titular heads.

As the Buganda Monarch, the Kabaka has a right to visit any part of his kingdom when and wherever he wishes. But Museveni’s divide-and-rule play led to the establishment of another “leader” within Buganda who goes by the title “Ssabanyala,” meaning “one who leads the Abanyala.” 

The semblance to Kabaka Mutebi’s title of “Ssabasaja” or “one who leads all men” cannot go unnoticed. The Abanyala are thought to have come as sojourners from Busia and Kakamega districts in Kenya and made welcome by the Baganda in Bugerere County. The present Ssabanyala is a serving army officer in the UPDF, Capt. Baker Kimeze.

When the Buganda government officials planned to celebrate Buganda Youth Day that falls on September 12, they chose Bugerere and arranged for the Kabaka to be the chief guest. Capt. Kimeze would have none of this. He demanded that before the Kabaka descends on his fiefdom, he would need to seek permission to visit Bugerere. Asking the Kabaka to seek permission to visit part of his kingdom is indeed a great insult to the Baganda and they would have none of it. They simply went ahead to arrange the celebrations.

Whenever the Kabaka is visiting his subjects, loyalists construct arches across intersections. These are often well decorated with flowers and words of praise for their king. With the knowledge that they were “in our kingdom” the loyalists simply went ahead and started constructing arches on all intersections. This work is often carried out by loyalist youth.

Antony Rwaga, a resident of Kayunga, the main town in Bugerere writes: “When they started digging holes to erect poles for an arch in the town, the Central Region police Commander Richard Mivule stopped them. He ordered them to leave but they ignored him saying they were not harming anybody. [He] then ordered the arrest of one of the defiant youngsters, Isaac Byekwaso [who happens to be] a councillor for Kigogola parish in Kasawo sub-county, Mukono district. After the arrest, his colleagues insisted on going ahead with building the arch. When the crowd [that had gathered by now] started singing and chanting, the police fired teargas to disperse them. Chaos set in as the youth pelted the police with stones and in response, the police fired teargas and rubber bullets.”

From here the rest is history, as the violence escalated.

Conflicting reports followed with the police commander insisting that he had “orders from above” not to let the Kabaka come to Bugerere, while the Kayunga District Chairman Lugard Ssalambwa kept telling people they should come in big numbers to welcome the Kabaka. And Kabakumba Matsiko, a cabinet minister for information in the Museveni government said the Kabaka has a constitutional right to visit the area as it is under his jurisdiction laid out in the 1995 constitution as being among the areas of Buganda.

While all these officials were issuing conflicting statements, President Museveni was telling the press in Kampala that he had wanted to discuss the issue of the Banyala with Kabaka Mutebi but that the Kabaka had for the last two years refused to return his calls. In an indication of what was to happen, he gave the government-owned New Vision newspaper a statement in which he claimed he had intelligence information that the Buganda monarchy was being financed by Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi to destabilise Uganda. “We are following these reports very closely and we shall treat all people involved accordingly,” he was quoted as saying.

To anyone who understands African politics, this meant that sooner rather than later, the Kabaka would be under arrest.

As you are reading this, indeed, Kabaka Mutebi is effectively under house arrest as his residence is surrounded by heavily armed soldiers. The Kayunga Youth Day celebrations have since been cancelled and there is no doubt further arrests will follow.

This is the real Museveni and not the one who was serenaded by many Western leaders as one of Africa’s emerging great democratic hopes. It is the Museveni some of us have known so well for the last 22 years.


Gombya reports for The Black Star News from London

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