U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit: Museveni Pays $600,000 For 'New Image' As His Past Ugly Remarks Finally Catch Up

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Gen. Museveni believes he can buy a good image in the U.S. with $600,000



President Yoweri Museveni's regime's reputation is now so battered that he has reportedly paid a U.S. public relations firm $600,000, Ugandan taxpayers' money to try and reverse things.

The one-year contract is with Mercury LLC; one of the partners of the company is Vin Weber, a former Republican Congressman and campaign adviser to Mitt Romney, who was defeated by Barack Obama in the last U.S. election.

Some of Mercury's functions will be "managing media relations" with specification that "the firm will monitor coverage of President Museveni as well as the country as whole."

Museveni's star has fallen.

When he became president of Uganda in 1986 riding on the crest of guerrilla victory he was showered with praise as an intellectual that had picked up the gun to save Uganda and her people.

He soon became the darling of the West especially of the United States of America. He was showered with money and invitation to attend the annual G8 Summits of industrialized countries for boldly launching “shock therapy” stabilization and structural adjustment program (SAP) that was shunned or amended by governments including in Chile, Ghana and Tanzania.

Against this backdrop, Gen. Museveni began to speak and write with confidence without realizing that a spoken or written word never dies; to make and break promises without worrying about the repercussions and to behave as though he had won glory permanent no matter what he subsequently committed or omitted.

Sadly, while he was in Washington D. C., the American capital, to attend this week's historic U.S.– Africa Leaders Summit, Museveni got a rude shock of his life.

He was marginalized and even attacked for his past reckless remarks and broken promises that did not sit down well with many people in the United States. People who had followed Museveni develop a special relationship with the United States of America especially the anti-terrorism collaboration expected a warm welcome notwithstanding his signing the anti-gay bill, which was conveniently "annulled" just before he boarded his $50 million tax-payers' money Gulf Stream jet to the United States. 

Museveni’s actions had gone against American values in some respects.

Early in his administration, Museveni was interviewed by an American reporter, Bill Berkeley, who is now a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia, America's top program. During that interview published in The Atlantic Monthly magazine, Museveni made a statement to the effect that he did not blame whites for enslaving Africans, adding that " If you are stupid, you should be taken a slave” -- perversely implying that Africans were taken slaves because they were stupid.

As expected this statement, which has recently come to the forefront as Americans begin to review Museveni's past, in light of his extremely bigoted comments towards Gays, did not go down well with African Americans.

In preparation for Museveni's visit, the statement was dug up and published. The longest serving African-American Congressman in the United States House of Representatives, Rep. Charles Rangel, issued a statement denouncing the comments by Museveni.

The same Congressman, Rep. Rangel, had earlier issued a statement denouncing the candidacy of Uganda's foreign minister Sam Kutesa for Presidency of the United Nations General Assembly. That was the first blow.

Still looking back at the archives, on April 15-21, 1998, The Shariat (Vol. II No.15) then one of Uganda's vibrant newspapers, published comments Museveni reportedly made earlier while talking about bringing states in the Great Lakes region and in the Horn of Africa into a federation, presumably under his rule.

Museveni was apparently emulating Adolph Hitler, and The Shariat quoted him saying, "As Hitler did to bring Germany together, we should also do it here. Hitler was a smart guy, but I think he went a bit too far by wanting to conquer the world.”

This statement, like the one on slave trade, is not going down well with American people especially those who lost their loved ones during the Second World War including the six million Jews exterminated during the Nazi regime. This statement was also dug up and published before Museveni arrived in the United States, adding an injury to his self-inflicted wound.

Not surprisingly during this week's U.S-Africa Leaders Summit the American administration kept him at a distance with a 20-foot pole except for the formal pose with all invited guests, for the sake of diplomacy. During panel discussions, it was Rwanda's Paul Kagame who was prominently on the podium, alongside Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete, and South Africa's Jacob Zuma, and other African leaders; in the past it would have been Museveni.

Museveni's past empty promises are also catching up.

Shortly after becoming president, Museveni made a solemn promise, underscoring that he had accepted leadership of Uganda to clean the mess, restore security and democracy and then retire.

He emphasized that he was one of those fellows not very keen to remain in public life for a long time unlike most African leaders. At his swearing in on January 25, 1986, Museveni said:

"Nobody should think that what is happening today, what has been happening in the last few days is a mere change of guards. This is not a mere change of guards -- I think this is a fundamental change in the politics of our country," Museveni declared, and the huge crowd before him outside Parliament roared its approval.

"Because in Africa we have seen so much change that change has become meaningless," He added. "It's no longer change, but merely turmoil. This group getting rid of that group, and that group doing worse than the group it got rid of. Now, please do not count us in that category of people. The National Resistance Movement I think is a clear-headed movement, with clear objectives and with good membership. I think it makes a very big difference, from the situation in which we were, where the very people in power were they themselves encouraging evil instead of trying to combat evil. I think this is a slightly different situation."

Remarkable how 28 years later he now perfectly fits that category of people whom he had condemned.

When his term was up in 1990, he appealed for an extension because more work remained to be done under his leadership. The public and Parliament objected. He was saved by Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga who pleaded to Ugandans to give Museveni an extra  five years to stabilize the country and arrange an orderly succession. That was 1990.

it is now 2014 and Museveni has not been able to arrange a succession even though in recent years he has been grooming his son whom he had fast-tracked into a Brigadier. He broke his promise.

When President Obama became president, he advised that leaders in Africa that had stayed in power too long needed to retire. Museveni did not accept this advice. Accordingly the United States was not able to extend a warm welcome to a leader that has been in power continuously since 1986 and still counting. 

The U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit was primarily about strengthening trade and investment between America and Africa. Therefore for panel discussions, the organizers picked African leaders that had created conditions for stimulating investments including in the manufacturing sectors. The record from Uganda was one of broken promises.

In an interview of 1991, Museveni stressed that Uganda would be industrialized within 15 years, insisting that he had no doubt about that because nothing could stop him. This promise has been broken.

Not only has industrialization not taken place but the country is de-industrializing. Some manufacturing enterprises have been closed including an AGOA factory, the Tri-Star Apparel plant, Uganda Bata factory, Steel Rolling Mills. Other factories have relocated outside Uganda and yet others are operating below installed capacity. 

Some Americans that have tried to invest in Uganda are complaining about lack of infrastructure, institutions, skilled human power and especially about corruption. Accordingly Museveni could not be selected as one of the African panelists during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit because there are no good lessons to offer.

Not least, although the anti-gay bill which Museveni signed into law against objections of many at home and abroad was annulled a few days before Museveni arrived in the United States damage had already been done to his reputation.

Thus, singly or in concert, Museveni’s reckless statements, broken promises, corruption, sectarianism and cronyism undermined his credibility and visibility during his visit to the United States.

Whatever corrective measures he undertakes it will likely be difficult to restore the glory he enjoyed before the start of the 21st century. It will not be done by giving $600,000 in Uganda taxpayer's money to a U.S. public relations firm while many hospitals have no medicine.

To save the little credibility he still enjoys, it is advisable that Museveni steps down without further delay so that a transitional government is formed to rebuild the “Pearl of Africa”.


Eric Kashambuzi is international Consultant on Development Issues. He lives in New York.  


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