A Tunisian And Egyptian Road For Museveni?

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[Commentary: On Despotism]

At first glance a statement may appear preposterous--yet upon examination the true meaning and intent can be revealed.

Such is the case of an interview last July in Uganda when Johnny Carson, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs said, "I don't believe President Museveni is a dictator. He is a president duly elected in a free and fair election.”

Separately, in a recent interview, the outgoing head of delegation of the European Union (EU), Vincent De Visscher also heaped praise on President Museveni, calling him a "visionary" for his role in Burundi, the DRC, South Sudan, Northern Uganda, and now in Somalia. He also praised President Museveni for his war on corruption and for an unprecedented growth of the Ugandan economy.

These two interviews come in stark contrast with some very damning criticism of President Museveni, which Carson penned in the Boston Globe on May 1, 2005--when he was warning of the dangers of Museveni prolonging his regime. DeVisscher also refutes his own glowing conclusions within the same interview where he lavishes praises.

If one takes the two interviews without critically looking at who Carson and DeVisscher represent, one may be confused. For those who may be baffled, it is necessary to examine these "praises" of President Museveni in context.

The U.S.-backed dictator Museveni is undoubtedly a "visionary"--and so were other leaders like Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Idi Amin. For those who know something about the history of these "visionaries," it becomes obvious that having a vision per se is not necessarily good for society. It is the nature of the vision and how it is implemented that is important.

In the case of Museveni, his "vision" is informed by some of his own words, written while he was a student at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, when he said, “To transform a human being into an efficient, uncostly, and completely subservient slave, you have, as a pre-condition, to completely purge him of his humanity, manhood, and will. Otherwise, as long as he has some hope of a better, free future, he will never succumb to enslavement. To become an efficient instrument of oppression, you have to radically dehumanize yourself by forgoing many qualities that are normally found in balanced human beings. You purge yourself of compassion, altruism, consideration of other people's suffering and the capacity to restrain your greed.”

President Museveni has faithfully followed this script in the pursuit of political power in a variety of ways. For example, as a process of dehumanizing himself, he embarked on a toxic anti-ethnic campaign against the people of the northern part of Uganda as a prelude to launching a genocidal war on that region of Uganda shortly after taking power by force of arms in 1986.
Museveni and his close associates described people from the northern part of Uganda in dehumanizing terms, including “biological substances” and likened them to grasshoppers trapped in a bottle to die with nowhere to escape.

Later on, Museveni embarked on a variety of military operations including scorched earth operations in the north. In eastern Uganda, innocent people were deliberately suffocated in train coaches in his regime's quest to subdue opposition.

This was followed by the forceful incarceration of about 2 million people in the forced displacement camps where the Uganda Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization estimated in a 2005 survey that as many as 1,000 people perished per week from preventable diseases (Health and Mortality Survey, 2005) translating to 52,000 deaths per year.

In 2004, Doctors without Borders --Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF-- found that the health situation amounted to an emergency and it was worse than that in Darfur.

Yet President Museveni defied Uganda's Parliament which had voted to declare the north a disaster area to facilitate humanitarian assistance. President Museveni also refused military assistance from Tanzania and Kenya to help protect the people incarcerated in the concentration camps.

Carson’s own boss, President Barack Obama, has clearly criticized, “leaders who cling to power by deceit, corruption and suppression of dissent,” Even by De Vasscher’s own admission in the recent interview, President Museveni’s regime is riddled with corruption with impunity. In fact, De Visscher asked for corrupt ministers to resign.

On the political front, De Vasscher justifies Museveni’s overstay in power by claiming that Ugandans amended the constitution to remove term limit allowing Museveni to run for the presidency indefinitely. Such an argument directly contradicts what DeVasscher said in Kampala at the closure of a workshop on human rights and good governance last year when he said, “A lot of violence, intimidation and rigging have been reported in the previous elections and that is very unfortunate. Politicians ought to have debate of ideas without a stake in it,” and “violence will breed violence”.

Although the ambassador knows what happened, he should be reminded that the constitutional amendment was a sham, accomplished by bribing the legislators by what became known as kisanja in 2005, which happened in spite of Johnny Carson’s warning in 2005.

The assessment of the true nature of the Museveni regime was clearly revealed last October by Wikileak in which Ambassador Jerry Lanier sent a cable to Washington that said “the President’s autocratic tendencies, as well as Uganda’s pervasive corruption, sharpening ethnic division, and explosive population growth have (been) eroding Uganda’s status as an African success. Holding a credible and peaceful presidential election in February 2011 could restore Uganda’s image, while failing in that task could lead to domestic political violence and regional instability.”

Even in the run up to the 2011 election, it is clear that the incumbent is using many underhanded methods to hamstring his opponents to ensure his victory. The pervading perception is that Museveni will win by hook or crook. For example, it is alleged that he is abusing his office as Chair of the African Union and his close relationship with the ICC prosecutor, Louis Moreno Ocampo, to blackmail neighboring politicians to campaign for him, which he knows contravenes the law on national sovereignty.

It is not by ignorance that the US and EU praise Museveni. Rather, they do it in spite of what they know and simply look the other way. By supplying him with military intelligence and material that the regime uses for committing crimes against humanity as evidenced by the International Court Justice, UN DRC Mapping of Human Rights Violation Report and US diplomatic cable, and giving diplomatic cover, the US and the EU embolden President Museveni to continue clinging to power by deception, corruption and suppression of dissent.

This is, of course, nothing new. The US and the EU are known to look the other way to allow despotic leaders such as Sadam Hussein of Iraq when he was at war with Iran and Mobuto of what's now the DRC, to cling to power so long as they serve narrow Western interests.

De Vasscher also argued that the EU will not engage in changing governments in countries like Uganda where President Museveni has clung to power for over 24 years. However, such an argument rings hollow because both the US and EU are engaged in regime change in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

By openly supporting a despotic president in Uganda, they are propping up a president who would not win in a free and fair election or without unbridled corruption. Clearly, the lesson to be learnt from Johnny Carson’s and Vincent De Vasschers’s hypocrisy is that they represent countries which will not hesitate to sacrifice the development of democracy in other countries to promote and protect their own interests.

What then can the oppressed people in the developing world do to change their own situations such as getting rid of despotic leaders who overstay their welcome? The people of Tunisia just answered this question by hounding their president out of power and a similar protest is unfolding in Egypt.

Time will tell whether or not this will be the new trend of regime change in Africa in the near future.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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