Obama And Africa Democracy: Reality vs. Rhetoric

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[Global: Africa]

One of the most memorable lines of President Barak Obama’s inaugural speech which were relevant to Africa were, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist…”


Six months later in his speech in Cairo, Egypt, President Obama repeated the theme on democracy when he said, “But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”


Furthermore on July 11, 2009, President Obama returned to the theme of democracy in Africa during his address to Parliament in Accra, Ghana when he said, “In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success – strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in peoples’ lives.”


President Obama’s speeches together with his campaign theme for "change," were unreservedly embraced by so many people and hope was in the air. The basic expectation was that the new administration would follow through and put these principles in executable policies.

At the very minimum, it was expected that President Obama would not be in bed with those regimes which cling to power by "corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent," to use his own words. While some people may argue that it is still too early to draw any conclusion, it is legitimate to assess what has happened in the last 17 months. For this purpose, consider the Obama Administration's relations with African leaders in the Great Lakes Region--Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi.

To begin with, when Obama crafted his speech about leaders who cling to power “through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent," he must have had particular leaders in mind. Such words are not uttered in a vacuum. The poster child of such leaders in Africa is President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.

Museveni has never concealed his beliefs, for those who are interested. Consider that as early as 1971, while at the University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, expounding on the theory of violence, 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….”

Museveni has faithfully followed his 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 in that region of Uganda shortly after taking power by force in 1986.

President 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).


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


Furthermore, in 2004, Jan Egeland, the former UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs described the conditions in the northern part of Uganda as the world's worst forgotten humanitarian crisis (Agence France-Presse, Nov 3, 2005)

Museveni’s violence did not spare neighboring countries. The 1994 Rwanda genocide, followed by a chronic genocide in the DRC where about 6 million people perished are believed to have been orchestrated by President Museveni and his protégé, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; the invasion of Rwanda was launched in October 1990 from Uganda. Of course, their alleged roles have been carefully concealed by the relentless narrative that claims that the Hutus were the sole culprits. Museveni and Kagame, conversely, are presented as heroes.

Between 1998 and 2003, President Museveni’s invaded the DRC twice and wreaked havoc there. His regime was found liable by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for plundering and looting the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and for fomenting ethnic cleansing.

As a result, the regime was ordered to compensate the DRC $10 billion. Furthermore, President Museveni is alleged to have supplied the missiles used to shoot down the plane carrying the late Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, which precipitated the Rwanda genocide of 1994.

In 2002, Museveni launched another military operation in South Sudan code-named “Iron Fist” in pursuit of the LRA rebels. This was followed by the latest military operation in the DRC code-named “Lightning Thunder”.

Both military initiatives failed to destroy the LRA, at a very high cost to civilian lives which were not protected by government troops. Museveni's National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime has been corrupt from the beginning and it has only gotten worse.


According to the 2004 International Transparency Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Uganda was ranked 102nd but in 2008, it was ranked 126th of the least corrupt countries out of 180 surveyed


Key incidences of corruption include the purchase of junk military helicopters, creation of “ghost” non-existent soldiers, teachers and workers, embezzlement of millions of dollars of Global Fund assistance for HIV/AIDS, and the bribing of parliamentarians to remove the constitutionally mandated presidential term limit.

Early last year the outgoing US Ambassador to Uganda acknowledged that Uganda was losing the corruption fight.


Most recently, General Otafiire, one of Museveni’s senior ministers called the National Resistance Movement,  a "party of thieves"


and recently President Museveni proclaimed that corruption is good so long as the ill-gotten wealth is invested into the country

Rigging of electoral votes has become Museveni’s daily bread. Citizens with differing political views and programs are often beaten up by state sponsored thugs. Some of them are arrested and jailed on trumped up charges. Political prisoners are often suspected of being poisoned only to be let out to die. The sanctity of the court is often violated by state security agents. Journalists are harassed for writing articles critical of the regime


If the picture presented here does not make President Museveni a poster  child of a leader who clings to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, I do not know what criteria President Obama used to craft his speech.

Yet President Obama is still following the policy of the Clinton era that described President Museveni and others as African leaders of the "new breed" of African leaders--an utter farce. President Obama is also following President Bush’s policy that embraced Museveni as a strong African ally.

US African policy cannot solely be based on "the war on terrorism" and the acquisition of natural resources. In the past, this was done by making allies of dictators such as the former Zaire's Gen. Mobuto Sese Seko. Museveni served a U.S. role by helping to oust French influence from the DRC and Rwanda, preventing the Chinese from South Sudanese oil fields and
preventing Al Qaida from using failed African states like Somalia as training and staging grounds.

The administration seems content with sacrificing democracy and human rights in exchange for alliances with dictators like Presidents Museveni and Kagame.

President Obama has yet to match U.S. action with his words which promised to embrace those who want the "freedom to live" as they choose in Africa.

Please post comments directly online or submit them to milton@blackstarnews.com

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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