American Author Calls Uganda's U.S.-backed Gen. Museveni "The Godfather of Mayhem" in Central Africa

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Museveni--called "godfather of mayhem" by author of new book. 
Recently London-based Ugandan journalist Dr. Vincent Magombe interviewed Professor Helen C. Epstein, the author of Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda and the War on Terror. The book, which is gaining wide attention, explores the US relationship with Uganda’s Gen. Yoweri Museveni and his involvement in six violent conflicts in the Horn and Great Lakes regions of Africa.  Kirkus Review called her book "A sizzling indictment of Uganda’s current strongman and of the American policy in Africa that supports his corrupt regime with generous foreign aid." Prof. Epstein teaches in the Bard College Human Rights Program and writes frequently about Africa for The New York Review of Books and other publications. She is also the author of The Invisible Cure: Why We Are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa, which was a New York Times Notable Book and Amazon's Best Science Book of 2007. She has advised numerous organizations, including USAID, the World Bank, Human Rights Watch and UNICEF. Helen holds a BA in physics from Berkeley, a PhD in molecular biology from Cambridge University and a Master of Science in Public Health in Developing Countries from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Vincent Magombe: Is the US contributing to war and suffering in Africa?  
Helen C. Epstein: Yes, but not everywhere. Since the end of the Cold War, US policy has been far more positive in southern and western Africa than in eastern and central Africa.  During the 1990s, Washington supported democracy in many African countries by imposing sanctions—or threatening to impose them--on regimes that failed to allow multi-party electoral competition, grant press freedom and release political prisoners. This policy led to democratic transitions in South Africa, Malawi, Namibia, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia and other countries.  While not without problems, especially corruption and recent authoritarian backsliding, these countries have been at peace ever since.  However, unbeknownst to most US taxpayers, some countries, including Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and DRC were never encouraged to democratize.  These countries, along with South Sudan, after its creation in 2011, have been led by dictators who enjoy vast amounts of development and military assistance from Washington.  The US continueds to lavish cash on them, even when they launch unprovoked wars on their neighbors, massacre their own citizens and torture and kill opposition figures.
VM: What do you see as the most troubling attributes of Museveni's rule?
HE: Museveni is probably Washington’s closest African military ally. He is also the godfather of much of the mayhem that has erupted in eastern and central Africa over the past three decades.  During the early 1990s, he funneled weapons and other forms of support to rebels in Sudan, Rwanda and Zaire, as DRC was then known.  This escalated the war in Sudan, helped trigger genocide in Rwanda, provoked the rise of Joseph Kony and led to what some have called “Africa’s first world war” in DRC. Millions died as a result. More recently, he’s been reportedly supporting the government of South Sudan, which some have accused of committing genocidal acts against its own people.
VM: What advice do you have for Ugandans struggling for change? What, in your view is the best way forward - as someone looking in from the outside?
HE: Polls suggest that some 80% of Uganda’s people do not like Museveni. However, elections are routinely rigged, and non-violent demonstrations are met with teargas, police batons and live bullets. Courageous politicians have been tortured and killed. Museveni’s tanks and bullets are paid for, in large part, with US and European tax dollars.  And yet the Ugandan diaspora hasn’t done as much as hoped to raise awareness about this.  The Rwandan and Ethiopian diaspora are much better organized and as a result, many Americans and Europeans know about the problems in those countries. This activism may be bearing fruit, at least in Ethiopia, where the new Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed Ali has promised to open up political space. If he does, it will be owing to the courage and activism of the Ethiopians around the world who have campaigned mightily against the EPRDF dictatorship.  I’d love to see Ugandans join hands and do the same.
VM: Museveni’s henchmen have also looted billions of dollars from the treasury—including donor funds intended to fight AIDS, malaria and infant mortality.  Foreign minister, Sam Kutesa was also reportedly involved in money laundering and bribery on US soil.  [Museveni himself is implicated according to the U.S. Department of Justice]. What steps do you think the United States government should take against the Kampala regime?
HE: The US and Uganda’s other Western backers must: cut off all military and other non-humanitarian assistance to Museveni’s government at once; place sanctions on Museveni’s henchmen who are guilty of corruption; and, stigmatize and shun his regime diplomatically, as they did Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. In 2004, the US Ambassador actually took steps to impose such sanctions, in order to pressure Museveni not to run in the 2006 elections.  However, US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazier over-ruled him, probably because the Bush II administration was preparing to invade Somalia and needed Museveni’s military help.
VM: By writing your book, you are making a major contribution to the struggle for freedom in Uganda. Do you see a possibility of change in Uganda? What hope is there for Ugandans?
HE: It all depends on whether Ugandans can get their point across to Western taxpayers. They should join forces with Rwandans, Congolese, Kenyans and South Sudanese whose tyrannical leaders also enjoy US support. An international campaign to protest against the trampling of basic human rights by America’s security partners in Africa is long overdue.  Uganda’s people—and those in the entire region, have suffered enough.  

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