U.S.-Africa Summit: Activists Remind President Obama 'Africa Doesn't Need Strongmen; It Needs Strong Institutions'

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Moderator Shaka Ssali: photo shows part of panel -- Gatebuke, Allimadi, and Bakoko

Activists who deal with issues of human rights, democratic governance, economic development and social justice in Africa met on the eve of the U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington to prod President Obama to stop his administration's support for dictators such as Uganda's Gen. Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda's Gen. Paul Kagame and Congo's Joseph Kabila.

The activists, who held a July 31 news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., stressed that President Obama's 2009 declaration in Accra remains a brilliant insight into Africa's priorities -- Obama said: "Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”

The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit opens today in the nation's capital -- President Obama will host several African presidents; the D.C. events include those related to trade and investment and electric energy to power Africa's economies.

The activists believe democratic governance should also take center-stage and they deplored the U.S.'s continued backing for dictatorships in primarily five African countries: Uganda; Rwanda; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Ethiopia; and Egypt.

However, they also noted that the policy applied to all authoritarian-regimes in Africa that are U.S.-backed. They urged American citizens to demand that their taxpayers' dollars not be used to prop brutal regimes that don't rule based on the consent of voters.

The presenters spoke for about three minutes each; the event was moderated by Shaka Ssali, the prominent Uganda-born journalist and host/producer of VOA's "Straight Talk Africa." He later opened the session up for questions-and-answers with the audience.

The first presenter, Claude Gatebuke, from Rwanda deplored the U.S. support for Gen. Kagame's regime even after his army was implicated in several United Nations reports in genocide of Hutu refugees in Congo and in the recent assassination of Patrick Karegeya the former intelligence chief who had been granted asylum in South Africa.

Gatebuke, a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda stressed that American taxpayers should demand an end to the support to Gen. Kagame's regime.

In addition to the 1994 genocide, Gatebuke also spoke about the atrocities committed by the Uganda-backed Rwanda Patriotic Front, which was commanded by Paul Kagame and which invaded from Uganda in October 1990.

He said continued U.S. support for Museveni and Kagame, even after the role their militaries played in the Congo atrocities -- where the death toll has been estimated at up to seven million, was "unconscionable."

He said Rwanda gets up to $200 million annually from the U.S.

"I really call on the American public and the American people to hold our government accountable, to hold President Obama accountable; for him to have a strong conversation and make it clear, in no uncertain terms that, not on our watch and not on our dollar will atrocities continue to be committed," Gatebuke said.

Milton Allimadi, from Uganda, said as far as he was concerned Gen. Museveni and Gen. Kagame were unindicted war criminals. He noted that for its army's role in the Congo atrocities, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2005 found Uganda liable for war crimes in the Congo: massacres of civilians; plunder of resources; and, mass rapes. He noted that Congo was awarded $6 billion to $10 billion in reparations; not a dime of which had been paid.

Allimadi, who publishes The Black Star News said after the ICJ's ruling, the government of Congo referred the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) which initiated its own investigation. He said The Wall Street Journal reported on June 8, 2006 that Gen. Museveni was concerned about possible criminal indictment and personally contacted then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and asked him to block the investigation.

Allimadi wondered how the investigation had been blocked.

He said corporate media are a part of the problem by shielding Western governments and corporations that benefit from relationship with African dictators. He urged media to use activists as a resource for information and different perspective.

Nii Akuetteh, Ghana-born, put US-Africa relations in historical context. He noted that U.S. support for tyranny in Africa predates the 1960s independence period with American administrations backing the centuries-old apartheid system in South Africa. He said while it is politically expedient for every U.S. administration of the day, policies backing dictators are counter-productive and hurt real U.S interest.

To the list of today’s “friendly tyrants” highlighted by panelists (Rwanda, Uganda and DRC), Nii added Ethiopia and Egypt. He spoke about the divergence between the message President Obama delivered in Ghana, Nii’s country of birth (“Africa doesn't need strongmen; it needs strong institutions”) versus the practice of supporting dictators.

Nii, a democracy campaigner and founding Executive Director of George Soros’s West Africa foundation, talked about the powerful role played by the American people in ending Ronald Reagan’s support for white supremacy in South Africa and stressed that Americans today can distinguish themselves from U.S. government and help liberate the 5 African countries still tyrannized by America’s favorite dictators. The American people can do this by demanding that U.S. taxpayer money no longer goes to support those regimes. He said: “For at least a century, an essential truth (American support for countless predatory African tyrannies and warlords) has been hidden from the American people. The US media must now begin performing its sacred democratic duty by working with democracy campaigners to tell the American people this vital truth.”

Zoe Bakoko Bakoru spoke from the position of a former insider -- a cabinet minister in the Museveni regime. She recalled how Museveni and his family members raided Uganda's National Social Security Fund to the tune of $5 million per month -- retirement money that belonged to hard working laborers.

She recalled how she instituted an audit which stopped the stealing and eventually led to her dismissal as a minister. She spoke about the importance of the need for peaceful transfer of power in Africa and recalled the emotion she felt --crying-- when she watched the formal transition in the U.S. from George W. Bush to President Obama. She recalled that she had become emotional because in all her years, she had never seen a president peacefully hand over power to his successor.

She said both Gen. Museveni and Gen. Kagame regard Congo as a province of their respective countries, Uganda and Rwanda, where they can plunder resources at will. She said African dictators abuse ordinary citizens as if they were "political condoms."

Nita Evele, a Women's Rights activist from Congo, spoke about how Eastern Congo had become the rape capital of the world and how the government did nothing to protect the women and children who were the primary victims.

She referred to a report in Forbes Magazine that estimates President Joseph Kabila's wealth at $15 billion. She wondered how the world could stand by and watch the crimes being committed against the people of the Congo. She deplored U.S. support for the militaries in Africa rather than investing in the civilian population.

Shaka Ssali, the moderator, in closing noted: ''Democracy should really be an equal opportunity employer," on the African continent.

He said societies that developed were those where the citizens had "unfettered" access to information.

"What we don't need frankly is where we have an individual or a couple of individuals who think they are everything for everybody," he added.


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