During one of his early visits to the African continent the former US President Bill Clinton mentioned that Africa has turned the corner with the emergence of the new generation of leaders emerging in the continent. And some of those leaders that he mentioned were Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Meles Zinawi of Ethiopia and Isaiah’s Afewerqi of Eritrea. Just over a decade latter we shall takes a look at these leaders and argues if they still fit the bill or if they’ve turned into typical tin pot village tyrants.
For a while I have harbored a sneaky suspicion that President Yoweri Museveni is living in a grand delusional bubble accompanied with eternal arrogance and perpetual confidence in his ability. However, what I was not sure was if this was political survival tactic honed after several years in the bush, or just his personality. All indications are that it’s the latter. The classical case of his display lack of respect for others is when he mentioned that the Lou’s are trouble makers following the dispute over a rocky Lake Victoria island of Migingo, with Kenya, where the Luo people live. For an initiated the Luo’s are an ethnic group that occupies both Kenya and Uganda. And In Uganda they compose a substantial cadre of the Lord’s Resistance Army which has been terrorizing people in Northern Uganda, DRC and Central African Republic.
Being the longest serving East African current head of state, by using all means, fair and foul, and almost out living Moi, who is from another generation, and ruled Kenya for 24 years, Museveni thinks he has been handed a Cart Blanche, to say and do whatever he wants, and get away with it. Owing to his longevity, he thinks he can be the head of East African federation ones the political federation comes into effect.
Museveni’s confidence emanates from the fact that for a while he has been the “darling” of the West, particularly the United States, where the last two US administrations being overly generous to him, in part because of some sleek position undertaken by Uganda and the fusion of America’s geostrategic interests with Uganda’s. During Southern Sudan’s SPLA/M civil war against Khartoum, Museveni championed himself as the guardian of US interests by supporting the late John Garang against what was perceived as the Arab North. This symbiotic relationship served Museveni well, because while he was fighting for the US interest, he was also fighting the Khartoum government because it was hosting the LRA. This brought him get closer to the then US administration.
In order to endear himself further to London and Washington, he slightly tilted his Marxist orientation and adopted marketing friendly neo-liberal policies although, the major beneficiary was the cable of people closer to him led by his half brother Salim Saleh, who won all the contracts. Thus underwriting one of the classical patronage regime .This was contrary to the ‘fundamental’ changes that he promised when he came into power.
When the scourge of HIV/AIDS ravaged Uganda like many Africa countries, Museveni pioneered what was then seen as a positive and intensive HIV/AIDS program. Uganda became the poster child of how to address the scourge in a continent where discussing HIV/AIDS as a public policy was seen as a taboo. This won Uganda accolades and increased its profile within the international community. However, the latest figures about HIV/AIDS emanating from Uganda do not add up, if the campaign that was undertaken then was indeed a genuine one because there are arguments that the government fudged numbers in order to continue receiving the donor money, without mentioning that the Uganda Aids Commission being mired in corruption.
Exit Clinton; enter George W. Bush, who came into the office on the crest of a right wing wave. As foxy as ever, Museveni who is not known to be strictly religious, apart from his wife, being an avowed evangelical, all of a sudden started courting people like Pastor Robert Kayanja, who actually is his spiritual advisor. This was done with an express intention of grabbing the White House’s attention. Attention that he got and used it to maximum benefit. He used this leverage and turned the spotlight on the murderous rebel group in Northern Uganda, the LRA. During This time the Ugandan military obtained substantial military aid to kill or capture the leader of the LRA, the evasive Joseph Kony. Something the Ugandan Army has been attempting for over two decades, without a success. For an army that was built during the bush fight, when Museveni was a rebel leader during the 80’s, and adept at counterinsurgency tactics, why has it been difficult to root out Kony’s LRA? Even after Kony, a primary school dropout has lost support not only with the Khartoum regime, which supported LRA for years to counter Kampala’s support for SPLA/M, but even the support of the people in Northern Uganda, in whose name he launched the rebellion.
One of the classic US foreign policy interventions in Africa was in Somalia in 1991 when “Operation Restore Hope” was abandoned after rebel Somali groups dragged killed American marines on the streets of Mogadishu prompting the call for withdrawal of American troops from Somalia. Since then, the US suffers from Somalia syndrome, which essentially means, keep off some of these tribal fighting that we know little about something which was blamed for non interference in Rwanda in1994 leading to the genocide. The Somali incident has forever been etched on the memory of the United States.
However, Somalia has started appearing on the radar of the US’s policy discourse. This was prompted by coming to power of the Union of Islamic Courts which has close ties with the Al Qaeda making Somalia its base for the Al Qaeda franchise in the Horn of Africa. Its close proximity to Yemen adds to the nightmare scenario coupled with the fact that Indian Ocean serves as a strategic transport artery linking Asia, Africa and the Middle East. While United States has been supporting behind the scene peace efforts in Somalia, addition of Al Qaeda to the matrix injected some pace urgency to the effort. Both the AU and the UN mission in Somalia have been at best lackadaisical, with Uganda and Rwanda providing the back bone of the troops.
If Museveni’s earlier sending of the troops was in part motivated by the Pan African ideal to which he pays some homage to when it serves him right, the Al Shaabab bombing of Jul 12, 2010 gave him a raison d’être and a public relations bonanza that he desperately needed. Just one year before the election this was a shot in the arm. Always never late to cast himself as Mr Tough Guy, Museveni said that those who were involved in the bombings will be dealt with, and that Uganda will send additional troops to support peace effort in Somalia. He should know better as a former rebel leader how people with no return address like Al Qaeda are a hard nut to crack using the conventional military strategy.
Museveni came to power on 26 January 1986, and the last time when his constitutional term in office expired he changed the constitution and removed the term limit allowing him to run for the third term. With another election slated for 2011, your guess is as good as mine on who will be the winner, if his ruling parties’ recent weeks’ primaries are anything to by. Anyone wishing him to be out of scene in a near future will be disappointed because Museveni shall be with us for a very long time.