Strongman Yoweri Museveni might be nearing the end of the road. For 25 years he has ruled Uganda as the country recovered from Idi Amin’s disastrous rule and a brutal civil war. To add to the stability brought about by his regime, Uganda has also been one of the fastest growing in Africa since the mid 1990s.
But recent inflationary pressures on the prices of fuel and other essential commodities are increasing pressure on the strongman. The last two days have seen running battles in Kampala and Gulu, with at least two reported dead. Opposition leader Kizza Besigye was reportedly shot in the hand by a rubber bullet on Thursday.
Museveni’s game plan in reaction to all this still remains unclear. Whatever the eventual strategy, it is gonna be hard to keep the rallies against his regime bloodless if the people keep coming out to protest. Most people tend to forget that Museveni has never really stopped being a military ruler.
History shows that the most frequent way through which military rulers are ousted, at least on the continent, is through coups.
Those who enter power by the gun also tend to exit by the gun.
Overall, African autocrats with the longest tenures include: Obiang’ of Equatorial Guinea (32 years); Edwardo dos Santos of Angola (32); Biya of Cameroon (29); Compraore of Burkina Faso (25); Mswati of Lesotho (25); Museveni of Uganda (25).
Other autocrats fast approaching the league of lifetime rulers include Omar al-Bashir of (Northern) Sudan, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia (who is planning on crowning himself King), Idris Deby of Chad, and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
Col. Gaddafi has been having an independent foreign policy and, of course, also independent internal policies. I am not able to understand the position of Western countries, which appear to resent independent-minded leaders and seem to prefer puppets. Puppets are not good for any country. Most of the countries that have transitioned from Third World to First World status since 1945 have had independent-minded leaders: South Korea (Park Chung-hee), Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew), China People’s Republic (Mao Tse Tung, Chou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Marshal Yang Shangkun, Li Peng, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jing Tao, etc), Malaysia (Dr. Mahthir Mohamad), Brazil (Lula Da Silva), Iran (the Ayatollahs), etc.
Between the First World War and the Second World War, the Soviet Union transitioned into an Industrial country propelled by the dictatorial, but independent-minded Joseph Stalin. In Africa, we have benefited from a number of independent-minded leaders: Col. Nasser of Egypt, Mwalimu Nyerere of Tanzania, Samora Machel of Mozambique, etc. That is how Southern Africa was liberated. That is how we got rid of Idi Amin. The stopping of genocide in Rwanda and the overthrow of Mobutu, etc., were as a result of efforts of independent-minded African leaders. Gaddafi, whatever his faults, is a true nationalist. I prefer nationalists to puppets of foreign interests. Where have the puppets caused the transformation of countries? I need some assistance with information on this from those who are familiar with puppetry. Therefore, the independent-minded Gaddafi had some positive contribution to Libya, I believe, as well as Africa and the Third World. I will take one little example. At the time we were fighting the criminal dictatorships here in Uganda, we had a problem arising of a complication caused by our failure to capture enough guns at Kabamba on the February 6, 1981. Gaddafi gave us a small consignment of 96 rifles, 100 anti-tank mines, etc., that was very useful. He did not consult Washington or Moscow before he did this. This was good for Libya, for Africa and for the Middle East. We should also remember as part of that independent-mindedness he expelled British and American military bases from Libya, etc.
That is Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, talking about Col. Gaddafi. More on this here.
My thoughts on this: Dictators have no internal affairs (HT Han Han). I will forever be skeptical of autocrats screaming “sovereignty.” Oftentimes it is when they are jailing, exiling, killing and dispossessing dissidents left, right and centre that they will shout loudest about the principle of non-interference.
How different would Uganda be today minus economic aid and any form of interference from the West? Let’s not pretend that it is Western interference that has stunted African economic, social and political development. Achebe was right. The trouble with Africa is simply and squarely a problem of leadership. For every Lula, Lee Kwan Yew or even Stalin, Africa has had Mobutu, Museveni and Mugabe. Where the former had controversial (and sometimes despicably murderous) but well thought out and ideologically driven plans for transforming their societies, African leaders have more often than not willingly mortgaged away their country’s futures while engaging in ideologically bankrupt and crass tribal politics.
African resources have created billionaires elsewhere while African masses starved. African leaders signed off on most of these deals in exchange for kickbacks. The African tragedy over the last 50 years is just that. An African tragedy. Foreigners only played a supporting role.
At a meta-level I sympathize with Museveni. It is the nature of the international system that the strong prey on the weak. But where I disagree with him is how to deal with this fact. He wants the strong to benevolently keep off and condone his mediocrity. I prefer the continued pressure from the strong so that even states like Uganda can develop capacities to stand up to the strong, both economically and militarily.
It is a pipe dream to continue nurturing and protecting mediocre leadership all over Africa while expecting the strong nations of the world to benevolently keep off. China, India, Brazil, Russia and the usual suspects from the West will continue preying on Africa as long as clowns like Kabila, Mugabe, Gbagbo and the thieves in Abuja are in charge. Let’s not kid ourselves. What would stop Europe from re-colonizing Africa if Brussels and Washington signed off on the idea? And if Russia and China joined in, would they defend Africans or access to African resources?
I am glad that the threat of regime change is alive and well. Perhaps it will wake up the inept kleptocrats all over Africa from their 50-year stupor.
Long-term Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, in on course to a comfortable win in the country’s general election. With over 70% of the votes counted Mr. Museveni leads his closest rival, Besigye, with over 40%. President Museveni, ruler of Uganda since 1986, started off as a different kind of African president, presiding over a decade of sustained growth, drastic reduction in HIV infection rates and general peace and stability. But he stayed for too long. Beginning in the mid-1990s Uganda transitioned – under intense domestic and international pressure – from a “no-party democracy” [whatever that means] to a multiparty electoral system in which Museveni allowed for opposition at the margins.
The new dispensation created pressures for greater levels of patronage in order for Museveni to stay in power. He scrapped constitutionally mandated term limits, created a cabinet of over 70 ministers and went crazy with what Ugandans call “districtization” – the act of creating new local government jurisdictions purely for patronage purposes. Uganda’s new found oil reserves will certainly continue to fund the long-term autocrat’s stranglehold on Ugandan politics. Rumors abound that he intends to install his son and head of the presidential guard as his successor.
In other news, Col. Gaddafi is reported to be using African mercenaries to quell rebellion in the east of Libya. For decades Gaddafi has been a Guevara wanna-be, funding armed rebellions all over the Continent (Including the infamous Charles Taylor of Liberia). He seems to have done all that in the hope that the rebels he funded would come to his aid, like is happening now. But the presidents/rebel leaders who have sent soldiers to kill Libyans demanding for their natural rights should be aware that it is precisely such acts that have landed Jean-Pierre Bemba at the Hague.
The African Union Summit in Uganda resolved to send an additional 2000 troops to Somalia. 5000 Ugandan and Burundian troops are already stationed in Mogadishu to prop up the beleaguered transitional government. The same summit resolution also sought to change the rules of engagement to allow AU troops to preemptively attack suspected terrorist al-Shabab strongholds.
Nice and dandy, except so far we can’t make much of Museveni’s threat to take the fight to the Somali insurgents. There are no details as to where the additional 2000 troops will come from within the region. Ethiopia and Kenya share porous borders with Somalia and have large populations of ethnic Somalis and so are highly unlikely to send troops. Tanzania’s large Muslim population may not take well the idea of their troops in Somalia. My guess is that the additional troops will come from either Uganda, Rwanda and/or Burundi or some country from farther afield.
At the same summit current AU chairman President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi took fault with the ICC’s indictment of the genocidal Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. This is yet another proof of what kind of club the AU is. I may not fully agree with the political wisdom behind the indictment of a sitting president (because sadly, justice is highly political) but the likes of Mr. Mutharika should visit Darfur and UN camps in eastern Chad before defending al-Bashir.
In the recent past the Niger coup, the return of the ailing Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua from a hospital in Saudi Arabia and the supposed peace deal between Khartoum and the Darfuris have stolen most headlines on the Continent.
But let us not forget that the eastern reaches of the DRC still approximate a war zone, to put it mildly. The ineffectual government in the opposite side of the country in Kinshasa still lacks the capacity to provide any amount of security to its citizens in the east. Makes you wonder why the DRC still survives as a single sovereign state.
The number of actual dead in the bloody civil conflict that begun with Kabila’s match towards Kinshasa in 1998 is sort of debatable – ranging from a low of just over 2 million to a high of 5.4 million, pick your number. Really, does it matter that only 2 million human beings instead of 5 million have so far died in the conflict? At this point should the numbers even matter?.
So let us not lose perspective here. Even by conservative estimates more than 2 million lives have been lost. Millions of children continue to stay out of school (with grave long-term consequences for the security and economy of the region). And those that benefit from the conflict – the generals and arms and mineral smugglers – continue to do so with impunity. There is also no question that international big business is either directly or indirectly bankrolling the conflict (check out the more detailed report from Global Witness here). Hillary Clinton’s visit last year to Goma highlighted the unbearably gruesome existence of those (especially women and children) who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a war zone. Everyone who matters in the country and region know these facts. So the big question is: What will it take to change people’s approach to this conflict? Why isn’t more being done?
“There are other questions too. Should IDPs stay in rural areas or be resettled in towns? Providing the right amount of assistance is tricky as well. Too much, and an African government risks turning camps into subsidised slums. Too little, and people die.”
The above quote is from this weeks Economist Newspaper. As I have argued before, I think that the move to come up with a framework to protect IDPs on the Continent is a charade. I don’t get how the likes of Mugabe (one of the chief displacers of people on the Continent) are supposed to be entrusted with protecting the same people. Having UNHCR do the job sounds good but is riddled with huge moral hazard problems – as illustrated by the above quote.
Meanwhile, this is the kind of life that many an African autocrat (and soon the effects of climate change) forces his fellow citizens to live.
Macharia Gaitho, one of my favorite columnists at The Daily Nation captured my exact sentiments in his column today. I hope the American ambassador in Nairobi, and whoever it is that briefs Washington on matters Kenyan took note of this piece.
And in other news, Guinea has serious problems. The junior army officer who took over in a coup last year to “establish peace and democracy” has decided that he wants to hang on to power, inviting protests from Guineans not into such ideas. We’ve heard this story before, and we know how it ends.The Guineans should start reading on Samuel Doe, Jerry Rawlings, Idris Deby, Obiang, Museveni, Yahya Jammeh and the many others. Coups are the strongest predictor of future coups. A history of civil violence is also a strong predictor of future violence. Endemic poverty, an economy’s reliance on the export of commodities and weak to poor trade ties with the international community compound matters even more. The odds are stacked against the poor Guineans. They are in this for the long haul. And it sucks that the international community (including Sarkozy’s France) does not care about Guinea, as long as the generals keep exporting Bauxite.
Fun fact about Guinea: Guinea is a leading bauxite exporter, but most of its people live on less than $1 a day (courtesy of the BBC).
Ugandan authorities have occupied an Island that might be on the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria. The Kenyan government has done nothing but ask for there to be talks on the status of the Island. Now, I am not a war-monger or anything but this is not the way to do things. The Kenyan Navy should be patrolling around the Island in a show of force even as the talks proceed. That President Museveni of Uganda has imperial ambitions is not a secret. He openly campaigns to be the first president of the to-be-formed East African Federation. This move on Migingo Island might be his idea of testing the waters to see how Kenya might respond to such moves.
I say we let the Ugandans know that even though we are not itching to go to war with them they cannot routinely occupy Kenyan territory without consequences – they have done this before in the north west of Kenya and even killed a few Kenyans with BOMBS! under the pretext of chasing cattle rustlers.
Migingo Island may be small, and even economically worthless but we should retain it nonetheless.
And speaking of disputed territories, when are we going to make it official that the Ilemi triangle is part of the Republic of Kenya? We have administered this part of south east Sudan forever and I think it is time we made it clear to the international community that it belongs to Kenya.
So Gen. Nkunda and his men have yet again captured an army base in the East of the DRC, further raising questions of the viability of this vast country as a united nation-state. The news reports did not come as a surprise. I have said again and again that Kabila seems unable to take it to Nkunda and his army and because of this I think that the DRC should be split up. Millions of people should not live forever in misery and at the mercy warring armies simply because of King Leopold’s greed several decades ago.
Kabila does not have complete control of the country and because of this the African Union and the UN should consider putting the Eastern part of the country in a trusteeship with the aim of granting them complete autonomy if they so choose in a referendum some time in the near future.
Time will not stand still to wait for Kabila, Nkunda, Museveni and Kagame to resolve their differences. As they, through their surrogates, squabble, millions of real people continue to die or be confined to lives as base as no human being should have to countenance in the 21st century. Addis Ababa and New York have buried their heads in the sand for too long over this matter. It is time to wake up and face the realities on the ground.
Yes, I know this seems as too simplistic a suggestion. Rwanda has a stake in this because of the deposed Hutus in the region – Nkunda himself is a Tutsi claiming to be fighting to defend his ethnic kinsmen from these Hutus. Uganda is involved too, perhaps because of the minerals or just because of Museveni’s need to keep his army busy to avoid discontents at home. It is a complicated mess to put it mildly. But all these other facets of this conflict do not negate the fact that the DRC, a vast country that is the size of Western Europe, is too big to be governed by a weak government in Kinshasa. Kinshasa cannot project its power throughout the country. Period. No society, at least not in the modern political economy, can exist without government. The chaos in the East of the DRC are as much a result of Kinshasa’s ineptitude as they are of foreign meddling by Kagame and Museveni. I say divide the country, or give the East more autonomy and move one.
Idriss Deby, the president of Chad, is in deep trouble. Rebel forces are reported to have entered the capital, Ndjamena, and are marching to the presidential palace “surprisingly easily.” The rebels have been waging a war against the government of Mr. Idriss Deby for some years now and this time they managed to march into the capital and seem to be ready to topple the government.
Many had expected that the French army was going to step in to help Mr. Deby but it seems like the French are taking a wait-and-see position on this one. Mr. Deby accuses the government of Sudan of supporting the Chadian rebels. Sudan on the other hand accuses Chad of sponsoring the Darfuri rebels that have given Khartoum very bad press since 2000.
The African Union has condemned the attempted violent seizure of power but done nothing else. As the rebels marched towards the capital no country within the organisation offered any kind of support for Mr. Deby.
It is a bit surprising and disturbing at the same time that the government of Chad is being toppled so easily by a rebel movement. The march to the capital was well known and documented by the international media yet the government seemed to lack the capacity to take the fight to the rebels in the North East before they reached the capital. May be the government ought to be removed – because it has proven to be weak and unable to protect its people against these marauding desert rebels.
It is unclear what the rebels intend to do once they seize power. The success rate of such movements in forming governments is very low. Only Museveni, Kagame, Kabila, Zenawi and Charles Taylor have ever pulled this off before. All the other coups on the continent have been carried out by disgruntled government soldiers.
Meanwhile, as the men fight it out for power in this hot and dusty country, hundreds of thousands of people face crises on both sides of the Sudan-Chad border. The refugee camps are crowded, disease infested and unsafe. Aid workers have scaled down most of their operations due to the security situation leaving thousands without much hope for a better life.