MWENDA: Why we should be suspicious of America’s attempts to insert itself in our national politics
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Why did the United States sanction Uganda’s former Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, on allegations of violation of human rights, corruption and smuggling without providing the evidence for the allegations? Why after he has left office and two years after its own Department of Justice awarded him a medal for excellence in fighting terrorism? Why is the indictment coming one and a half years to the beginning of the 2021 presidential election campaigns?
As I wrote in this column last week, the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights both visited Nalufenya (the alleged place of torture in the American indictment) and interacted with the prisoners. Both concluded that the claims of torture were not founded. Why did the U.S. Department of State disregard the findings of Uganda’s institutions? Given that the UHRC has issued many reports detailing torture in Uganda and even made government to pay hefty compensations to torture victims, the USA should have more confidence in our institutions.
More critically, why does America seek to enforce norms that it does not practice at home, even though it claims they are its own values? The American police are notorious for killing innocent African American males. Indeed every 28 hours a black man is shot dead by police in America for no reason but the colour of their skin. Doesn’t charity begin at home? Why does America seek to enforce international laws it has refused to be subject to under international treaties like the Rome Statute that created the ICC?
Last week I dealt with the substance of these claims: first that Kayihura was a very honest public servant who did not use his official position to enrich himself. Second that while security forces routinely torture, Kayihura made efforts to put checks in place. Third, that America has been complicit in torture. This column and the article following it on pages 16-17 seek to address America’s motivations.
The sanctions against Kayihura are not actually aimed at him. Americans want to influence the 2021 elections. They sense fatigue about President Yoweri Museveni and a wave in favour of Kyadondo East legislator, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, whom they have adopted as their Trojan horse. He is a catholic and a Muganda. Americans know Ugandans, like most Americans, vote largely based on identity: ethnic and religion. Bobi Wine may add a significant share of demographic votes because he is young, fresh and a celebrity. He has a good intuitive feeling of the frustrations of many ordinary young Ugandans.
Of course we must ask why Americans would support a novice like Bobi Wine against Museveni. Our president has been their kingpin in this region. He has promoted free market policies of liberalisation and privatisation that have stifled the growth of and/or displaced local capital to the advantage of multinational capital. He has been central in promoting America’s security interests in this region and fighting her enemies (for many years the government in Khartoum and over the last decade the “terrorists” in Somalia).
While Museveni remains an important instrument in the security orchestra of this region, things have changed significantly in Washington DC. President Donald Trump is not interested in Africa. He has not even appointed an Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs. Africa policy has been left to low-level diplomats at the State Department, with little or no input from the Pentagon and the National Security Council. The diplomats at State are naïve and idealistic liberal imperialists of the human rights variety. They are schemers who lack the realism of people at the Pentagon and NSC who understand the complexity of geopolitics.
Back to elections and what I think are America’s calculations: Museveni performs better when there is low voter turnout. Voter turnout would be low if people feel their votes do not count because Museveni will steal them. For many years, Museveni had the most credible person for this message of hopelessness – Kizza Besigye. He actively told Ugandans that he won all the last four presidential elections but Museveni cheated him. This actually sucked energy, motivation and enthusiasm out of the electoral process. Thus while subjectively a strong critique of the president, Besigye has objectively been Museveni’s strategic ally.
Bobi Wine is different. He calls on Ugandans to register and vote and gives them hope of success. His youthful idealism gives him strong appeal, his emptiness in ideas and policies notwithstanding. His populist rhetoric endears him to masses of frustrated youths who feel ignored by Museveni. He is therefore likely to increase voter turnout. Having adopted him as their Trojan horse, America’s liberal imperialists fear that in the face of a strong wave in Bobi Wine’s favour, Museveni might keep him off the ballot or unleash such violence on a scale that can make people opt out of voting.
I suspect Americans calculate that they can pressure Museveni to accept Bobi Wine on the ballot. This leaves the President with the second option – violence. The sanctions against Kayihura are meant to send a signal to other officers in security about the evil that would be visited upon those who use their positions to crack down violently. They calculate, and I think naively and wrongly, that in the high stakes game of power politics such threats can work. They forget that there are many officials who prefer power and the privileges that come with it, to visiting America.
The tragedy is the response of Ugandan elites in the opposition, “civil society”, the mass media and academia. They celebrate this as a victory, unable to see that foreign intrusions into our politics are unlikely to resolve our internal political problems but rather accentuate them. I personally have many frustrations with Museveni’s government: its corruption and incompetence, its lack of a vision for the country, its prostitution to the interests of multinational capital, its fatigue and inertia and the pettiness of its politics.
Yet in spite of these frustrations, I am not willing to support any local or foreign force seeking change. Whoever wants to remove Museveni must demonstrate that they share my values, understand our national interest, and can balance all this against local, regional and global interests to secure the best for our people. Yet for some Ugandans any change from Museveni is welcome. This addresses an emotion, not policy. The Americans don’t care about the consequence of their adventures. They supported the Misrata Brigade to remove Muammar Gadaffi and see where Libya is today!