About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Monday, September 23, 2019

America’s human rights imperialism

How US government sanctions against Kayihura are a toxic mixture of ignorance, prejudice and hypocrisy

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | And so the United States Department of State has sanctioned Uganda’s former Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura. Henceforth, he, his children and wife will not be allowed to travel to the United States, own property there, hold a bank account in that great country or transact business with its banks. Of course we acknowledge this to be the sovereign right of this great power. Yet we lesser humans have to bear the risk of criticising the almighty.

According to a statement issued by the State Department, this is because Kayihura (while IGP) indulged in gross abuse of human rights, corruption (using bribery to strengthen his political position within the government of Uganda and stealing funds meant for official Ugandan government) and using another employee to smuggle illicit goods, including drugs, gold and wild life out of Uganda. The accusations of corruption and smuggling are ridiculous.

We always assume that the U.S. government relies on sound investigations and research to arrive at findings. Yet this is not often true. Western governments are meticulous while working on matters internal to their countries. But when it comes to Africa (or inside America when dealing with black people), they rely on rumour, hearsay, gossip and racial prejudice to arrive at conclusions. African elites dealing with Africa are also prone to this.

Any casual investigation would find Kayihura among the most honest public officials in Uganda. This is especially inspiring because he wielded enormous power serving in a government where many public officials are corrupt – they drive fancy cars, live in sprawling mansions and own vast assets. Kayihura had immense opportunities to become one of the richest persons in Uganda because of the job he held, the power he wielded and the resources he directed.

For instance, he had access to large sums of classified funds, which he could use at his pleasure. Under him, the police budget grew from Shs88 billion to Shs500 billion. Kayihura was directing large procurement of police equipment and other supplies from which he could have taken huge commissions. This would have tempted even the most pious public official, not Kayihura.

Upon leaving office, he did not even own a house in Kampala in which to live. When fired, police stopped paying his rent worth $2,000 per month and Kayihura began defaulting. Friends intervened to help raise the rent and I was personally involved. When he was IGP, some of his close staff suggested to him (severally) that they use his monthly rent allowance to buy him the house in which he lived. He treated even such suggestion with contempt as corruption.

Yet Kampala’s busy tongue where slander and gossip seem essential to our democracy kept claiming that Kayihura is very rich with many assets. This was largely because they were projecting their character on him i.e. if they had the power he wielded and the resources he commanded they would have used it to enrich themselves.

Today Kayihura stays at his farm in Lyantonde, which he bought in 1990. There he lives in a little makeshift house. To keep presence in Kampala, friends helped raise money to put a deposit on a mortgage on a house. He has since been having problems serving the mortgage. It is therefore absurd that the United States, which should honour him for honesty, is the one sanctioning him on ridiculous allegations of corruption and smuggling.

This brings me to the allegations of human rights abuse. Under Kayihura, there were many allegations of human rights abuse by the police. It is possible many of these allegations were true. Few police forces in the world can avoid this as Americans themselves can testify. Every 28 hours a black man in America is shot dead by police. In nearly all the cases, the police officers walk scot-free. Where they are taken to a grand jury, accused officers are often acquitted.

Kayihura should not be judged by the abuses by his officers but what he did about it. Keen to improve police conduct and image, he created the Professional Standards Unit (to hold officers who violated professional ethics accountable) and a Directorate of Human Rights and Legal Services (to receive complaints from the public on police violations of human rights). Under Kayihura as IGP, I went to jail many times and not once was I tortured.

Instead it was the U.S. government that was complicit with Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) in torture. The Independent newsmagazine investigation in 2008 found the CIA and CMI jointly ran an illegal detention facility at Summit View in Kololo where they tortured prisoners. CMI would arrest people, especially young Somali men transiting through Entebbe and give their names to the U.S. embassy in Kampala. The embassy would send them to Washington DC where if found on the list of suspected terrorists would be taken to God-knows-where.

We penetrated this facility and had inmates smuggle information to us. We interviewed those who had survived the torture and later got released or escaped. Uganda was not the only country where the USA outsourced torture. Across the world, the USA would directly or through proxies kidnap (euphemistically calling it “rendition”) young Muslim men and take them to third countries. There, under supervision of CIA officials, suspects would be tortured (euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation methods”).

I used to be a blind and naïve admirer of America’s human rights record. These findings led me on the road to Damascus. I began to read books about internal politics and external relations of America. What I found was depressing but also illuminating. I have previously written about the gross violations of human rights by police departments in America that I do not need to repeat here. Suffice it to say that the U.S. lacks moral authority to castigate others for human rights abuses.

Kayihura’s offense was to use police against political opponents of government. But police never tortured political prisoners. Even Dr. Kizza Besigye is witness. Accusations of torture were raised on terror suspects at Nalufenya; a job Kayihura did with the FBI. The U.S. Justice Department even awarded him a medal in 2017 for this. The Uganda Human Rights Commission and the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights visited Nalufenya and interacted with prisoners and found no evidence of torture.

Something else motivated America to sanction Kayihura. Next week, I will demonstrate that America uses human rights as an ideological weapon to disguise her selfish intentions by pretending to be altruistic.



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