Why African elites are deluded to think the “international community” has our best interests at heart
THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | Last week, I read with sadness, disappointment, disillusionment and frustration an article in Daily Monitor by former minister Omara Atubo. He was explaining why he signed a petition to ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) to indict President Yoweri Museveni. I have known Atubo for decades and have always held him in high esteem as among the most thoughtful politicians in Uganda. His article is widely quoted below to provide perspective.
“The long story of Museveni in power for 33 years now has been characterised by militarism, corruption, abuse of human rights and freedoms, rigging of elections, nepotism, tribalism, power greed, amendment of the 1995 Constitution, disrespect of and weakening of Parliament, undermining multiparty democracy, and violently repressing Opposition. I am very worried about the future of Uganda which should be rooted in strong institutions that can guarantee stability, peace, unity, development and humanity. What we have under Museveni is a strong personal rule, which is not sustainable.” Atubo wrote and went on.
“The ICC Petition is a desperate appeal to an external international body to assist Uganda solve its problem since there are now no available internal options. Parliament is very weak and works like an extension of President Museveni and the Executive. The Judiciary has failed to deliver justice in all the presidential election and age limit cases. The ordinary citizen and the voters are terrified and politically blind. The churches are divided, compromised and lack courage to speak for the voiceless. The elections are militarised, commercialised and rigged. In the circumstance, the only viable option is the ICC and the international community.”
Atubo’s lamentation is neither new nor unique. It is supported by many Ugandan (and African) elites who think there are kind and generous people in the international community who care deeply about our destiny and would save us from ourselves. Many people in the Western world see themselves as saviors of Africa and therefore share this view. The problem is that all these people suffer from historical and even contemporary amnesia.
Let us recall that colonialism was justified on exactly the same basis. It claimed to promote 3Cs: Christianity to save our souls from devil worship; Commerce to liberate us from our poverty and misery; and Civilization to emancipate us from the tyranny of our customs and the despotism of our chiefs. What Africa got instead was land alienation, extortionate taxation, forced labor, mass murder and racial discrimination. Africa’s struggles for independence was thus born.
It is true that many post independence governments have repeated many of the abuses of colonialism and in some cases in worse fashion. But it is our responsibility to improve the quality of governance in our countries through continued political and economic struggles. We cannot surrender such a responsibility to the international community. To say we have no capacity to liberate ourselves is to say we have no capacity to govern our countries. The picture Atubo presents above is of Ugandans as helpless victims of Museveni’s misrule and whose efforts cannot overcome one man.
Atubo does all this in spite of abundant evidence of the disasters that have visited those countries that have sought liberation from the international community. The first African country to seek international help for internal governance was the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960.
The “international community” has been engaged in that country, having its troops there for the last 28 out of its 59 years of independence. It is perhaps the most mismanaged country in Africa.
Only recently the so-called international community intervened in Libya to liberate it from its psychopathic ruler, Col. Muammar Gadaffi. Consequently the Libyan state collapsed. Today that country is a mosaic of small fiefdoms ruled by extremely violent and belligerent warlords.
In Somalia the process of state consolidation was undermined by external interventions of a humanitarian variety leading to prolonged anarchy. The Central African Republic, which today is under management by international community, is a disaster.
In Rwanda, the worst and swiftest genocide in history happened under the watchful eye of the international community with its peacekeepers. It took the bold action of Paul Kagame and his RPF to end the carnage and launch a highly successful project of state reconfiguration and economic reconstruction. What more can’t Atubo see?
The liberation of Uganda from Museveni’s (or anyone else’s) misrule cannot be surrendered to the international community. It is our responsibility as Ugandans.
Foreigners can never know the internal accommodations, compromises and concessions that are necessary for us to build our country. Neither can we trust that their interests are our interests. Atubo seems to think these foreigners would be altruistic, devoid of their own pecuniary interests that may conflict with our own. This naivety led many pre-colonial African chiefs to sign off their independence with disastrous results.
But even if the international community were sincere and altruistic, the results would not be any different.
Atubo knows or should know how the most genuine foreign effort to liberate Uganda, that by Tanzania’s illustrious leader, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere to remove Idi Amin, led to disaster. In spite of his good and altruistic intentions combined with his lack of imperial ambitions over our country, Nyerere’s removal of Idi Amin led to state collapse. Anarchy spread. It was not until we had our own internal civil war and one side secured a decisive military victory that Uganda was re-launched on the process of state and economic reconstruction.
Whatever his weaknesses, Museveni has presided over a prolonged period of political stability and economic growth that has led to significant democratisation and poverty reduction. To ignore this reality especially by Atubo would be an act of overt hypocrisy.
He served in Museveni’s cabinet in the late 1980s and returned in the early to mid 2000s. Certainly Atubo could not have served in a government that was of such criminal nature as he describes. Otherwise the principle of collective responsibility should put him in the dock as well.
There are many governance problems in Uganda: state sponsored violence against the opposition, corruption and intimidation, etc. However, these problems will not be solved by one government and in one generation but through continuous struggle over decades.
Atubo admires America and he should take a leaf from it. They have had problems of slavery, apartheid, mass incarceration etc. The American system has improved over the last 250 years through small but steady improvements without seeking foreign interference. Atubo should borrow a leaf from America for understanding our journey.