American Analysts Take On Uganda’s Strongman
May 6, 2011
President Yoweri Museveni has been the strongman in Uganda for 25 years. When Museveni came to power, he was thought by the United States and other Western powers to be one of a new generation of African leaders who would resist dictatorial rule in favor of democracy.
When he became Uganda’s president in 1986, Yoweri Museveni was an immediate U-S favorite, according to David Throup with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, here in Washington:
“Certainly for the first ten years U-S relations with Uganda were extremely close. Museveni was seen as a great improvement over former Ugandan leaders. accepted structural adjustment as proposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. And from 1986 to 1996 relations with Uganda were very good. In the late ’l990’s, early 2000’s when Uganda got involved in Rwanda and northeastern Congo relations became more problematic but I still think Museveni was seen as a positive force in East Africa and the wider regional politics and relations remained good.”
Nii Akuetteh is the founder of the Democracy and Conflict Research Institute in Ghana. He says U.S.-Uganda relations, despite recent strains, continue to be good, for at least one good reason:
“Washington and Kampala both have the same enemy, and because of that President Obama sent Eric Holder, the Attorney General, to see Mr. Museveni and a host of other American officials have gone. You don’t need to be a genius to imagine what they are talking about, how do we fight these people together.”
Akuetteh says the United States should be far more critical of Museveni. He says Museveni rigged the last election, and is trying to rig the next one by repeatedly arresting and beating opposition leader Kizza Besigye.
“This is a former presidential candidate. If there were real elections he would have come close to becoming president. The State Department said he should be respected. Museveni didn’t respect him. So Museveni is actually thumping his nose at the U-S because since they said he should be (respected) they’ve arrested him three times.”
Akuetteh says that the United States has often coddled African strongmen like Yoweri Museveni.
“The U-S has continued a policy under the Cold War of embracing dictators they called ‘friendly tyrants.’ You have Mobutu Sese Seko of the country now called Congo. He renamed it Zaire. He was a dictator who ran the country into the ground. Then you go to Tunisia, the dictator they just gotten rid of, Ben Ali. In Egypt President Mubarak He was an American backed dictator. You come to Sub-Saharan Africa, Hessene Habre in Chad. President Reagan supported him. Now the man is being tried for killing tens of thousands of his opposition. You go to Liberia, Samuel Doe was supported by President Reagan. Jimmy Carter supported the dictator Siad Barre in Somalia. Then fast forward to today. You have Paul Kagame in Rwanda. Former president Bill Clinton is seen as a friend of Kagame’s. He’s a dictator. In Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, he’s an American backed dictator.”
At CSIS, David Throup says the Cold War competition between the U-S and the Soviet Union for influence in Africa did indeed destabilize much of the continent.
“The crisis of Somalia, the problems of Ethiopia, the conflict in southern Sudan, the legacy of Mobutu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of these are direct consequences of Cold competition.”
Throup says the negative consequences of the Cold War are one thing. But he says blaming colonial power mischief in Africa is simplistic, and with an ever more economically powerful China, now mostly irrelevant.
“It’s almost out of date to worry too much about the economic relationship, particularly the terms of trade that existed from the 1960’s to the 1980’s between Africa and the West. I am slightly more concerned about the extent of economic exploitation which is beginning to gather momentum from China. China is clearly involved in the exploitation of new oil discoveries in Uganda.”
Nii Akuetteh says for Africa to prepare for any challenges China might present in the future, Africans must understand the challenges of the past.
“There are critics who say colonialism is over. lf you talk about colonial influences on Africa you are just making excuses for bad African leadership. That argument is false and a good way to understand that it is false is to look at the United States. The United States had a civil war for four years and the best American analysts will tell you that if you want to understand the United States you have to understand the Civil War. Because it was over slavery, it was over state’s rights, it was about race.”
And, Akuetteh says, the issues of race and state’s rights are still a very big part of the political discourse for Americans a hundred and fifty years after the end of that war.