this might affect you later

11 03 2007

Even though you are more worried about who is the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby, there are some people in the world that are really concerned about the situation in Uganda.  This might affect you later.  For now, here’s more from one of my favorite East African columnists, Charles Onyango-Obbo:

Armed men in police uniform last week surrounded the Uganda High Court, beat up lawyers, and waited until dark to stormed the premises and snatch suspected Peoples’ Redemption Army rebels who had been granted bail.

It was the second time the government chose this unusually dramatic fashion of re-arresting suspects. The first was in November 2005 when commandos surrounded the court to re-arrest, again, PRA suspects.

There was so much outrage the first time, even hardened cynics didn’t expect a repeat. This time the judges went on an unprecedented strike, and a few days later, the lawyers joined in too.

Sam Akaki, an official of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change in the UK, wrote a letter in The Times of London denouncing President Yoweri Museveni. He argued that “Uganda is rapidly sliding back into the political and social abyss of the 1970s under Idi Amin,” and suggested the British Queen and prime minister should not go to Kampala for the Commonwealth summit later this year to dine with a dictator.

An article in Sweden’s largest daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, expressed similar sentiments, saying; “Since 2005, Sweden has given Uganda more development aid. It is high time we in Sweden should ask ourselves if Uganda under Museveni deserves this?”

The Kampala’s government disgraceful behaviour deserves punishment, but it’s doubtful it will come by way of the Queen staying away from the Commonwealth or Sweden cutting aid.

The reality is that in the past eight years, aid withdrawals and other international sanctions against aberrant African governments seem to have fallen out of fashion.

One reason is the “China factor.” Hungry for resources to feed its galloping economy and markets, China is happy to do business with governments in total disregard of how they are treating their people. At least it’s being honest by not coming to Africa with double standards, because its own human-rights record is worse than that of most countries on the continent.

Because Beijing is eager to fill any vacuum, the West would be the loser if it walked away from a badly governed country where, nevertheless, there are rich pickings. To protect their own positions, more and more industrialised countries are holding their noses and staying on in places that they would have boycotted 15 years ago.

Secondly, European countries increasingly tend to try to speak as one under the European Union. Unless it’s a special case like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, where the white farmers who were beaten and chased off their farms were an added emotional issue for the West, it would seem Europe is increasingly finding it difficult to reach consensus on these matters. The result is that whether in Ethiopia or Uganda, the most you will get is a mealy-mouthed statement “expressing concern” and an ineffectual token cut in aid.

However, something else seems to have happened in global diplomacy. Hardly any countries seem any longer to appoint men and women of passion as ambassadors.

THE US OCCASIONALLY BREAKS the mould by naming combative ambassadors to the UN, but most of the rest of the countries seem content with colourless, studious, cautious envoys who aren’t keen on mortal combat.

There was a time when most ambassadors to “trouble spots” were burly, hard-drinking, cigar-smoking men, who would fix a president with a stern eye and tell him off knowing full well they would be bundled out the next day. Not any longer.

It’s inconceivable, for example, that the US can today name a man like the scrappy Smith Hempstone, who jumped in an admirably partisan way into the campaign for multiparty democracy in Kenya, as ambassador to Nairobi or any East African country again.

We should have seen it coming when ambassadors stopped sporting whiskers.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s managing editor for convergence and new products.


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