cultural confusion

13 03 2007

A Ugandan man near Boston told police that it was acceptable for a Ugandan man to beat a woman who did not obey him.  Not in the USA, pal.  I ran into quite a few cases of domestic abuse in Uganda and although this man has to be in the United States for him to be punished, it did make The Monitor in Uganda.  Hopefully, this will embarrass some of Uganda’s men and will cause them to see that they cannot continue to beat their wives and girlfriends.

Halliburton is moving to Dubai!  Hillary Clinton is all up in arms about this as are several other members of Congress.  I’m not sure how they think they can control where a company has its headquarters, but doggone if they aren’t going to make a stink about it.  Hillary wants to know if that means they are going to stop paying US taxes.  Of course, Hillary, let’s play the concerned patriot on this one.  Halliburton is moving because they see what is coming:  the new market for energy is Asia and the Middle East.  One thing that I can appreciate about this is that it draws more attention to Dubai and if Halliburton is moving there, they’re going to need some sweet offices and those offices need air conditioners.

continued decline

12 03 2007

The New Vision has nothing about the crisis facing the dictatorial “democracy”, just one lone letter to the editor about it.  Where is Els de Temmerman, the new editor-in-chief?  Surely this Belgian journalist must have more fire in her belly than this!

As I was thinking the other day about how Uganda could easily turn into East Africa’s Zimbabwe, I discovered this article written by Vahid Oloro in the Sunday’s Kenya Times entitled “Is Uganda becoming East Africa’s Zimbabwe?”:

It looked like an episode from a Hollywood blockbuster. Men in police uniform assaulting and brutalizing civilians. In the course of an action-packed scene a defence lawyer was attacked and injured and when it all fell silent, court property had been vandalized. The closing action was however, the re-arrest of treason suspects who had been released on bail. The day was Thursday, March 1 and the scene was Uganda’s High Court in Kampala. The reaction was swift and its effects disastrous.

“All judicial business for all the courts in Uganda is suspended with effect from March 5, 2007,” Uganda’s Deputy Chief Justice, Ms. Laetitia Kikonyogo, declared on March 2.

The declaration set in motion the first strike by Uganda’s judiciary since independence. The strike, reports say, led to a spiral and disastrous effect, including filling up of police cells rendering it impossible for police to arrest more suspects.

“The repeated violation of the sanctity of the court premises, disobedience of court orders with impunity and the constant threats and attacks on the safety and independence of the Judiciary and judicial officers,” were the reasons Ms. Kikonyogo gave for the downing of tools.

The pictures of this ugly episode were beamed across the globe.

The question that occupied the minds of most Kenyans and East Africans in general, as they watched this brutal episode roll through their television screens, was; “Is Uganda turning out East Africa’s Zimbabwe?” The seeds are perfect, analysts fear. March 1 could be a nursery bed of hard times for Uganda, and President Yoweri Museveni could have embarked on an unbridled trek to the hallowed status of Harare’s uncle Bob.

That dark Thursday, as it should be referred to, and the subsequent events including the Monday, March 5, riots in which a child died after police lobbed a teargas canister into a commuter van, the one-week judicial strike that was called off on Friday, the lawyers strike scheduled to start tomorrow, and Makerere University’s student boycott of lecturers, could be the first stitches for a relentless national campaign of civil disobedience.

The government reaction had an unmistakable message: Any dissent will be met with an open and brutal force. Civil unrest is foreign to Uganda, a country cowed into submission by a traumatic history of dictatorship. Indeed, many Ugandans used to be left agape with awe as they watched pictures of daring Kenyans battling police in quest for democracy and freedom.

This year however, has been exceptional for Uganda. Seeds of civil rebellion seem to have been planted and Ugandans are more daring than ever before. Since January police have had to use teargas a record seven times against a growing campaign of defiance and an increasingly bold opposition.

But what could send a chill up the spine of any observer is the silence and sometimes on-the-fence cavalier reaction by government. This reaction, observers say, could mean that last week’s government modus operandi has a long lifespan ahead.

There is a divided opinion as to whether Ugandans can sustain a civil unrest in the face of brutal government response. But what all agree is that March 1 marked a political turning point in Uganda.

The Foreign Card

However, what could strengthen Ugandans is that President Museveni, despite his outer display of power and determination, is a broken man.

The making of Museveni as a statesman and visionary is largely accredited to the white-dressing Western powers and media gave him.

Internally many believe that Museveni’s achievements have been over-rated. His economic turnaround is seen as an edifice built on sand and riddled with scandals of blatant robbery of national coffers and a trail of human rights abuses.

And his success in returning peace to Uganda has also been a lyric designed in foreign capitals. Peace in Uganda has largely been a central Uganda affair. In the north, east (where an estimated 2 million internally displaced people have lived in squalid camps for 21 years) and parts of western Uganda; this celebrated peace has been a mirage.

In general, a large potion of the Ugandan society questions this celebrated success story. Reports of diminishing life expectancy figures and growing poverty are incomprehensible when Uganda has enjoyed an unbroken GDP growth of over 5 per cent.

It is also incomprehensible that within this glamour of growth 50% of Uganda’s budget was donor funded.

The internationally marketed greatest success story of Mr. Museveni’s 21-year rule, however, has been the successful battle in halting the rapid spread of HIV/Aids.

While this is true and laudable, the ghastly revelations in 2005 of a monstrous theft of money from the Global Fund meant for the battle against HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, by top officials, has broken that shineglass too.

The stroke that broke the back of Museveni’s international support however, came in 2005 when he engineered a plot to scrap presidential term limits from the constitution to give him a chance to stand again at the expiry of his two-term limit.

In the background of this, Museveni’s international rating is suffering a nosedive and events such as March 1 will help plummet it further.

In my opinion, civil disobedience is only going to continue.  There are too many in Uganda who are educated now and who can see that the government is mistreating its people.  It is scary to consider, but if Museveni will not relent, there may be no other option.

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.

the death of ugandan democracy

11 03 2007

In The Monitor today, there is a piece written by Mulini Mulera that addresses some of the topics that I touched on yesterday:

Dear Tingasiga: I need to set the record straight. The headline of my column last week, which stated: “Abandon the illusion, democracy is dying”, was not of my choosing. The headline I had suggested to my editor was: “Abandon the illusion, democracy is dead.”

Where the Executive repeatedly ignores unfavourable decisions of the Judiciary, democracy is not dying. It is dead. Where the Executive unleashes its military might on the Judiciary and the Legislature, democracy is not dying. It is dead.

Where the ruling party uses its highly partisan army, militarised police and other armed organisations to terrorise and frustrate the constitutionally legitimate opposition from exercising its rights, democracy is not dying.

It is dead. To pretend otherwise is to engage in unhelpful self-deception.
Events this past week have given me no reason to change my mind about the death of democracy in Uganda. According to news reports, President Yoweri T. Museveni blocked a critical report by a parliamentary committee which condemned the military invasion of the High Court (Sunday Monitor, March 11).

Government security operatives reportedly stormed Parliament’s printing department and took away copies of the report to prevent them from being circulated to MPs.
Now pause a moment, Tingasiga, and think about this.

Military personnel invade the High Court of Uganda. A few days later, state security operatives invade Parliament and seize documents that belong to the Legislature. Then the president waltzes into Parliament and tells his MPs to abandon all talk of a government apology for the criminal deed at the High Court.

And as usual, Gen. Museveni gets his way with them, not through debate, but through intimidation and a long story about the so-called People’s Redemption Army (PRA) rebellion.

He ignores the fact that in a democratic society where there is rule of law, the decision of the High Court is always binding on the Executive, even when that decision is most unpalatable.

Had Museveni cared about democracy, the independence of the Judiciary and the rule of law, he would have simply issued a statement to the effect that notwithstanding intelligence evidence that the accused men had plotted to overthrow his government by force of arms, he accepted and respected the High Court’s decision to grant them bail.
Instead he chose to re-arrest them on silly new charges that did nothing but confirm our view that his military regime did not believe in the rule of law.

Were you not amused, Tingasiga, to hear Gen. Museveni feigning innocence in the criminal invasion of the High Court by his armed men? No surprise there, of course.
The president has never accepted responsibility for any errors, failures or outright criminal acts by his regimes. But only the irredeemably gullible would believe that the Black Mamba boys or whichever edition of the president’s military men invaded the High Court, would have done so without the blessing of Gen. Museveni himself.

UPDF soldiers and the police can beat up a few MPs in Acholi or rough up a Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) rally without seeking a job-specific approval from the president.

They have a blanket permit to do that sort of thing. But where the job involves arresting a high-profile leader such as FDC president Dr Kizza Besigye, or invading the High Court of the Republic of Uganda, the orders must come from very high up.

It is unthinkable that Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and/or Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura would have ordered the militarised Uganda police to re-arrest the so-called PRA suspects. Likewise the military commanders would not have done so without clearance from the boss.

Do not forget that this is a regime where ministers and other public servants must seek the president’s approval to take the most mundane decisions.  So the president may feign innocence in this saga, but the judges of the High Court and the sober citizens of Uganda know the truth. The buck stops at Rwakitura.

Happily not all news about this episode was bad. We learnt with great pleasure that the NRM parliamentary caucus has in its ranks a few brave men and women who actually believe in something.

It may be the kiss of death for me to mention them by name, but I cannot let pass an opportunity to salute MPs Mary Mugyenyi (Nyabushozi), Henry Banyenzaki [Rubanda West], Perez Ahabwe (Rubanda East), William Oketcho (West Budama North) Asumani Kiyingi (Bugabula South), John Kigyagi (Mbarara Municipality), Rose Namayanja (Nakaseke), Sam Lyomoki (Workers) and Felix Okot Ogong (Dokolo).

By standing up for justice they have earned the respect of many. I encourage them not to let up or be intimidated into the silence that has destroyed our country.

If you’re still interested in the tragedy at this point, here is his article from last week:

Dear Tingasiga:

Ugandans face a decision of awful moment. They must choose between democracy and dictatorship. The illusion that Uganda is a democracy vanishes when one reflects on the state of its five pillars, namely, the citizens, the news media, parliament, the executive and the judiciary.

Citizens have been beaten into fearful submission. Yes, there is an illusion of relative freedom of speech and the people participate in periodic farcical elections. Yet if you listen carefully, you hear a very loud silence across the land, where people gladly whisper their disgust in private, but live in mortal fear of the state.

Fear for future

They fear loss of jobs and other crumbs that fall from the high table of the land. They fear the wrath of Gen. Yoweri T. Museveni’s armed courtiers who have repeatedly unleashed vicious dogs, tear gas and lethal ammunition upon citizens in a show of force that is designed to remind them who is boss.

They fear each other, no longer sure whom to trust, everyone suspecting everyone else of being a state informer, a circumstance that has always worked perfectly in favour of dictatorships. Kitandugaho [don’t quote me] is the motto of the land.

Of course, there are many Ugandans who genuinely support the dictatorship. The groceries are flowing their way, the illusion of kasita twebaka otulo [enjoying peaceful sleep] remains vivid in their imagination, and their shared kinship with the most powerful rulers feeds a bizarre belief that they too are in power.

Some, of course, agree with Gen. Museveni’s actions and policies, while others support the dictatorship because they are too cynical to believe that there is a better alternative. We respect their choice.

Yet shutting their eyes against the painful truth that democracy in Uganda is dead will not alter the fact that democracy is really dead. If you doubt me, Tingasiga, consider the following:

Parliament has been bought with cash in a cynical move designed to neuter MPs, whose role must be to continue to provide the cosmetic appearance of a parliamentary democracy at work.

Not even the MPs from the Forum for Democratic Change [FDC], the main opposition party, could resist the temptation to exchange their freedom and moral authority for a few shillings that they, like the ruling party MPs, are drooling over with deep gratitude to the executive branch.

The executive branch itself was stolen again on February 23, 2006 when Gen. Museveni retained the presidency not by free choice of the citizens. And to erase all doubt, Gen. Museveni, the retired soldier, prefers his military uniform to his Saville Row suits.

The news media, while continuing their valiant struggle for some air, swim in shark infested waters and will soon be drowned by an increasingly intolerant military regime. Ongoing efforts to muzzle Daily Monitor, KfM radio and its sister television network, NTV Uganda, are examples of the regime’s determination to suffocate the freer press.

For their part, many journalists, unwilling to risk loss of their “freedom” or groceries, engage in understandable self-censorship. Others gleefully cheer the assault on their own profession, blinded by short-term interests and transient groceries.

And the single most important pillar of a democratic state, the judiciary, has been desecrated and raped. Last week’s invasion of the court house was the latest of the regime’s acts of complete contempt for the rule of law. It was a clear missive from the president to the people of Uganda telling them the simple truth that the military rules supreme and all else is pretence.

Happily, the judges read and understood Gen. Museveni’s missive. Rather than continue to play along as enablers of the dictatorship, they have laid down their gavels and gowns in an act of defiance that has earned them the respect of freedom lovers around the world.

Their action challenges all Ugandan citizens who desire the rule of law to stand up and be counted on the side of justice and democracy.

Students join struggle

News that Makerere students are laying down their pens in solidarity with the judges and magistrates gives us hope that the younger intellectuals may be ready to answer the call of duty in defence of their freedom.

But it will take more than the noble actions of the judges and the university students to defend freedom and the rule of law. All citizens must make a choice, either to accept military rule and all that it brings, or to join advocates of freedom and the rule of law in a peaceful and non-violent resistance against the military dictatorship.

The time for fence-sitting which has, for far too long, been the refuge of those who have chosen to remain silent in exchange for groceries is long gone. Today it is the High Court under attack. Tomorrow it will be you, Tingasiga.

uganda’s current problems

10 03 2007

The last week has been a bit tumultuous in judiciary circles in Uganda.  Museveni had the High Court stormed to arrest six men who had been released on bail.  In the process, a lawyer was beaten almost to death and Museveni’s government took another hit to its credibility.

Museveni has not respected the court’s independence nor has he given them freedom of judiciary.  If Uganda wants to truly be a country that is really has a democratic, this cannot continue.  Museveni cannot possibly treat Besigye any more poorly than he has in the past few years.  Besigye has faced charges of murder, rape, and treason.  The men who have now been rearrested are all in jail facing fresh murder charges and they are all Besigye supporters.

Obviously, last week’s judicial strike has wreaked havoc on Uganda’s courts and next week’s lawyer strike is going to do the same.  It is unfortunate, but it is necessary.   The courts now have a backlog of close to 2,500 cases across the country.  If the courts must dance to Museveni’s desires, they really have no purpose whatsoever.  Museveni is now apologizing for the incident, but his late apology is not acceptable.  There cannot troops storming courts to arrest people who are being released on bail.

Museveni blocked parliament’s condemnation and a call for the government’s apology over the incident.  Not only is Uganda’s free press restricted, now there is no independent judiciary or legislature?

If Museveni doesn’t stop now, what will be next?  Museveni must allow the independent judiciary and then allow Ugandans to have other democratic freedoms such as speech and assembly.  If Museveni isn’t careful, he’ll soon be compared to some of his Ugandan head-of-state predecessors.