Museveni, Mugabe: Western friend and foe

HARARE - As Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was making the motions to lift the constitutional age limit of 75, allowing him to run for a full term in the election due in 2016, he had an epiphany.

The 69-year-old Ugandan strongman, in power for 27 years, returned home from Nelson Mandela’s memorial service  and summoned his top political and army advisers to announce that he was stepping down after 27 years in power.

There is something poignant about 27 years in all this.

Mandela was jailed for 27 years initially on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison by the white-minority racist regime which he opposed, emerging from prison in 1990 and becoming president after the country’s first multi-racial elections in 1994.

“I’m going home, I didn’t realise just how the world has changed, till I went to South Africa,”  Museveni said to shocked members of his inner Cabinet.

“There will be no other rap,” he added. Ahead of the 2011 elections, Museveni, who has been called “M7”, “Sevo”, “Othello”, “Napoleon” (apparently after the ruler in George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’) and “the East African Lion”, among other monikers, fused Western style rap music and African culture.

It worked. 

The song proved very popular, from ringtones to night clubs to campaign rallies.

The release of the song coincided with the presidential elections, so the title You want another rap?

translated to do you believe I deserve another term? Museveni won with over 68 percent of the vote.

“I have travelled a lot in Africa and abroad, I do not want Uganda to be like our neighbour with retired presidents so old they can no longer run a kilometre, I thank comrades in the army and the NRM, we saved Uganda from a savage and we must now look from aside,” Museveni said.

While Museveni is contemplating quitting, 89-year-old Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who has been the leader of the southern African country since 1980 and is the country’s only leader since it gained independence from Britain, is mulling running for a fresh five-year term in 2018 when he is 94.

He says he is entitled to stand for two terms under a new Constitution adopted last year.

Mugabe was declared victor for his seventh term as president of Zimbabwe on August 3, last year, according to the head of the country’s Election Commission amid allegations of fraud.

Both Mugabe and Museveni have used questionable tactics to hold onto power inelections that their opposition insist were rigged.

In the 2011 poll, Museveni’s challenger Kizza Besigye, who polled 26 percent of the vote, alleged there was election fraud and rejected the results.

In the 2013 Zimbabwe poll, opposition challenger Morgan Tsvangirai who polled 34 percent of the presidential election votes, also rejected the results after alleging vote fraud.

Both Besigye and Tsvangirai have been assaulted and incarcerated without cause.

Both Mugabe and Museveni are charged with letting their armies plunder the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s natural wealth.

Yet while the Western world pours disapproval on Mugabe, it treats Museveni as a favourite son. Critics say there are massive double standards.

In Zimbabwe, Mugabe used every trick in the book to ensure victory for his ruling Zanu PF party in the July 31 elections that the United States has said does not believe his re-election was credible while the European Union has raised concern over alleged serious flaws in the vote and called the vote neither free nor fair.

Evidence of irregularities impacted hundreds of thousands of votes and incensed Western opinion.

Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission on August 8, admitted to some mistakes in the elections but claimed they were not enough to sway Mugabe’s victory.

It said nearly 305 000 people were turned away from voting stations and another 207 000 were given assistance by polling officials to cast ballots.

Yet in Uganda, Museveni is moving to deny the right to hold a political rally or campaign on behalf of a political party.

New laws and assertive policing are muzzling dissent.

Two papers and two radio stations were forced to close last year.

Museveni passed the Public Order Management Bill in May last year outlawing any meeting of three or more people.

In practice Uganda remains a fairly open society, but the authoritarian mood is getting harsher.

Civil-society groups remain strong, but parliament is no match for the executive.

A strong proponent of a one-party state, Museveni only assented to multipartyism in 2000 when Ugandans were asked to vote in a referendum on whether to continue with the “no-party’’ political system espoused by Museveni or to return to multi-party politics.

Museveni argues multi-partyism would reopen old tribal divisions, an argument also hawked by Mugabe during the early years of his rule.

The contrast with Zimbabwe couldn’t be starker.

While the West is scaling back aid to Zimbabwe, Western money will contribute half of Uganda’s budget in the forthcoming fiscal year.

Last year the European Union warned that aid to Uganda might be cut if the opposition was not allowed to campaign freely ahead of the referendum. It has quietly dropped its threat.

There are similar double standards when it comes to the war in the Congo, analysts say.

While Congolese people regarded the armies of Uganda and Rwanda as hostile forces occupying their country, it was Zimbabwe that bore the brunt of a scathing attack by former British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain in February 2000.

Zimbabwe’s government was plundering the Congo’s resources in exchange for its support of the now late President Laurent Kabila, Hain said.

Yet when Ugandan and Rwandan soldiers traded fire to destroy the diamond-rich Congolese city of Kisangani, killing hundreds of civilians, Britain showed no sign of tightening the aid taps.

Why does Museveni appear to get the kid-gloves treatment while Mugabe is roundly condemned?

Partly, diplomatic experts say, because the West is using double standards.

Museveni is still hugely popular for bringing stability to Uganda after years of chaos, while Mugabe’s 33-year reign appears to be entering its final chapter.

Western countries believe Uganda will succeed somewhere along the line, so strategically people are prepared to turn a blind eye to what Museveni is doing.

Museveni has made no public plans for his succession but his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, is said to be waiting in the wings.

Museveni speaks the language of the West and his considerable charm wins over the most experienced diplomats.

He is a useful backer of US efforts to isolate the government of Sudan, a common foe.

And for all his faults and questionable judgment in the Congo, he has kept his country largely stable.

Human rights have improved beyond recognition since the dark and murderous days of presidents Idi Amin and Milton Obote, and the economy has recovered impressively too.

Western diplomats in Kampala echo that argument and say it explains why they temper their criticism of Museveni.

In Zimbabwe, the economy has been gutted by the inevitable result of three decades of Mugabe’s rule, crony capitalism and outright corruption.

Is Museveni the best of a bad lot in a troubled continent, given that African presidents are some sort of rogues gallery?

Only time will tell.

Comments (2)

Interesting take Gift...but might the reason why Mugabe treats harsher pubishment than Museveni have something to do with punishment meted to a STAR pupil (Mugabe) falling back on his grades as compared to a dunderhead making some effort to play the idiot? Museveni is forgiven because very few expected better from him. In the case of Mugabe, he was the toast of the continent who allowed everything to fall to pieces..Spot the difference, Gift?

gutter poet - 3 January 2014

Its long over due!

Francis Malinga - 6 January 2014

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