KAMPALA- Two decisions made in quick succession of one another create a toxic mix that will likely domestically bolster President Museveni but sour his relations internationally.
The decision by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) caucus in Parliament to endorse Museveni for a fifth elective term in office as President, and his payback by agreeing to sign onto the anti-homosexuality Bill passed by Parliament in December 2013, have set the stage for what could see growth in President Museveni’s domestic ratings but a sharp drop in his international profile.
US President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disappointed,” in a swift response to Mr Museveni’s apparent capitulation on the Bill which he declined to sign in December.
Obama warned: “As we have conveyed to President Museveni, enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.” That statement is likely to tie in with a perception in the west that a leader who has stayed in power for 30 years or more is no longer good for business.
A strong pro-gay lobby meeting receptive ears in the US White House, and a powerful media machinery, means a likelihood that, going forward, Mr Museveni will be projected not as the once “new breed of African leader” but an autocrat and intolerant ruler who has manipulated his way to staying in power for life at the cost of not just political rights to freedom of assembly as expressed in the treatment of political opponents but also hostile to freedom.
Dr Phillip Kasaija Apuuli, an International law expert, observes that as much a Uganda is not unique in passage of this legislation, and that the President tried to cushion himself against criticism by first seeking expert opinion, the question that remains is whether the country will be able to withstand the pressure caused by the powerful anti-gay lobby, especially on financing.
Dr Kasaija says that though the government has projected stable financial growth rates over the next few years, continued scaling down of donor budget support will have an impact.
He expressed concern that the gay lobby might actually pour money into the country but not for government support.
Dr Kasaija noted that taken together, gays rights and other human rights can trigger very bad ratings quoting a recent gay rights barometer that scored Uganda poorly on all 14 indicators.
Mr Museveni’s bigger concern, however, will be western media which is likely to link everything together to create a caricature of an ageing autocratic ruler intolerant of any and everything.
The coverage of the winter olympics in Russia give just a pointer to what is likely to follow Mr Museveni’s decisions over the last one week. Every little mistake is likely to gain a life of its own.
The Western world’s tendency of dumping leaders who have been two decades in power or longer means Mr Museveni will be easy prey but this is exactly what leaders who have stayed long in power love, global (western) distate is easily exploitable for domestic gain.
A leader rallying and perceived to be hated by the West because of new-found oil wealth and a high moral pedestal like rejection of homosexuality is a good sale to conservatives that many Ugandan tend to be.
Mr Museveni is also lucky to enjoy the support of the religious community in both the traditional churches and mosques as well as the born again movement that will certainly tend to ignore his political and economic failings and hail him as a defender of the country’s morality.