Sunday March 17 2013

Homage to Hugo Chavez, a man of the people

By Harold E. Acemah

For those in the news business, last week was a bonanza for “Breaking News”. What with the passing on and burial of the indomitable Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez and my former boss at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the amiable and gentle, Eriya Kategaya and the proclamation of the pyrrhic victory of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto of the Jubilee alliance in Kenya’s hotly contested elections held on March 4, 2013.

Let me, at the outset, avail myself of this opportunity to convey my heartfelt condolences to the family of Hon. Kategaya on the untimely passing of a great son of Uganda and Africa. I had the pleasure to work closely with Kategaya for five years when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs and I have only pleasant memories of him. May the Lord comfort his family and grant him eternal rest.

Like most Ugandans, I am relieved that the elections in our sister Republic of Kenya were generally peaceful, but whether the elections were free and fair is currently a subject before the Supreme Court of Kenya and we await the verdict of court. If Kenyatta becomes President, I see difficult days ahead for Kenya’s diplomatic service and, in particular, Kenya’s relations with her Western development partners, many of whom expressed deep concern, before the elections, about the possibility of a person who has been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity assuming the leadership of Kenya.

I do not buy the spurious and self-serving argument that such declarations are tantamount to interference in the internal affairs of an African country because human rights are universal and any violation of the right to life and other fundamental human rights cannot be dismissed as a domestic affair!

Over 1,300 Kenyans perished in post-election violence in 2007/8 and about 600,000 people were displaced; hundreds fled to Uganda and have lived here for the last five years. It is disheartening to note that two persons who are prime suspects facing trial at the ICC may become president and vice president of an African country. A president and vice president must surely be above suspicion of crimes against humanity! What happens if the ICC finds both guilty as charged?

Against this background, I was astonished by the hasty and overly enthusiastic congratulations sent from some quarters in Uganda to a candidate who is in the dock for serious crimes. It is a sad development for East Africa! The results of Kenya’s elections clearly show that most of the electorate voted along ethnic lines which is a sad legacy of Uhuru’s father, Johnston Kamau aka Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who played a key role in the evolution of ethnic and tribal politics which continues to bedevil and haunt Kenya 50 years after independence was achieved on December 12, 1963.

Well, the story is not over yet and we must await the judgments of the Supreme Court and the ICC. For the sake of all Kenyans who died needlessly in that shameful post-election violence, I hope and pray that the ICC will prosecute all suspects without fear or favour in order to put an end to the culture of impunity practised by many African leaders.

The death on March 5 in Caracas of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela of cancer is a major loss of socialists everywhere! He was only 58 years old and died at the prime of the Venezuelan people’s struggle for social justice. A charismatic, colourful and compelling personality, Chavez was an orator par excellence whom I witnessed addressing the UN General Assembly in 2000 during the millennium assembly. He was a man of the people who was committed to the struggle to liberate the masses from ignorance, poverty and disease. Chavez was one of the icons and political giants of the 20th and 21st century.

Prof. Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College said of Chavez: “Ever heard of a regime that gets stronger the more opposition it faces? Welcome to Venezuela, where the charismatic President Hugo Chavez is practicing a new style of authoritarianism. Part provocateur, part CEO and part an electoral wizard, Chavez has updated tyranny for today.” I disagree, because Chavez was a democrat who was elected four times without any rigging!

He was a fearless and consistent voice of the voiceless and down- trodden peasants and workers. Unlike some local politicians who waged a violent struggle for years under the banner of socialism, but once they grabbed power transformed into capitalist roaders, Chavez stuck to his socialist principles up to the end. One of his legacies is that he has put the welfare of the poor squarely on the political agenda of Venezuela as a principal item and unlike previous governments, he used Venezuela’s huge oil resources to significantly improve the living and working conditions of the wananchi. He never deceived the people with empty promises like our callous African leaders routinely do.

President Chavez will be sorely missed by the masses whose cause he championed in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. He has left a powerful and enviable legacy of social justice for all. I hope his successors will continue to wage the just struggle against exploitation and oppression.

Adios amigos. Aluta continua!

Mr Acemah is a political scientist,
consultant and a retired career diplomat.