Every American President – be they Democrat or Republican – will be heard talking of a determination to keep terrorism (indeed any type of war) away from American soil. Although they themselves have backed armed groups and friendly states that have used methods that can be described as terrorist, the Americans say they do not want terrorism to prosper anywhere.
No terrorism anywhere; but especially, for goodness sake, no terrorism on American soil. And since the 9/11 New York Trade Centre attacks, American officials speak proudly of having prevented another major attack on its soil. That soil is sacred, just like the lives of American citizens. American presidents swear an oath to protect those citizens, and there is a system of checks and balances, as well as a price at election time, which makes these leaders take that commitment seriously.
Any foreign statesman or rebellious adventurer who deals with the US establishment as an ally does well to remember that. Innocent Arabs, Africans, Latinos or even Europeans who fall in terrorist attacks do not trouble Americans to a level anywhere close to the pain suffered when Americans are direct victims.
That is not necessarily to criticise Americans. By and large, human nature tends to work like that. But what if the obsession with keeping America safe sometimes drifts towards a cynical policy of nudging and deflecting America’s enemies to turn their attention away from the American mainland? In other words, if they must, let them fulfill their mad delusions in places other than America.
Furthermore, if the battle area is spread around the globe, the financial and human resource costs of fighting the enemies are more likely to be shared out. After small nations with regional ambitions of becoming “Also Someone” have taken some of the flak meant for the American/Western establishment, they will respond by forking out serious money to strengthen their militaries on the pretext of countering terrorism, but by the very same response attracting even more anti-American hostility and relieving the pressure on America itself. The death of substitutes.
So, it does not even really matter whether those little nations (instead of buying from the West) buy their military hardware from cheap East European and Far Eastern sources, creaming off huge commissions and seriously depleting heir national treasuries in the process. It is actually very good. When they are broke, they always come back on bended knee – as dependent nations should – and ask the West to finance their vital services to the people.
It is a paradox; the condition of increased military power and perceived relevance actually making a nation more dependent. With only one eye open – thus limiting the appreciation of distant dangers – Uganda could have walked into a web that might prove difficult to disentangle from. The one area (defence) in which Museveni’s government can proudly claim to have outperformed its predecessors could also turn out to be part of the undoing of Uganda’s independence.
The other part, which has also been intimately associated with Museveni’s rule, is corruption. In any country, the State is the single biggest spender.
A fairly simple mathematical model should show that virtually every act of industrial or commercial agricultural production is affected by the factor of corruption and extravagance in government procurement, just as it is by the factor of taxation. The bigger any of the two factors becomes, the greater the cost of production. Moreover, bigger corruption requires bigger taxes to fill the holes.
At a certain point, in spite of (and indeed including) your Bujagali megawatts and dream oil, your products become uncompetitive in a free market environment.
The industrial producer usually responds with lower wages for the weakest party, the powerless worker. In two words, that means the modern slave. But the slave is the exact opposite of the citizen of an independent nation.
So, in a manner of speaking, President Museveni can be said to have a vested interest in the slave. If the slave wakes up, the President will realise that turning Uganda into a First World country under NRM rule was always a fantasy.
Allan Tacca is a novelist and socio-political