The news that the United States Government had sanctioned Kale Kayihura, the former Inspector General of the Ugandan Police Force, for serious human rights abuses and alleged involvement in corruption, left me greatly puzzled.
No, I was not surprised that the Americans had turned against an erstwhile ally and friend. It is a given that America, which puts its strategic interests above everything else, has neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies.
Today’s favoured of Washington DC will be tomorrow’s pariah, condemned and denied thrice before the cock crows twice. In my brief lifetime, I have seen strong friends of America abandoned to the dogs when the going got tough.
Among America’s friends and proteges that were thrown overboard were memorable names like Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran (1979), Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines (1986), Manuel Antonio Noriega of Panama (1989), Saddam Hussein of Iraq (1991 and Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbendu wa Zabanga (1997).
Furthermore, America’s charges against Kayihura, including their feigned objection to the former police chief’s supervision of the abuse of Ugandans’ human rights, are the usual hypocritical statements that run counter to Washington’s long history of tolerance of gross abuses and state crimes by its temporary allies.
To a man, the above examples of former US friends committed some of the worst human rights abuses of the 20th Century. As long as they did Washington’s bidding, the Americans turned a blind eye to their predations and savage terrorism against their respective countries’ citizens. The cries of their victims were ignored by America, supposedly the great champion of human rights and democracy. Washington only acknowledged the wickedness of these and many rulers after the men were no longer needed or after the cozy relationships had unravelled.
There is no doubt that the Americans were fully aware of Kayihura’s police force’s terror against political opponents of President Yoweri K. Museveni. To his credit, Kayihura never pretended to respect Ugandans’ human rights.
Unlike the United States whose agents tortured detainees in the private confines of notorious prisons like Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) and Abu Ghraib (Iraq), Uganda’s Kayihura preferred the honest approach of doing things in the open. And he even invited America’s FBI into some of the innermost sanctums of his operations.
Throughout his 13 years as Museveni’s most trusted strongman, Kayihura unleashed his official and unofficial armed agents in broad daylight to abuse the rights of citizens and scare anyone who might have considered joining the Opposition forces.
Furthermore, the Americans know that Kayihura was a mere servant, an implementer and enforcer of orders from above, his boss being Museveni, at whose pleasure the younger man served. At a minimum, Kayihura’s actions were tolerated by the President. The more likely truth is that they were sanctioned by the President, a man who is so allergic to real and potential political or military challenge that there is no way that Kayihura would have created his militias without a nod from Rwakitura.
We obviously do not know whether or not the allegations of financial and other commercial corruption by Kayihura are true. What we know is that the United States is fully aware of others in high office or close to the country’s centre of power to whom corruption is as routine as morning ablutions. And if the Kayihura corruption allegations are true, the Americans must have known about them even as money was allegedly changing hands and commodities allegedly crossing borders.
So, what puzzles me is - why Kayihura and why now? We know that this is not about human rights. That is not a subject that the current team in Washington is even remotely interested in. The human rights of Africans do not give Donald J. Trump and company sleepless nights. (Indeed, even the more liberal US leaders of the past, including Barack Obama, have offered lip-service to human rights abroad, always subjugating them to America’s “strategic interests.”)
Some have suggested that the Kayihura sanctions are a message of warning to powerful individuals who are still in power in Kampala, including the President, that if they do not play ball, America will go after them.
Some think that Washington is annoyed by Museveni’s rejection of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Bill, presumably because it delays America’s access to a potentially lucrative source of profits.
Others suspect that America is doing the dirty work for what Kayihura himself calls “intriguers in Uganda”, whose objective is to falsely criminalise him in order to destroy his public persona.
Which raises the same question: Why Kayihura? And why would the Americans agree to be the agents acting on behalf of these Ugandan intriguers? What regional or international political game is in play? Is someone trying to silence Kayihura because the latter is privy to some deadly secret?
It is too early to proffer sensible answers to these and other questions that continue to emerge as one reflects on this rather sudden move by the US. What I can say with confidence is that Kayihura is right to object to the unfair actions that have been taken against him without according him the basic human right of due process and justice. It is good that Kayihura, evidently sobered by his time out of the IGP’s office where he had assumed the powers of a 19th Century monarch, has re-discovered justice, due process and democracy – the very things that he exerted limitless energies to deny Ugandan citizens for 13 years.
One hopes that Kayihura now sees the foolishness of his zeal to maintain his boss on the throne at all costs. If he does, then he would be well advised to stop hiding under the cloak of having been an agent of the State and take full responsibility for his actions that reversed the little progress that had been made in the struggle for democracy and human rights.
As we have said before, nobody is beyond redemption. However, it starts with acknowledging and confessing one’s faults and sins, seeking the Lord’s mercy and grace, and apologising to Ugandans whose tears have not dried, whose wounds have not healed and whose hopes have been destroyed by, among others, Gen Edward Muhwezi Kale Kayihura, a lawyer and freedom fighter.