Describing it as euphoric is to make an understatement. When some European Union Ambassadors visited the Kamwokya-based National Unity Platform (NUP) offices in Kampala, many of the supporters of the former grouping known as People Power, went into over-drive.
I overheard a group of boda boda riders claiming “abazungu bamukonedde mu" (the Europeans have given Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine/NUP, their approval). Some analysts and commentators went full throttle claiming that the West has voted and that this time, incumbent President Yoweri Museveni is ‘finished.’
Their point here is that the West has put their bet on the power of the youth (who are the majority in Uganda’s population structure); converging around Bobi Wine.
That is a perception. It is not the first time the EU Ambassadors have looked like they are betting on the underdog. Granted. Politics is about perception, but reality rears its head along the way.
The world knows that the West, and to an extent China and Russia, have a say in the way former colonies in Africa and the least developed countries mind their business. So you do not blame those who are getting ahead of themselves. But the reality of the politics may tell you something else.
Almost after all the previous elections, Museveni’s challenger FDC’s Dr Kizza Besigye, has met the ambassadors. This is after the elections in which he cried fraud when he lost to Museveni. It caused tension that he would lead his supporters either to the streets or to the bush.
Before those elections, EU Ambassadors ‘expressed serious concerns’ about the integrity of the election, giving the Opposition hope that they have a strong ally should the NRM government steal. Besigye was always told or should we say ordered to take his grievances to courts of law and prevail upon his supporters not to cause chaos.
In his book, Kizza Besigye And Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution, Daniel K Kalinaki describes in the prologue (pp vii-vii) one such occasion.
This time, Besigye was invited or is it summoned to meet them at the residence of the Irish Ambassador in posh upscale Kampala suburb of Kololo.
“It was embarrassing to see the way Besigye was humiliated,” a diplomat who attended the meeting recalled. “They had a go at him and simply cut him to smithereens. I wished the ground could swallow me whenever we made eye contact.”
In what capacity and for what reason, one would ask, do these foreign ambassadors ‘have a go’ at Besigye (and other African leaders) in their independent countries?
The answer is that the colonial agenda, which commenced in 1894, did not end when they granted Uganda independence in 1962. It only laid a firm foundation for an eternal process. A power relation where former colonies would perpetually depend on those imperial powers for their survival, took shape.
They control world markets. Companies in which they have interests have invested heavily in Uganda, to which they also provide, military and economic aid. To protect their deposit, the EU needs a leader who can assure them of a peaceful environment and a viable economy for their vested interests to thrive.
In other words, he is like the Governors they used to send in the colonial period. Only that this time, he is indigenous, comes from a process called democracy and an election whose quality most times is suspect.
If this leader is a ‘utility player’ with a reach beyond Uganda, the better. Uganda is at the centre of the volatile Great Lakes region both physically and in terms of influence.
For instance ,Uganda’s open and welcoming refugee policy is very vital for all the global mining interests in DR Congo. When warlords and blood diamond barons clear people off their land to steal their minerals, the people run to Uganda and are settled.
If there was no generous Ugandan refugee policy, they would most probably stay and fight back making mining expensive or even impossible.
The case of oil giant, Shell and the confrontations with the Ogoni people of the rich oil Niger Delta States in Nigeria is one in point.
Museveni has provided many of the above conditions (peaceful environment for investors, pacifying the region).
His government has even raised the stakes higher for the donors by acquiring very huge loans. The West being pragmatic, knows that you don’t change what works, especially if it is still viable. But they also know that situations can change very quickly.
So democracy and the popularity of a candidate is one thing. His usefulness and how they fit in the agenda of the world powers in as far as their interests are concerned, is another.
The ambassadors are no fools. They see what is on the very poorly levelled ground. They know the involvement of the military and how they are barring the Opposition from meeting the electorate.
They know that the ruling party is heavy with money and goodies and is using the restrictions of preventing Covid-19 to disadvantage the Opposition as they market a virtual ‘scientific election.’ They have seen how in the past, Opposition leaders like Besigye have had animated supporters on the campaign trail and attracted huge crowds yet ended up not being announced winners.
So visiting Kamwokya is probably to study how People Power is doing after transiting into NUP. They need to see if they fit well in the jigsaw puzzle that considers their interests.
But most important they need to establish rapport and the message of their stake in the election.
So should the EU ambassadors show up for a Besigye post-election type of engagement, their capacity and message will be obvious and not alien.