What Kampala’s streets, US travel bans have in common

Tuesday April 20 2021
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By Nicholas Sengoba

It is a very common scene and practice on the streets of Kampala. Thieves operate in a pack like wolves. 

Like it happens in a game of football they have a No.10, also known as the play maker. This one attacks the victim and snatches whatever is targeted then flees, jumps onto a waiting motorcycle and takes off. 

The rest of the team then pretend to give chase while shouting and distracting onlookers. 

The victims rest on their laurels, prompted by the false belief that some altruistic citizens are helping them to catch the thief. This lifts the pressure off the thieves granting them a window period to disappear, regroup and share their loot.

It is these images I saw last week when an excited Ugandan in the diaspora called in the dead of the night. Almost breathless, he went on that he had highly confidential information from a trusted source that “the Biden (US President Joe Biden) administration has started biting the dictator. Our pressure is paying off. At last Museveni’s time is up.” 

Imagine the anticlimax when he told me that his exhilaration was about the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announcing visa restrictions on unnamed Ugandan government officials. Their crimes allegedly being  involvement in gross human rights violations and undermining democracy during the just concluded January General Elections. 

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This is not the first time the US government and other so-called development partners have come out to condemn the government of President Yoweri Museveni, after an election over the last three decades. What usually follows is business as usual and it will be the same this time. It is not hard to see why.

The US government, like most leading industrial nations in the West, has a vested interest in the great lakes region for its strategic location on the African continent. Uganda is at the center. Museveni has shown a track record in holding it together for the sake of peace and for the stewardship of the interests of all these powers.

In Somalia, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, D.R.Congo, you will find either the boots on the ground or the guiding hand of the Ugandan army. Peaceful or war-free environments are safe places of capital.

The region is of interest for the prospectors of oil, gold, diamonds, titanium, Colton, uranium etc. Museveni’s Uganda is a safe passage for this trade both in sight and out of sight. 

This region is also a good dumping ground for foreign aid ie money lent and squandered by the recipient countries. 

These will part with their sovereignty and national assets in years to come as they will not be able to repay this money. A lot of this money finds its way back to the donor countries, pilfered by corrupt officials in the recipient countries.

Museveni has demonstrated that warts and all he is a man with whom the West and the ambitious China can do business. He is the part of the team that you can depend on to do the unclean work. You don’t change a winning team. 

Like Daniel K. Kalinaki says in his book, Kizza Besigye And Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution, ‘Western Powers put stability over constitutional scruples.’ Clean elections are part of constitutional scruples. 

That is why despite all the condemnation and the travel bans, the US government still provides funding to the Ugandan government to keep it viable. It has cooperation with the security agencies like army and police which have been accused of being the masterminds of the abuses for which the US government ironically condemns and issues visa restrictions.

So one may not be hanged for concluding that these visa restrictions are a slap on the wrist. They serve to impress the mainly youthful supporters of Museveni’s opponents not to take to extra-legal measures to oppose him. 

It provides them with the false hope that the powerful American government is doing something on their behalf. 

Like the robbery victim on the streets of Kampala they will sit back and relax instead of risking their lives fighting for what they call their stolen victory.

Time will pass and in the end the stable environment under which capital loves to take shelter, will be achieved.  

Then the US will continue ‘engaging’ the Uganda government. They will provide donor support, train its army and police.  If the need arises Museveni will be asked to use his good offices to help pacify Sudan or D.R Congo.

Before you know it Insha Allah, we shall be discussing the 2026 election. Uganda will only have meaningful change if and when Ugandans take these matter in their hands.

The help from the US and any other foreign hand comes seeking its own interests. 

On the streets of Kampala, run after your own thief or lose out. Period.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues

Twitter: @nsengoba

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