Of US sanctions and the naughty kid Uganda

Author: Joseph Ochieno. 

What you need to know:

  • The United States, the country that provides more than $1b per annum to Uganda (much of which is wasted or stolen), the country without whose support over the last 35 years this regime would be absent.

So at last, some token chastising of naughty kid Uganda by master America – symbolic light sanctions. Call it visa restrictions, inconveniences on a few individuals, interference by a foreign power; I have heard it, over the years.

The United States, the country that provides more than $1b per annum to Uganda (much of which is wasted or stolen), the country without whose support over the last 35 years this regime would be absent. Military equipment that sing across this country, East, Central, Horn of Africa with Mr Museveni at the helm as Nyampala. Minimally, except to calm down the voice of Opposition, they have shyly elected to send him a little love note – to the ‘naughty corner’.

It could have been worse. Sanctions in their very nature are various. Used by the UN and other major nations as penalties or if you like, deterrents against abuse of international law, human rights abuses or excesses by nation-States, I first heard the word when we were campaigning for the isolation of apartheid-regimes of South of Africa (Azania) and Zimbabwe; calling for arms, trade and other economic embargo on the regimes.

Ironically at the time, the leading opponents to this policy were the US (led by Ronald Reagan) and Britain (under Margaret Thatcher). Then, they argued, that sanctions would hurt ordinary people.

They were right – to an extent – sanctions generally impact most on the vulnerable except at the time, the vulnerable were paupers in their own countries, could not get worse and, the world was targeting key aspects of those regimes, including the tummies of Botha, de Clerk and Ian Smith. Guess what, global pressure that included economic isolation and the fire-power of Cuban military did indeed help end apartheid.

Sanctions were imposed on Zimbabwe by the same guys when Robert Mugabe threatened exclusive White interests over Zimbabwean land and yes, the poor in the country suffered.  Same guys, different arguments over the same thing.

Now enter Uganda with all sorts of arguments. The America I know - the one we have lobbied over the years, especially at the peak of the atrocious wars in the north and east - has been a steadfast backer of this NRA-regime and Mr Museveni knows it.

That they have decided not to place embargoes on military equipment, Budget support, or even those little sticks that killed more than 54 of our citizens last year is actually a relief.

That they have not mentioned any black mambas nor even publicly named the people on whom visa restrictions have been placed is actually gentle and mild on those individuals; it could have been worse. Give a taste of what Zimbabwe, Iraq and Iran received then you would see how fast those boastful chaps in town go mild. But it is not necessary.

I suggest that America should not sit back and witness arrogance and excess impunity continue in this day of instant, global and 24 hour news. Not after the head of State comes on national television, admits to the murders, torture, disappearances and slaps yet months pass yet nobody is held to account.

To continue at this pace would make those who read and watch old news about how Uganda was reported during Amin’s regime and even during the last elected UPC government would confirm nothing-but-hypocrisy, self-interest and the case of a head-boy at work.

Now that a few individuals have been singled out for inconvenience, one hopes this regime will wake up to its obligation (to citizens), rule of law and commitment to international law.

Imagine a trade embargo that forbids Uganda Airlines from flying to London or Washington, as it used to or, ‘mobile money’; those remittances. This country is possible, those in charge better have some humility so that together, we can all, believe in better.

The writer is a former UPC spokesperson
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