Political Assassinations and Torture; A Legacy of Museveni’s 35 Year’s Rule

EXTRACT FROM WHY WE ARE COMING, BY YASIN KAKANDE

Those who stand up for Justice will always be on the

right side of history.” Barack Obama

On a busy street in Kampala one evening in April 2012 at around nine o’clock after Muslims had completed their last prayers and were joining the commuter melee of cars and cyclists to go home, two men on a motorcycle, known as Boda Boda in local dialect, approached Sheikh Abdul Karim Sentamu, a renowned Muslim cleric and leader of the William Street mosque. The two men said the traditional Islamic greetings to the Sheikh before shooting him dead and then disappearing into the traffic.

It was a start of a series of political assassinations by men on motorcycles in Kampala. Sentamu, like most of the other victims, was a Muslim who had once been a member of a rebel group called Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), before receiving amnesty from Museveni.

Among these victims was Sheikh Mustafa Bahiga, shot five times at Bwebajja Mosque on Entebbe Road. Sheikh Ibrahim Hassan Kirya also was shot multiple times when he arrived at his home in Bweyogerere, Wakiso District. Sheikh Kirya had earlier informed police that he feared for his life after his colleagues were killed in related incidents by unknown assailants on motorcycles. Major Mohammed Kiggundu, one of the former commanders of the ADF rebel group who had joined the Ugandan Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) after being pardoned, was also shot dead, along with his bodyguard Sergeant Steven Mukasa, one morning at Masanafu, a Kampala suburb. The two were driving to the city in a UPDF pickup truck. Kiggundu had turned into a strong advocate of the Museveni regime on radio stations after his amnesty and recruitment into the army. One time a caller during his radio talk show warned him in plain language that Museveni never forgives former rebels or anyone who has ever tried overthrowing his regime. Other Muslim clerics murdered by motorcycle assailants included Abdul Kadir Muwaya and Abubaker Kiwewa.

Most of the victims were those who had previously rebelled

against the government of Museveni or were deemed politically inconvenient to the regime. Every time a politician was assassinated the police assembled a group of mostly Muslim men on television it had arrested as suspects. Most of those arrested were other Muslim clerics of a rival faction. As they appeared on television some were limping with all the signs of torture. Most disturbing was that even after these arrests, the assassinations continued with other targets killed in a similar way that implied the real assassins were still at large. The police attempted to reassure the citizens and authorities reportedly conducted comprehensive investigations but not a single report was ever published.

There is no concrete evidence for the claim, but it seems at least reasonable to assume that the phenomenon of the assassination by motorcycle-borne gunmen was a weapon being used by the state. The collusion at all levels of official apparatus that was required for these crimes to be committed with total impunity makes it so.

Ugandans attack govt officials at funeral of slain police chief | Africanews
Muhammad Kirumira, was gunned down in the Kampala suburb of Bulenga.

Clearly the weapon was considered to be effective as its scope was broadened considerably to include high-profile political figures. Joan Kagezi, the Senior Principal State Attorney, was the first Non-Muslim target, shot dead in her car while shopping in Kiwatule, a Kampala suburb. Kagezi, who was a prosecutor in a July 2010 twin bombing trial, was shot twice at close range by the assailants while she was seated in her official car. She was known as an ethical independent prosecutor, more inclined not to take orders on what to investigate or ignore because of political sensitivities regarding the Museveni regime.

The peak of these political assassinations occurred when Andrew Felix Kaweesi, a police spokesperson, along with his driver and bodyguard were gunned down about 100 meters from Kaweesi’s home in Kulambiro, Nakawa Division in Kampala. Then, Ibrahim Abiriga, the Arua municipality member of parliament, and his bodyguard were shot dead, near the MP’s home in Matugga, Wakiso District. An audio of an eyewitness account circulated on social media urged all Muslims in Matugga to flee the area to avoid being rounded up as purported suspects as far as they can after the shooting because the government likely would arrest any of them to parade on television. The audio reflected a general feeling among the population that the government was not interested in arresting the real killers but instead announced after every shooting the arrests of apparently innocent citizens on the streets, mostly Muslims as a coverup for the killers.

Andrew Felix Kaweesi, a police spokesperson, gunned down along with his driver and bodyguard

It seemed as if the motorcycle assassins could not and would not be stopped; and killings became more frequent. Muhammad Kirumira, an outspoken critic and a Ugandan police officer, was gunned down along with a female companion in the Kampala suburb of Bulenga. Kirumira, who was a key witness in a case against General Kale Kayihura, the sacked police boss, had repeatedly told the media that he had become a target for assassination after having revealed that there were bandits of criminals in high posts of the Uganda police. “Expose the mafia to save the state. When you speak, you die. When you keep quiet, you die. Better speak and die when the message has reached the people,” Kirumira said in a short video clip that went viral on social media after his assassination.

Kirumira’s death had a profound effect on the people of Uganda as he had foretold his own death and even that was not enough to protect him. Clearly the assassins were working with no concern for conscience or law. Each killing would put gruesome pictures on social media and illicit a huge reaction from Ugandans.

Kirumira’s assassination happened a few weeks after the army had shot and killed Yasin Kawuma, Bobi Wine’s driver, and reports about the politician’s torture had been circulated publicly. The international media focused intensely on the repressive nature of the Museveni regime for the first time. Museveni responded with acts of apparent concern: attending the scene where Kirumira had been gunned down and addressing parliament, blaming the assassination on elements in the police colluding with the criminals. Museveni also outlined new measures in his address to lawmakers that included setting up a modern forensic laboratory, installing CCTV cameras, shooting down unregistered drones, and banning hoodies.

It is true to say that in Uganda at least, the phenomenon of political assassinations carried out by gunmen on motorcycles was new, but only as a delivery system starting in 2012. Political assassination was familiar: politicians that had proved inconvenient to Museveni had been assassinated throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Gunmen would visit victims’ homes and shoot them dead in sight of their family members. One of these victims was Dr. Lutakome Andrew Kayiira who had a rebel group also fighting Obote alongside Museveni’s bush war. Museveni says in his book The Mustard Seed that during those times, his rebel group confiscated a consignment of guns that were supposed to go to Kayiira’s rebel group. But Museveni and Kayiira had reconciled after Museveni came to power, and, in fact, Kayiira served as an energy minister in the Museveni government in the late 1980s, before his assassination.

Also, Major General James Kazini, former UPDF commander, challenged his government bosses. First, he was accused of disobeying the president, when he moved battalions of the Ugandan army under his command in West Nile without Museveni’s approval. He then was accused of sending money to rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Southern Sudan and later Ugandans were told he had been beaten to death by his girlfriend in a brawl.

Political assassinations in Uganda during the Museveni rule have not only occurred by putting a bullet in the victim’s head. There have been an implausibly large number of unexplained deaths among the political classes and in some the suspected cause was poisoning. One such case is that of Brigadier Noble Mayombo, who was the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Defense and Chairman of the Board of Vision Group. In April 2007, Mayombo felt unwell and was admitted to Kololo hospital where he was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis. The next day, his condition having worsened, he was transferred to the intensive care unit at International Hospital in Kampala. His condition deteriorated further and on April 29, 2007, comatose, on life-support systems, he was flown to Agha Khan Hospital in Nairobi Kenya. He was airlifted to Nairobi in the Presidential Gulfstream plane, on Museveni’s orders, a courtesy because of what was supposed to be a relationship as mentor and trusted comrade. However, Mayombo died at the age of 42. Speculation that there might have been foul play prompted the government to launch an investigation. The team concluded its investigation and handed a report to Museveni in November 2007. As of today, the detailed findings of that probe have never been released to the public.

Another suspected case of murder by poisoning was that of Cerina Nebanda, who at 24 was the youngest woman MP, serving in the Butaleja district. Nebanda criticized the president on his handling of corruption and unemployment. When she died of suspected poisoning, her parliamentary colleague Mohammed Nsereko was arrested for suggesting that the President was responsible for her death. Also, General Aronda Nyakairima, an MP who served as minister for internal affairs, died on a flight from South Korea while he was traveling through Dubai, a sudden death that followed the same investigative path as Nebanda’s death.

The evidence that poisoning is being used by the regime as a political weapon is further strengthened by the fact that some politicians have survived having been poisoned. One such is Hussein Kyanjo, former MP for the Makindye East District. Kyanjo, one of the most eloquent legislators in Uganda, was instrumental in fighting government-proposed bills to make the government the sole land owner in Uganda. He called the proposal a land grab. But it was his investigations of suspected bribery in oil deals in 2011 as a chairman of a parliamentary committee that likely triggered the attempt to poison him, which he relayed to me personally. Kyanjo, who received treatment in Dubai and London, said he had been diagnosed with dystonia, a disorder that affects the control of body movements, but his doctors suspected he also had been poisoned. He has lost the eloquence that once moved crowds and has trouble speaking at all, but he is grateful to be alive.

The list of assassination victims in Uganda is as long as the years Museveni has ruled the country. Political assassinations are so common in dictatorships where dictators attempt to rule for eternity, but in Africa, Uganda during Museveni’s tenure has experienced more political assassination than its neighbors. Every time someone was assassinated the Government promised to leave no stone unturned and to get to the bottom of the matter but each investigation eventually faded and what findings there were will never be made public, even when the victim was a public figure. This became the crucial yardstick for comparison, to distinguish assassinations carried out by dissidents and those likely perpetuated by the government.

Assassination became an understandably sensitive issue. People who demanded investigations or asked that results be made public soon became targets themselves. Ugandans understood that if the Government was not forthcoming with information about a given death then it was better to pretend that the victim had never lived. In some cases the President would give money to the families of the victims and showcase them as they publicly expressed their gratitude as when he gave 20 million shillings (U.S. $5,000) to the families of Yasin Kawuma and Muhammad Kirumira.

Neighboring countries have shared Uganda’s troubles with political assassinations, and some have had their leaders who were killed when they departed from Uganda. One was Dr. John Garang of South Sudan who died in a plane crash, after attending peace talks in Uganda. Journalist Andrew Mwenda was arrested for suggesting the Ugandan government was behind Garang’s death.

Political assassinations is not the Government’s only tool of oppression. In September 2009, the Ugandan government sought to prevent King (Kabaka) Muwenda Mutebi, a cultural leader of the Buganda ethnic group from traveling to Kayunga, a town near Kampala where National Youth Day festivities were planned. His supporters took to the streets, and, in some instances, threw stones and set fires. The military and police beat demonstrators and quickly resorted to live ammunition, killing unarmed protesters and bystanders.

The government maintained that 27 people lost their lives, largely as a result of security forces’ stray bullets. Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigations of hospital records and local organizational accounts put the death toll at more than 40. Sources at Mulago hospital told HRW that they treated 88 victims, the vast majority of them for gunshot wounds. And more victims were taken to other hospitals. The government never investigated or charged any security force members for the deaths.

In another violent incident, the Ugandan army and police raided the compound of the Rwenzururu King in the western town of Kasese. More than 100 people were killed, the bloodiest incident in the country for more than a decade. The king, Charles Wesley Mumbere, and nearly 200 people were arrested; they still await trial, on charges including murder, terrorism, and treason. The Bakonzo people, the main ethnic group in Kasese, straddle the borders between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the Rwenzori mountains. It is here, the Ugandan government alleges, that Bakonzo radicals want to carve out an independent kingdom. The King denies this, but people in these parts have long felt marginalized by the state. In Kasese there has been no investigation into the massacre. Peter Elwelu, the commander in charge that day, has been promoted. Maria Burnett, an HRW representative, said the killings illustrate the “entrenched impunity” of Museveni’s regime. That sense of impunity persistently degrades the quality of life for Ugandans and most people have decided to move to countries they think they would be safe.

Why We Are Coming by Yasin Kakande is out now, priced £15.43 in paperback and £4.64 as an eBook (£4.64). Visit Amazon [LINK TO https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0851LLFWB/]. For more information, visit http://www.yasinkakande.com. [LINK TO https://yasinkakande.com/]

Africa’s Most Reliable Imperialist Agent, The West, Will Not Let Go

EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT FROM WHY WE ARE COMING, BY YASIN KAKANDE

Ugandans will be heading to the polls early next year to elect the country’s new president. According to international journalist, migrant activist and TED Fellow Yasin Kakande, present incumbent and candidate, President Yoweri Museveni, is already taunting the main opponent, Bobi Wine, as being a stooge of foreign donors.

These, however, were the same cries that Museveni’s predecessor, Apollo Milton Obote, made about Museveni in the ‘80s. True to Africa, Kakande says, there seems to be no other way to power without Western imperialist help.

In this exclusive excerpt from his new book, ‘Why We Are Coming’, Kakande discusses how Museveni remained loyal to his imperialist mentors by expanding Western imperialism to all neighbouring African countries.

Under Museveni, Uganda had placed more troops abroad than any other country in the world barring the U.S. And Ugandan troops were significant in determining the outcomes from conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and even Kenya, after election-related violence erupted in 2007.

In 1991, after Somalia’s dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown, the country went into a vicious civil war. The U.S. sent 100,000 troops to restore order in an operation they called “Operation Restore Hope,” which began as an effort to underwrite the delivery of UN Aid by guaranteeing security in Mogadishu but ended as an unsuccessful manhunt targeting the Somali faction leader, General Mohammed Farah Aidid. On October 3, 1993, one of the bloodiest days of the conflicts and one immortalized in the annals of U.S. military legend, General Aidid’s militia killed 18 Americans and wounded more than 70 others. More than 300 Somalis were killed. The battle proved to have been the bloody dénouement of the American obsession with Aidid: the U.S. stopped pursuing him, unwilling to risk further casualties. The American troops pulled back into their encampments and compounds, dispatching few patrols until the politicians in Washington formally aborted the expedition. Thus bloodied the U.S. looked around and asked who in Africa was willing to take on the Somali war, and Museveni was the first to raise his hand. The Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) provided about 6,000 troops leading the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom). Uganda’s involvement drew the ire of the Somali Islamist militants “Al Shabab”: in July 2010, a double suicide bombing in Kampala killed 76 people who were watching the World Cup soccer final on television.

As in Somalis so in South Sudan where Uganda acted as the intermediary of the American support to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in its war to separate South Sudan from North Sudan in the 1990s. Two years after South Sudan declared its independence, President Salva Kiir fired his vice-president, Riek Machar, and the political power contest snowballed into military clashes fought along the Dinka-Nuer ethnic lines representing Kiir and Machar, respectively. Museveni immediately deployed Ugandan troops, telling journalists the troops had been sent at the request of the South Sudan government, just in time to save Kiir from being toppled as the country’s leader.

Uganda was instrumental in regime changes involving its immediate neighbors. On his return from undergoing military training in the U.S., Paul Kagame—formerly a senior officer in the Ugandan Army—joined with other Rwandese exiled in Uganda, to form the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF, supported by the Ugandan government, waged a war against the Rwandan government of President Habyarimana that would culminate in the Rwandan Genocide, which decimated the Tutsi population of the country. Kagame successfully overthrew Habyarimana’s government, and has been the president of Rwanda since 2000.

But not all of Museveni’s adventures have been welcomed by all sections of opinion in the West. One such is, their invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo a resource-rich black hole into which the region was pulled for a decade. The conflict was triggered when the armies of Uganda and Rwanda, both key security allies for Western interests, turned against each other in the Congo. A 2001 United Nations report noted that Museveni and Kagame were “on the verge of becoming godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict.” The report identified, as The New York Times article highlighted, “three dozen businesses, based in Belgium, Germany, Malaysia, Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Britain, India, Pakistan, and Russia . . . as having imported minerals from Congo through Uganda and Rwanda.”

The allegations were substantiated. Following the war, the Government of the DRC Congo sued that of Uganda and Rwanda for plundering its resources and committing war atrocities. The International Court of Justice found Uganda guilty in December 2005, and the country was ordered to pay Congo $10 billion in damages. Museveni’s closest relatives, including his son Major Muhozi Kainerugaba and brother Lieutenant General Caleb Akandwanaho with the alias of Salim Saleh, were implicated in overseeing the plundering operations.

In Burundi, citizens attempted a coup in 2015 after their late president Laurent Nkuruziza, Museveni’s friend and another strong ally of the U.S., announced he was standing for a third term. Jubilant citizens thronged the streets after the coup announcement and news that the deposed president Nkurunziza fled the country, but that joy was soon darkened by the shadow of regional enforcer Museveni. Ugandan troops entered Burundi to overturn the coup and reinstate President Nkuruziza.

Museveni has been careful to keep his relationship with the U.S. Secure by helping even in its wars in Middle East. During the Invasion of Iraq in 2003, 20,000 Ugandans worked in American military bases.

Somewhat counterintuitively, while it would be reasonable to surmise that when Uganda sent troops to neighboring countries and to the Middle East, the West was bankrolling the costs, the situation is not as simple as that. Certainly, the U.S. and some European countries contributed to the peace missions that were spearheaded by the Ugandan President, but much of the money for Uganda’s adventures, comes from Uganda itself.

Indeed, soaring defense budgets and costs that dwarf government spending on health care and agriculture must be seen as a significant component of Museveni’s legacy. With a population of approximately 42 million, Uganda often ranks at or near the top of the league table for defense spending among nations in East Africa. In 2011, it was first state in the region with an annual military expenditure that topped $642 million, more than $1 billion in the values current at the time of writing.

Why We Are Coming by Yasin Kakande is out now, priced £15.43 in paperback and £4.64 as an eBook (£4.64). Visit Amazon For more information, visit www.yasinkakande.com.

When are we going to have an honest conversation on African migration?

In this exclusive article, International journalist, migrant activist and TED Fellow Yasin Kakande, author of a new book on the historical and contemporary reasons for African immigration, ‘Why We Are Coming’, traces the intersection between Black Lives Matter and African Migrations in the Covid-19 Pandemic.

From the video images of a Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd to the images of African immigrants sleeping on the streets of Guangzhou in China, after being evicted during a racist fallout in which they were accused of spreading the COVID-19 virus, all these images have unleashed an intense way of emotions for black people all around the world.

As Black Lives Matter protests have mushroomed across all over U.S. states and at least 18 countries, the gatherings have emphasized that black lives from all perspectives must be included in the dialogue, including those of African immigrants. It was more than 20 years ago, for example, when Amadou Diallo, 22, from Guinea was shot and killed by four New York City police officers, who later claimed the victim was mistaken as a suspect in a rape case. Diallo, who had no criminal record, was unarmed. The officers, who later were found not guilty, fired 41 shots and 19 struck the young immigrant in the February 1999 incident. In 2004, Diallo’s family received a $3 million settlement under New York’s wrongful death statute.

Black people of African ancestry continue to be viewed suspiciously throughout the world. In China, photos showing printed signs banning black people from entering shops to buy food have been shared widely across social media. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has denied any racist sentiments were behind the actions.

The attacks on black people are not new, nor limited to China. African migrants have been murdered in the Middle East. Europeans have done little to save African migrants from drowning in makeshift boats as they seek refuge in their countries. And, in the U.S., innocent black citizens continue to be gunned down indiscriminately by the police or self-proclaimed white nationalists or vigilantes. The abuse and torture of black people occur everywhere.

There is no moral obligation for any country hosting black people to protect them and consider their standing as recipients of human rights. In the court of many host countries, unfortunately, more than a few African migrants are deemed guilty before charged and, therefore, are urged to stay in their countries. The current pandemic has intensified these sentiments. Instead of addressing the continuing plunder of African resources that has continued to starve Africans of opportunities for decades in the post-colonial era, and which has left them little choice but to migrate elsewhere for a modicum of economic justice, the world still manages to heap blame onto Africans. COVID-19 has not changed the circumstances.

International journalist & migrant activist Yasin Kakande

Today, Africans are not welcome anywhere but the resources from their lands remain a fair game for the world’s most developed countries and those aspiring to join this powerful elite. Africa is still the richest continent in terms of available resources on the planet, yet its people are the poorest. In Africa, European and American foreigners own the land, mines, banks, factories, fuel stations and airlines, with the wealth transferred expeditiously to the West. Should anyone note this in the global immigration debate, they are immediately dismissed as a whining, trivial distraction.

We have leaders in Africa whose main role is to oversee the ongoing massive plunder of their countries by foreign corporations. They are funded and armed to restrain African efforts to disrupt the status quo. These leaders issue decrees that ensure thousands of Africans can be forced from their lands to pave way for corporations to pursue lucrative projects without domestic consequences.

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So, what does the future hold for ordinary black people? What does it mean to be black in a world where hate is on the rise? What will happen to our children and grandchildren? These questions ring more acutely now as the Covid-19 pandemic’s most serious effects are being felt everywhere.

This is a crisis not only for poor black people but also for the slight numbers of successful African elites who have managed to squeeze themselves through the narrow escape hatches toward economic freedom and prosperity. However, they cannot guarantee the same success for their children or grandchildren. Reality catches up after spending a fortune to enroll children in the best schools of the country, only to realize after graduation that the only substantial opportunities are to send them to Saudi Arabia or Dubai to become servants to Arab families. These are painful truths.

Other black elites who have managed to settle in the west struggle to bring over their families. The rules which are always changing in the west only allow one to bring along their closest family members: children, spouse and parents. However, African families always have been larger than what the West considers typical. African culture acknowledges that one’s immediate family encompasses not only brothers and sisters but also cousins and nieces,  whom we wish to rescue from permanent poverty in their homeland.

But, even for those rescued children there are new challenges. Children risk being subjected to hostility in their new communities in the west, where their black neighbors might be gunned down while jogging or playing in their grandmother’s backyard or for just holding binoculars. One hopes that the despair being suffered on their home continent does not find new sources or expressions in their new home. These risks and dangers continue now, even as the world’s attention is absorbed with the pandemic. In fact, this present moment is absolutely the right time to deal with the issues, especially as the public health crisis has exposed so many disparities and inequalities in historically disadvantaged communities.

Sadly, it is not only Europeans or Americans citizens who not yet ready for a honest debate about the reasons behind African migrations. Even my fellow Africans are unprepared, afraid or paralyzed to address the metaphorical elephant in the room.

As a journalist, I was among the first Africans in my field to raise the issue of abused African migrants in the Middle East and though the response of the Gulf Arab rulers to deport me back to Africa shocked me, even more shocking was the number of fellow Africans who told me to stay quiet. Many of those who urged that I remain silent benefited from deals with foreign recruitment companies but, surprisingly, there were others—especially African migrants much like myself who thought my reporting and writing served no other purposed but to expose their secret games of survival in their host countries.

These misfortunes on black people are not going to exhaust themselves on their own and disappear. We cannot afford to bury these injustices and go on because the risks of having our children and grandchildren living on this planet as second-class citizens pleading desperately with Europeans, Americans, or the Chinese to just take them on, even if it means being subservient to the point of slavery, have become inexcusable and unacceptable. The pandemic has revealed a crisis of human dignity on many dimensions. The plight of Africans is just one of them.

The Black Lives Matter protests are unlike previous events. The anger against police is being fused with the frustrations of economic inequities which only have been exacerbated by the corporate practices of global capitalism.

As we struggle and eventually find our way to a new normal, there is the political will to rectify many long-standing injustices. One should involve a thorough, honest discussion about the future of ‘Blackness’ on this planet. We should not expect to find answers in summits led and orchestrated mainly by Americans and Europeans. After all, we should never trust the arsonists to be firefighters.

Why We Are Coming by Yasin Kakande is out now, priced £15.43 in paperback and £4.64 as an eBook (£4.64). Visit Amazon For more information, visit www.yasinkakande.com.

Has president Museveni turned $491.5m IMF loan into pandemic heist?

Ugandan-born international journalist Yasin Kakande is concerned that the current coronavirus pandemic may be being exploited by Uganda’s government to syphon funds and wrest further control from its beleaguered citizens. He writes exclusively for The Voice about his fears.

CONCERNED: International journalist, migrant activist and TED Fellow Yasin Kakande

RECENTLY, I asked a couple of friends on WhatsApp about how they would title a movie where Yoweri K. Museveni, the president of Uganda for more than 35 years, received an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan worth $491.5 million to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. One called it a “COVID-19 heist”.

Money Heist, a Netflix series, is among the most popular shows being watched in Uganda during a strict lockdown with curfew rules thoroughly and unconditionally enforced. ‘Heist’ is the most appropriate word to characterize the millions of dollars that the Ugandan president regards as his personal prize purse.

Ugandans, who know all too well their government’s animosity toward any shred of public accountability and transparency, are anxious and unsettled even more than usual during the pandemic. Ugandans readily comprehend the guidelines attached to an IMF loan but they also are being kept from the details of how the government has promised the international lender it will use the monies during the pandemic. Reasonably, Ugandans believe that such a loan would mean expanding the existing hospital beds capacity in their country and building hospitals in areas of the country where nearby access to urgent medical care is limited. Also, would the monies go toward acquiring masks, ventilators, and PPE?

Ugandans want to believe that the IMF considered these requests as conditions for making the loans, and that if their government is not being forthright about the intended uses of the money then they hope that IMF officials would rectify the matter and clarify publicly what the loan was specifically made to do. Then, local citizens can trace the accountability to see if, indeed, medical facilities are being expanded to handle the potential caseload as well as making more trained healthcare professionals available.

One of the worst side effects of the pandemic in Uganda is lack of critical information. The government certainly is not addressing the issue. On May 19, Dr. Stella Nyanzi, the convener of the Women’s Protest Working Group, was arrested, along with numerous protestors who were detained after a leading a protest in Kampala to end the “hunger pandemic”. The group has petitioned the government to revise the containment measures being enforced. The petition indicates that while no deaths have yet been registered in the country due to the pandemic, “high handed enforcement” has claimed more than 890 women and their infants “who either died in labor after failing to access transport to health facilities”, or after being shot by security forces for ‘violating’ these measures. The petition cites hunger and anger are sweeping the country, “causing frightening levels of domestic violence and suicide, whereby women are the major victims”.

The anger is not new. Ugandans regularly hear news of loans being made to their government, only to discover that they are the ones burdened with repaying the funds through increased taxation while never hearing of how the loans were used for the intended purposes of improving services or infrastructure in their country. Many believe that the money often goes directly into the pockets of the big shots in government.

Every year, the Ugandan government introduces new forms of taxation, squeezing even larger sums from Ugandans who are starved chronically in terms of the economic means. This year, the government announced a new property tax that will burden owners of homes and similar small properties. These taxes are enacted to pay back loans such as the one just made by the IMF.

OUT NOW: Yasin Kakande’s book Why We Are Coming

There also are other burdens affecting Ugandans. For example, in Africa, the IMF demands that governments relinquish control over key economic institutions in their countries to the private sector. Unfortunately, the private sector has become the proxy for the former colonially-owned corporate enterprises to continue their old ways. In Uganda, this means handing over the country’s economy to large western corporations and to cronies loyal to Museveni. During the Museveni era, the country lost publicly-owned entities including Uganda-owned airlines and financial institutions such as Uganda Commercial Banks to the private sector and foreign investors. The Uganda Electricity Board was dismantled and replaced by foreign investors under the corporate name of ‘Umeme’. Lint Marketing Board, Nyanza Textile Industries (Nytil), Uganda Grain Milling and Mulco Textiles—which once employed thousands of Ugandans—were all sold and mismanaged by private buyers who either were foreigners or family members and close friends of the Ugandan president.

These arrangements that Museveni has made with international money lenders have made him a darling of the West, earning him status as a reformer. However, for Ugandans, the regime has been devastating, as the country’s wealth has been transferred outside of the borders and has left Ugandans little to pursue in real economic opportunities. Today’s Ugandans have absolutely no chance of economic independence, which is why they migrate to every other country from Europe to the Middle East and to the U.S. They take up occupations such as housekeepers and home health aides even though many are well educated with some holding advanced college degrees. As someone with a postgraduate degree who has moved, the only shot I have to a job now in the U.S. is to be a home health aide.

The IMF must enact stricter accountability measures in dealing with African dictators such as Museveni who do not derive the mandate to rule their countries from their people but rather from western funding sources including corporations as well as the IMF and the World Bank. So long as there are outstanding agreements with these organizations, the elections and public opinion of the African citizens in respective countries do not matter. The continent is plagued by politicians who have long overstayed their effectiveness as governing autocrats who increasingly resort to violence and suppression, especially in apolitical crises such as the current pandemic.

If there was a normally functioning government in Uganda, the country’s citizens would welcome the news of the IMF loan during such a crisis. However, Ugandans know all too well the pain that the most recent IMF loans will cause. Only in the eyes of the West is Museveni still viewed as a legitimate head of state. That gesture of legitimacy matters to the octogenarian autocrat as Uganda prepares for its next elections.

Already, with news of the most recent IMF loan, Museveni has suggested in a TV interview that he might postpone the 2021 elections. To the Ugandans’ dismay, this means that the IMF will not press the issue and blindly accept the government’s assurances that the loan proceeds were disbursed for the public health interests of the citizens.

International journalist, migrant activist and TED Fellow Yasin Kakande is the author of Why We Are Coming, which explores the historical and contemporary reasons why African migrants leave their own countries for Western nations. It is available now on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats, priced £15.43 and £4.64 respectively. For more information, visit www.yasinkakande.com.

You can read an exclusive extract from Why We Are Coming, about how President Museveni’s rise to power in Uganda was backed by Western nations, here

How the present day land-grabbing in Africa is forcing thousands to migrate to Europe

IN THIS exclusive excerpt from his new book Why We Are Coming, author Yasin Kakande—an international journalist, migrant activist and TED Fellow—lays bare the shocking truth about the Western exploitation of Africa that is the root cause of Africans choosing to leave their homelands for the UK, US and other developed nations. 

Across Africa many Western investors, including Wall Street bankers and wealthy individuals, are rushing in to acquire agricultural land and are displacing hundreds of thousands of Africans.  This shift places the food system in Africa in the hands of a few Western corporations whose interests are, first and foremost, economic gain.

The list of these recent acquisitions is long and still many of these shady deals are going unreported. Here are a few reported cases which are as graphic; The American investor Philippe Heilberg signed a farmland deal with Paulino Matip, a Sudanese warlord, to lease 400,000 hectares of land (an area the size of Dubai ) in South Sudan in July 2008. South Korean conglomorate Daewoo announced it was leasing 1.3 million hectares (3.2 million acres) of Madagascar for 99 years for about $12 an acre in 2008. In Southern Uganda about the 14,000 villagers who were evicted from their land when the Ugandan government leased 8,000 hectares of land to a Norwegian timber company (Green Resources) in the forest area of Bukaleba. British’s Tullow acquired 102,500 hectares in Lake Albert Rift basin to explore oil.

“The west’s acquisition of continental land is a threat to African economies and livelihoods”

In 2017, the Ugandan government tabled a land bill amendment proposal on compulsory acquisition of land for public use, and that it may deposit in court a befitting sum for the land it wants to acquire from the owner. President Yoweri Museveni, a western corporate puppet went on broadcast outlets to explain to the citizens that the amendments are framed for the country’s better interests, and that the government taking over land from owners they deem not suitable for agriculture and giving it to investors ultimately will bring in more revenue to Uganda. Designating some parcels as public land has been the easiest way African leaders have facilitated the land grab in their countries and then they would hand over that land to foreign investors with not so much of a fair compensation to the previous African land owners.

The African leaders who are handing over fertile African land with easy access to water to Western corporations are doing the same thing that colonialists did in earlier times when they designated millions of acres as public land. In Kenya after the highlands were declared “crown land” the British colonialists handed over to Lord Delamere 100,000 acres at a cost of a penny per acre. Lord Francis Scott purchased 350,000 acres and the East African Syndicate Ltd. took 100,000 acres, all at give-away prices. In Liberia in 1926, the Firestone Rubber Company acquired a million acres of forest land at a cost of six cents per acre. And in The Congo King Leopold II issued decrees that designated all free parcels as government land — in effect as his own property, sole proprietorship. He amassed all parcels that natives had not cultivated but instead set aside as hunting grounds or as a plentiful source of wood for building, or for mining iron ore to be used in tools and weapons. The 21st century has seen that practice continue, albeit in a different form.

“The future is much darker than what even analysts have predicted”

Even though it is important to invest in the African agricultural sector, the West’s acquisition of continental land is a threat to African economies and livelihoods. Evidence shows that these land deals often lack transparency and are frequently mismanaged by governments. Smallholder farmers who are the majority in Africa are being displaced in the process. These farmers are starting to realize what the foreign investors are doing to their livelihoods, and with nothing much to do many are resorting to migration to these countries.

In Africa the European and American foreigners own the land, mines, banks, factories, fuel stations, airlines, and all the wealth coming from these sources are shipped or transferred to the West and what is left in Africa for Africans? What do the citizens of African countries have in their countries to keep them home not to emigrate – nothing or too little to sustain their families even on the most modest expectations. This is worsened by the fact that even prospective means like employment that would give them the opportunity to own their titles and deeds to land are nonexistent. At least they can see prospects of employment even in menial jobs in the West or in Middle East countries, much less than the potential to collaborate and start their own enterprises.

African resources are fast becoming depleted and its population is growing at a faster corresponding pace. By 2050, it is predicted the population in most African countries will have doubled and the continent will have almost depleted all of its resources. The future is much darker than what even analysts have predicted and, for sure, more African migrants will continue trying to get to Europe or the U.S. where their resources have built stable economies. Europe and America are already definitely concerned about these demographics and more worried because even family planning strategies that have been promoted in the continent for a long time have not had any yields. Europe and the U.S. stand alone to address honestly the exploitation of Africa and demand from their corporations honest and decent trade practices with the continent.

Why We Are Coming by Yasin Kakande is out now, priced £15.43 in paperback and £4.64 as an eBook (£4.64). Visit Amazon. For more information, visit www.yasinkakande.com.

Museveni’s ascent to power on a tide of covert western influence

In this exclusive excerpt from his new book ‘Why We Are Coming’, international journalist, migrant activist and TED Fellow Yasin Kakande examines how the British Government was complicit in bringing Yoweri Museveni to power in Uganda.

PICTURED: President Museveni (Photo: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development)

HE OVERTURNED Uganda’s Independence and expanded his master’s imperialist rule across Africa

Every time the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni talks about his ascendancy to power, he paints an image akin to a Hollywood movie in which he jumps and dodges all the bullets aimed at him in a war and finally he turns around and takes over all his enemies. This tale creates an image of an invincible man and his overstay to power amidst running a repressive and corrupt government adds confusion. That desperate Ugandans are giving up all hopes of ever changing the fate of their country and instead the migrate into servitude in the Middle East, Europe and USA.

To understand Museveni’s overstay. one needs to first study the European role in his rise a few years after Africans received independence and how he is paying back with surrendering almost all the country’s natural resources and businesses to western corporations.

While chatting his road to power in his autobiographical novel ‘Sowing the Mustard Seed’, Museveni revealed how the western world, especially the United Kingdom, assisted him to rise to power. He recounts how important it was for him in his earlier days of his rebellion to establish contacts with British politicians such as Lord Carrington and Richard Luce, then Minister of State for Overseas Development in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Luce had reluctantly advised Museveni to accept the 1980 Ugandan election results, but Museveni insisted his strategy of challenging the results with an armed conflict was worthwhile. Luce reversed his initial recommendation and a partnership of sorts was born.

The relationship was embarrassing and potentially destructive not only to Museveni but also to the British. Museveni recalls visits to London in which the British Government insisted that his presence in the country should remain discreet, concealing him in hotels away from public attention. But despite this reticence Museveni had won the undeclared support of the British Government and soon he was in a position to speak to radio interviewers at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), announcing that the U.S. as well as Britain, would support his insurgent bush operation against President Milton Obote’s Marxist-leaning regime. Indeed, Britain was among the first to allow Museveni’s rebel group—the National Resistance Movement (NRM)—to establish an office of operations in their country. Soon after, the U.S. and Sweden also officially cut off ties with Obote’s government and allowed Museveni’s rebel group to establish offices in their countries that later would become embassies for Uganda. Museveni’s path to power, though winding, was now clear.

OUT NOW: Yasin Kakande’s book Why We Are Coming

Obote understood that Museveni’s strength was generated by the massive support he received from foreign governments. Britain’s patronage was as discreet as possible. This was, after all, interference in the internal politics of a sovereign nation that had only recently been her colony. And this in an era where the architecture of the post-world war order—based as it was on the principle of sovereignty—remained largely intact, at least in theory. Proxy wards were common, especially in Africa, but the plausible deniability remained de rigueur. African nations, by contrast observed no limits in professing their support for Museveni’s rebel campaign, although the African leaders that supported Museveni were, of course, those with warm relationships with the UK: Kenya’s Arap Moi, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, and Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

Obote was careful not to attack Britain openly but rather targeted his political rhetoric toward surrounding African governments, accusing them of advancing the West’s imperialist agenda on the continent. Never diplomatic, Moi responded to the accusations during the 18th Kenyan National Day celebrations that he could if he chose topple Obote’s teetering regime, in just minutes. In an even more personal provocation, Moi addressed the absent Obote with advice that he should meet Museveni’s rebels as they were only 10 miles from his Kampala residence.

Museveni was indeed busy as Moi and Obote jousted. He travelled to Libya via Nairobi after crossing Lake Victoria by boat and when in Tripoli he met Gadhafi, who was then still in good standing with the European powers. The two were once bitter rivals, as Gadhafi has been a principal supporter of Idi Amin, Uganda’s notorious dictator whom Museveni had fought and helped to oust. Despite being divided by personal experience they were united not only in a political goal—the ousting of Obote—but in their roles as actual and aspirant client dictators. To cement this relationship Gadhafi assured the rebels that he would support them with money and weapons to oust the Obote government in Kampala. And he was true to his word, giving them 800 rifles, 45 RPG launchers, 100 antitank landmines, as well as machine guns and mortars. The consignment of weapons entered Uganda through Burundi.

The cost of removing Obote had been high. The death toll for Museveni’s bush war was estimated to be 300,000 by his Western funders and predictably enough the blame for those casualties was leveled exclusively at the defeated figure of Obote. But power rarely pauses to mourn and Museveni was proclaimed not only the new leader of Uganda, but the representative of a new type of leader: someone the West could do business with; one of a new generation of Africa leaders to replace the “Big Men.”

On assuming power, Museveni’s preeminent objective was to prove Uganda’s reliability as a security partner to the West in East and Central Africa. As a consequence, the Ugandan President became directly involved in regional conflicts, acting as the political equivalent of a brokerage firm for rebels, insurgencies, and peace missions. Wherever there was a conflict in the region the West did not have to enter directly, Museveni was available to send in Uganda troops to support the side most amenable to Western interests, and acted as a principal negotiator on behalf of the U.S. or European nation involved.

Why We Are Coming by Yasin Kakande is out now, priced £15.43 in paperback and £4.64 as an eBook (£4.64). Visit Amazon. For more information, visit www.yasinkakande.com.

The Telegraph: African jobseekers changing their names to overcome ‘racist’ recruiters

African jobseekers changing their names to overcome ‘racist’ recruiters, author claims in new book

Yasin Kakande reveals that applicants are also swapping traditional African names with anglicised versions to improve recruitment chances

African jobseekers are “whitening” their CVs by Photoshopping their skin and changing their names to overcome “racist” recruiters, an author has claimed in a new book.

Yasin Kakande, a Ugandan born migration expert and Reuters journalist, said some black applicants are digitally modifying their profile images to give the appearance of lighter skin to avoid a “colour cull” from discriminatory employers in the UK.

Mr Kakande, 39, also revealed that traditional African names are being replaced with anglicised versions, including Dafari for David and Salama for Sarah, as jobseekers suggest they are of dual-heritage to try and improve their recruitment prospects.

For his latest book ‘Why We Are Coming’, he interviewed 1006 academically qualified African job applicants aged between 21 and 50 over three years and found that 90 percent changed their resumes to conceal ethnic features….

[Read the full article on the Telegraph website.]

Allow the Migrants to Speak Up Against Hate

By Yasin Kakande

Last Friday night, my younger brother Wahab insisted we should lock the doors to our single bedroom apartment we share in Acton, Massachusetts. For almost two years we have stayed in the same apartment; we always closed the doors but only locked them once in a while. But, after the mosque terrorist attack that killed 50 migrant Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, closing and locking our doors before going to sleep will be our new routine.

“You never know who might attack. White nationalists are taking their hatred to another level,” he said. “Whoever would want to attack, let’s not give them an easy entrance.”

The Christchurch terrorist act, albeit thousands of miles away, has reinforced legitimate fears among migrants and non-white citizens. The rising volume of white nationalist ideology and rhetoric from politicians and media platforms around the world always have concerned migrants and non-white citizens of the growing risks of discrimination in all sectors of life. Compounding them is the reality-based fear of recurring violence and murder, where even the sanctity of a place for prayer and meditation can no longer be guaranteed.

Many will have to eye and observe carefully, whomever approaches them. Some will avoid altogether the opportunities for congregation at prayer calls or parties, where the majority are people of color and migrants. Parents also must worry about yet another dimension of the children’s safety at schools.

Violent groups that espouse ideology of white nationalists are rising not just in Europe but also the U.S. and virtually everywhere in the world. These concerns and fears do not discriminate, as victims are both migrants and citizens and are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, Africans, women and school children. Others are targeted for enlightened political views that confound the advancement of the white nationalist movement.

These angry white men draw their strength from elected politicians, academics and media executives and personalities who join in condemning violent attacks but do so in general platitudes that avoid calling out the ideology that has propelled these attacks. The restraint and silence are telling and, inevitably, these same politicians return as predicted to espousing their anger about immigration, reassuring their base they need not worry about them straying from the movement. It is similar to an individual saying Hitler had a point but was wrong to use systematic mass genocide. Or, one would claims to agree with the ideology of Osama bin Laden’s followers but not the way he sought to achieve it.

They describe immigration as an ‘invasion’, couched in hateful words that resonated with white nationalists who rewarded like-minded politicians by electing them to office. While elected officials have attempted strenuously to use legal means of travel and migrant bans as well as deportations, others have resorted to their own actions – mass murder.

As an African, black, Muslim and immigrant in the U.S., I am disturbed but the worst part is how the whole narrative of immigration is shaped and owned by people who believe it to be an immense problem. The white far-right conservatives seek a complete ban on immigration through building of walls, incarcerations and deportation of immigrants versus the white left and moderate liberals who believe border patrols and stricter immigration rules can suffice in restricting immigrants. However, there virtually is no voice for immigrants in this global debate.

If immigrants were given a chance to speak, they could explain in humane, convincing, reasonable language about their value and roles in their host countries, which inevitably touch many, many lives – ironically, including those of white nationalists. These include the value of their jobs in developing their economies and the social bonds they build with families as they always are on hand as nannies for infants and children or their presence as caregivers for the elderly and terminally ill.

Immigrants should not have to wait on sympathizers to respond on their behalf against this bigotry. It would be a small yet significant step if editors and gatekeepers of media platforms gave immigrants the opportunity to amplify their voices and stories.

Yasin Kakande is a 2018 TED Fellow and author of an upcoming book ‘Why Are We Coming,’ exploring the long history and current developments of global migration patterns as they apply to Africans.

Mourning Uganda’s Rising Road Fatalities

By Yasin Kakande

On January 15, a deadly accident in Kampala received no coverage in the local media. An ambulance from Gombe Hospital was transporting Mwalimu Mustafa Kanonya, a religious leader in Gombe, to Kibuli Hospital, and was accompanied by six family members. However, the trip was cut short tragically by an accident with a truck at Katwe in Kampala.

At the accident scene, three people were pronounced dead, including Kanonya’s two sons. The remaining survivors, unfortunately, did not survive their injuries. In the ensuing days, the grieving family had to bury yet another member in its graveyard. Kanonya died two days after the accident and during his funeral, reports arrived that his young brother Hajji Asuman Kitaka also had succumbed. As a result, they delayed Kanonya’s funeral as they waited for Kitaka’s body to arrive so there could be a double burial.

One might wonder why this traffic accident deserves media attention. Accidents are routine everywhere as are traffic fatalities. In many countries, governments have done a good deal to minimise the occurrence of such accidents and when they do occur, of assuring the risk of fatalities is lessened. These strategies include public awareness campaigns, safer roads with sufficiently widened lanes, consistent prosecution of reckless traffic violations and a rapid-response functioning ambulance service with well-trained paramedics. All of these measures are lacking in Uganda.

It is still common to find rescuers of accident victims, mostly citizens with no training at all in first aid, pulling out the injured from the wreckage and keeping them at the roadside, as they plead with passers-by to stop and help carry the injured to hospitals. Many people still die on the roads waiting for a Good Samaritan to heed their calls. The government could save many lives if it prioritised access to emergency healthcare services on the roads, a common observation in so many other countries. Emergency responders often should arrive on the scene within 90 seconds or maximum of two to three minutes. Individuals trained in CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation), a game-changing measure, have been able to keep a critically injured person alive in the direst life-threatening circumstances.

A 2017 journal article in the Journal of Injury and Violence Research indicated that deaths in road accidents in Uganda occur at a rate of 28.9 per 100,000 population, the sixth highest in the world.The researchers pinpointed various reasons. One focused on transportation conveniences because of their affordability and accessibility, the boda-bodas, in particular. The researchers characterized these motorbikes as a “silent killer.” But, more importantly was the value of quick, close access to trauma care centers.The researchers concluded that “it’s irrefutable that timely pre-hospital care can reduce injury severity reducing the trend of [road] deaths by saving lives, treating injuries efficiently and effectively, preventing infections and injury-related diseases as well as preventing disabilities.”

This particular accident is an emotional event for me personally. Kanonya deputised and later replaced my grandfather Sheikh Hood Kabamba as the imam of the Gombe Mosque in Butamballa.

My last meeting with Kanonya happened about two years ago when I made a stopover at the mosque for the Friday congregational prayers. He surprised me, after noticing me entering the mosque a few minutes before the sermons had begun. He told me I was supposed to go straight to the pulpit to deliver a sermon and lead the prayers. I tried to explain that I was not prepared but he did not take my refusal as a final answer.

After the prayers he stood and explained to the congregation that, at first, I was hesitant to deliver the sermon but he insisted because he knew I needed no preparation, as he had watched how Sheikh Hood prepared me when I was young. He said that as I grow older, my voice reminded him of my grandfather and that it was his honour to let me speak again from the pulpit.

Here in the U.S., I called off from work to mourn with the family and colleagues kept calling asking me about which relative had died. I told them that he was like an uncle and that his grandfather was a brother to my great-grandfather. Some of them couldn’t comprehend my need to step away and mourn for a removed relative who was thousands of miles away. In the U.S., many would only take a leave of bereavement when an immediate family member dies.

However, even now in the U.S., I realize that every bond is important for how it shaped me and strengthened my voice. The accident and those who died have left me in a state of deep grief. As I could not be there, the only respectful way that I could imagine to honor their memory and their legacy was to remove myself temporarily from my daily work routine.kanonya

US Funding of Ugandan Military Aids in Citizens’ Repression

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni stands under an umbrella during his swearing-in ceremony in Kampala on May 12, 2016.

This article was first published in the global magazine Truthout, 9-September 2018

On August 13, Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was attacked by an angry mob of Ugandan citizens who back the political opposition. Protesters surrounded President Museveni’s motorcade, pelting the vehicles with stones. One of the vehicles had its rear window broken.

Numerous political rallies by Museveni’s party and the opposition had been scheduled that day ahead of a parliamentary election in which the independent candidate Kassiano Wadri, while in detention, would win in Arua, Uganda — the third consecutive parliamentary election loss for Museveni’s party.

Museveni has responded brutally, as he has repeatedly during his 32-year tenure as president. That day, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu — the popular singer known as “Bobi Wine,” who also serves in the parliament — was arrested. After a music career of more than 15 years, Ssentamu has emerged as the most formidable political opposition against Museveni. Numerous disturbances have broken out around the country. Yasin Kawuma, Ssentamu’s driver, was killed.

On August 23, after not being seen or heard from for 10 days, Ssentamu was arraigned on charges of treason in a military court for allegedly possessing fire arms in his hotel room despite the fact that he is a civilian. Many were alarmed at his appearance, bearing physical signs of torture while he has been detained.

However, Ssentamu’s treatment is not an anomaly. Museveni has repressed his opposition on many occasions, all with the financial assistance of the US.

The US Ignores Human Rights Abuses of Its Allies

President Museveni has benefited extensively from US military support, most notably $444 million last year. Museveni’s record on human rights is clear in its abusive extent, including documented cases of torture and arbitrary detention of opposition leaders and their supporters. The Museveni government has repeatedly denied due process, imposed severe restrictions on press freedom and has been connected to numerous corruption scandals. But none of these circumstances has affected its relationship with the US.

Museveni is among the US’s most reliable allies in Africa, never hesitating to send Ugandan troops on behalf of US interests to influence the outcomes of regional conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Kenya, where election-related violence broke out in 2007. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Museveni plays a role akin to the head of a brokerage firm for rebels, rebellions and peace missions.

His role has extended to the Middle East, where he sent Ugandans to work as security guards for US forces in Iraq. He also recently announced he will be sending 8,000 troops to fight alongside troops of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen.

As part of this relationship, many troops in Uganda have been trained by the US military, including using sophisticated communications equipment, night-vision goggles and small surveillance drones — all from US defense contractors. Ugandan troops deployed to Somalia travel in mine-resistant vehicles that once ferried US soldiers around Afghanistan. Ugandan choppers engaged in operations against warlord Joseph Kony are powered by fuel paid for by the US.

As disturbances have multiplied and become more volatile in the aftermath of Ssentamu’s arrest, the US embassy in Uganda recently issued travel warnings to any US citizens planning trips to Uganda, cautioning them to not get caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, sanctions or cuts in military aid would seem unlikely, given the record of Museveni’s abuses and violations of human rights and how long they have not been acknowledged by the US.

The US consistently ignores the human rights violations and excesses of dictators whose militaries are backed with US funds. In 2014, a Human Rights Watch report documented incidents of sexual abuse by Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia, and this information did not bring any disciplinary action from Washington.

Regrettably, Museveni is not the exception in Africa. Many African despots appear to prefer heeding their Washington providers over their citizens, and whenever Washington has taken any action against their misdeeds, they have responded positively. For example, in 2014, when the US cut a small portion of its annual aid package and canceled military exercises with Uganda after it enacted a homophobic law, Museveni responded swiftly and revoked the legislation.

While the US seldom imposes consequences on the Museveni government for its human rights abuses, Ugandan citizens could campaign for more accountability.

Ugandans Pressuring Governments at Home and Abroad

The recent plight of Ssentamu has received commendable support not only from Ugandans at home who continue to protest in the streets and demand his release, but also from Ugandan migrants in the US and Europe. Demonstrations have been organized in Boston, Washington, Toronto, London and other cities where Ugandan immigrants are centered. Recently, scores of music celebrities — including Chris Martin, Brian Eno, Chrissie Hynde, Damon Albarn, Peter Gabriel, Adam Clayton, and Femi Kuti — signed an open letter demanding Ssentamu’s immediate release.

At a recent Boston demonstration, Ugandan migrants expressed criticism not just for President Museveni, but also the US in the context of conscience and concerns about hypocrisy. Many demonstrators are quick to point out that they are not “anti-American,” however. But they are still deeply unsettled about why governments in the US and Europe are consistently willing to support dictators in their home countries, especially when human rights abuses and crimes are plainly evident.

In Boston, one demonstrator voiced his support for fellow Ugandans at home to resist and reject Museveni not just on the streets, but also in their homes and places of work. He suggested creative forms of protest, such as hampering and preventing the military aides from emptying the mobile commode the president uses when he travels. He said that they should ship his waste along with the country’s oil to the US and Europe in exchange for more military hardware. US readers might see this as an absurd gesture, but many Ugandans, at home and abroad, are past the point of even the smallest bit of patience after more than 30 years of a heartless dictatorship.

Ugandan migrants are caught in a dilemma they find increasingly difficult to resolve with ease or peace of mind. Many, including those with extensive education and professional training, reluctantly left their homeland to find economic opportunity in a nation they respect and admire. Now, they worry about being rejected by their host country, as US President Donald Trump has said he prefers to end migrants coming from “shithole countries” like Uganda.

In 2018, the US asylum process has become even more difficult for refugees coming from Uganda and other countries deemed “friendly” to US interests. Well before Trump assumed office, most Ugandan migrants have had to wait on average of four to five months just for interviews, and many cases can take two years or longer. It doesn’t take a leap of comprehension to see why Ugandan migrants are frustrated to the point of anger, trying to understand why the US continues military funding for countries that subvert the basic foundations of human rights and dignity.

But Ugandan demonstrations, even in Washington, capture barely any attention from policymakers or the media. The audience for these protests is primarily African. It seems the only way to attract meaningful attention is to secure paid lobbyists. That option is off the table because migrants are working the “3-D” jobs (dirty, demanding and dangerous) at wages that might pay $12 an hour, if they are lucky. Further, many US taxpayers are unaware of just how much money goes to sustain dictators who barely care one whit about justice for their own people, politically or economically.

What could the frustrated people of Africa do to convince taxpayers and voters in the US to halt military funding that has become the lifeline for African dictators?

As they define strategies and tactics, African opposition parties must understand that independent sovereignty, especially in the economy, is extremely difficult to attain. Even if all of their country’s citizens supported their cause, it could never go anywhere without the blessings and goodwill of the US or Europe.

Political opposition movements must understand they must not only confront their country’s dictators, but also the full might of a long-running tradition of US military support and funding. Opposition political leaders would do well to counter the dictator’s representatives in Washington and London with their lobbyists, who can demonstrate that besides standing for human rights and democracy, they, too, are capable of representing US and European interests reasonably and responsibly. This should remove uncertainties about replacing long-serving dictators such as Museveni without upsetting the political and diplomatic balance.

To some, these suggestions may sound outlandish, but in the absence of evidence of improvements, the current realities demand more creative responses for overcoming the policy effects that have done little more than enable self-aggrandized dictators who have done nothing to stabilize the economic or political climates in their countries.