President Obama’s Visit And Africa’s Second Uhuru

[Open Letter To President Obama]

Dear Mr. President,

Your trip to Africa this week presents a legacy-defining opportunity.

President George W. Bush is remembered for the billions of dollars he made available to fight HIV/Aids; a program which has continued under your administration.

Bill Clinton, while decried for allowing genocide in Rwanda, is also hailed for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the preferential trade deal that allows some duty free exports from participating African countries to the U.S.; this program was also recently renewed by Congress under your administration.

Mr. President, you initiated the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit which can become a transformative forum for increased business interaction and trade between the U.S. and Africa; and through the Young African Leaders Initiative, you’ve provided fellowship opportunities that brings 500 young Africans to study in the U.S.

Mr. President, you can even help Africans with something much more enduring; which is to win their second independence or Uhuru. You can do so by committing the U.S. to ending its support to African autocrats.

Africa’s first liberation was from European colonial oppression and exploitation.

The second struggle, which many Africans have been engaged in since the end of colonial regimes, is freedom from the tyranny of many of their rulers, some of whom are supported by the United States.

Mr. President, you were spot on in 2009 when you spoke about the need for accountable governance in Africa.

Addressing the entire continent from the floor of Ghana’s Parliament, in Accra, you said the days of “big men,” or dictators, in Africa were over. You said the continent needed enduring institutions of democratic governance that would allow a young generation of Africans to emerge and “unlock Africa’s potential.”

You said countries that thrived best were the ones whose citizens were “governed by consent and not coercion.” You deplored leaders who changed constitutions to perpetuate their regimes. Autocracy and lack of accountability promotes corruption including: embezzlement of billions of dollars in state resources; and the degradation of institutions of governance, law and order, such as the courts and the police forces.

Mr. President I was one of the millions of Africans and friends of Africa around the world elated by your words.

Yet the rhetoric has often not been matched by the reality in terms of U.S. actions.

For too long, many African countries have not been able to benefit from the continent’s vast resources because they have not been allowed to function normally by the ruling elite.

A young African student generally can’t hope to attend school, apply herself or himself diligently, eventually graduate, and then secure decent employment and raise a family.

This is because, in far too many countries, the individual autocrats are in essence the state itself.

Rather than merit-based rewards, benefits are dished out based on the whims of, and loyalty to, a dictator, his relatives, and the inner ruling-circle. Under such circumstances, corruption becomes the way of life; not an abnormality.

Take a country like Uganda, where it’s dictator of the last 30 years, Gen. Yoweri Museveni, has to sign off on almost everything. This ranges from massive expenditures such as the purchase of multi-million dollar jets for his airforce or the$48 million Gulfstream V jet he purchased for his personal use in 2009, to, personally awarding scholarships to Ugandans to study overseas. Gen. Museveni insists that scholarship recipients come from Western Uganda, where he hails from.

Gen. Museveni runs Uganda like a personal family estate much like how King Leopold II of the Belgians once operated the Congo; with no accountability whatsoever.

He tolerates no opposition; recently, he arrested the country’s best known pro-democracy leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye before he could address a rally of his supporters. He also arrested Amama Mbabazi, who until last year was his own prime minister. Mbabazi was fired when he indicated he would run against his boss in elections scheduled for next year. Mbabazi has been barred from even “aspiring” for the presidency and addressing supporters.

Mr. President, Gen. Museveni also uses Uganda’s U.S.-trained and -equipped armed forces like his own personal militias. The Special Forces Group is commanded by his son, Brigadier Muhozi Kainerugaba a presumed presidential heir; the task is to protect the president and high value installations like oil fields and mines.

As for the regular army, Gen. Museveni has ordered the invasion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo numerous times. In 2005, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found Uganda liable of what amounted to war crimes by its military in the Congo; mass rapes, massacres, and plunder of resources. Uganda was ordered to pay reparations of between $6 – $10 billion which has not been paid. The International Criminal Court (ICC) also launched a separate investigation into the alleged crimes, as reported in The Wall Street Journal on June 8, 2006.

Mr. President, Gen. Museveni, who removed term limits in 2005, plans to run again next year. He’s rejected the opposition parties’ demands that his hand-picked election commission be replaced with an independent one; in truth, he can only “win” by rigging. The opposition groups in turn vow mass civil disobedience unless there are electoral reforms; the potential for civil strife is ripe if the dictator rejects the popular demands.

Yet the U.S. remains one of the Museveni regime’s key supporters.

It’s true that Uganda has stationed thousands of troops in Somalia to help combat al-Shabab, the militia which has claimed several acts of terrorism throughout East Africa; but, as Dr. Besigye pointed out during a New York visit last month, Uganda, would continue supporting the fight against terrorism and that it isn’t predicated on sustaining a dictatorial regime.

Mr. President there are many other trouble spots on the continent.

In Rwanda, Paul Kagame, once incorrectly hailed as the country’s liberator, has finally revealed his true colors. Kagame has locked up, indefinitely, a leading opposition leader Victoire Umohoza Ingabire.

Her sin was simply stating that Rwanda can only reconcile if it acknowledges that both Tutsis and Hutus were victims of the 1994 massacres. Ingabira’s position has since been vindicated by the BBC documentary, “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” which relies on interviews with Gen. Kagame’s former close associates to show that he also played a key role in instigating the massacres.

Mr. President, recently when the U.S., which remains Rwanda’s principal backer, advised Gen. Kagame not to gut the constitution –he’s run the country since he seized power in 1994– he engineered a vote in which his rubber stamp parliament recommended that term limits be removed.

Yet, there are signs that the outside world now sees the true Gen. Kagame, who’s been implicated in war crimes in the Congo in United Nations reports, and the assassination of political opponents, including Col. Patrick Karegeya, who had fled to South Africa.

As an indication that things may be changing, recently, on June 20, Kagame’s chief of military intelligence, Gen. Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, was arrested while in London by Scotland Yard detectives. He had been indicted by a Spanish court for his role in the killings of Spanish relief workers who had denounced the massacre of civilians by Kagame’s army, including during its occupation of Congo.

There are now increasing calls that Gen. Kagame should face international justice.

Other trouble spots in Africa include South Sudan, now gripped in the most brutal war between autocrat Gen. Salva kiir and former vice president Gen. Riek Machar. Each side has reportedly committed horrific crimes against women and children, including rapes and beheadings. So deep-seated is the animosity that a truly neutral international intervention force must be considered, to replace Uganda’s army, which is fighting on Gen. Kiir’s side.

Meanwhile, in Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza has sparked a crisis by running for a third presidential term. He was elected president in 2005 by parliament as part of a deal to end a bloody civil war fought along ethnic lines between Hutus and Tutsis. Nkurunziza was then elected by popular vote in 2010.

He’s technically correct when he argues that Burundi’s constitution allows for two presidential terms by popular mandate; and that he’s eligible, since his first term was based on a parliamentary vote. Nkurunziza is, however, swimming against the historical currents and sentiments in Africa. People throughout the continent want regular transition of rulers.

Mr. President there have been hopeful signs on the continent over the past several months.

Last year when Blaise Compaore, Burkina Faso’s dictator of 27 years tried to change the country’s constitution to remove term limits, he was driven out of the country in a popular revolt. The country will now hold open elections later this year.

In Nigeria, political observers were pleasantly surprised when the country held relatively peaceful elections and the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan handed over power when he was defeated. This week, you hosted the new president, Muhammadu Buhari, in the White House; he’s renowned for his anti-corruption drives.

Mr. President, Kenya, the homeland of your late father, and the first destination on your trip, has endured turbulence, including disputed elections and several terrorist attacks by Somalia’s al-Shabab, including at the Westgate Mall in 2013, with 67 deaths and the Garissa University massacre of 148 people in April.

However, Kenya’s last election two years ago was relatively stable; and, while the losing candidate Raila Odinga may have had valid grounds to challenge the outcome, he took the high road and conceded to Uhuru Kenyatta.

Other African countries working to consolidate democratic governance include: Tanzania; Ghana; Liberia; Senegal; Botswana; Mozambique; Namibia; Zambia; Malawi; and a few others with varying degrees of accountable governance.

South Africa was born a democracy from the ashes of apartheid’s monstrosities; yet, lack of social justice and wealth redistribution could generate upheaval.

Mr. President, this trend, bloodless transfers of political power, must be promoted so that it becomes a regular feature of Africa’s political landscape.

Most of the countries that experience extreme political instability and violent turmoil have one thing in common; they’re countries misgoverned by autocrats who deny entire generations of Africans the opportunity to contribute to growth and development of their countries.

Mr. President, in Accra, six years ago, you spoke for the entire continent and the young generation when you said “Africa’s future is up to Africans.”

That was the inspiration that drove African founding fathers like Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere to throw out colonial exploitators.

Mr. President, in Addis Ababa, you get to address all the African rulers again. You can build on the same message delivered in Accra on the need to rid the continent of autocrats.

Action must also match words. The U.S. must halt financial and military support to Africa’s tyrants.

Either way, as the youth of Burkina Faso demonstrated in 2014, Africans will win their second Uhuru.

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