Saturday, November 19, 2005

The real traitors

Much of the 90s seemed like an era of hope in sub-Saharan Africa. France demanded that its puppet allies at least present the facade of democratization. Tony Blair came to power on the wind of promises of an ethical foreign policy. The end of the Cold War also led to the end of disastrous proxy wars in places like Angola, Namibia and Mozambique. Apartheid collapsed. Sure, there was a genocide in Rwanda, civil wars of unimaginable horror in places like Liberia and Sierra Leone, chaos in Somalia and Africa's first World War. That didn't stop Thabo Mbeki from proudly declaring the beginning of an African renaissance. After all, long time dictators lost multiparty elections in places like Malawi, Zambia and Benin. Even Nigeria had a civilian democracy.

Unfortunately, some of the current regimes in Africa are going back to the bad old days where even the facade of democracy was violently repressed. Ugandan big man Yoweri Museveni (once the very embodiment of Mbeki's African Renaissance) recently arrested the main opposition leader Kizza Besigye and charged him with treason. Some have reported that Besigye may remain in custody for at least a year before he is even brought to trial; presidential elections are scheduled in less than a year. How convenient.

In fact, when Besigye and 22 of his fellow opposition activists were in court for a hearing on the dubious charges, commandos in black t-shirts mysteriously surrounded the court building.

The Ugandan military has defended the deployment of the armed men at the court saying they were there to re-arrest them fearing they would skip bail if they were released.

The head of the high court denounced this action as 'despicable,' saying he'd seen nothing like it since the dark days of Idi Amin.

"The High Court witnessed the most naked and grotesque violation of the twin doctrines of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary," the judge said.

Things are possibly worse in Ethiopia. The opposition protested there after elections earlier this year were allegedly rigged (the European Union seemed to agree).. Early results showed a strong showing by the opposition until counting was mysteriously delayed supposedly for a month, but actually two months. After all was said and done, the ruling party 'won' more than 2/3 of the seats in parliament.

The opposition protested so police shot protesters and the regime arrested both opposition activists and newspaper editors. Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi has gone Museveni one better: not only does he declare war on political opponents by charging them with treason, he does the same against the nascent free press.

The international community, and especially the African Union, need to condemn Meles' and Museveni's shameless attacks on democracy and the rule of law. There can be no 'African renaissance' when Africans are abritrarily shot or thrown in jail for opposing thuggish rulers.


At 5:29 PM, Blogger Imnakoya said...

Yours is a well-articulated synopsis of the abuse of power and the subsequent relegation of fair play and decency in some regions of Africa, all in the name of national security. It is despicable and a sure ticket to back to where Africa was decades earlier.

Ugandans, particularly children have suffered enormously in the hands of Lord’s Revolutionary Army (LRA) for decades, yet Joseph Kony- the psychopathic leader of a rag-tag bunch of misfits and perverts- still lords and calls the shots from Northern Uganda. To me he represents- and has been as a matter of fact- a clearer and much more imminent danger to the Ugandan national security than Kizza Besigye and his cohorts.

The African Union (AU) in my opinion, is the most impotent and toothless organization in the entire world. What did it do when Mugabe started “Murambatsvinizing” the very people he swore to protect? AU wasn’t totally mute, but all that was heard were some incoherent mumbling. It seems all the AU cares for really, is to engage in less meaningful PR-oriented ventures and not provide enabling environments that promote justice, peace and prosperity.

At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great analysis - just wanted to point out that Museveni's not exactly hands-off either when dealing with the press. He arrested Ugandan political commentator Andrew Mwenda once this past summer, and temporarily shut down the radio station that hosts his show (KFM). Mwenda had blamed Museveni's negligence for the helicopter crash that killed Sudanese VP John Garang.

He's also threatening to shut down the primary independent newspaper, the Daily Monitor (, for reporting on Museveni's nepotism.

I'm just not so confident that Museveni won't be as heavy-handed with the press come election time.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Aketch, thanks for the reminder. I blogged about the incident you spoke of earlier.


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