Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni: The Enigma Many Don't Still Understand Well
By Ofwono Opondo
Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni is apparently the proverbial cat with nine lives or a lion that sleeps with one eye open to catch careless prey walking the grazing land. So, on his last week’s state visit to South Africa, he was awarded the prestigious “Order of South Africa” for his contribution to its liberation in 1994 when the first majority democratic election saw ANC and Nelson Mandela lead a black majority government. I was elated being in the room as Museveni on Uganda’s behalf was decorated.
The visit was on the back of the “South Africa-Uganda Business Forum” during which hundreds of private enterprises from both countries sought to expand ties. The visit and forum scored on many fronts as they sought to strengthen public-private sector collaboration, expedite bilateral agreements, boost technology, entrepreneur transfer, formalize business partnerships, harmonize revenue, standards, immigration, passenger, and cargo air travel rules, and hopefully remove entry visa requirement for ordinary passport holders beginning January 2024.
It further bolstered my grasp of many opportunities available under the EAC, COMESA, SADC, and AfCTA to streamline inter-regional and intra-African trade, unlock markets, capital, and financing, logistics, deepen investment and commercial ties to spur transformational, inclusive, and sustainable growth.
As for the medal award, in 1984, the now a forgotten history, is The Nkomati Accord on non-aggression signed between apartheid racist regime in SA, and Mozambique which made it hard for the Frontline states of Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, and other neighboring countries to support ANC exiles and fighters who now faced extinction or expulsion. Museveni, who had just captured state power in Uganda, against western and local domestic pressure accepted to host ANC combatants “Umkonto We Siziwe” establishing a huge military training camp in Kaweweta, Nakaseke district.
That facility, now renamed Oliver Reginald Tambo, in memory of then ANC president OR Tambo, trained tens of thousands of ANC militants who where infiltrated back into Southern Africa to conduct military operations to build sufficient pressure which forced the White racists and supremacists to capitulate ground for majority rule. And while South Africa remains heavily economically unequal, racism is less visible and efforts to bridge the historical gaps are underway which could take another century. Driving through the black shanty townships of Mamelodi in Pretoria or Soweto in Johannesburg, the deep wounds of apartheid are still glaring after three decades of democracy.
With only 27 guns, Museveni dared an established government. When still a rebel fighter and soon after victory, the self-styled analysts wondered whether Museveni was pro-capitalist West (imperialism) or pro-East (Marxist socialists), but he confounded them. For over three decades now, Museveni hasn’t been afraid to publicly take a stand for what he believes works for Africa generally and Uganda in particular, the most recent was on Rwanda during the genocide, South African liberation for majority black democracy, Islamic Sudan against South Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and Col. Muammar Gadaafi. Currently, Museveni has stood his ground even in the throes of the Russia-Ukrainian conflict where marginal countries face continuous cajoling and bullying by the US and its western imperialistic allies. Yet, even with Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent telephone call to him, Museveni maintains a neutral, if not an independent stand.
While Museveni has been routing for regional integration and Pan-Africanism as the cornerstone for continental strategic security comprising peace and security, trade, investments, and overall prosperity, some dimwits laughed but today, many African leaders seem to have understood him. The ratification of the Africa Free Trade Agreement anchored on the AU mechanisms is evidence of that appreciation.
Through direct and subtle efforts, Museveni has literally settled South Sudan, and we could as well silence the guns in Africa’s oversized Sickman otherwise called the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). And while all eyes are today on Somalia, few even remember scholarly suggestions in the 1990s that Rwanda and Burundi should be allotted along Tutsi-Hutu ethnicities allegedly due to irreconcilable differences. Without a doubt, Museveni has been a player in the political settlements in Kenya since the most acrimonious days of late president Daniel Toroitich arap Moi even when some Kenyans may gnash teeth at him.
After the demise of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Museveni became the point-man in reviving the EAC which now boasts seven countries and the largest trading area on the continent with accompanying projects-Standard Gauge Railway, Standby Force, passport, and EACOP. EACOP has roped-in strange bedfellows Total Energies (France) and Cnooc of China. In Uganda Museveni has cobbled a stable working majority since 1986 years unshackled by the diabolical opposition groupings, and through unmatched skills has dismantled them.
Then there is the sanguine opposition, perhaps fair-weather people who occasionally run away from him only to return into his warm fold as they age. During the two-year Covid-19 pandemic, Museveni imposed a total lockdown because he believed was the safest measure regardless. He declined to grant business and fuel subsidies saying it’s a fool’s errand. Looking at the current foreign reserve dilemma of neighboring countries that offered subsidies are in, many will agree that Museveni was probably right, as opponents score their own goals.
The writer is the executive director of Uganda Media Centre
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