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.
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.
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.