HOW MUSEVENI CLARITY MADE UGANDA FOREIGN POLICY WORK IN THE LAST 34 YEARS OF NRM
By Mulengera Reporters
Since becoming President, YK Museveni had consistently been clear on the key ingredients of his foreign policy. And indeed, for the last 34 years Uganda’s highly successful foreign policy has consistently rotated around Pan-Africanism, non-alignment, regional integration, regional security and others. In all these Museveni has sought to achieve national security and economic prosperity for his people by leveraging on prudent foreign policy priorities and diplomatic practice. To achieve the ideals of non-alignment, Museveni has always explained that it’s possible for Uganda to work with both the West (US, EU & UK) without being antagonistic to the emerging power economies in the East namely China, India and others. It’s his well-articulated view that it’s possible to relate with Moscow without allowing to be dragged into the Putin feuds with Washington or even Brussels. The man from Rwakitura has always articulated his view on this with extreme clarity. But he also perceives China, especially of late, as an alternative source of economic relationship that is less stressful than that coming from the Western capitals and blocs like EU or even the WB and IMF that tends to come with conditions. Museveni finds such conditions to be very constraining to the developing world to whose welfare Western powers are only prepared to allocate only 0.75% of their GDP under overseas development assistance.
Like Museveni has previously predicted, China too could change especially if its insistence on having Chinese firms to implement infrastructure programs that are Beijing-funded is anything to go by. Some GoU technocrats have continued being ambivalent about Chinese funding claiming it deprives the country of benefits resulting from competitive procurement processes but Museveni has always called for caution when dealing with the China whose bilateral relationship with Kampala he values most as a buffer shielding developing countries against Western chauvinism. It’s that non-alignment approach that has enabled Museveni to (for decades) closely relate with the West without turning his back on China, Russia, pariahs like Gadafy etc. Some cynics have called this opportunism and indecision but to Museveni its strength and it’s something all his proteges have aggressively been defending.
Sam Kutesa, his key man on foreign policy, says the economic turmoil that resulted from the credit crunch of the late 2000s that hit Western economies was the clearest manifestation of how counterproductive it could be for a growing economy like Uganda to count only on the West while turning back on the rest. He says the economic meltdown meant the West at that moment didn’t have strong markets for Africa and Uganda to count on for their exports hence the prudence of equally working with both West and East while stressing non-alignment when it comes to things on which the two blocs are sharply disagreed.
Kutesa also explains that regional integration, exemplified by blocks like the EAC, has deliberately been very critical in the Museveni policy because it’s the only way to diversify and expand markets that are locally available within the region before you even think of exporting to the more developed economies like the US, UK, EU, China and India. That regional integration, whose agenda Museveni has been very eloquent and consistent at articulating, is also a source of security as it enables the region defend itself against any imperialistic or chauvinistic attacks as opposed to balkanization that requires incapable small states to go it alone whenever required to defend themselves against external aggression. Kutesa references on the combined GDP and population of over $100bn and over 150m people to illustrate that the benefits of EA existing as one bloc are enormous.
SK, who has been Minister foreign affairs since January 2005, also says confronting global challenges as a bloc enables East Africa to lobby for better terms of trade and deepened access to the global markets, something Museveni too has always articulated with extreme clarity as being better, more productive and transformative than aid from the developed West (whose leaders aren’t comfortable surrendering more than 2% of their GDPs to aid development and growth in the developing world). Critics say Museveni makes this argument because aid naturally discomforts him because of the governance and accountability obligations that come with it but the truth is that Museveni has always coherently made this point even in his early years when he was still a darling of the Western powers. This is clearly evident in all his speeches and documents we have extensively reviewed for purposes of this article. Actually, when it comes to integration, Museveni (a strong outspoken supporter of an expanded EAC) has gone as far as demanding continental integration on top of the political (and not just customs and economic) integration for the EA region.
Museveni has also made foreign policy interventions to walk the talk on his well-articulated desire to have a private sector-led economy all aimed at enhancing prosperity for his people. In line with his argument that strengthened trade is better than relying on aid, Museveni has always leveraged on his excellent relations with world powers to lure private investors into Uganda where he lists agriculture, manufacturing, education and tourism as some of the key areas where such foreign capital can be invested. He has been to Russia, Turkey, London, EU, US, Beijing etc explaining what makes Uganda irresistible as an investment destination. He has relied on the prevalent peace/stability, good climate, large population, membership to blocs like EAC, central location in the middle of Africa, basic infrastructure being in place, the incentives regime and a well-educated perfect English-speaking young population as some of the great selling points for Uganda as an attractive investment destination. Even when full liberalization has been discovered to have had shortcomings, Museveni has remained consistently articulate that championing a private sector-led economic model is the best way to create jobs and harness the natural resources that Uganda has in abundance including Oil and Petroleum.
When it comes to Pan-Africanism, Museveni has walked the talk by always standing in solidarity with fellow African countries. He has always fearlessly spoken his mind regardless of who might become offended. He for instance, always stood with Col Muamar El-Gadafy of Libya including at a time the Western powers required the rest of Africa to isolate him having categorized him as a pariah. But Museveni, whose NRA rebel movement had years earlier benefited from arms contributions Gaddafi made, preferred to judge Gaddafi and relate with him in what he considered to be the best interest of his country Uganda as opposed to merely doing what the West wanted. He worked with them without having to acquiesce to their rhetoric portraying Gaddafi as a pariah.
When Gaddafi became a victim of the imperialist-backed Benghazi uprisings in 2011 and the UN imposed a no-fly zone resulting into him being bombed out of power, Museveni (seeing far as ever) warned of Libya descending into chaos and possibly becoming a failed state which has come to pass. He warned of the resultant vacuum becoming a breeding ground for extremist terrorist groups which too came to pass. He was among the few African big men who openly, consistently and clearly denounced the NATO airstrikes in Libya and at some point, rebuked fellow AU Presidents for not being able to take any practical steps to defend their AU member Libya against what he maintains was the unlawful intervention and bombing of the Jamahiriya state of Libya by NATO forces. Museveni made that articulation even when much of Africa jubilated Gaddafi’s dramatic fall and assassination while painting the NATO invasion as a pro-democracy fashionable thing that deserved to be replicated elsewhere to overcome long-serving despots on the African continent.
Now as the world continues to be polarized on what should be done to pacify Libya, amidst the Trump-orchestrated unravelling of the global international system, Museveni was recently in London for the UK-Africa Investment Summit where he repeatedly said he regrets AU’s inability to do anything to prevent the NATO aggression in Libya resulting in Gaddafi’s dramatic fall in the year 2011. Sam Kutesa argues that it was in pursuit in the same Pan-Africanist ideals that Museveni’s Uganda led the way into the 2007 Somali peace-keeping mission (AMISON), an AU-authorized intervention that was consolidated later on when Burundi and Kenyan troops deployed there too. Pioneering the AMISON assignment, chiefly aimed at soaring up the Mogadishu transitional government that was on the verge of being obliterated by Al-Shabab militants, was an act of courage and it’s something for which Museveni won kudos within the region and globally.
The result was the Somali transitional government getting strengthened and an election taking place in Somalia for the first time in 20 years. Somalia was of peculiar significance in the success of the Museveni Pan-Africanist driven foreign policy because even the Americans had tried decades earlier and their intervention ended in total fiasco. Yet Kutesa says, phenomenal as it was, there was nothing unprecedented about what Uganda intervened to achieve in Mogadishu for the Somali brothers. He says much earlier on in the early 1990s, Museveni exhibited similar Pan-Africanism when only Uganda (a small poor country that was yet to become the outspoken AU member it is today) intervened and put a stop to the genocide madness during which Rwandans killed themselves to near extinction. Kutesa proudly notes that in pursuit of the same regional peace and stability, Uganda participated in stabilizing other neighbors like DRC and South Sudan even at the expense of being misunderstood.
It will be recalled that some of these interventions have been costly to the extent that Museveni has had to suffer domestic reprisals including being criticized by his own legislature, media and the population with some demonizing him for being a warmonger and counterproductively a very aggressive neighbor. His own ruling NRM suffered extreme bashing domestically after the World Court awarded $11bn to DRC to atone the conduct of the late 1990s anomalous intervention that aimed at ensuring peace and stability in former Zaire.
Longevity in power has also enabled Museveni to achieve a lot for the Ugandan foreign policy. He has for instance been fearlessly very outspoken against the conduct of the ICC business on the African continent. He not only castigated the ICC indictment of former Sudanese strongman Gen El-Omar Bashir by the Hague-based Court but also mobilized fellow AU Presidents to do the same. He walked the talk by conspicuously hosting Bashir during his May 2016 inauguration at Kololo where he demonized ICC like never before. Led by US Ambassador Deborah Malac, the diplomats furiously stormed out protesting the Museveni denigration of the ICC. He previously had been in Kenya where he was very outspoken in denouncing the ICC process targeting President Uhuru and his Deputy William Ruto. He actually emboldened other African leaders who started wondering why the ICC was only going after African Presidents without doing anything on Western counterparts (like Bush and Blair) who stood accused of even worse transgressions. Precisely this is the point Museveni had consistently been articulating.
The Ugandan leader went as far as threatening to mobilize colleagues in the AU to enmassely walk out of the ICC, something that risked depriving the Hague-based Court of significant numeric membership. Whereas critics say Museveni was selfish in his anti-ICC antics himself being a potential indictee for similar violations like Bashir and the Kenyan duo, Kutesa says this was being consistent with the Pan-Africanism Museveni has always professed since his youth days.
Yet ICC isn’t the only global body over which Museveni, who is currently among the most senior and most respected AU Summit members, has demanded reforms. He has done the same with the UN Security Council whose permanent membership he has faulted as not being adequately inclusive of the Africans whose AU is the largest voting bloc at UNGA because they have 54 votes. To many, Museveni (ever arguing with clarify) makes a lot of sense when he argues that it’s unfair for the UNSC composition to remain the way it was at the UN’s founding in 1945/46 when many of the AU members were still colonies and not nation states the way we know them today. He argues it’s high time the world body accepted reforms at that level to make the UNSC more inclusive to make the 54-members strong AU feel more appreciated and included in the UN processes.
In fact, in 2014 when his right-hand man Sam Kutesa became President of UNGA, Museveni gave him 7 action points that had to be prioritized and acted upon including reforms at the UNSC regarding its composition and membership. The demand was that reforms should lead to AU getting a slot on the Security Council for permanent membership because the continental bloc numerically contributes a lot on the UNGA membership on behalf of the 1.5bn Africans. The other point Kutesa had to prioritize related to climate change which Museveni, rightly, considers such a big concern for Africa with low mitigation capabilities because weak economy and inadequate technology breakthroughs constrain us and make the vast continent very vulnerable to the same. As Kutesa repeatedly articulated while serving as UNGA President (a position he easily got after Museveni convinced the rest of Africa to withdraw their candidates allowing SK to become AU’s joint choice), Museveni’s view is that comprehensive rural electrification programs is the best way Africa can effectively mitigate against climate change that mostly results from over depletion of forest cover as poor households seek energy for cooking and running their homes.
MINISTERS SINCE 1986;
Unlike Obote who was Foreign Affairs Minister in his two administrations, Museveni has had the following serve as Foreign Affairs Ministers since 1986; Ibrahim Mukiibi (1986-87), PK Semogerere (1988-1994), Ruhakana Rugunda (1994-19960, Eriya Kategaya (1997-2001), James Wapakabhulo (2001-2003), Tom Butime (2004-2005) and Sam Kutesa (2005-present). Besides Obote, these were preceded by Olara Otunnu, (1985-86), Otema Alimadi (1979-1980), Juma Oris (1975-1978), Gen Idi Amin (1975), Micheal Ondoga (1975), Elizabeth Bagaya (1974-1975), Wanume Kibeddi (1971-1973) and Sam Odaka (1966-1971).
The seven (7) Museveni Ministers have also had deputies including Omara Atubo (1988-1991), Bart Katurebe (1989-1993), Agard Didi (1993-1996), Rebecca Kadaga (1996-1998), Ruhakana Rugunda (1998-1999), Amama Mbabazi (1999-2001), Kahinda Otafiire (2001-2003), Augustine Nshimye (2003-2006), Isaac Musumba (2006-2011) and Asuman Kiyingi (2011-2016). All these deputized in the Regional Affairs docket and yet the Deputies or State Ministers for the International Affairs docket have included; Tarsis Kabwegyere (1987-1991), Owiny Dollo (1996-1998), Kiddu Makubuya (1998-1999), Alfred Mubanda (1999-2001), Kirunda Kivejinja (1991-1994), Martin Aliker (1994-1996), Tom Butiime (2001-2005) and Okello Oryem (2005-present).
With his seven Ministers, the Museveni foreign policy calculus has achieved a lot in the last 34 years including turning Uganda into one of the most outspoken, assertive and respected countries on the continent and during the AU meetings. Our diplomatic practice has inspired confidence which (in 2014) saw the 54 AU member countries unanimously endorse our own Sam Kutesa to serve as UNGA President when it was time for Africa. Two African countries had candidates but at the Museveni prompting they withdrew in favour of SK who is a leading influence in the AU Council of Ministers which is only second to the Summit (comprising the 54 Presidents) in hierarchy. Museveni’s seniority (currently being one of the longest serving leaders) and continental leadership also saw Uganda attempt to get their ex-VP Specioza Kazibwe take the position of Chairperson Africa Commission, which is the Secretariat for the AU business. Whoever occupies that position becomes the AU CEO of sorts because he/she is the person the Summit and Council of Ministers delegate to deal with the rest of the world (EU, US, UK, Russia, China etc) on behalf of Africa’s more than 1.3bn people.
The Kazibwe bid, which remains one of the most painful fiascos Museveni has suffered in his 34 years of shrewd foreign policy practice, was extinguished in 2016 during the July AU Summit in Kigali. Before finally losing to Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, Museveni-sponsored Kazibwe initially competed with Botswana’s Pelonomi Venson Moitoi and Equatorial Guinea’s Mokuy Agapito Mba. At the Kigali Conference, Museveni’s candidate performed very poorly after the likes of Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo formed what they called Council of Elders (comprising of former Presidents) that determined the Ugandan candidate was unsuitable because of her profile and her country’s poor human rights record.
Moussa’s predecessor, Dr. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, who handed over in March 2017, was equally uncomfortable with the Ugandan candidate. But for Obasanjo and Mbeki many other factors were at play as to why they saw the Kigali Summit as an opportunity to humiliate Museveni. Mbeki had years earlier lost power to Jacob Zuma after an ANC faction ganged up and got him out. Libya’s Gadafy, with whom he always had differences in the AU Summits, partly sponsored the anti-Mbeki chaos in the ANC. Mbeki was dismayed Museveni never used his clout to pronounce himself against Gadafy’s machinations but knowledgeable sources say this ambivalence was consistent with Museveni’s approach of non-interference and respect for fellow African leaders unless one directly crosses his path.
Obasanjo had in the mid-2000s unsuccessfully tried to scrap term limits and stay on as Nigerian President and was envious Museveni succeeded doing the same in Uganda in the same period. He was also uncomfortable seeing a small country like Uganda (way poorer than his oil-rich Nigeria) increasingly becoming assertive. Months prior to the July 2016 Summit in Kigali, Obasanjo had been to Kampala leading an election observer mission which authored a report calling Museveni’s 2016 re-election sham. He actually met Museveni in Rwakitura and said to his face “my brother this was a sham election” and thereafter flew out of the country. Sources say Museveni respectfully kept quiet but felt insulted by Obasanjo. So, the Kazibwe Kigali debacle came at a time when the relationship between the two veteran African leaders was already complicated. And indeed, Obasanjo used his clout as a respectable elderly statesman to galvanise the 16 ECOWAS (basically West African) countries to collectively abstain from voting at the Kigali Summit, something that deflated Kazibwe by denying her the required number of votes to move to the next stage. They abstained from voting, something that prevented even those ECOWAS Presidents that had (in writing) assured Museveni they would vote Kazibwe from keeping their word.
Credible sources say members of the Obasanjo-Mbeki-Dlamini Zuma conspiracy went as far as urging ex-Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to declare his bid for the AU CEO job, something that would split the Eastern Africa leaders and deprive Kazibwe of the bloc vote Museveni was anticipating from EAC and Horn African countries combined. Museveni had hoped to use the AU CEO position under Kazibwe to grow Uganda’s regional, continental and global influence even deeper but the above explained circumstances never permitted. Some argued Uganda was becoming too selfish and ungrateful to Africa which had just backed its SK for the UNGA job only two years earlier.
The Kazibwe fiasco notwithstanding, there are other Ugandans who (leveraging on the Museveni successful foreign policy) have scooped coveted positions at the global stage in the last 34 years. They include Eng Winnie Byanyima (now heading UNAIDS), ex-UCC CEO Patrick Masambu (now CEO for Washington-based ITSO which regulates satellite communications), ICJ’s Julia Sebutinde and ICC’s Solome Balungi Bbosa just to mention a few. (For comments on this news feature, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at email@example.com).