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What Mrs. Samantha Power’s UN speech fell short of recognizing

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Added 13th April 2016 11:13 AM

In that debate, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power highlighted the important roles played by the respective leaders in regional security, but most importantly she explained what she calls threats that face democracy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region.

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Jackie Batamuliza is the programmes associate with the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies

In that debate, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power highlighted the important roles played by the respective leaders in regional security, but most importantly she explained what she calls threats that face democracy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region.


By Jackie Batamuliza

On March 21, 2016, the UN Security Council held an open debate on ‘Prevention and Resolution of Conflicts in the Great Lakes Region’.

In that debate, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power highlighted the important roles played by the respective leaders in regional security, but most importantly she explained what she calls threats that face democracy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region.

It seems easy for world leaders to make mention of the achievements of these leaders, but very difficult to honestly explain the price paid and many times, they take advantage of the short memories of the region’s populace. Rightly so given the quality of democrats we really are.

President F.D. Roosevelt once said “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”.

Presently, Uganda’s decision makers are products of an education system that barely had life let alone suitable for the nature of our national challenges.

The education I refer to is more than the classroom education. It extends to social and economic education and all that facilitates healthy cognitive development because it all feeds into the democrats (rulers) that we become.

The individuals making national decisions today are largely people who were born and went to school after World War II, which should mean that they were nurtured under the systems that were battling with the survival of a nation amidst the strains of changes from Britain as an imperial nation to the US and most importantly, the hegemonic strains of the Cold War between the communists and the capitalists.

In the case of Uganda, the implication of the latter, for example, was the coup that brought President Idi Amin to power.

In that moment, America turned a blind eye on her notion of ‘freedom’ and right to political affiliation. President Amin turned out to be a gravely mistaken statesman as he collapsed the already feeble democratic structures that existed.

Uganda became a political island as her alliances broke into pieces partly because of his limited capacity to make the accurate national decisions, besides his allegiance to the capitalists vis-à-vis the communist sympathisers in his neighbourhood. Such things have caused us to think that we are not taught notions such as freedom for our own good, they are rather timely political investments.

In a bid to survive as president, Amin adopted political cultures that put the citizenry under terror, had elite flee their own country, senior citizens murdered, the national army became the spring of the citizen’s torment; governance came to a standstill and ultimately the progress of infrastructural development. America registered success because Uganda was not lost to communism, but Uganda incurred a loss that would cost generations of a social strata, upon which democracy would find anchorage.

As Uganda staggered to rediscover herself, their came the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB). These programmes left the nations on their knees with increased dependency on the rich countries and inevitably poverty-stricken.

The implications of this, was that countries channelled resources to debt repayment while education, health and social-economic development suffered. As a result, decades went by without development and our political muscles were getting more crippled.

In Uganda’s case, the decline in the international coffee prices aggravated the foreign exchange earning capacity of the economy. This worsened the difficulties that we faced in servicing the debt as it resulted into rapid accumulation of arrears. After the liberation struggle from years of political turmoil, Uganda turned to external debt financing for urgent economic rehabilitation. By 1993, the stock of debt outstanding and disbursed was $2.64b with arrears of $253m.

In 1990, Susan George put it this way, “Debt is an efficient tool. It ensures access to other people’s raw materials and infra-structure on the cheapest possible terms. Dozens of countries must compete for shrinking export markets and can export only limited range of products because of Northern protectionism and their lack of cash to invest in diversification. Market saturation ensues, reducing exporters’ income to a bare minimum while the North enjoys huge savings.”

The cold war saw the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the coming of President Mobutu who equally had innumerable challenges with governance.

Those challenges turned DRC into a hub for rebel groups for a long time. These rebel groups have claimed huge shares in these region’s national budgets at the expense of social-economic developments which affects our social strata and of ultimately the democratic processes. Developments like these have had eventual effects that I believe are biting into the West’s present interests.

It should be impossible to applaud Uganda for her role in the region without celebrating President Yoweri Museveni’s 30 years of presidency because just as it took time for the hegemonic tendencies to collapse what existed, it cost Uganda time to rebuild and fortify what she uses for these celebrated achievements. America is free to change presidents like shirts because the citizenry has had the time to be fortified to suit Abraham Lincoln’s definition of a democracy and perhaps any one can be trusted to ‘rule’, but the great lakes region is yet to get that place.

How I wish Power would comment on the many odds that surfaced during the election period. Take an example of David Cameron and his counterparts’ efforts to have a joint candidature against Museveni among many others.

Those gestures came off as a panic. Not surprising though, given that Papyrus 55001 is in motion which reminds one of Pompeii of Rome. The events that preceded the National elections confirm that the papyrus is the Cornerstone of the International Politics of our time just as the cold war and the SAPs were.

The writer is the programmes Associate with the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies

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