Monthly Archives: January 2010

Museveni: East Africa’s Longest-Serving Ruler

In Mbale, former Kenyan leader Daniel arap Moi campaigned for Museveni's fourth term. Let's not forget that Museveni was one of the first presidents to congratulate Kibaki during the Kenyan 2008 elections.

Kenya’s excellent newspaper, the Daily Nation, ran a well-written, if depressing piece about Museveni that was initially published by their sister Ugandan paper, the Daily Monitor (where my colleague and Garden City bowling buddy Gerald Bareebe works).  I first came to Uganda in 2007, 21 years into Museveni’s regime, so I never really experienced the initial presidency that did so much for Uganda in the 1980s and 1990s.  Museveni’s regime turned 24 this year, and he surpassed former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi as East Africa’s longest-standing ruler.  But with oil profits on the horizon, and a penchant for overstaying, Museveni is currently running for his fourth term– and even Moi has been in Uganda this week, helping to campaign for Museveni.

When I first came to Uganda, newspapers affectionately referred to the country’s president as “M7.”  I can’t tell you how long it took me to realize what they were referring to– a fighter jet? A different version of LC1s and LC2s (local gov. officials)? Out of the blue, I finally realized that M7 was literally Museveni, and cracked up at myself for not realizing it sooner.

The Monitor piece describes the Museveni who first came into power, and I was practically gaping… anyone who has only known Museveni in the decade after 2000 would feel a similar sense of surprise.

“There was little to suggest that Mr Museveni had any ambitions beyond restoring security, establishing the rule of law, and breathing life into the economy. He openly mocked African leaders who flew to the United Nations in their private jets while their subjects walked around barefoot in stark poverty.

He chided previous regimes for importing expensive furniture and whiskies from European capitals and promised to buy his cutlery and furnish State House with cheap, locally-available goods. Having organised Resistance Councils in liberated areas, the left-wing revolutionary leader spoke of taking power and giving it back to the people to be exercised in a democratic fashion.

However, two decades later, President Museveni is still in power and planning to seek re-election in 2011 which would stretch his reign to 30 years. The revolutionary who argued, in ‘What is Africa’s Problem’, that one of the biggest challenges facing the continent was leaders who over-stayed in office, had the Constitution changed in 2005 to allow him stand for another term in office.

Many observers are now united in the reality that President Museveni has no intentions of handing over power on a silver platter, at least not in the near future. “He is a political survivor; he knows how to survive and is so determined such that if there is anything in his way he must get rid of it,” says Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a political historian at Makerere University. “His ultimate goal has always been power and how to maintain it.”

Read on…

Check Out My Haiti Story…

My story ran today in Women’s eNews!

Haiti Quake Puts 63,000 Pregnant Women at Risk

The Haiti earthquake has increased the risks for an estimated 63,000 pregnant women in Port-au-Prince, as medical facilities and supplies have been destroyed. The UNFPA is distributing delivery and ‘dignity’ kits to help minimize the damage.

UNITED NATIONS, New York (WOMENSENEWS)–Rose Mirlande Veilard could no longer feel her baby’s kicks and became scared. The Port-au-Prince, Haiti, resident wondered if her baby had been killed during her struggle to leave her home near Champs de Mars, the presidential plaza, during the earthquake.

Since the earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, the 22-year-old has slept in a car parked outside of a church. When Veilard was finally able to see a doctor at a hospital, she found out her baby was still alive, the U.N. Population Fund, or UNFPA, told Women’s eNews.

But other women in Haiti will not be so lucky.

When the earthquake hit, Haiti’s Ministry of Women was in a meeting with 20 development partners who work with the UNFPA. Almost everyone in the meeting was killed or injured.

“It’s very tragic,” said Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, chief of UNFPA’s humanitarian response team. “You lose the people who could respond and support these communities.”

Of the 3 million people affected by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti, and the aftershocks that continued as recently as Jan. 20, an estimated 63,000 are pregnant women. In the month ahead, 7,000 women are expected to deliver. Giving birth or seeking prenatal care in a city where even the presidential plaza is destroyed poses countless risks to women in Port-au-Prince and throughout the quake region. The New-York based UNFPA has spearheaded efforts to help minimize the risks these women face.

Logistics a Challenge

“The challenge for Haiti is logistics,” Mahmood said. “We do not want pregnant women, or women and girls overall, to fall off the radar screen.”

Even before the earthquake, giving birth in Haiti was no easy feat. The country has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Northern Hemisphere. For every 100,000 births, 670 mothers do not survive. Fifteen percent of all births before the earthquake had complications that required hospital care, such as hemorrhaging and high blood pressure in the mother, according to the UNFPA.

Continue reading

Latest Update on Anti-Gay Bill in Uganda

Before the holidays, I posted about the anti-gay bill that a Ugandan MP had introduced, and the American evangelical connections.  I was thrilled to get so many comments on the post, and to facilitate such a thoughtful discussion from people living in Uganda and the U.S. This bill was clearly huge — I saw the story (not always accurately!) everywhere, from the Guardian to the BBC, New York Times, various Ugandan publications, the Rachel Maddow Show, and many others.  I wanted to give you all the latest update on the bill, which proposed the death penalty for gay people living with HIV (a.k.a. “Aggravated homosexuality” ) and life in jail for gay people who are not HIV positive.  It looks like these parts of the bills may be scrapped, but we won’t know until Parliament begins debating the bill.

Gay activists demonstrating in Uganda. Uganda's anti-gay bill includes the death penalty for gay people living with HIV.

The international community. The reaction to this bill has been huge.  The international community has a lot of weight in Uganda– about a third of Uganda’s budget is donor-financed (European Union, individual European countries like Sweden, etc.) , and many Ugandans depend on the U.S. government for antiretroviral drugs through PEPFAR.  Museveni went to this year’s CHOGM and was criticized by Commonwealth leaders, a big deal if you remember all the money and time spent on promoting Uganda’s image at CHOGM in 2007, when the summit was held in Kampala.  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the U.N.’s top human rights official, and some prominent American senators coordinating support of the Ugandan military in fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army condemned Uganda.

Reaction to the bill within Uganda. Most Ugandans didn’t seem to realize that homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, and thought the bill would forbid the practice.  Some thought the bill was meant to protect children from pedophiles.  Very few seemed to realize the bill would execute gay people with HIV.  When the Swedish government said it would no longer finance Uganda’s budget if they began executing gay people living with HIV, most Ugandans thought the Swedes said they would withdraw support to Uganda if Ugandans did not support homosexuality.  Many Ugandans reacted as if the Western world were forcing Ugandans to be gay or support gay people, blackmailing them with foreign aid.  Many Ugandans reacted as if the western world was imposing a gay lifestyle on them, then threatening to withdraw support for the neediest Ugandans if they didn’t comply.  Pastor Martin Ssempa, a prominent anti-gay activist in Uganda who runs the Makerere Community Church, is planning a million-man march in Kampala to support the bill.  President Museveni has tried to assure donors quietly that the bill will not pass, but top Ugandan officials said Uganda can live without the foreign aid.  One American senator wanted to threaten Uganda’s AGOA trade status, a special status for Ugandan goods in the U.S that is supposed to make trader easier.

Pastor Ssempa said people attending the march could take a photo and send it as a postcard to Barack Obama.  He described the Western world as failed states for supporting homosexuality.  A few Ugandans have spoken out against the bill, such as prominent lawyer and academic Sylvia Tamale, who is writing a book on how homosexuality is conceptualized in African countries (Uganda? East Africa? other African countries as well? I’m not sure).  A muslim cleric called for special squads to hunt down gay people in Ugnda, adding his hateful voice to the mix.

And for the American evangelicals?

In the U.S., the American evangelicals who helped MP David Bahati draft the bill faced a considerable backlash, and were criticized for importing an American cultural war into East Africa.  Evangelicals like Scott Lively said they didn’t realize what was in the bill being drafted, and were just trying to protect Ugandan families.

Personally, I’m a bit exhausted of the story.  I hope the bill doesn’t pass, and wish Uganda was in the news for something other than anti-gay legislation.  The 2011 elections are next year, and I am concerned about the potential human rights abuse that could explode.  The underlying fear of course is that there could be violence a la Kenya, but Uganda has always been less ethnically divided in Kenya, despite the September riots (the Buganda kingdom’s clash with the central government).

There was a disturbing incident where opposition candidate Olara Otunnu’s car was run off the road by the presidential guard brigade, which has barely been covered in the local press, and not covered in the international press.  Hillary Clinton has said she will observe Uganda in the 2011 elections.  The opposition has largely united and plans to field a common candidate.  You can follow election coverage through Africa Connections here, which is updated daily with the latest bit of news about the elections.  50 female Ugandan political activists were arrested yesterday, for a demonstration calling for the Electoral Commission boss to step down.  You can read more about that here, on the Voice of America website.  The Daily Monitor and New Vision have also covered the story.