By Dennis Katungi
Please refer to the lead story in one of the local tabloids of Monday May 9, 2016, entitled “US Travel Ban Bites M7, SFC Boss Denied US Visa over Besigye.”
This story would be amusing if it were not dangerously misleading as well. As a keen observer of the security sector in my motherland, I could not help but question the motivations behind such a story. What interest is it of Red Pepper or any publication if an army officer leaves for a course or not? What weighty matters of national security does such an event impinge on? The only reason I could conjure up for such a petty story was that the said army officer was until recently Deputy Commander of SFC, a formation that seems to inspire the wildest rumor and suppositions from certain sections of the Ugandan media. Needless to say such guesswork is seldom accurate and almost always widely off the mark. That begs the question whether credibility is a commodity that these media platforms value? Or is it always a question of how many copies you can sell no matter how outlandish the story is? I hope for the sake of journalistic ethics that a remedy is found to this trend.
The story falsely claimed (as it turns out) that Col. Sabiiti, hitherto the Deputy Commander of the UPDF Special Forces Command (SFC), had been denied a visa to travel to the US for advanced military training over what it claims the US considers “an increasing affront on the liberties of Ugandans.”
We learnt later from the SFC spokesperson (Major Chris Magezi) no less that whereas it is correct that Col. Sabiiti was scheduled for the one year National Defense College (NDC) course in the US, the reason for his failure to travel were budgetary constraints on the part of the US. One hopes that they sort out this lack of financing pretty soon because it reflects poorly on them.
However, were this ‘lack of financing’ to persist (we hope it does not) Uganda enjoys great economic and military relations with a great many countries around the world. Anyone of these friends of Uganda can be engaged to provide a similar course for which the said officer was destined for in the United States. Uganda enjoys these excellent relations with countries around the world because ever since the accession to power by the National Resistance Movement/ National Resistance Army in 1986 the country’s foreign policy has been guided by the principle of non-alignment. As President Yoweri Museveni said in 1984 (as a guerrilla leader in the Luwero Triangle) ‘We are not pro-West or pro-East. We are pro-Uganda’. Those immortal words set the course of Ugandan foreign policy as pursued by the NRM from that day till today.
The principle of non-alignment had been initiated by giants of the anti-colonial struggle like Jawarhalal Nehru, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Kwame Nkurumah. At its core was the insistence on respect for the newly won independence and sovereignty of nations that had been suffocated by imperialism for centuries. Non-alignment proclaimed ‘We will respect all nations as long as they respect our sovereignty.’ Non-aligned nations will deal with the West as well as the East as long as both camps do not try to cajole or compel them into being satellite states. Satellite states are in fact pseudo states (they are not real states) because they do not represent their own interests but the interests of others. We have seen some of those here in Africa. The NRM being a descendant of the great global anti-colonial struggle and specifically the heroic African liberation struggle is most assuredly a non-aligned political movement. Therefore, the guiding philosophy of Ugandan foreign policy under the NRM has always been non-alignment.
It is for this reason that Uganda supported the anti-Apartheid struggle in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This was at a time when some Western governments were strong supporters of the immoral Apartheid state. Uganda permitted Mkhonto we Sizwe (the ANC’s armed wing) to establish training camps in Kaweweta. Only a non-aligned and Pan-African foreign policy would have sanctioned such a move. The strong bonds of friendship between Uganda and South Africa today come from that period of history. Uganda was the only country to support the struggle of the people of Rwanda in the early 1990s. The rest of the world led by the UN still carry a lot of guilt for having done absolutely nothing as 1,000,000 Rwandans were bludgeoned and hacked to death in a hundred days in 1994. For those who were around at that time we all remember how Habyarimana’s Rwanda was a classic example of a satellite state.
Uganda-US co-operation was inaugurated by Presidents Ronald Regan and Museveni in 1987, since then the two countries have maintained a strong alliance especially in the area of military cooperation within the region. This important relationship should continue to prosper, regardless of real or imagined differences by some sections of the media – which in any case could be addressed through the relevant and appropriate diplomatic channels. This security relationship should be nurtured very carefully because it is the bedrock of a new security paradigm in Eastern Africa that places Uganda at the center of regional stability.
This recently concluded electoral process has been characterized by propaganda driven the politics of demagoguery, bluster and outright brinkmanship by some opposition actors led by Kiiza Besigye. However, the constitution, the supreme law of the land, is crystal clear on how political power is attained – through regular free and fair democratic elections. Resolution of disputes arising from elections must be by the courts of law, and in particular, the Supreme Court for presidential election petitions. Uganda has been through this process fully.
On Thursday May 12, President Yoweri Museveni will be sworn in for his 5th elective term of office, which he won with a comfortable margin of 60.7%, beating his closest challenger Besigye who trailed with 35.4%. Besigye has rejected the results, which were affirmed by a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in March, and has since encouraged his supporters become violent.
Peace loving citizens must strongly abhor this intransigence and agitation on the part of Besigye and his supporters, because it does not nurture democratic growth. To the contrary, that belligerent attitude fosters anarchy and turmoil that threatens the country’s hard won peace and stability. We as a people have made too many sacrifices to throw it all away in Besigye’s dangerous and egotistical gamble.
The intervention of the security forces against this so called defiance campaign, a de-facto call for mass insurrection against authority, is to ensure that the citizens and their property are secured. They have a constitutional obligation to guarantee security and order. We never ever want a so called ‘Arab Spring’ here in our beautiful country. Those who promote such utter lawlessness should kindly unleash such turmoil in their own cities and towns. We want nothing to do with it.
Therefore, the authorities are justified in taking appropriate action against agitators who may want to drag the country back into the dark days of politically inspired violence, for which the lessons of history are too painful to be repeated. Like the President has stated on several occasions, Ugandans, through their leaders, do not need any lectures from foreigners who were nowhere when the dictatorships of Amin and Obote were massacring our people daily. Can they claim to love this country more than Ugandans; and Ugandans who have the benefit of historical experience? They should learn a little modesty.
The writer works with the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala