Africa, Conflict

Janaale attack on Ugandan troops: the conflicting figures out of Somalia shouldn’t be ignored

Above: Lt. General Jonathan Rono, the Force Commander of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the AMISOM Ugandan Contingent Commander Brigadier Sam Kavuma visit AMISOM front-line troops at the Janaale base in Lower Shaballe region, Somalia on September 05 2015. AMISOM Photo

On September 1, Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militants briefly seized control of an African Union after ramming a suicide car bomb into it.The attack took place at the AMISOM base in Janaale.

First diplomatic sources reported over 50 soldiers had died and then Somali military sources said 37. More than 48 hours after the attack on September 03, Uganda’s army spokesperson Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda tweeted that the estimates of more than 50 was a lie.Finally he told the nation that only 10 Ugandan soldiers had died in Somalia.

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Africa, Conflict, Justice

“No such a thing as a rape culture” – Bangura.

While in Addis Ababa,  I met an amazing women and leader from Sierra Leon. She is also the UN Special Representative of Secretary General on Sexual Violence. Zainab Hawa Bangura opened my eyes on what I usually read in both studies and media reports – they call it culture of rape. I suspect i could have regurgitated such words before.

Listening to Bangura, her zeal, passion and dedication caught me. I am finishing this post coincidentally in Goma, Eastern DR Congo a place which one the high UN ranking officials dared to call the “rape capital of the world.”

And the words of the Bangura were directed at the continued description of African regions where there’s sexual violence in conflict as having “rape culture.” Often a description slapped on Eastern Congo where more than 5 million lives have been lost in wars since 1990s.

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The African solution that hasn’t worked for Ivory Coast will not work for Libya

President Museveni’s 3000+worded article on the situation in Libya, analyzing Gaddafi’s regime his successes and failures has been hitting headlines around the world. He joined the critics of the current bombardments against Gaddafi that were sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

To a Ugandan, the article was catchy right from the start.  My president who just bought an election at such an exorbitant price to stretch his time in power into a 3rd decade was at university when Col. Muammar Gaddafi took over Libya. I posed a bit and figured out that my mother was just a teenager when Gaddafi took over power.

The article started like a reading from the Old Testament about kings. The longevity of the regimes of both Museveni and Gaddafi hits you right at the start. Thereafter I found the President Museveni’s arguments most contradictory on the whole. But I guess it is not surprising when one spends more than two decades in power.

While he criticizes Gaddafi and others for meddling in internal conflicts of African countries pointing to Gaddafi’s backing of Idi Amin in particular, he praises Gaddafi for supplying his rebel movement with arms against what he calls “criminal regimes” in Uganda.  So he draws a line between Gaddafi’s support for Idi Amin and Gaddafi’s support for Museveni.

“At the time we were fighting the criminal dictatorships here in Uganda, we had a problem arising of a complication caused by our failure to capture enough guns at Kabamba on the 6th of February, 1981.  Gaddafi gave us a small consignment of 96 rifles, 100 anti-tank mines, etc., that was very useful.  He did not consult Washington or Moscow before he did this.”

To Museveni, Gaddafi going sole and supporting his rebellion is great achievement we should recognize. But I am seeing the same feelings in Benghazi towards the current intervention that Museveni sets out to criticize.

President Museveni might sound close to right to many when he says “External meddling and the acquiescence by Africans into that meddling have been responsible for the stagnation in Africa.  The wrong definition of priorities in many of the African countries is, in many cases, imposed by external groups.” But this is the same man who has played the meddling in Rwanda, DR Congo and Somalia.  In Uganda we say a kettle cannot accuse a pot of being black.

In this article he puts out areas where he strategically has an advantage. He mentions south Sudan where America sees him as critical to the stability having engaged with SPLM for decades. Then UN refusal to put a no-fly zone over Somalia which Uganda pushed hard for last year when it was at the UN Security Council. He goes ahead to ask , are no human beings in Somalia similar to the ones in Benghazi?

But he has been part and parcel of the failed interventions in Somalia for the last eight years. Anyone who has followed the war in Somalia knows the route of the weapons is not by air and therefore a no-fly zone would never upset the power of opposition groups like Al Shabaab.

President Museveni who criticizes foreign intervention stood by as Ethiopia went into Somalia with the support of George Bush. He later jumped into the boat to make Uganda the first country to deploy troops in Somalia even before the Ethiopians left. Four years down the road the AMISOM is there backing a weak, non- representative government in Somalia.

While many in Uganda and Africa will jump to agree with the president, I see him as part of the meddling he talking about. He’s therefore in no good position to judge. The article brings in the question of oil in Somalia not being in the hands of the western companies as being the reason behind the inaction on the Somali conflict.  The worry about western interests in the wars around the globe in genuine given the history but for Museveni to say “if the Libyan opposition groups are patriots, they should fight their war by themselves and conduct their affairs by themselves” can only show that there’s little his involvement and that of AU would have done to stop Gaddafi butchering his own people.

In Museveni’s article I read feelings of a man, a big man, who together with the toothless AU have been blocked from entering Libya. The west may be wrong in the way they conduct the intervention in Libya but President Museveni together with his group of mostly African dictators cannot be trusted to bring a solution fast enough.

When Gaddafi was declaring genocide on his own people saying he would “cleanse Libya house by house”, no one stood up to him. When we heard stories about Gaddafi ferrying young Africans into Libya to work as mercenaries which escalated racist attacks on African immigrants, no African president came out to call for investigations. So many Africans stuck in Libya including Ugandans have been at the mercy of aid groups and some few government rescue missions.

Let’s not forget for the last four months this group of men who rule the continent have failed to resolve the situation in Ivory Coast which we may as well say has slipped back into a civil war. So far more than 400 people have died in Ivory Coast and all they do is hop onto planes meet in Addis Ababa.

No wonder we have heard no calls on the AU from Libya’s opposition. But these African leaders were so anxious to enter Libya to bargain with Gaddafi who has bought his way around the continent over years.  Gaddafi has personally supported rebellions that brought some of these leaders to power and provided them money to buy subsequent elections to appear democratically elected.  I don’t understand the African solution neither do  leaders like Museveni explain that solution that they peddle around to make Africans believe we are all on the same page.

President Museveni briefly looked at the socio-economic conditions within Libya and says they have nice roads and there’s no unemployment.

“In Tunisia and Egypt, some youths immolated (burnt) themselves because they had failed to get jobs.  Are the Libyans without jobs also?  ”

He also says that governments have a right to deal with protesters emphasizing that those who don’t seek police permission to demonstrate. This is a rule he has put in Uganda so we basically have no right to stage a protest against him peacefully. It’s his police, headed by his military men, that is in charge of sanctioning such a peaceful protest.

In the Libyan situation President Museveni sort of asks, what more did these protesters want? He seems to imply that those whose material needs have been met shouldn’t pursue freedom from dictators. I am not surprised this coming from a leader who has decentralized corruption in his own country to satisfy the would-be challengers.

Of course he went on to point out Gaddafi’s weakness but mostly those which contravened with his own standing like the cultural leaders project. A man who has banned cultural leaders and church from engaging in politics –for whatever meaning of politics is- Museveni has been at loggerheads with Gaddafi over the cultural leaders issue. This is not to say Gaddafi was right.

He talks of South Sudan which many Arabs didn’t pay much attention and he’s right but when he calls on Gaddafi to accept opposition and talks I say you should have given that advise 20 years ago. But wait! he had just got money and weapons from Gaddafi so forget the advice.

Africans want an African solution but current leaders like President Museveni who stifle freedoms in their own borders will not deliver us the much needed African solution. And that’s what North Africa has realized and therefore moved to rid their countries of these leaders.  Like Desmond Tutu has said Libya wouldn’t be seeing these strikes if African leaders were answerable to their peers and the  populace. But which Gaddafi’s peers would have kept him in check?   Museveni, Biya or Mugabe?

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A mercenary and an immigrant; a story of black Africans and Libya

How do you prove that you are just an immigrant not a mercenary? It’s a question I have been pondering on the week and it’s a situation that thousands of Africans stuck in the Libya uprising have to deal with, that is if they are given chance.

Sub Saharan Africans had not surfaced much in the story of the protests and revolutions that have swept across North Africa until Libyans decided to take on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, their leader for the last four decades.

Protests first broke out in Libya on 15 February 2011 and a few days after that the international media got its juicy story of foreign fighters working for Gaddafi. It wasn’t long the term ‘African mercenaries’ came into full use.

To me it was like I was aback to one of my secondary school history classes about events in the  19th or  20th  century and stories of African men taken to the fight in “world wars” where they had no idea.

Before the African mercenaries term was coined, there had been the African the migrant. The ‘possible mass migration’ of Africans to Europe was one of the very first stories about Africans and the Libya protests to hit the international scene. It was about the fear European countries had that Libya, one of the main routes for African immigrants, could pose them a problem if it plunged in state of lawlessness.

Gaddafi who had been helpful in significantly reducing the numbers of African immigrants crossing to Europe through pacts with EU members, then rushed to use this as a bargaining chip as the protests spread. And the African the migrant at this point became both a weapon and a threat. Actually the BBC reporter based in Nairobi said “The fear with Libya is that sub-Saharan Africans will try to leave and there are more of them.”

Out of a population of about seven million people in Libya, about one million are believed to be from sub-Saharan African countries. There are no concrete figures. Reports claimed that about three quarters of these Africans are sort of on a waiting list to try by any means to cross to Europe.

After the story of the African -the immigrant, came the African -the mercenary as Gaddafi became increasingly violent and killing hundreds of Libyans. Social networks and twitter were abuzz with words African mercenaries, some with outright racial undertones.  Some tweets suggested Gaddafi had “brought Africans to break into their homes and rape their women.”

I thought ok, recent African civil wars which have been characterised by rape used as weapon of war have not helped perceptions about the continent that often people want to project! This  rape aspect has been repeated in many tweets although we are yet to see reports on actual cases of rape in the international media.

Today I watched Al Jazeera showing a tweet from Redafayr linking mercenaries to 20 African countries where Tamoil, a Libyan petroleum company operates. Today Reuters reported that the rebel National Libyan Council in Benghazi, the insurgent capital said it believed Niger, Mali and Kenya were sending troops to support Gaddafi, who is now directing his forces from Tripoli.

These kinds of statements can only further fuel anger among those opposed to Gaddafi and puts more lives of immigrants held up in houses and other hiding places in Libya at great danger. We have seen reports that indicate dozens of immigrants have so far been killed. These are not deaths inflicted on the ‘Gaddafi’s African mercenaries’ but on African immigrants that have nothing to do with the parties in the conflict.

We have seen slow reaction and attention on international scene and on the part of the African Union and African countries on the mercenary issue. We have not seen bold statements against these xenophobic attacks.

In  Uganda we have instead seen a national broadcaster sack two journalists over broadcasting of events in Libya and we don’t expect much from government to try and tell the nation that there is no Ugandan Libya as a mercenary. In Zimbabwe, Bob is busy charging anyone who mentions anything close to Libya with treason.  It’s important that these countries come out and tell the world what is happening.

Kenya has done a lot to evacuate its citizens and others from the East African region.  I know that an MP last week called on the country to investigate if young Kenyans who had gone to Islamic schools in Libya might be among the said mercenaries but yet to hear progress. Nigeria is continuing to evacuate its citizens from Libya but many other immigrants from other African countries are still stuck and governments are simply not doing much. I was shocked to see a Ugandan embassy employee saying if it hadn’t been for Kenya she would have died in Libya.

U.N. officials have warned that the latest charges from the council in Benghazi could escalate attacks on African migrants in rebel-held areas.  We are yet to see the full coverage of the story of the African ‘the mercenary’ in Libya. We have seen a few pictures that came from protesters but the story is one of the hard ones to get and it will probably take as long as the uprising itself to know the entire story.

While there have been reports of many kind Libyans volunteering to watch over those immigrants that made it to camps, generally many on the continent fear that the impact of racial discrimination not only against immigrants but also black Libyans will continue to be manifested alongside the story of the African mercenary.

We will take long to see a positive story for instance on  what African immigrants have  contributed to the Libyan economy and how their absence could be felt in either post Gaddafi or post protests Libya. Ultimately the absence of a sub Saharan media will continue to put the African story to hands of foreign media whose plates are often to full too do it justice.

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Why Some African leaders are smiling at the storm in North Africa

It’s been more than a month since protests that began in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid spread across North Africa and the Middle East. The protests in Tunisia were sparked by the action Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year old street vendor who on December 17, 2010 set himself on fire in front of the municipal building protesting his ill-treatment by local police who confiscated his merchandise.

By the time Bouazizi died on January 4, 2011, protests had gripped Tunisia, many Tunisians poured in the streets to challenge the regime of -President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ben Ali was later forced to flee to Saudi Arabia, ending his 23 year old rule.

The Tunisian revolution, entirely engineered from within, spread ripples to the rest of the Arab world and protests have been going on ever since. Africans have largely followed the protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen and Sudan through different media. In Uganda where local TV stations air direct feeds from Al Jazeera and other international networks, many people especially in the capital have watched in disbelief. They have hardly seen determined people standing up to a regime without the help of a gun.

Many Ugandans in the social networks have facebook status and tweets warning or wishing the same could happen in Uganda. I have refused to be optimistic about the events in North Africa. However a good look at Zimbabwe, Angola, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville to Uganda  you would understand the excitement.

The first post I made when Ben Ali was ousted by Tunisians was “the African club of dictators has lost a member and they will be doing some rethinking.” May be I should have been more specific on which leaders. So far only Sudan’s Omar al Bashir, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika and to some extent, the self-baptised Africa’s king of Kings, Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi are feeling the quakes and tremors.

At  the African Union summit  in Addis Ababa, Tunisia was missing on the agenda but the AU president hailed the maturity of Tunisian people. The summit largely dwelt on the Ivory Coast election row where they are yet to reach an agreement.

The protests in North Africa have been largely around unemployment rate, corruption, poor living conditions and curtailing of freedoms of masses by the regimes. A look at the statistics tells you a story that would trick most of Africa into thinking they too could have a shot at bringing down their own dictators.

Almost two thirds of Egypt’s population has been born since President Hosni Mubarak came to power. Unemployment rate is North Africa has been high as their leaders live a royalty life. Corruption has been so rampant that the middle class in these countries never saw the reason why they paid taxes.  The living conditions in these countries for most of the population were terrible.  Only one percent of rural people in Tunisia have access to clean water and unemployment was at 14.2 percent as of 2009.

Compare the situation in these countries to Uganda you will find a lot of similarities.

About 77 per cent of Uganda’s population is youth. According to a 2008 World Bank report, Uganda has the highest youth unemployment rate and the youngest population in the world.

The African Development Indicators [ADI] report 2008/2009, showed youth have borne the burden of unemployment with the rate at 83 percent.

Corruption has been well documented and a few examples including the siphoning of the Global Fund money meant for HIV and Malaria interventions. More than $1.6 million was embezzled and misappropriated and we still can’t really point out to any recovery more than 3 years down the road. One of the ministers that was implicated in this corruption scandal once told me, on a flight to London, that the “President knew the where the global fund money went.” And later testimonies showed some of it ended up supporting the referendum in 2005.

This scandal that led to Uganda to be temporarily suspended from benefiting from the Fund did not cause much outrage and the ministers who were in charge are walking free in our streets. Capt. Mike Mukula, the junior health minister at the time has actually returned to campaign for a parliamentary post with a cynical slogan “We want you back” in Soroti Eastern Uganda.

There’s been evidence that a lots of funds meant for the hosting of 2007 the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting went missing. President Museveni ordered for arrests but we haven’t seen any big officials brought to book.

Just this month, members of parliament woke up and found 20 million shillings wired to their accounts for monitoring NAADs programs (an agricultural program that has largely benefits those who support the regime). President Museveni said that MPs needed this money ironically at a time of elections and the Ministry of Finance has come out to say the government is broke and will not easily fund certain sectors. The media continues the campaign  calling this a bribe and some opposition MPs have gone ahead to return the money to Parliament.

Talk of standard of living, Uganda having worse development indicators than the North African countries. Most Ugandans rely on out of pocket expenditure for their health, public health services are very hard to access and even when you get to hospitals there are no drugs. Soroti, a Regional Referral Hospital has only three maternity beds, it serves a population of over 20,000. The Universal primary education enrolled pupils and in the end we have produced half-baked primary education drop outs across the country with girls being affected most.

We cannot forget that President Museveni has been in power for now 25 years and he’s seeking re-election to step in the shoes of Mubarak.

This kind of comparison would one understand why some educated youthful Ugandans can have faith that la revolución will spread farther south of the Nile. This is not a wild expectation but looking on the side you would know well why Ugandans are not about to stand to President Museveni and his regime.

North African countries have a high literacy level over 70 percent and there are more urban dwellers in the north than in most of sub-Saharan Africa with a more exceptions. Most people who live in urban areas in Uganda for instance are more aware of the working of the state and they generally don’t vote President Museveni. So urbanization has a huge impact on how citizens relate to government and urban dwellers in Africa generally expect more from government.

Food prices have been a big factor in North Africa but we have not seen food prices threatening the survival of 80 percent of most Ugandans who live in the rural areas. Uganda is a fertile country and most people eat from their gardens. I grew up in a rural area and for me government means a few things. They do not relate hunger to government failures or lack of policies.  In the last twenty five years President Museveni has capitalized on this and made sleep (‘peace’) as the sole basic need Ugandans can demand for.

And like Ibrahim Sharqieh, the Deputy Director, Brookings Doha Center said, “the Tunisian model demonstrates, revolutions do not happen overnight.”

Many Ugandans especially the old have been psyched about the past of the country. They live in eternal fear that Museveni alone can guarantee a peaceful Uganda and he reinforces this daily with talk of when he came in 1986 and we –shall- deal- with –talk for every problem the country faces is from saboteurs.

Sharqieh further says “They (revolutions) require an accumulation of events before the environment ripens… They require momentum. Tunisians today recognize how the 1984 “bread revolution” has impacted their current uprising, as well as the 1988 Algerian uprising that collapsed the country’s single party system and introduced democratic reforms. Egyptians likewise recognize the significance of the April 6 price and wages demonstrations in 2008 and food demonstrations in 2007.”

Borrowing from Sharqieh’s analysis of theTunisian model, “an impoverished, educated people can more effectively organize violent protests and disrupt stability” than our largely uneducated psyched population.

Most youth in Uganda are also engulfed in the craze to acquire quick free money just like their fathers in power. They have not seen what effective institutions mean and the struggle to snatch what you can has not left us behind. There’s a lot of money being distributed now across the country as we near the voting day on February 18th. And the youth who could have made a difference are part of this crowd which sells their vote. I always ask, why should I sell my future to men who are the evening of their lives?  Most youth haven’t had time to stop and ask that question and reflect while others stay away from voting and engaging in any political thinking this guarantees their survival.

And also the heavy reliance on donor money doesn’t make an ordinary African question his government. Someone once told me “abo barya esente zabazungu gwe abifaakoki?” meaning they are eating white people’s money why do you care? So Africans still see funds as either government property or from a token to their government from western countries.

Also there was unity among the people across divides of religion and class, that division is still here in form of looking at everyone’s region and tribe.

Lastly the revolutions going in North Africa have been helped by the use of new media which has had a well reception in the whole of the Arab region in the last decade. In the rest of Africa, many youth have not seen a computer and while telephones have increased the participation of youth in freedom of expression, the youth can’t easily maneuver when government puts a crackdown. And those on social networks are not yet using them for the cases that affect their daily lives. In 2006, the government jammed radio stations which were airing election results and people had to rely solely on the Electoral Commission (EC) tally center. The EC, which has been ruled incompetent by the highest court in the land, to be the only source of information Ugandan’s democracy remains at the mercy of a few men.

Most people in Uganda generally are in two categories those that fear the regime and those that fear life after the regime. Those in fear are aware that they will be crashed because we have seen heavy military equipment (one usually saved for combat) in the streets of Kampala when the youth have come out to demonstrate in the past. Those who fear the life after can’t start imagining the scenario.

This happens in many other African countries where rulers have given themselves more years and abrogated constitutions to leave nations with a chance of having a life president. So for now I remain skeptical of my country seeing any of what’s on TV and I hope that these revolutions bring meaningful changes to these countries. That no one will hijack a peoples struggle just like it happened in Iran decades ago.

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