The Big Powers Can Help End The Human Tragedy In The Great Lakes Region Of Africa By Sanctioning Gen. Museveni


[Commentary: Africa]

Uganda’s malevolent Gen. Museveni, in power, and spreading havoc for 28 years now



The chilling fact is plain that the Great Lakes Region of Africa is aflame.

It is burning with humanitarian crises that have engulfed the region since the 1990s. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, the various marauding military outfits sponsored by neighboring countries have wreaked havoc that has compounded the epidemic of sexual and gender-based violence in the country. And now in Southern Sudan, the world’s latest country to exercise the right to self-determination is being torn asunder with violence, with catastrophic consequences for the long-suffering people.

It is a tragic irony of our time that although it is apparent that the crises continue to spread like tropical bushfire instead of dying down, the big powers that could make a difference have chosen either to bury their heads in the sand of geo-strategic self-interests or at most to offer only anemic response.

This is a pity and should be of grave concern not only because in the inferno millions of people have been displaced, thousands more have lost their lives needlessly, and hundreds of women have been raped shamelessly; but also because it seems to confirm the sad observation about raw power politics made by G. W. F. Hegel, the German philosopher, close to two centuries ago when he said that “What experience and history teach is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.”

In the case of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, we should remember that the area experienced some of the most grotesque human rights violations in history, including the genocide in the so-called Congo Free State under King Leopold of Belgium in the early twentieth century, the recent Rwanda genocide in 1994, and the longest civil war in Africa in former Sudan from the 1950s to the 1990s, which eventually led to independence of South Sudan from the greater Sudan.

Perhaps even of more significance is the fact that there is an ominous analogy between what have been happening in the Great Lakes Region of Africa and what occurred in the 1930s.

In that period, partly because of the doctrine of non-interference in the affairs of a sovereign states, and partly because of disproportionate focus on national self-interests, the big powers initially turned a blind eye to Hitler’s arrogance to swallow up Czecho-Slovakia, Mussolini’s ambition to overrun Ethiopia, and Japanese aggression in Manchuria.

And in the 1970s, as if the big powers had not learnt from history, they looked askance, if not connived with Sadam Hussein, as  he attempted to conquer Iran. In all these cases, by the time the big powers decided to oppose the bullies by affirmative action, the human costs had become prohibitively high.

With this historical perspective, there are two major questions of principles about peace and security in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. The first is whether, as was the case with the Rwanda genocide, the big powers will act only after the human cost is transparently too high. And the second and related question is whether the human cost suffered by Africans might not undermine genuine long-term geo-strategic interests of the big powers in the region.

These questions are pertinent because the politically conscious Africans and in particular the young people whose future are blighted by the instability in the region are aware that the big powers know the instigators and sponsors of instability in the region. The tragic irony, similar to the 1930s, is that although the big powers are aware of the main sources of the crises in the region, they seem to prefer to show indifference to the suffering of millions of Africans rather than take robust and principled actions against the outlaws in the region.

The fact of the matter is that in the past two decades, the ruler who more than any other person has been actively promoting conflicts in the region and who should be held accountable for virtually all the crises in the region is President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. 

He has undermined other leaders and promoted conflicts so as to fulfill his obsession to be the sub-imperial ruler of the region.

Indeed, it is because of President Museveni’s imperial ambition that the region has continually experienced massive humanitarian and human rights crises since the 1990s. He has played malevolent roles in Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). And now, he is involved in the civil war in South Sudan. The Economist magazine of January 4th 2014, in commenting on the malevolent role President Museveni has played in further inflaming the crisis in South Sudan, concludes cryptically in the following way: “Ethiopia’s late prime minister, Meles Zenawi, who died in 20012, was an effective counterweight to the erratic Mr. Museveni but Mr. Hailemariam [Zenawi’s successor] may be less able to restrain him.”

Interestingly, the Economist does not say much about the responsibility of the big powers that subsidize President Museveni’s military adventurism.
President Museveni’s ill-advised intervention in the civil war in South Sudan came after M23, which he backed, suffered temporary military defeat in eastern DRC at the hands of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) in the DRC. At the moment, it is public secret in Uganda that M23 operatives have  not been demobilized by the government; instead, they are undergoing military training in the country. The continued support for M23 fighters by President Museveni might soon undo the commendable work of MONUSCO.

It is apparent to keen observers of the region that President Museveni continues to export conflicts in the region for two interrelated cynical and selfish reasons. The first is to create conditions of instability in countries in the region, which would permit him to turn around to offer himself as a strong ruler who might help solve the instability he himself created in the first place.

And the second reason is to establish weak –not necessarily puppet– leaders who would be beholden to him. Both reasons are intended to enhance his relevance to the big powers, which would consider him an arbiter if not ally in the region.

Given the modus operandi of President Museveni over the past two decades, it is clear that there will unlikely be sustainable peace and security in the region, as long as he is in power.

That is why the recent commendable work of MONUSCO, if it is to yield durable peace, must be backed up by robust and principled actions by big powers. Indeed, unless the big powers send clear signals to the sponsors of instability in the region, followed by severe diplomatic and economic sanctions, the action of MONUSCO might prove to be a false dawn. In fact, if the big powers do not sanction and draw support for the sponsors of instability in the region, they may misconstrue lack of action for approval for their violation of basic international law and human rights.

In order for the fire of instability not to keep on spreading to threaten peace and security, to cause untold suffering to millions of people, as well as to undermine genuine long-term geo-strategic interests of the big powers, the big powers should not view affairs of the region as a zero-sum game.

Indeed, it would be unwise for the big powers to sacrifice important international law and human rights principles on the altar of short-term economic interests and political goals. Certainly, big powers should not offer support to and reward the sponsors of the grim excesses in the region with fulsome praise, by lauding them as a new breed of African leaders. This would not only be myopic politics, but also an insult to the many dedicated and outstanding Africans who are capable of providing balanced and enlightened leadership for the continent, as well to the international community.

As humanitarian crises in the Great Lakes Region of Africa continue to unfold and spiral out of control in the broad light of the twenty-first century, it is not sufficient to preach about ethical policies, and international humanitarian and rule of law.  If we mean what we say and if we are serious about a better world, we should not globalize indifference. Instead, we should individually and collectively commit ourselves to ensure that the tragic pattern of massive violations of human rights in the fabulously mineral rich region does not repeat itself every now and then and numb us to the suffering of our fellow human beings whose fundamental aspirations are simply to live in productive peace.

In the past three decades, too many people and stability have suffered in the Great Lakes Region of Africa principally as a result of the selfish action of a few rulers who care more about their parochial interest to stay in power at all cost than to foster peace, human security and stability that would redound to the greater and common good of all concerned.

Sadly, the wind beneath the wings of the worst dictators in the region has been mostly propelled by the big powers. If the big powers really care, the time has come for them to discard the politics of indifference towards Africans by demonstrating practical and not simply rhetorical solidarity with those who are working to give hope to the people in the region.

Surely, it is not utopian idealism to expect the big powers who preach the gospel of democracy, accountability and an end to impunity, good governance, international law and human rights to take affirmative actions that would discourage malevolent rulers in the region from spreading man-made fires that burn to ashes the aspirations and hope of ordinary Africans.


Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu is UNESCO Chair-holder in Comparative Human Rights.

The University of Connecticut, USA.



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