Eye on Africa: US Congress fails democracy
WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Congress causes great damage to Africa's development every time it supports a dictator.
Most major conflicts in the region can be traced to this irresponsible policy: Angola, Congo, Liberia, Somalia, etc. Last week, Congress did exactly that when it created the Congressional Caucus on Uganda -- the third such caucus focusing on Africa in history. The negative implications of this action reach beyond what U.S. lawmakers could imagine.
In a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., wrote:
"The purposes of the Caucus include improving relations and communications between the United States and Uganda; providing up-to-date information about common interest items to Members of Congress and their staffs; working to identify good policy ideas in each others' country and seeing how these might be applied elsewhere; and recognizing the common concerns of our two countries, including (but not limited to) our mutual efforts to combat terrorism in Africa and around the globe, to ensure or bring about peace and stability in Northern Uganda as well as in other regions of Africa, and the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS."
Museveni is a dictator. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, he allows only one political organization, the Movement, to operate unfettered. As chairman of the Movement, Museveni maintains it is not a political party, but rather a mass organization that claims the loyalty of all Ugandans. He promoted the suspension of all political parties while the Movement organization is in governance.
"Politicians challenging the de facto single-party state and the 18-year rule of Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, are often detained, severely beaten and threatened with death by the uncontrolled security apparatus," Human Rights Watch charges in its March 2004 report titled "The State of Pain: Torture in Uganda." Museveni faces a serious and bloody rebellion in the north, which has left 1.5 million of his countrymen homeless. As should be expected, the 17-year old insurrection is a response to his dictatorship.
Congress should not empower Museveni's intelligence services to shape U.S. Africa policy as a new secretary of State prepares to take office. His government claims democracy does not work in Africa. He has resisted political freedom for 18 years.
Museveni's ruthless regime has caused untold number of deaths in the Great Lakes region. Uganda supported the exiled Tutsi rebellion that precipitated the 1994 genocide, killing nearly a million Rwandans. Along with Rwanda, Uganda has invaded Congo twice in the last eight years. Both countries claimed to pursue rebels. Yet, no major fights have been recorded between Ugandan troops and rebels in Congo. However, Ugandans fought the Rwandans in Congo several times for control of the diamond and gold trade, a significant diversion from their declared goal. In its recent survey, the International Rescue Committee estimates 3.9 million Congolese have died as a result of the never-ending conflict. Still, Museveni continues to arm militias in northeastern Congo.
Last year's report by the U.N. Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources accused both Rwanda and Uganda of prolonging the war so they could siphon off Congo's wealth with the help of multinational corporations. Neither Uganda nor Rwanda has significant deposits of gold, diamonds and coltan, but both countries have become important exporters of these minerals. A sixth of all companies cited in the U.N. report are based in Uganda. The panel recommended international travel and financial restrictions against both Lt. Gen. Salim Saleh, Museveni's half-brother, who controlled six of those companies, and Maj. Gen. James Kazini, former chief commander of the Ugandan People's Defense Forces.
Rep. Smith and his colleagues should heed President Bush's words at Whitehall Palace in London last November: "Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold."
The people of Uganda need continuous assistance to fight HIV/AIDS. Congress should grant them targeted cooperation with the United States to stem the scourge. However, Uganda is obviously part of the problem in the Great Lakes region. With the exception of a successful campaign against HIV/AIDS, there is little in Uganda that can be applied elsewhere in Africa -- let alone in the world.
As vice-chairman of the House Committee on International Relations, Rep. Smith is certainly aware of Museveni's record. U.S. lawmakers need to treat him accordingly. As taxpayers, our foreign policy would be better served in Africa if members of Congress and their staffs did not depend on Museveni for their analysis of the volatile Great Lakes region.
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