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Empire Or Africa


While on a visit to the U.S, last week, Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni paid visit to the halls of the Wall Street Journal. Thursday, a piece submitted by the President appeared in the Journal’s pages and Friday the editorial board sang the leader’s praises.

In his article, “We Want Trade Not Aid”, Museveni argues in favor of the WTO, economic liberalization and U.S. benevolence. Museveni applauds the WTO, declaring that, “its decisions are binding and enforceable. It reaches those decisions by consensus. Regardless of size or per capita GDP, each member state has an effective veto. That power gives Africa a real say.”

Anyone who pays attention to WTO negotiations must immediately recognize the misleading nature of Museveni’s comments. The notion that all countries have equal control over WTO outcomes is formally true, however, in reality it is the most powerful countries that dominate. And as for “binding and enforceable”, that depends on whether or not you can be pushed around – the U.S. regularly ignores WTO rulings.

Yet Museveni insists that “Africa [has] a real say” at the WTO. He maintains this position despite its inconsistency with a widely held understanding in both the business and left press that this is not the case. So in what tangible way has this “say” in the WTO helped Africa?

The advent of the WTO to the present day has seen a stagnation of GDP in Africa. “According to World Bank statistics, gross national income per-capita in sub-Saharan Africa actually declined by 0.2 percent from 1990 to 2001. Life expectancy has decreased over the past two decades, and the number [and percentage] of people living in poverty has increased steadily. (Washington Post June 10, 2003) Additionally in recent years there has been a decrease in both Africa’s share of world trade and foreign direct investment. Even according to these capitalist economic indicators, it is clear that the past eight years of the WTO and the previous 10 years of neoliberal reforms have been devastating for the continent.

A more direct example of the harm caused by the WTO is its block on generic drug importation (the recent agreement thus far has done little to change the situation.). It is now a widely understood that this has exacerbated numerous public health crises, most notably HIV/AIDS. But according to the Wall Street Journal editorial “Museveni argued that future drug innovation depends on the incentive effects that patents provide….he said that any rules on patent exemptions should be limited to cases of real health emergency.” Implicit within this statement is an assertion that present circumstances in Africa do not meet the criteria of a “real health emergency”. In light of the fact that millions across the continent die of sleeping sickness, malaria amongst other diseases and that “about two million of Uganda’s estimated 23 million people have HIV [and] only 10,000 AIDS patients are getting anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment.”, that is hard to swallow. (httcc//www.worldvision.org.nz/news/archive/20021017_00.asp )

Leaving aside the present health crisis, it is still a mystery why Museveni would concern himself with G7 nations’ intellectual property agreements when Uganda has little industry dependent on intellectual property. Sure, a new computer or drug may benefit a handful of Ugandans, but these technologies are developed almost entirely in rich nations with minimal benefits to Uganda’s economy. And the costs of accepting rich nations’ IP agreements (WTO’s TRIP’s) manifested in bans on certain generic drug importation and technology copying are so high, that this decision makes little sense. Even those who hold fast to the idea that strong patents encourage innovation of technologies must acknowledge the absence of adequate funding for the research of diseases beneficial to Africa. The Guardian Weekly reports that “according to MSF [Medecin Sans Frontieres], neglected diseases, which threaten the lives of tens of millions of people, mainly in Africa, accounted in 2002 for less than 0.001% of the $60-70bn spent a year on medical research throughout the world. (June 5)” The Guardian continues, “most of the treatments now available in Africa were devised during the colonial period and destined for use by the white population, or else developed by the US army with the aim of protecting its soldiers.”

In fairness to Museveni, he does put forward an idea about how Africa can get drugs. He argues that, “if there were no agricultural subsidies (in America and Europe) we would earn enough money to buy all the drugs we want.” How is this anything other than a statement that Africa should forever be subordinate through a reliance on the exportation of primary commodities? The essence of this proposition is that Africa will produce agricultural exports while the Northern countries will produce value added products such as drugs. Historically it is clear that this economic outlook, with one region producing the high tech products and the other region agriculturally based, will not greatly improve the lot of the primary commodity producing nation.

Further along Museveni presents yet another unique strategy in his stated goal of restructuring world trade in favour of Uganda and the African continent, asserting that “we would not be pawns for the self-interested agendas of other, more advanced, developing countries [so called G21 at recent WTO talks in Cancun] in Asia and Latin America.” Presumably Museveni prefers Uganda to be a pawn of the U.S., not a self-interested nation. He goes on to say that “I am convinced U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick is serious about achieving an outcome that will unlock Africa’s stifled economic potential.” Sort of like how Donald Rumsfeld is trying to unlock Iraq’s democratic potential?

In all seriousness, Museveni’s claim is a slap in the face of huge numbers of those that he is supposed to represent, one example being the coffee growers who tend to Uganda’s main export. Museveni fails to point out that it was the U.S little over 10 years ago that initiated the dismantling of the International Coffee Agreement. This agreement helped to stabilize world coffee prices. Its collapse led to a fall in prices of more than 40 per cent within two months and more recently, as highlighted by Oxfam, prices have dropped drastically (Not for a cup of Joe, but for, mostly small scale coffee producers). “According to USAID, the worldwide slump in coffee prices reduced the value of Uganda coffee exports to $80 million in 2002, compared to $457 million in 1995.” (http://www.unaaboston.com/Forums/business.htm)

Rather than criticize the U.S.’ actions, Museveni has shown wholehearted support for U.S policies in recent times. Despite extremely low popular support Museveni undermined the Minister for International Affairs and added Uganda’s name to the so-called coalition of the willing. And two months ago in contradiction to the Minister of Animal Industry he decided to open the country to GM crops, even though the country’s major agricultural export market, Europe, still prohibits them.

The word expressed in Museveni’s commentary and the Journal’s editorial highlight his unabashed submission to U.S power. They also highlight his reward; a freer hand for his own domestic actions.

For Museveni, the flip side of snuggling up to U.S power is, well, little. Mention of his domestic policies and the direction of his leadership that is. While the Journal’s editorial board was quick to point out Museveni’s interests in the wellbeing of his fellow Africans, they failed to mention that last week the International Court of Justice at The Hague started receiving evidence of Uganda’s acts of armed aggression against the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ugandan government is accused of “causing widespread deaths of Congolese nationals” (The Monitor Nov 9, 2003).The Journal also fails to mention that a report released by the U.N. last week documents continued plundering of the Congo by Ugandan interests. (A handful of Canadian companies are also there)

Uganda has been sending their own troops and funding (Congolese) guerillas, playing an influential role in the events that have led to the deaths of an estimated 3.5 million in the Congo over the last five years. (Toronto Star, Nov.9) Most of these have been from disease and starvation, disastrous effects of instability. One particularly disturbing component that has emerged from this conflict is an epidemic of rape. The Toronto Star reports that “gang rape has been so violent, so systematic, so common in eastern Congo during the country’s five years of war that thousands of women are suffering from vaginal fistula, leaving them unable to control bodily functions and enduring ostracism and the threat of debilitating lifelong health problems.” (Nov.9)

Its within this horrific context that last week, “a confidential report by a United Nations panel has concluded that Rwanda and Uganda continue to plunder the natural resources [Ugandan interests deal in gold, diamonds, coltan, timber, and rare animal species] in the Democratic Republic of Congo despite having ended their occupation of Africa’s third-largest nation.” (Boston Globe 11/6/2003) “The new UN report accuses Ugandan officials of continuing to funnel arms to Congolese rebels [especially in the northeastern province of Ituri, where ethnic violence has claimed thousands of lives this year] even after Uganda withdrew its troops (BG 11/6/2003).”

The Globe goes on to say, “but the panel kept under wraps a 12-page section implicating Rwandan, Ugandan, and Congolese politicians in illegal activities, which was shared only with the UN Security Council.” Still, however, we know “a separate Ugandan commission of inquiry, whose work was completed earlier this year, implicated some senior officials in ransacking Congo, notably Salim Saleh, the half-brother of President Yoweri Museveni.” With all this evidence of Ugandan involvement in the Congo, it is safe to say that Museveni either passively accepts or actively promotes the continued conflict and resulting massacres in the Congo. But why should he worry, the Wall Street Journal (and Bush administration) doesn’t seem to care.

The Journal has also maintained silence with regards to Museveni’s role in Uganda’s mysteriously long northern civil war. It is difficult to understand why this war has been ongoing for 17 years, however, a recent report and conference on the conflict summarised by Professor Dani W. Nabudere is illuminating. In The Monitor, Uganda’s most widely read non-governmental paper, Nabudere writes “what was significant about the report was that it reversed the explanations that had hitherto been given to the effect that the war in Acholi [northern subsection of Uganda] was the extension of the war of the “Luwero Triangle” because of the atrocities that were committed there allegedly by the Acholi soldiers in the Uganda National Liberation Army-UNLA under Obote II. [Former president Milton Obote’s second and far more bloody 6-year reign following the overthrow of Idi Amin in 1979]” (Nov9)

“The report has instead postulated that the “sculls” and the atrocities committed there were themselves the consequence of an ethnic-oriented war that was initiated by the NRM [National Resistance Movement, which Museveni led] and its army-NRA in the “Triangle” against the ‘northerners’ who were accused of “dominating” Uganda’s post-independence politics and that this had happened because of their control of the Uganda armed forces.”

“The war was intended to end this ‘domination.’ Thus the objective of the war was for a certain clique of politicians led by Yoweri Museveni and Prof. Yusuf Lule (RIP) to seize political power and impose a new one-party dictatorship on the country by exploiting the ethnic factor.”

”The report has argued that this ethnicisation of politics in Uganda had in fact obscured other more important contributors to the conflict in the north. The first was that it obscured the regional and global dimension of the conflict.”

”The report points to the existence of ample evidence to prove that the support given to the Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Movement (LRA) by the governments of Sudan, which is given as one of the reasons for pursuing the war, was itself a response by Sudan to the support given by Uganda to the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement and its army (SPLM/A) among other considerations.”

”The report points out that this regional aspect was part of a wider conflict in which the US was advancing its global agenda in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Regions.”
“At the time, it wanted to combat the existence of the Islamic Fundamentalist regime in Sudan. The US also supported Uganda’s “Operation Iron Fist” inside Sudan as a result of its change in policy, but as the report shows, this has complicated further the conflict within Uganda.”

“The report also reveals that the events of 9/11 have added a further dimension to the Acholi conflict in that the Bush administration has designated the LRA to be a “foreign terrorist organisation.This has had the effect of categorizing the bulk of the Lords Resistance Army-LRA, which is composed of 85% of the abducted children, “international terrorists”!”

“This implies that children who were abducted against their will and are fighting as unwilling agents can be so categorised when it is the duty of the Uganda government to protect them from the abduction in the first place.”

But the journal felt no need to raise any questions about an awful 17 year old conflict that Museveni has and continues to use in the maintenance of a democratically deficient one party system.

Nor did the Journal mention Museveni’s highly dangerous and undemocratic plan to change the constitution to run again for office (or his recent shutdown of The Monitor newspaper). Museveni’s been in power since 1986 and he is serving his second and last constitutional term ending in 2006, according to the 1995 Constitution. In addition, Museveni made a written commitment in his 2001 election manifesto that he would not run again when his present term ends.

Nevertheless, the Ugandan cabinet has backed a controversial constitutional amendment which seeks to scrap the two five-year term limit for the president. However, “a secret survey recently conducted by the World Bank found that the majority of Cabinet ministers do not approve of the so called ‘Project Third Term’ – only that they are too scared to publicly say so. (The Monitor October 13, 2003)” When a couple of cabinet members, including a founding member of the NRM, spoke out against Museveni’s plans to change the constitution, Museveni responded by purging those critical of his attempt to have another go at the presidency in 2006.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Museveni is desperate to stay in power. To do so he needs some influential international backing. Thus far the Europeans don’t seem excited by the prospects. Those visits to Washington are for a reason.

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