Western Diplomats have a point in Uganda President Yoweri Museveni Swearing-in Walk Out

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William G Naggaga…

Uganda President Museveni’s latest ‘diplomatic spat’ with Western countries did not start on May 12, 2016 when diplomats from the US, European Union and Canada walked out of the swearing-in ceremony for his fifth term of office as an elected president.

It started with the open criticism of the conduct of the February 18 presidential election, which both the EU countries and the US said were not free and fair and did not meet acceptable international standards. They criticised the Electoral Commission and the security organs in particular the Uganda Police for openly displaying partisanship.

Observers from the Commonwealth, headed by the former Nigerian Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo, drew similar conclusions although their criticisms were a bit ‘tamer’. The observers from the African Union and the East African Community, however, gave the elections ‘a clean bill health’. One wonders if they were observing the same election!

President Museveni’s invitation to President Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan to the swearing-in ceremony and his reference to the ICC as “a bunch of useless people” was seen as deliberately provocative, giving our main development partners the excuse to walk out of a ceremony they were not comfortable with anyway.

This sparked criticism from government officials and NRM supporters, calling it hypocritical and questioning the moral integrity of those countries whose envoys walked out. The latest criticism has come from Rosa Whitaker, a former senior US State Department official now a handsomely paid lobbyist for Uganda and many African countries. Ms Whitaker said in an article in Daily Monitor recently that the behaviour of US officials “reeked of arrogance and did not serve US interests’’.

According to Whitaker, the US had no business joining the EU countries in the walk-out since it is not a member of the ICC. She went on to heap praises on African leaders and President Museveni in particular and naturally did not question the conduct of the election even though her government had condemned it. As someone who makes a living from representing some African governments in the US establishment, Ms Whitaker can be forgiven for her one-sided article. With good governance, Africa would not need lobbyists to do the work of its embassies.

The envoys were right to walk out because of the presence of an internationally wanted suspect like Bashir who has been accused of committing atrocities against his own people in Darfur. On the other hand, one wonders why the EU and the US should have honoured the invitation in the first place; after publicly doubting the authenticity of the electoral process that produced the results.

These countries could have stayed away, to underpin to their public pronouncements regarding the flawed elections instead of ‘hiding’ behind the invitation of Bashir and condemnation of the ICC by the host. Much as it was commendable, the walk-out actually diverted attention from the contested elections to the ICC, which has few friends in the African Union.

It is true that more Africans have been referred to the Hague Court than people from other regions but this should not be an excuse to block the ICC from pursuing Africans who had committed atrocities against their own people. Incidentally, in 2004, Uganda became one of the first countries in the world to refer a case to the then two-year old ICC, leading to the indictment of LRA’s Joseph Kony and four others, one of whom, Dominic Ongwen, is currently on trial at the Hague. Kony and others are either dead or still on the run in DR Congo and Central African Republic.

Bashir and Museveni were then sworn enemies, with Museveni supporting the SPLA of South Sudan who were fighting a bitter liberation war against Khartoum while Bashir was supporting Kony and his murderous LRA.

William Naggaga is a Ugandan economist, administrator and retired ambassador.

This article was first Published by Uganda’s Daily Monitor Newspaper