African leaders are the biggest abusers of the concept of pan-Africanism. For them it is a mere rhetorical device that has nothing at all do with practice. Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire traces Yoweri Museveni’s history of collaborating with the West and how he nevertheless still manages to style himself as a pan-Africanist anti-imperialist.
On the evening of 24 November 2016, a statement attributed to the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, was posted on the National Resistance Movement’s Facebook page. It mentioned, among other things, the Libyan crisis. The way in which the commentary on the West was framed in this statement positioned its author as a fighter against Western neo-imperialism in Africa and the world at large.
The writer – we have to assume it is Museveni – cites the crisis in Libya as one instance of the West’s war of aggression. The Ugandan president argues that the current rise of white supremacist regimes in Europe and the United States is partly a response to the migration crisis that has resulted from the wars of aggression launched by his ‘friends’. (In the piece, he identifies the former UK prime minister, David Cameron, and the Democratic Party candidate in the recent US election, Hillary Clinton, as his friends).
He goes on to talk about internal African weaknesses and the failure by contemporary African leaders to defend the continent’s territory from Western neo-imperial attacks. And then, this:
I cannot end this missive without talking about the foreign agents that masquerade as freedom fighters. This is a subject I talk about with a lot of authority. Freedom fighters do not need foreign fighters to fight for them. They fight for themselves. Who fought for us? Genuine revolutions do not need foreign invasions.
“Freedom fighters do not need foreign fighters to fight for them. They fight for themselves. Who fought for us? Genuine revolutions do not need foreign invasions.” Yoweri Museveni.
Many of the stooges of foreign interests or local oppressors spend a lot of time looking for foreign sponsors rather than looking for ways of how to reconcile with their own people. That is the litmus paper test for pseudo-freedomism. Authentic freedom fighters will sustain themselves even if they do not have external support. They certainly do not need foreign troops. Pseudo freedom fighters, on the other hand, are always calling for foreigners to interfere in their affairs.
Museveni does not need to name those he calls ‘pseudo freedom fighters’ who have been courting neo-imperialism to defend ‘African’ freedom. We know he is talking about the Forum for Democratic Change, the major opposition party in Uganda, which insists that it won the February 2016 election. As a way to resolve this electoral dispute, the FDC insists on an ‘international audit’ of the election.
The people’s president
Most recently, Kizza Besigye, the long-suffering party’s presidential candidate, fondly referred to as the people’s president by his supporters, traversed the United States and United Kingdom, talking to Ugandan diaspora groups, opinion shapers and the media about the crisis of legitimacy in the country. He is leading a defiance campaign, which he has couched in the language of ‘freedom fighting’ without the bearing of arms.
You can’t miss the irony of Museveni’s letter, especially its reference to stooges and foreign agents, their long trajectory from the days of slavery, to the colonial era and now to the neo-colonial period. In fact, his practice as the president of Uganda, 30 years and still counting, could be considered those of a stooge of Western interests and not that of a crusader for pan-African solidarity.
The reason that he appears to be a pan-Africanist is his pre-presidential guerrilla activities, which fits the designation of ‘authentic freedom fighting’. From participating in the 1960s FRELIMO liberation war in Mozambique, and in the 1970s anti-Idi Amin struggle, to the 1981-1986 ‘bush war’ that brought him to power, much as he received foreign support, the central actors in the wars were African and Ugandan. But that spirit of self-reliance vanished once he became president.
On the very day his missive was posted, Al Jazeera reported that Uganda was one of the African countries receiving African refugees expelled by Israel. The Israeli expulsion of African refugees is both a violation of international law, according to a 2014 Human Rights Watch report, and is informed by that country’s anti-black racism, as noted by a United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in a 2012 report. Citing other media reports, Al Jazeera revealed how Museveni had ‘cut a secret, high-level deal in which [he] accept[s] refugees in return for arms, military training and other aid from Israel’.
“Al Jazeera revealed how Museveni had ‘cut a secret, high-level deal in which [he] accept[s] refugees in return for arms, military training and other aid from Israel.”
This means that in the 21st century, the government of a self-styled pan-Africanist is part of a racist policy that violates the rights of Africans. Against these facts, how can his meditation on Western neo-imperialism be taken seriously?
This, to be sure, is not the first time Museveni has been a core ally of various United States and United Kingdom governments. Indeed, his role in the Somalia crisis is part of this “friendship” and partnership with Western countries and powers, including the European Union. It is public knowledge that the African Union Mission in Somalia is funded considerably by the same neo-imperialists he berates in his missive. But he considers his role in the war-torn country as an instance of his pan-African anti-imperialist policy at work.
Museveni is understandably still angry that in 2011 the African Union Panel mandated to resolve the crisis in Libya was disrespected and rendered irrelevant by NATO’s imperialist bombing of the country in pursuit of regime change goals. He has a personal reason to be aggrieved, for he was, after all, a member of this panel. His association with this African Union panel serves his other, which is to say pan-African, anti-imperial pretensions. While he has been ‘friends’ with Western powers for 30 years and counting, while he considers Cameron and Clinton – both involved in the Libyan crisis as aggressors – as friends, Museveni still wants us to believe that his anti neo-imperial rhetoric is coherent with his practice. Has pan-Africanism become nothing more than a ‘pick and play’ game for the Ugandan strongman?
Africa at war
Take, for instance, the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo of 1998-2003. Under Museveni’s leadership, without parliamentary approval, Uganda invaded the territory of the DRC in what has become known as Africa’s World War. The war sucked in Rwanda and Burundi on Uganda’s side against the DRC, which was supported by Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Libya and Sudan.
Under Museveni’s leadership, without parliamentary approval, Uganda invaded the territory of the DRC in what has become known as Africa’s World War.
Not only were Ugandan forces accused of violating human rights during the war but the country was also implicated in the illegal exploitation of the DRC’s natural resources. In fact, the US sent its Special Forces to fight alongside Uganda in the east of the DRC, according to a 2004 report in The New Internationalist. The United Nations listed up to 85 Western multinational companies that benefited from this war. Perhaps in Museveni’s expansive lexicon of pan-Africanism, Uganda’s enabling of the exploitation of Congolese minerals and commission of human rights violations can be considered ‘pan-Africanism’? Aren’t these the same issues that animated such fallen pan-African revolutionary heroes as Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, Thomas Sankara, Samora Machel and Amícal Cabral, among others?
A partnership of horses and riders
It is understandable that for Museveni to stay in power for three decades, he has had to ‘co-operate’ with neo-imperialist interests. This co-operation can be called ‘friendship’ or ‘partnership’, but it has a lot in common with the role of the ‘home guards’ and ‘collaborators’ of the colonial era. It is certainly far removed from pan-Africanism. Of course, this does not mean that Museveni’s opponents have to appeal to the same neo-imperialists for support for them to become pan-African freedom fighters. Positioning themselves as better home guards than Museveni and assuring Western white monopoly capital that its interests are safer under their protection is also problematic.
There is no real freedom for the African here; there is no difference between Museveni and his opponents on the question of African self-reliance, on the issues of the global freedom of all Africans, on the continent and in the diaspora.
Neither Museveni nor his opponents is on the side of the Black Lives Matter movement; they do not care for the Fallism movement in South Africa or for other contemporary pan-Africanist movements. The political, economic, social and intellectual freedom of Africans globally, the rallying call of Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and other pan-African prophets, does not mean much to them. For them, the call is only useful for rhetorical purposes.