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Museveni anti-gay misstep

By Joseph were

From American protégé to near pariah

When former President Idi Amin Dada died in August 2003, an American professor, Dr Ralph Nurnberger, published an article in The magazine of International Economic Policy under the title; “Why Sanctions (Almost)Never Work”.

Dr Nurnberger, who is an expert on foreign aid, arms sales, and peace process issues, revealed in that article how a sanctions regime pursued by a few influential and determined individuals can strangle an economy and, possibly, lead to regime change.


Amin’s American sanctions troubles started innocuously via a young man called William Goold, who had written his university thesis on the Ugandan economy.

Back home in the US, Goold became a legislative assistant to Congressman Donald J. Pease. In the first years of his rule, American presidents and Congressmen had feted Amin. But what the congressman from Ohio, who had never set foot in Africa, heard from Goold about the later years of Uganda’s Amin disturbed him.

According to Nurnberg, Goold described how Amin’s actions led to the deaths of approximately 300,000 people, widespread torture and economic deprivation. Donald Pease, who was new in Congress in 1977, decided to focus on Uganda.

Nurnberger writes that Pease and others in Congress determined that by 1977, the export of coffee accounted for 97% of all Ugandan exports and source of foreign capital to buy imports and pay the army. They decided to target them.

The US, at 7%, was the dominant buyer of the coffee, followed by the UK, the Netherlands, France, Japan, and West Germany. Together they consumed 75% of Ugandan coffee by 1977 when Pease started his sanctions campaign.

Peace convinced a House subcommittee to pass a boycott bill of Uganda coffee. Then on October 10, 1978, then-President Jimmy Carter signed a total trade ban on Uganda. Seven months later, in April 1979, Amin was overthrown and fled into exile.

Does America still matter?

Debate of the efficacy of sanctions and the ambition by foreign powers to influence regime change emerged after June 19, when the US announced sanctions against Uganda.

The sanctions include visa restrictions on some Ugandan officials implicated in corruption and human rights abuses, including violations of rights people of various sexual orientations collectively called Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTIs).

The US also cut US$2.4 million from its assistance to police, and re-located some assistance to the Health Ministry to NGO projects. It also cancelled plans to conduct joint military aviation exercises for the East African region in Uganda.

But President Yoweri Museveni is not Amin.

He was undeterred by opposition from the US when, on Feb.24, he signed the Anti-homosexuality Act 2014 into law and says those penalising him for criminalising homosexuality are engaged in “social imperialism” and trying “to impose social values of one group on our society.”

“I would advise Western countries, this is a no-go area,” he said as he signed the Act into law, “I don’t mind being in a collision course with the West. I am prepared.”

Although quiet diplomacy goes on away from the media, when they stand in front of media cameras and microphones, almost all Museveni government officials say what America says does not matter.“Let them keep their aid” has become their refrain.It is too early to see clearly what the impact of the U.S. sanctions will be.

Despite Museveni’s bravado, however, the Uganda economy is already hurting from his collision with donors. Aid cuts that are now entering the third year have combined with poor performance by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) which recorded a revenue shortfall for the first time in years.

There is anxiety as the 2016 election year approaches because off the book government expenditures have, in the past, caused macro-economic turbulence. Therefore, the timing of the U.S. sanctions appears designed to inflict maximum chaos in the economy.

It might also explain why they were announced on June 19; exactly a week after the government had announced the FY2014/15 national budget allocations. The government now has to return to its Excel sheets and adjust the numbers on health, police, and the military, which were directly mentioned by the U.S. But clearly, neither America’s aid nor trade can cause regime change in Uganda.

America still drinks Uganda coffee

Coffee remains the leading Ugandan originated export to the world at 18% of aggregate figures for 2011 and the USA still drinks Ugandan coffee; U.S$18 million worth of it in 2011, according to figures provided by the Uganda Economic Policy Research Centre.

But, today, the U.S. consumption of Uganda coffee is just 0.6% of its exports and the aggregate of all Ugandan exports to the USA is just 1.3% of the total Ugandan exports.

The U.S’s trade still counts in Uganda, but it can no longer be leveraged to cause regime change. It remains insignificant even when combined with the EU, to which Ugandan sent about 20% of its exports in 2011.

But if the U.S. and its EU allies cannot use trade to hurt Uganda, they must find another weapon – development aid appears perfectly designed for the purpose. Foreign aid creates dependence. Withdraw it, and socio-economically spurred political chaos could erupt.

The Spokesperson of the U.S. Mission in Uganda, Daniel Travis, told The Independent in an email that in Fiscal Year 2013, total U.S. government assistance to Ugandan was approximately US$723 million (Approx. Shs1.8 trillion). That is a lot of money. It is equivalent to what the government has budgeted in the FY 2014/15 budget for four ministries; Health, Agriculture, ICTs, and Trade and Industry).

According to Travis, the U.S. money includes US$323 million for PEPFAR programs, US$116 million for other (non-PEPFAR) health programs, US$153 million for other foreign assistance (including, but not limited to, USAID’s Feed the Future program, environmental programs, and educational programs), US$129 million in military assistance, and US$1 million in assistance through Peace Corps programs.

Such money or foreign aid is America’s favoured tool of diplomacy among poor countries that are not its strategic military concerns. It is often disbursed through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The figures will only change slightly in the 2014/15 FY.

The Uganda government has budgeted for US$186.9 million as external assistance to the health sector in the midterm which makes USAID’s contribution quite significant at about 85% of all assistance.

U.S. funding for USAID remains quite low, at about US$20.1 billion in FY2015. Taken together with the budget for the State Department of State, their budget comprises just 1% of the U.S. federal budget or US$46.2 billion in FY2015. Its base budget of US$40.3 billion was the same figure in FY2014.

As early as 2011, USAID was spending US$213.9 million in Uganda and US$218.5 in 2012.

The bulk of USAID’s money goes into health at US$158.7 million in 2012 and US$157.9 million in 2011.

Of the USAID health monies, the bulk, US$105.4 million went to HIV/AIDS programmes in 2011 and US$100.4 million in 2012. Another significant chunk goes into malaria. This, according to current information, is unlikely to change in the near future – with or without sanctions.

The peace and security are normally nominally funded by USAID at less than US$O.2 million.

American foreign aid is low because development aid programmes are among the most unpopular programs among the public in the US. That is President Barrack Obama’s problem. It is the reason America’s friends no longer count on it, and its adversaries no longer fear it, to use the words of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

Growing anti-Museveni sentiment

Museveni has, for most of his 28 years in power, been both America’s friend and pointsman in the Great Lakes region and on the War on Terror.

Travis has confirmed that Museveni is among the selected African leaders expected to travel to the U.S to attend the meeting with President Obama next month. Museveni has confirmed that he will attend and has recently been seen in the company of seasoned lobbyists, including Rosa Whitaker, of the Rosa Whitaker Group, which arranges meeting with critical people in the U.S. on such trips.

Clearly, the anti-homosexuality issue is a bad distraction.

The Independent has attempted to establish the extent of LGBTI incidence in Uganda and found difficulty because most figures are an extrapolation based on studies done elsewhere, especially in the U.S.

Based on these, it is estimated that approximately 1.4% of any human population would be homosexuals. Since Uganda has an estimated population of 36 million people, the population of gays could be 500,000. However, about 60% of the population are not sexually active – they are too young, too old, sick or abstaining. That leaves about 14 million potentially sexually active Uganda of whom about 200,000 could be potentially engaged in homosexual acts, which are now outlawed. Since the law was enacted, however, there has not been any prosecution of gay persons.

But at the same time as America announced sanctions against Uganda, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a book in which she revealed the extent to which anti-Museveni sentiments were gaining in the Obama White House.

A reporter for The Observer newspaper in Uganda recently revealed that “although the US has just imposed sanctions over the anti-homosexuality law, it has emerged that the Obama administration has been working to isolate Uganda for three years”.

It also shows Hillary Clinton’s determination to ensure that governments that abuse the rights of LGBTIs are punished by America.

In the book titled; `Hard Choices’, Hillary Clinton says Uganda caught her eye when its Parliament embarked on the process of enacting the Anti-Homosexuality Act, and following the death of a gay rights activist David Kato in 2011.

The Observer story quotes Hillary Clinton saying: “David was killed in what police said was a robbery but it was more likely an execution. Like many people in Uganda and around the world, I was appalled that the police and government had done little to protect David after public calls for his murder. But this was about more than police incompetence”.

Clinton reveals that when she talked to President Museveni about the crackdown on gays in Uganda, “he (Museveni) ridiculed my concerns.”

She says at that point, the U.S. needed to take a stand on the matter and, as secretary of state; she decided that the U.S. needed to review its foreign policy and relationship with openly anti-gay countries.

“From now on, the United States would take into account the LGBT human rights record of a country when appropriating foreign aid. This kind of policy has a real chance of influencing the actions of other governments,” she writes, according to The Observer.

That is the U.S. policy.

Soon after Museveni signed the Anti-homosexuality law, Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch who had been based in Uganda for a long time, said the signing signalled that “quiet diplomacy up to the final moment clearly has failed”.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Feb. 26 said his government thinks the anti-gay movement had become a global problem.

“We are wrestling with it and we are going to as we go forward.”

Idi Amin was likened to Adolf Hitler of Germany. Secretary of State Kerry likened Uganda’s Anti-homosexual law to Nazi-Germany’s denial of the rights of Jews and apartheid South Africa’s denial of the rights of blacks. Amin was toppled seven months after President Carter slapped sanctions on him. Observers are watching the clock for Museveni.

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Additional reporting by Haggai Matsiko

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