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Otunnu’s global acclaim and credibility

By Okello Lucima

Critics miss the remarkableness of the US directive on Uganda’s 2011 election that Otunnu wrenched from Congress

Yoga Adhola’s ‘Otunnu is an empty suit’, (The Independent, Oct.5), made many wild claims. His central thesis and assertions that Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party President Olara Otunnu’s Harvard and Oxford education and international career amounted to nothing are contradicted by overwhelming evidence.

First, as Uganda’s UN Representative, Otunnu distinguished himself as a skillful and respected General Assembly and Security Council facilitator. Later, he excelled as UN Undersecretary for Children in Armed Conflict. Before this, Otunnu was President of the International Peace Academy in Washington.

In addition, there is no major global governance initiative in the last two decades that did not have Otunnu’s inputs. From the Panel of Experts who conceptualised and formulated Our Global Neighbourhood; to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Otunnu proved he is a global statesman.

Second, there is hardly any African who is not a head or former head of state whose counsel is sought and respected by leading world figures,  institutions, statesmen and personalities in business, industry and philanthropy, more than Otunnu’s. He has been recognised by Harvard, Australia and Sweden for his distinguished contributions to global governance.

It is this man that for the past year, Adhola has done nothing but try to smear with gutter politics.

For context, Adhola was a prospective candidate for the UPC Presidency in 2010.  In the end, he never competed. Instead, he resorted to vilifying and demonising Otunnu in a futile attempt to scuttle his bid for the UPC presidency. In spite of his efforts, UPC delegates overwhelmingly voted Otunnu Party President on March 14, 2010.

With his propaganda that Otunnu was unelectable repudiated; Adhola proclaimed that the processes were rigged. This was preposterous; the Party elections were organised by an Elections Commission appointed by a Party Cabinet Otunnu was not a member. Three members of that cabinet were candidates for Party President.

Realising he was grasping at straws,  Adhola took refuge in muckraking and throwing anything at Otunnu, in the hope some may stick. The latest is that Otunnu is ignorant of high politics and the projection of American hegemony abroad.

To demonstrate he knows international relations and American foreign policy dynamics better than Otunnu, Adhola restates the mundane that America will do anything to advance its interest, regardless. He seems unaware that within the same administration, the Department of State, the Pentagon and the White House, may not always agree on a particular foreign policy strategy or objective. Moreover, the Senate and the House of Representatives are sometimes poles apart on any major policy issue. Despite statist orientation towards the outside world, each American leader inscribes own idiosyncrasies on certain normative dilemmas.

Adhola misses this point because he views the US from the simplistic, polemical and inflexible bipolarity of a cold war template that allowed no differences between Democrats and Republicans in their approaches to foreign policy options. Yet even within these parties, there is positioning along a continuum of ideological calibrations.

It is such openings which Otunnu and his allies exploited to wrench the Congressional Directives on Uganda.  Just getting this legislation through Congress was remarkable.  But if we believe Adhola and Andrew Mwenda, this should have been unimaginable since Museveni  is feted as the headman of the new breed of African leaders; the indispensable imperial vassal in the Global War on Terror (GWOT);  and the poster boy for neoliberalism in Africa.

Interrogating the logic of this argument further, one discerns serious theoretical discontinuity in Adhola’s assumptions on Museveni and imperialism. If imperialism could abandon Mobutu, Museveni too can go. After years of suffering under Mobutu, Congolese took advantage of the conjunction of increasing American embarrassment with the regime and inter-imperialist rivalries in the region to intensify the struggle to get rid of Mobutu.  This was achieved through lobbying and advocacy that exposed Mobutu’s excesses to embarrass the West to abandon him.

In our case, the last elections and the Congressional Directives presented similar opportunities that democracy-seeking Ugandans should have used to force democratic change.  Adhola believes such efforts were pipe dreams because Museveni’s role in the GWOT in Somalia was a trump card against Otunnu’s global diplomatic networks.  Despite proclaiming himself an astute student of imperialism and anti-imperialist, Adhola’s arguments are blind to the dictum that imperialism has neither permanent enemies nor friends; but only American or British interest.

For Otunnu to pull off the Congressional Directives despite Museveni’s alleged strategic importance to Anglo-American imperialism in Africa undermines Adhola’s thesis on imperialism, while proving Otunnu’s remarkable diplomatic and advocacy skills and deep understanding of the American system and its liberal democratic predilections to reasoned deputations.

Admittedly, the Congressional Directives did not achieve much. But this was due to inability of the opposition to overcome narrow party interests or see the bigger picture necessitating working together. Many failed to recognise the strategic importance of this legislation. For some, because Otunnu spearheaded it, they saw it as a UPC project. Accordingly, they feared any success would leapfrog the UPC President ahead of them as the preeminent opposition leader with national and international clout to stand up to Museveni.

This stance found cover under questionable but convenient intellectual justifications provided by commentators like Mwenda who proclaimed that the FDC had successively eroded Museveni’s support base while increasing its own at every election and stood better than a good chance to defeat Museveni in 2011. Therefore, Otunnu’s crusade for electoral reforms as first order of business for Interparty cooperation was dismissed as idealistic and unrealistic.

By agreeing to go for elections before Museveni complied with international standards for free and fair elections, the opposition disappointed and deprived the Department of State, the White House and international solidarity groups of plausible diplomatic stratagem for supporting regime change agenda.

Otunnu’s detractors can choose to say what they fancy; but who can deny that since his foray into national politics, Museveni has never felt so vulnerable.  Nor can anyone dismiss Otunnu’s commanding international respect and influence; and how singlehandedly and with credibility, he pushed back decades of Museveni orchestrated demonisation and vilification of the UPC at home and abroad.

Okello Lucima is the UPC Spokesperson.

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