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Rugunda Rising or falling?

Obama has nominated Hillary Clinton, a long time Museveni allay as Secretary of State. However, sources say, the Clinton’s got fed up with Museveni whom they now consider as bad a ruler as Africa’s old despots. Indeed, one source said, this is the reason why Bill Clinton has been visiting Rwanda severally since he left the White House without stepping into Uganda. Indeed, Clinton has gotten so close to Rwanda that he appointed President Paul Kagame a member of the board of the Clinton Global Initiative. If this is true, then Museveni has little leverage at the State Department.

Analysts say this is the reason Museveni’s strategy with Obama does not lay in Washington DC but in New York hence the appointment of Rugunda to head the UN mission when Uganda is sitting on the Security Council. Here, analysts say, Obama nominated Susan Rice, another Museveni ally and creator of the concept of the ‘new breed of African leaders’ that was in Vogue in the mid to late 1990s as his ambassador to the UN. Sources say Rice is a close confidant of Obama.

According to analysts, Museveni wants to work through Rice to reach out to Obama . To work well with Rice, Museveni is sending Rugunda, a person known for his soft and balanced approach to issues. ‘Possibly Museveni wants to play a bigger role on the international stage,’ the analyst says, ‘especially because Uganda has been elected to the UN Security Council.’

‘But Obama is making energy and the environment central tenets to US domestic and international policy,’ another analyst said, ‘He is also shifting US policy from the unilateralist posture of the Bush administration towards a more multi-lateral approach.’ This means there is going to be more work done through the UN, thus giving that international body greater clout. Again, if this analysis is correct, then Rugunda’s appointment is going to be important.

Secondly, Obama’s change message could involve a pro-democracy shift which would have powerful implications on its relations with Uganda. The Americans have previously supported democracy in Kenya and other African countries but always left Museveni and Uganda outside this push. This was because Uganda was at the time the leading reformer in Africa and Museveni a new breed of leader. Since governance in Uganda has deteriorated and Museveni’s rule is increasingly perceived to be inching towards that of Africa’s corrupt despots of old, like Mobutu Ssese Seko, American policy towards Uganda may shift from security to democracy.

Fearful of this shift, Museveni needs a face in America that can polish up his increasingly weak credentials. If Rugunda is the man for this job, analysts say, Museveni may even be preparing him for big things. Museveni’s appointment of Rugunda to the UN may be sending a message on the kind of person he thinks can succeed him if global politics make his presidency-for-life project untenable. ‘This would be someone who will not be vindictive towards him, who will not persecute him’ an analyst said, ‘And Rugunda has those credentials.’

Rugunda’s rise in this case would signal a demise of Mbabazi’s star who until recently Museveni has dangled as a possible successor. Temangalo may have left Mbabazi as damaged goods and therefore his stay in cabinet may be under threat.

Rugunda may also have beena appointed in order to sideline Kutesa. With accusations of irregular use of CHOGM funds, Kutesa’s  reputation is in tatters and therefore lacks the profile of someone Museveni needs to defend his regime at the UN.

Museveni is now left with little wriggle-room for his politics. If he has to clobber the opposition at home to stay in power, he will need a different strategy abroad. This is especially under so under an Obama presidency and its changing focus from security to energy and governance.

Obama, analysts say, is going to support a more meaningful reform of the UN to give it a greater role in world affairs. We are likely to see key multi-lateral issues coming back on the UN agenda beginning with the Kyoto Protocol. If the UN’s role and clout increases, and depending on how he plays his cards, Rugunda may emerge as a major player on the world scene and therefore build political capital at home. By design or by default, his current appointment may bolster his political fortunes.

But what would happen if Rugunda’s achievements at the UN increase his political appeal at home? Observers say that Museveni would forever be comfortable with Rugunda because he is the one politician he will not suspect to desire his job and begin plotting to take it behind the president’s back. The best Rugunda can do, sources close to him say, is wait for Museveni to hand him the presidency on a silver platter.

People close to Museveni say the president is least afraid of politicians who never went to the bush and therefore have neither military experience nor close links with the army ‘ his core constituency. Apparently, Museveni thinks that his biggest threat will come from the soldiers-cum-politicians of the type of Kizza Besigye, Jim Muhwezi, David Tinyefuza, Amanya Mushega and Kahinda Otafiire. This, those who know him well say, is the reason he persecuted Tinyefuza and later Besigye with reckless abandon when they sought to challenge his authority.

Analysts say that Rugunda could not have been punished to leave the peace talks because where they are now, there is little more he can do. First, there is an international mediator in the person of the respected former president of Mozambique, Joachim Chisano. Secondly, the people remaining in the bush are the hardliners like Kony who are not responsive to Rugunda’s personable manner and charm.

But the casualty of the changes is Uganda’s debonair deputy at the UN, Adonia Ayebare. Sources at Foreign Affairs say he has been transferred to Uganda’s mission in Addis Ababa to deputise someone junior to him. This, sources say, is because Ayebare has been having a bad relationship with Foreign minister Sam Kutesa. Sources say Kutesa disliked Ayebare because the youthful diplomat had direct access to the president, a factor that his boss mistook for insubordination.

Ayebare’s allies say he has networked well at the UN and campaigned well for Uganda to go on the Security Council. In bypassing him, Museveni has once again neglected the young in favour of the old in a key appointment. This, sources say, is different from what Milton Obote did in 1980 when he retained Olara Otunnu as head of mission in New York when he was in his mid 30s. In fact, observers say, Obote listened to young people and Otunnu’s advice was always taken seriously.

For example, when Uganda was elected to the Security Council, Prime Minister Otemma Alimadi led a group within government which argued that the nation should use the opportunity to repair Obote’s reputation abroad and promote Uganda’s national interest. Otunnu, on the other hand, argued that Uganda was a poor and obscure nation incapable of using its position on the Council to promote its national interests without clout.

In a heated debate at State House, Otunnu advised that to develop clout on the Council, Uganda would need to stand in support of key moral issues of a global nature. This posture would earn it respectability among other nations and thereby give it the clout to promote its own national agenda. Obote listened carefully, asked many questions and finally decided that Otunnu’s position was the best. Otunnu went on to become the most prominent diplomat Uganda has ever produced.

‘Obote empowered young people to contribute to the shaping of national policies,’ a Foreign Affairs official told The Independent, ‘But now you can see that people like Adonia who have worked on the Burundi peace process, who have developed strong international networks are being by passed! Rugunda will leave the UN to retire to his home given his age. This job should have gone to someone young who has immense possibilities for career growth like Otunnu did in the 1980s.’

Whatever may be said about Rugunda’s appointment, one thing is certain. He is a widely respected person in Uganda and abroad whose record in public service has little blemishes. He has been a long serving minister of Internal Affairs who has presided over various attacks on individual freedoms. Yet these actions have not dented his image as a nice guy ‘ his admirers even say he cannot harm a fly.

If New York is a demotion, then will Rugunda follow the example of Edward Rugumayo who declined appointment as ambassador to Paris after being dropped from cabinet and Tom Butiime who turned down Museveni’s job as state minister for Karamoja? And if it is really to place him at the centre of international power-politics, will he use his position well to build sufficient domestic and international standing to either grow higher in the international system or use his credentials to return to the Ugandan political scene for bigger things? Only time will tell.

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