by mubatsi asinja habati
The documents were designed as a new form of journalism that gives readers the original documents on which the stories are based. So why the denials?
US Assistant of State for Africa, Johnnie Carson, who has over 40 years of foreign and diplomatic service, is one adept word juggler. But his repertoire appears to have been overwhelmed by the effect the now famous WikiLeaks would have on US relations with Africa.
In the case of Uganda, he told journalists in a teleconference on Dec.9 that the relationship between Uganda and the US is growing stronger though complex. That left many wondering what he meant.
Carson equated such leaks, and others touching almost every country in the world where the US has a diplomatic presence, to someone publishing a private conversation between a husband and wife exchanging honest opinions of their in-laws probably saying candidly what they liked and disliked about their actions.
In one of the hundreds of cables on Uganda, US ambassador Jerry Lanier wrote in October 2009 that President Museveni’s €œautocratic tendencies, as well as Uganda’s pervasive corruption, sharpening ethnic divisions, and explosive population growth are eroding Uganda’s status as an African success story.
In another cable President Yoweri Museveni allegedly said Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is an embarrassment and that he fears Libyan leader Muamar Gadaffi wants to assassinate him. Another cable said ministers in the Ugandan government took bribes from oil companies.
Some of the leaked cables are hilarious gossip that the diplomats shared with their superiors in Washington. For example a cable sent by the US ambassador in Johannesburg described South Africa’s President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma as controversial but not well understood personage who emerged from obscurity to where he now occupies the apex of South Africa’s political pyramid. He is deeply loved and revered by his closest constituencies; he is mistrusted by opposition parties; and is hated by those who believe he is wrong for South Africa. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki is described as Thin-skinned and requires â€˜deft handling.
But some cables express the US diplomats frustrations with the leaders of countries they worked in. Leaked cables on Eritrea described Eritrean president as an unhinged dictator. Then US ambassador in Asmara, Ronald K. McMullen, in March 2009 wrote: Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea’s prisons are overflowing, and the countrys unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant. As the diplomats wrote the secret dossiers they would italicize their emphasis on characterization and key assessment points of their subjects.
These unflattering comments were meant to be well kept US diplomatic secrets and were always labeled â€œconfidentialâ€ in caps.
Carson said the cables are property of the United States which WikiLeaks stole, adding that it would be improper to publish those stolen cables just like it is with selling stolen material because it is against the law. Carson obviously has never had of the definition â€œSomething someone wants to suppress.â€ That definition is attributed to Alfred Charles William Harmsworth who later became Lord Northcliffe, the early 20th century British media mogul. He founded the Daily Mirror in 1903 and owned the Times. Lord Northcliffe gained notoriety for, among other things, exposing British national hero Lord Kitchener and Prime Minister Herbert Asquith during World War I.
In an op-ed that sought to explain why he exposes sensitive information in The Australian on Dec.7.Â He alluded to another media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, who once wrote: â€œIn the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always winâ€ and Rupertâ€™s father, Keith Murdoch who revealed that Australian troops were being needlessly sacrificed by incompetent British commanders on the shores of Gallipoli. â€œThe British tried to shut him up but Keith Murdoch would not be silenced and his efforts led to the termination of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.â€
Assange concluded that â€œWikiLeaks is also fearlessly publishing facts that need to be made public.â€
Assange said there should be no secrets that states should keep especially if such secrets involve abuse of human rights. He argues that people need to know what the government says in private and judge if they keep the same face in public.
Elsewhere he has explained that the type of journalism practiced by WikkLeaks, which he calls â€œScientific journalismâ€, is designed to involve the reader in verifying the facts. In this style, WikiLeaks writes a story and also provides the reader with documentary evidence on which it is based. In this way, the reader is left to judge whether the WikiLeaks story is accurate or not.
That has not stopped those fingered in the WikiLeaks from denying, accusing it of fabrications, and threatening suits.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the revelations on WikiLeaks endangered the US national security and the lives of American diplomats. The US Department of State spokesperson said Assange is â€œan anarchistâ€. He said the WikiLeaks are aimed at undermining the US role in resolving world problems. Assange has been thrown into jail, on charges purported to be unrelated to his exposes, and has been denied bail. But the WikiLeakâ€™s continue to leak.
On Dec. 10, under Ref. Number: O9KAMPALA1401 and titled: â€œSubject: Uganda: Tullow Sees corruption in oil sale. The cable, which originated from the US embassy in Kampala on Sept.12, 2010 and was signed offÂ by Ambassador Lanier, contained allegation by oil explorer Tullow Oil that Minister of Security, Amama Mbabazi and Minister of Energy, Hilary Onek had been â€œcompensatedâ€ by Heritage to facilitate the sale of its assets to ENI. It alleged that the compensation or, if you like, bribe was channeled to Mbabazi through a front company in London called TKL Holdings, through a frontmen called Mark Christian and Moses Seruje.
Carson denied the leaks would negatively affect US-Uganda relations. Wikileaks has over 1400 cables on Uganda and has released just a few. Ambassador Carson, perhaps spoke too soon.
What, however, will such an exposure do to the Lanier- Mbabazi relationship? What about US-Uganda relations if President Yoweri Museveni was either aware or involved? Onek and Lanier are silent, Mbabazi has denied the allegation, and Tullow Oil has denounced Lanier.
Paul Nyende, a psychologist at Makerere University Institute of Psychology, knows about secrets albeit of a personal nature. As a counselor, his clients tell him a lot of secrets.
â€œWhen someone entrusts you with secret information they expect some level of confidentiality,â€ he says, â€œIt is important to maintain that confidentiality.â€
Apparently, the American government failed to maintain that confidentiality. What will be the fall out?
Ugandaâ€™s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa issued a statement claiming that the information attributed to President Museveni that he feared his plane could be shot at by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was false. Why? â€œIf that was true Museveni would have suspended travelling abroad,â€ Kutesa said. It is not clear how many people will be convinced by Kutesaâ€™s claim, which incidentally was repeated by President Museveni.
Foreign Affairs top civil servant, Permanent Secretary James Mugume said â€œWikiLeaks is trying to undermine the role of diplomacy and embarrassing governmentsâ€ and that the leaked documents give the assessment of the diplomats as individuals not government.
â€œAmbassadors usually give their honest assessments of situations and such assessments can be true or inaccurate,â€ he said.
But who will believe him when he says the Wikileaks revelations (whether true or false) are â€œinconsequentialâ€ to the Uganda â€“US relations?
The US has moved very fast to play damage control over the leaked embarrassing documents. Carsonâ€™s pep talk with African journalists was part of the damage control. Carson said contrary to widespread speculation about a thaw, the relationship between â€œUganda and the US is growing stronger though complexâ€.Â What did he mean?
According to Nyende: â€œExposing secrets has a net effect of reducing trust in the people and people become very careful and start to suspect each other for leaking the secret information. Many government officials will (henceforth?) not have the luxury to access classified information.
Information sharing via the Internet will likely suffer.
â€œInternet is making it hard to keep information though it is good. People are developing hi-tech software to break into companiesâ€™ secret information, making it a challenge to keep secrets,â€ Nyende said.
Officials at the US embassy in Kampala remain tightlipped about the WikiLeaks.
Joann Lockard, the Public Affairs Officer at the US Mission Uganda, said one of the basic functions of diplomats is to report on developments in the societies in which they serve.Â She said as a policy they cannot comment on documents purporting to contain classified information.Â Joann adds that US relationship with Uganda and the rest of the region is guided by mutual interests and mutual respect and that will not change.
â€œOur diplomats are just that: diplomats. They represent our country around the world, maintain contacts with other governments, and report back to Washington.Â Thatâ€™s what all diplomats do.Â We are proud of the work done by our diplomats around the world. Weâ€™re not going to change what we do because of this (leaked classified documents),â€ she said.