For people not familiar with the Great Lakes region of Africa, Joseph Kabila, Paul Kagame and Kaguta Museveni are presidents of Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda respectively. They have been in power for 10, 17 and 25 years correspondingly.
The three presidents have a few things in common. They are all ex rebels and consequently undemocratic. In fact their style of leadership from the time they were in the bush did not change much once they took power. They are oppressive and don’t tolerate dissent voices. They kill, torture, and imprison their opponents, journalists and human rights activists. Their political powers are concentrated among a restricted circle of cronies. They use disproportionally their governments’ money for their enrichment leaving significantly aside the care of their respective populations in their different and complex needs. They exploit national resources and sometimes their neighbours’ for their own benefit and also their sponsors in the West for whom they act as proxies.
Since the start of 2011 the world is experiencing an unprecedented wind of democracy which begun in Tunisia with the martyr of Mohammed Bouazizi. Social uprising is sweeping the Middle East and Northen Africa. Other parts of the African continent are also theatres of political awakening though they don’t receive as much media coverage as these two other regions. Tunisia, Egypt and today Libya are three African and Arab countries which haven’t influenced each other politically as much as Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, have. Interferences have particularly been frequent in recent years. I want to highlight here only how this translates in each country as much as political space is concerned.
On February 18th, 2011 Ugandans went to vote for their new President and members of Parliament. As in previous elections of the last two decades Kaguta Museveni rigged massively the votes. I even learnt that one of the main opposition parties’ leaders Mr Otunu was not able to vote because his name had been removed from the voters’ register. In Rwanda, people remember what happened on August 9th, 2010 when Paul Kagame competed against himself because he had refused even registrations of political parties from the opposition. All his opponents he hadn’t killed are either in prison or in exile. Democratic Republic of Congo goes into elections at the end of 2011 or early 2012. We shouldn’t expect much of a different scenario of what we have observed in the two other mentioned countries of the region.
From 1990 to 1994 Kaguta Museveni supported Paul Kagame militarily and politically until he took power in Rwanda. In 1996/97, the coalition consisting of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo and put in power their crony Laurent Kabila. He was later killed when he tried to free himself from their influence. The coalition has now Joseph Kabila in place. He has to abide by the injunctions of Paul Kagame particularly. Since the second war of Congo in 1998, a significant fraction of DRC is indirectly politically and economically controlled by Rwanda and Uganda. These two countries have found official pretexts of battling against their rebels to be constantly on DRC soil.
I mentioned above the style of leadership of the three leaders who are ruling in the three countries. Their way of running their countries won’t change in the right and desirable direction which would offer their citizens more political space to raise their views. Instead, as the time goes, they become more and more oppressive.
The three presidents came into power through the same route of rebellions, the elder playing the role of mentor to the younger one. Of course each one of them has their own personality. They have all put a personal touch on the way they rule. And it won’t be wrong to note that Paul Kagame has been the most criminal from the group, considered the death toll in the whole Great lakes region he is responsible of.
For many years in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC, there have been voices calling for democratic change, but they have been violently sidelined and silenced so far. Most of the time because they are addressing their national political issues in isolation to the prevailing context from the rest of the region where they are confronted against a sort of political mafia, where Kaguta Museveni has played the Godfather. This whole structure includes also Burundi.
Calling for political change in one of these countries without considering that people have against them a well structured mafia type of system with self-enhancing mechanisms and strategies is somehow wasting their own energies for nothing. Unlike in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, where leadership in these countries isn’t mentored through each other, to bring change in Uganda, Rwanda or Democartic Republic of Congo, those seeking democracy need to work together more than they have done so far. Consequently, the message which says that ‘Kabila, Kagame and Kaguta Must Go’ should be a slogan to be adopted in the region for understandable reasons.
On the one hand, there are all UN reports which point to these leaders as responsible of unimaginable atrocities committed in the region. These are UN Mapping Report, Gersony and Garreton, Del Ponte, ex-Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Yugoslavia has also published an interesting book on the issue. On the other, I hardly for example see DRC having a sustainable political and economic future, whoever would be the leading personality in that country, as long as Kagame or Kaguta are still ruling in their respective countries. The reason being that they have vested interests in DRC politics and structures, particularly in Kivu and Oriental provinces, or even the national army, that chances of the country becoming an independent entity without their influence are very slim.
On Saturday April 9th 2011, Ugandans had a public protest in front of their embassy in Trafalgar square London. They want democracy to prevail in Uganda. Among their many demands they would like to see a re-run of general elections which would this time be free and fair; they also want to see appointed a new non-partisan and independent electoral commission, and also that all armed forces to be withdrawn from providing security during elections and replaced by Ugandan police for that purpose. One of the cardboards displayed could read, ‘Kabila, Kagame, Kaguta, Must Go.