How well is democracy working in four of the US government’s partner/client/proxy states in East Africa? Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda are all presently in election cycles. Are US military partnerships enabling these countries to become more representative and democratic?

Kagame’s leading challenger in the presidential election scheduled for August is Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. Kagame, who has not allowed her to register her candidacy, jailed her briefly a month ago, and today (May 28, 2010) he jailed her American attorney, Peter Erlinder, lead defense counsel in the Military-1 trial at the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda.

Opposition leader and former judge, Birtukan Mideksa, has again been imprisoned (Dec. 2008) by the US-backed regime of Meles Zenawi

ETHIOPIA

Ethiopia held elections in May.

When human rights Watch criticized the results of Ethiopia’s May elections, in which the ruling coalition “won” an improbable 545 out of 547 seats, leaders in Addis Ababa didn’t ignore the influential NGO. Instead, they paid tens of thousands of demonstrators to gather in the capital and denounce the report. (Newsweek)

And from:

ADDIS ABABA, July 20 (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s highest court on Tuesday rejected a case brought by the country’s opposition against the ruling party’s landslide May election victory, finally exhausting legal appeals for the defeated parties.

The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies won 545 seats in the 547-member parliament. Both a European Union observer mission and the United States criticised the overwhelming victory.

Medrek and other opposition parties alleged widespread pre-poll intimidation during a campaign in which both sides claimed candidates and activists were murdered. Medrek also said there was some vote rigging.

Eight-party Medrek won just a single parliamentary seat in the poll. The other seat went to an independent candidate.

The aftermath of the May 23 poll is being watched by Western diplomats in a country that is a growing destination for investment and is Washington’s key ally in the Horn of Africa, where it is seen as standing against Islamic militancy.

So do you think Washington will do anything to encourage more free and representative government in Ethiopia? Ethiopia has been one of the principle US and western proxies for interfering in Somali affairs. I’m willing to bet that looking, and not all too carefully at that, is all the US and western governments will do for Ethiopian democracy. So far the US and EU have blithely ignored the electoral regularities and atrocious human rights record of Ethiopia’s Zenawi.

EU and U.S. say poll short of international standards

The 2005 elections ended with the then opposition disputing the government’s victory. Riots broke out in Addis Ababa in which 193 protestors and seven policemen were killed. The top opposition leaders were jailed until 2007.

The lone opposition member to win a seat in parliament:

Girma won his seat in Addis Ababa’s Mercato district, seen as Africa’s biggest open-air market and one of the city’s poorer areas.

“I won because a lot of my voters were merchants who are economically independent,” he said. “They weren’t civil servants or unemployed and subject to the same forms of intimidation as a lot of other people. I was lucky.”

Girma’s victory was slim, however, and he only beat his ruling party opponent by a margin of 114 votes in a constituency where both he and his father were born.
(Reuters)

The strongest of the opposition leaders, Birtukan Mideksa, is still in jail serving a life sentence. The conditions in Ethiopian prisons are dreadful, as I wrote in Guantanamo in Ethiopia. Birtukan Mideksa’s health is deteriorating. Meles Zenawi and his western allies may not have to worry about the threat she poses to their political expediency much longer if she does not get proper medical attention and care.

In Ethiopia the US has acted as an enabler of anti democratic practices, pouring aid and encouragement on Meles Zenawi, regardless of his dreadful human rights record. Meles is also a great favorite of US Senators and Congressmen who are members of the politically powerful religious cult, The Family, who help appropriate and funnel millions of US taxpayer dollars to his regime.

the Ethiopian government got its fingers burnt when it held multi-party elections in 2005 that it almost lost — and has been busy clamping down on opposition parties and free speech ever since.

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UGANDA

In Uganda elections are coming up in the next year, in early 2011. Uganda is a great favorite of the US Africa Command, and of the Pentagon in general. Along with Burundi, Uganda provides the proxy warriors acting on behalf of the US and EU in Somalia known as AMISOM. Uganda also provides soldiers employed by US military contractors in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. Uganda’s President Museveni is also a great favorite of the Senators and Congressmen who are members of The Family, who help appropriate and funnel millions of US taxpayer dollars to his regime.

Both Uganda and Ethiopia are virtual military dictatorships, regardless of whether they hold elections or not. In May 2009 President Museveni:

told NRM Members of Parliament that while he would be “happy” to hand over power, he saw “nobody” ready to take on the daunting responsibility of leading Uganda.

Museveni already had presidential term limits removed so he could continue to run for President. The opposition is trying to reinstate term limits along with some other electoral reforms:

The bill will mainly be seeking to restore the two-term limit on incumbency, reform of the electoral commission and removal of the army representatives from parliament,” he said.

It would also compel the president to seek the opposition’s opinion before appointing senior leaders of the electoral commission, a measure the opposition hopes will make the body more independent.

There are also some other interesting developments among Uganda’s opposition.

If passed it would prevent Museveni, who has already served for 24 years, from seeking re-election.

The main opposition candidate:

Besigye said:

… the reforms before the 2011 elections should include the appointment of an independent elections commission and the removal of the military from monitoring elections.

We will be watching with interest. The US Africa Command has found Museveni and his military a particularly valuable partner and proxy. Will it see political opposition as a danger to this relationship? Will it help Museveni label and treat his opposition as terrorists. The stakes are even higher since the discovery of large quantities of oil in Uganda’s great lakes region.

And the bombings in Uganda, allegedly by Al Shabab, complicate the situation. The Somalis declared the bombings were retaliation for the continued deaths of civilians due to the indiscriminate shelling of civilian neighborhoods by AMISOM troops in Mogadishu, Killing of Civilians by UN Supported Troops in Somalia Admitted But Not Acted On. So far the US has seized on the bombings as evidence of international terrorist aspirations. The real story is far less clear. See the July africa comments for more detailed background and a more complete picture.

Some Ugandans are calling for withdrawal from engagement with Somalia:

It is not yet clear what effect this gruesome attack will have on the Ugandan government’s assessment of its ability to effectively deal with this aspect of its involvement in Somalia, or whether such an assessment will induce it to take real leadership within the region by forcing a rethink on this continent-wide challenge of viability.

Under former US President George Bush’s war on terror, they were able to use American money for upgrading their security apparatus, which was then turned on the local opposition, thus dividing local security resources between looking for terrorists and terrorising government opponents.

The other big risk is whether the militarists in Uganda’s government will be able to resist the temptation to take advantage of this security problem and develop another strategy for regime preservation.

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BURUNDI

Burundi is just concluding its electoral cycle. The opposition boycotted the presidential poll in June, and the parliamentary poll on July 23.

All the main opposition groups boycotted the June presidential election, which Nkurunziza won with more than 90 percent of the vote.

Former rebel leader Agathon Rwasa, who had been regarded as his main rival, went into hiding and later explained in an audio message that he feared for his life after claiming the polls were fixed.

In Bujumbura’s southern Kanyosha district, one group of friends said that they planned to shun polling stations and democracy has deserted Burundi.

“There is no democracy with a single party. This has never been seen anywhere,”

The central African state had hoped the polls would prove its democratic credentials and consolidate a fledgling peace deal but they have instead left the political landscape in ruins and heightened fears of civil strife.

The international community largely endorsed the results of the May local polls despite the fraud claims and urged the opposition to end their boycott and return to the fray for the presidential vote. (h/t, and more information at Breaking the Cycle)

Burundi is awash in small arms, a legacy of years of civil war. A grenade costs about $3, and grenade attacks on politicians are common. Both the ruling party and the opposition blame each other for grenade attacks. Burundi is the other country, in addition to Uganda, that supplies troops to AMISOM in Somalia. The arms and military assistance the US taxpayers provide to this key partner/proxy of the US Africa Command, cannot have a beneficial effect on this divisive political situation. It looks like the Burundi government and military are looking for terrorists by terrorizing government opponents. And the international community seems comfortable with that. This is certainly not a prescription for democracy and US policy appears likely to exacerbate authoritarian rule and a divided terrorized population. President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government is:

… ranked by graft watchdog Transparency International as the most corrupt in east Africa.

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RWANDA

Rwanda’s presidential election is coming up in August.

For many Western observers – Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Bill Gates among them – Rwanda’s economic growth is the foundation of its democratic transition. Yet, as Rwandans head to the polls next month to elect a president, Paul Kagame’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has perverted the very democratic ideals it claims to uphold.

Over the last 16 years, the RPF has centralized power into a one-man dictatorship. … The Hutu community, making up some 85 per cent of the population, is largely excluded. … politics, business and the civil service are all dominated by military personnel or former members of the RPF.

In advance of the upcoming presidential elections, many “friends” of Rwanda have remained supportive of its so-called “democratic transition.” They ignore the repeated arrests of journalists and opposition politicians, the closing of independent local newspapers, the ejection of a Human Rights Watch researcher, an assassination attempt against exiled Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, who fell out with President Kagame earlier this year, the murder of journalist Jean-Leonard Rugambage, who attempted to report on Nyamwasa’s assassination attempt in the online version of a Rwandan newspaper the print edition of which the government closed down, and the murder of Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, vice-president of the opposition Democratic Green party. While diplomats from some countries, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, have cut their aid, the U.S. and the U.K. continue to publicly support Kagame. Canada’s position is vague as it encourages Rwanda to adopt policies that promote a pluralist society.

Under the watch of a sympathetic and supportive international community, Kagame has done everything within his power to ensure that the August elections consolidate his political power.

The US has been among the most sympathetic supporters of Kagame. With the RDF, he has acted as a US proxy in the Congo, DRC. Many of the minerals mined in the DRC are marketed by Rwanda, and controlled by the RDF or its subsidiary militias.

According to Charles Onyango-Obbo, who generally has succumbed to Kagame’s spell, TRI-STAR corporation is:

… “the business arm of the RPF”. He goes ahead to tell us that TRI-STAR has business interests worth more than 20 billion dollars “making the RPF the richest party in Africa”. So much power and wealth in very few hands.

Another optimistic sign, he reveals, “the party’s local and international assets could be equal to or larger than Rwanda’s gross domestic product.” A classic example of Fascism!

He even sheds more light into the much publicized Lake Kivu “energy” investment. Apparently, the locals will not reap a cent. The investment is a joint venture between TRI-STAR , a British and an American firm.

What is worrying to many of us is the fact that TRI-STAR as a private entity seems to enjoy unfair support from the government. If TRI-STAR is owned by the RPF, then Kagame’s role in securing TRI-STAR’s business interests is a serious conflict of interest.

Now, also worrisome is the fact that TRI-STAR owns more close to 40% of MTN Rwanda. MTN is the country’s sole internet and mobile phone provider. That is why when the banned newspaper, “Umuvugizi” went online, the government quickly blocked its website.

I’ve said it again and again, that the much praised development in Rwanda is simply for the benefit of a very tiny minority. Corruption is deep but runs undetected due to the absence of a civil society. Beyond the façade of wealthy elites, the majority of Rwandans are dirt poor and the government has done almost nothing to improve their lives. (Nkunda)

Kagame had international human rights lawyer Peter Erlinder arrested in Rwanda. He was there defending opposition leader Ms. Victoire Ingabire accused of the crime of genocide ideology, a “crime” that appears common to all Kagame’s opponents, at least according to his justice system.

I have written more about Kagame here, Paul Kagame, Warlord of Congo’s Wealth. With access to the Congo’s minerals, partnership with the Lake Kivu energy project, and alliances with Tri-Star, the US has a lot invested in Kagame and his control of Rwanda. Rwanda is also a key partner of the US Africa Command:

… since year 2000, Rwanda received “$1,034,000,000 billion in United States taxpayer-funded foreign assistance”and that “an additional $240,200,000 is proposed in the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget. (AFJN)

Much of this has been military assistance, which includes occasional photo op humanitarian activities with little coordination or followup. What the military assistance does is help Kagame fight terrorism by terrorizing the opposition and the general citizenry.

And as Nii Akuetteh writes:

The millions who have already sounded the alarm publicly that Kagame is getting away with (mass) murder include The Economist; The New York Times; three different expert panels assembled by the U.N. Security Council; U.S. Sens. Durbin and Feingold; Mrs. Clinton’s State Department – although theirs may be just crocodile tears; the world’s best experts on the Great Lakes region – renowned researchers and thinkers such as Nzongola-Ntalaja, Howard French, Rene Lemarchand, Gerard Prunier, Thomas Turner and Allan Stam; and ADNA, a network of Africa-focused advocacy nonprofits monitoring U.S. foreign policy.

And the critics include millions of individual Rwandans and other Africans – like me.

Kagame’s leading challenger in the presidential election scheduled for August is Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. Kagame, who has not allowed her to register her candidacy, jailed her briefly a month ago, and today he jailed her American attorney, Peter Erlinder, lead defense counsel in the Military-1 trial at the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda.
… right now Kagame’s regime is shutting down newspapers, is kidnapping the homeless and is demonizing and pronouncing Victoire Ingabire guilty – before her sham trial even begins.

In Washington’s current relations with Mr. Kagame, we are seeing the replay of a tired old movie. Since 1960, Africa’s year of independence, each and every U.S. administration has praised, financed and kept in power its own set of brutal African strongmen that, in its secret files, it has labeled “friendly tyrants.” Mobutu sese Seko of Zaire, Siyaad Barre of Somalia, Hissene Habre of Chad, Samuel Doe of Liberia and Jonas Savimbi of Angola – these are just five of the dozens.

Zenawi, Museveni, Nkurunziza, and Kagame are some of the most recent of these brutal “friendly tyrants”, a form of government the US still seems to favor for Africans. That tired old movie remains a favorite in Washington. And even if the US State Department has said a few harsh words, the US taxpayer money and the military partnering and the proxying energetically roll on, amassing power and wealth for client dictators.

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