Op-ed – What happened to demanding African solutions to African problems?

By Andrew Barungi

Last month it was reported that the government of Sweden would mediate peace talks between President Museveni and Dr Kizza Besigye. President Museveni and Dr Besigye are the biggest personalities in Uganda seeing that they have a large following. Unfortunately, the country has been polarised by the aforementioned duo’s feud for years.

Peace talks should always be welcome because Ugandans do not want war. Fortunately, even though we have witnessed violent clashes between the State and Dr Besigye’s supporters, this feud has not led to war. That said, Ugandans should feel free to treat the mediation with a grain of salt.

I do believe the government of Sweden wants peace and stability, but I have reservations with a foreign mediator being involved in peace talks after Africans demanding African solutions to African problems and condemning foreign meddling. If the mediation is successful, one has to ask why it has to take a donor nation to save poor Africans again. This can easily promote the inferiority complex narrative implying that Africans are not up to the job of governing themselves. Are the donors in a better position to understand political feuds? I ask this question because there is a risk of donors promoting their interests and not that of Ugandans. That said, it should be acknowledged that it is reported that Uganda’s new Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Adonia Ayebare, is playing a leading role in the mediation, which should be applauded.

I have a question. If the political feud between President Museveni and Dr Besigye ends, will it improve the lives of Ugandans? Remember, Uganda is bigger than the two men. Just look at what happened in Kenya in 2008. The donor community helped resolve the feud between former president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki and leading Opposition figure, Raila Odinga. Kenya was slowly sliding into civil strife as a result of the disputed elections. The mediation, it should be acknowledged, averted a civil war. However, it did not curb tribalism, corruption and inequality. Looking at the situation in Uganda, will the mediation help curb corruption, tribalism, inequality, the decline in social services such as healthcare and education?

I would implore mediators to look into past political feuds in Africa in order to come out with the right prescriptions so that we do not have to witness feuds which can tear countries apart. In post-independence Uganda, the political feuds we had were:Kabaka Edward Muteesa versus former president Milton Obote,  Obote versus Idi Amin, Obote versus Generals Tito Okello and Bazillio Okello, Obote versus President Museveni; Generals Tito Okello and Bazillio Okello versus President Museveni – one can argue President Museveni versus the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony. These feuds have resulted in deaths and destructions. Remember the saying: “When two elephants fight, it is the grass which suffers.” Ugandans have suffered enough from political feuds.

Mediations should take the concerns of all Ugandans into consideration, whether they are rich or poor, literate or illiterate, men or women, etc. Mediation efforts in Africa have rarely been successful, which can be attributed to the political culture of zero sum gain. The winnings of some players must equal the losses of the others. Where they have been successful, there is a cold peace, because there is residual resentment of rivals. Ugandans and Africans at large should play crucial roles in mediation efforts and not leave it to the political elite and donors to determine the peace and development.

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Andrew Barungi is a Social Scientist.

andybk82 [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

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