Barak Obama spoke for all of us, Ugandans, Africans, and the wider international community, when he told Museveni and other African leaders that they must respect the democratic rights and freedoms of all other African people.
The message was as clear and as loud as it could be, and it is truly incomprehensible that African leaders like Mr Museveni seem not to have the courteousness and humility to acknowledge such simple, straightforward and common-sense truths.
The American President, who himself is a natural son of Africa, couldn’t be more blunt and eloquent in his heart-warming communication to the African people, and more specifically the African presidents, some of whom were seated not even a stone’s throw from him in the Mandela Hall at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Mr Obama said the following:
“I believe Africa’s progress will also depend on democracy, because Africans, like people everywhere, deserve the dignity of being in control of their own lives.”
“We all know what the ingredients of real democracy are. They include free and fair elections, but also freedom of speech and the press, freedom of assembly. These rights are universal. They’re written into African constitutions.”
“From Sierra Leone, Ghana, Benin, to Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, democracy has taken root. In Nigeria, more than 28 million voters bravely cast their ballots and power transferred as it should — peacefully.”
“Yet at this very moment, these same freedoms are denied to many Africans. And I have to proclaim, democracy is not just formal elections.”
“When journalists are put behind bars for doing their jobs, or activists are threatened as governments crack down on civil society — (applause) — then you may have democracy in name, but not in substance.”
“And I’m convinced that nations cannot realize the full promise of independence until they fully protect the rights of their people.”
“…if we truly believe that Africans are equal in dignity, then Africans have an equal right to freedoms that are universal — that’s a principle we all have to defend. (Applause.) And it’s not just a Western idea; it’s a human idea.”
“I have to also say that Africa’s democratic progress is also at risk when leaders refuse to step aside when their terms end. (Applause.) Now, let me be honest with you — I do not understand this. (Laughter.) I am in my second term. It has been an extraordinary privilege for me to serve as President of the United States. I cannot imagine a greater honour or a more interesting job. I love my work. But under our Constitution, I cannot run again. (Laughter and applause.) I can’t run again. I actually think I’m a pretty good President — I think if I ran I could win. (Laughter and applause.) But I can’t.”
“So there’s a lot that I’d like to do to keep America moving, but the law is the law. (Applause.)”
“And no one person is above the law. Not even the President.” (Applause.)
“And I’ll be honest with you — I’m looking forward to life after being President. (Laughter.) I won’t have such a big security detail all the time. (Laughter.) It means I can go take a walk. I can spend time with my family. I can find other ways to serve. I can visit Africa more often.”
“The point is, I don’t understand why people want to stay so long. (Laughter.) Especially when they’ve got a lot of money.! (Laughter and applause.)
“When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife — as we’ve seen in Burundi.” (Applause.) And this is often just a first step down a perilous path.”
“And sometimes you’ll hear leaders say, well, I’m the only person who can hold this nation together. (Laughter.) If that’s true, then that leader has failed to truly build their nation.” (Applause.)
“You look at Nelson Mandela — Madiba, like George Washington, forged a lasting legacy not only because of what they did in office, but because they were willing to leave office and transfer power peacefully.” (Applause.)
“And just as the African Union has condemned coups and illegitimate transfers of power, the AU’s authority and strong voice can also help the people of Africa ensure that their leaders abide by term limits and their constitutions.” (Applause.)
“Nobody should be president for life.”
“And your country is better off if you have new blood and new ideas. (Applause.) I’m still a pretty young man, but I know that somebody with new energy and new insights will be good for my country. (Applause.) It will be good for yours, too, in some cases.”
Was Museveni listening?
Museveni has publically stated that he is the only man with the vision of how to rule Uganda; and has arrested, brutalised and humiliated political opponents, pro-democracy activists, journalists, etc in the name of securing his presidency and entrenching it even more after 30 years of one-man rule.
What could Museveni do? What do Ugandans expect him to do, having listened to this historic and ground-breaking speech by the son of the Africa soil, Barak Obama?
If Museveni were to be a good listener and a true Ugandan patriot, who loves his country and respects his fellow citizens, he would come back from Ethiopia and deliver to Ugandans and to the world at large the GOOD NEWS – that HE, Museveni, was now done with the role of Presidency, and that he would be happy to see other Ugandans give it a go.
If Museveni were a good listener and a true Ugandan patriot, who loves his country and respects his fellow citizens, he would, in the next few weeks, make the long awaited announcement – that HE, Museveni, was henceforth going to use the coming months to voluntarily and peacefully hand over power to a transition authority, that would be established consensually by all the people of Uganda for the sole purpose of steering the country through an unhindered process of building a democratic infrastructure that would deliver free and fair elections in an appropriate and timely manner.
If Museveni were a good listener and a true Ugandan patriot, who loves his country and respects his fellow citizens, he would immediately and unconditionally order the release of all political prisoners, many of whom have been languishing in military and civilian prisoners, usually on trumped up charges, when the real reason was their courageous stand and activism for the democratic rights and freedoms of their fellow Ugandan citizens.
If Museveni were a good listener and a true Ugandan patriot, who loves his country and respects his fellow citizens, he would, with immediate effect, put a stop to police brutality, torture and harassment of innocent Ugandans, whose only crime is to declare an intention to offer themselves for leadership in various political capacities, including the role of President of the Republic of Uganda.
There are many things that Ugandans and the world at large expect Mr Museveni to do. But, if he were to do even just the above minimal long-awaited things, then even his most hardliner critics would see him as an elder, who has done some good things, but also some terribly bad things during his 30-year long rule, but who has, thank God, has began to act like a good listener and a true Ugandan patriot, who loves his country and respects his fellow citizens.
To that end, Mr Barak Obama, who happens to the current American president, but who is also natural son of Africa, will have helped Ugandans to resolve one of the biggest problems that they have faced for so many decades – the lack of democracy and the entrenchment of a one-man dictatorship, by a man who 3 decades ago declared that “The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power.”
Gen David Sejusa is the Chairman Free Uganda and former coordinator of intelligence services in the UPDF