5 crazy facts from Uganda’s parliamentary debt farce

uganda-flagA new Al Jazeera article takes us inside the Ugandan MP debt crisis that is rapidly devolving into farce. Essentially, the elected members of Uganda’s parliament are massively paid by peer standards but somehow are also, almost across the board, massively in debt.

Interviewees vaguely cited failed business investments as if that were a common affliction of the world’s elected officials. Others cited a need to spend personal money to buy votes to be re-elected to keep the money coming. At this point, the MPs believe the only solutions are a huge pay raise (from taxpayers) or bailout (from anyone willing to buy their support).

Here are the 5 craziest things I learned from the eye-popping piece:

  1. Uganda’s members of parliament, who are part of Uganda’s nearly three-decade-old quasi-democracy, were given a huge bribe pay raise to remove presidential term limits in 2005. They now claim President Museveni — Africa’s 5th-longest-serving leader — is intentionally blocking further pay raises. Why? Supposedly, so he’ll have leverage for future bribery incentivizing along the same lines.
  2. Despite how much money they made already, Uganda’s MPs are making new innovations in greed, spending sprees, and legalized theft of public resources. Debt aside, they now legally earn $7,680/month in a country where the average annual income is $510 and per capita GDP is $558. In 2011, many of them voted themselves $8,000 extra in one-time grants to “supervise government projects.”
  3. The parliament, as an institution, literally started lending money to its own members to help them out. Eventually the non-elected staff cut the MPs off from this source of cash because other creditors were then hounding the parliament to pay off debts or collect loans back.
  4. A Chinese bank actually tried to buy off the whole parliament by purchasing up the debts (probably in exchange for political support later) and giving better repayment terms to the MPs. These members of parliament were so greedy and unwilling to face reality they basically tried to accept this openly corrupt (and unpatriotic?) proposal. They blame the president again for stopping this brilliant plan.
  5. Uganda still has debtors’ prisons! This is where some MPs have already started getting hauled off to, when they fail to make good on their debts, like some sort of Dickensian version of House of Cards.

One suspects that these MPs, who are the same ones voting through radical anti-gay legislation handed to them by American evangelical activists, are not exactly the brightest lights in Ugandan society. But I suppose that comes with the territory when real governance power is removed from the parliament and transferred to an autocratic executive who has ruled for 28 years. Tends to discourage better candidates from seeking office.

US widens Uganda military op, despite anti-gay law

uganda-flagDespite President Obama’s strong condemnation of the recent anti-gay law in Uganda, the United States has decided anyway to once again substantially ramp up its military assistance to the country — including sending 150 more troops — in their efforts to track down and neutralize the Uganda-originated regional threat of the LRA rebel organization, which has fled to (and destabilized) other nearby countries.

From the New York Times yesterday:

President Obama is sending more troops and military aircraft to Uganda as part of a long-running effort to hunt down Joseph Kony, the fugitive rebel commander who is believed to have been hiding in the jungles of central Africa for years, a Defense Department official said on Sunday.

The president is sending several CV-22 Osprey aircraft, along with 150 Air Force Special Operations forces and other airmen, to join the American troops already in the region to help the Ugandan government find Mr. Kony.

The escalation, first reported on Sunday by The Washington Post, does not change the nature of the United States’ military presence on the ground in central Africa. American forces will continue to advise and assist their counterparts in the African Union’s military task force tracking Mr. Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army across Uganda, Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Americans are forbidden to fight the L.R.A. themselves except in self-defense.

This continues a lengthening partnership started by President George W. Bush and significantly increased several times by President Obama. Here’s an excerpt from a previous post I wrote on the subject back in April 2010, after an 18-month military campaign across the region that cut the LRA’s size in half:

Uganda’s government, armed and assisted by the United States with “millions of dollars of military support, namely, trucks, fuel and contracted airplanes,” is hunting down the transnational Lord’s Resistance Army […]

You’ll notice it’s essentially the same as the beginning of this post, except the mission was somewhat smaller before, and that was four years ago.

One wonders how much of the purported accomplishments of these missions is greatly exaggerated. In that time, the LRA has doubtless kidnapped many fresh child soldiers to re-bolster his ranks. Kony himself remains nowhere to be found, with only rumors of his location pinpointed by the swathes of genocidal rampages that follow in his path as he throws matches into post-colonial tinderboxes of ethnic and religious tensions. He’s bad. But is this the right approach to end the threat?

Observers have previously tied specific U.S.-supported operations against Kony to his revenge-based slaughters of totally random, uninvolved villages in the region. These attacks are meant to “punish” Uganda and the United States for its actions. For example:

In December 2008 [under George W. Bush], Africom, the American military command for Africa, helped plan an attack on Mr. Kony’s camp in Congo. But Mr. Kony, having apparently been tipped off, escaped before the Ugandan helicopter gunships even took off. His army is believed to have killed hundreds of nearby villagers in revenge, leaving behind scorched huts.

And I thought we were going to pull back on this aid, in light of the anti-gay law — not increase it. Just last month President Obama was threatening to pull the plug:

Obama suggested that the Ugandan president — a key regional ally for both the United States and the European Union — risks damaging his country’s ties with Washington if he signs the bill into law.

“As we have conveyed to President Museveni, enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda,” Obama said.

Guess that was a bluff? I find it all very distasteful.

Helpful reminder from The Globalist Research Center (where I work) as to whom this military assistance is going — beyond even the gay persecution concerns:

With the ousting of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in the Arab Spring revolts of 2011, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni is now Africa’s fifth-longest-serving national leader. Mubarak and Gaddafi had been in office for 29 and 42 years, respectively, at the time of their ouster.

Sworn in as president on January 29, 1986, Museveni has held the post for almost 28 years so far. He was once hailed by Western governments as a champion of equality and democracy — and rewarded with generous aid as a result. However, Museveni’s long tenure has led to an erosion of Ugandan democracy.

Will Central Africa’s problems really be solved by bringing more troops and helicopter gunships to a dictator who has held office for nearly three decades?

No joke: Arizona SB 1062 just cleared way for Uganda anti-gay law

uganda-flagThe office of the president in Uganda has announced they will be signing their anti-homosexuality bill into law today.

The president’s spokesman cited the Arizona legislature’s decision last week to pass a bill (SB 1062) permitting private non-religious businesses to discriminate against/refuse service to gay customers, suggesting that this showed them that the U.S. wasn’t serious about lecturing Uganda — a major regional military player and U.S. ally — on anti-gay legislation.

As I write this, the following tweets were posted just in the past couple hours ago by Ofwono Opondo, the official spokesman of the president’s administration.

Read more

AFD 73 – Michael Sam, Uganda legislation

AFD-logo-big-newLatest Episode:
AFD 73 – Michael Sam, Uganda
New episode: Nate and Greg join Bill to discuss Michael Sam as well as Uganda’s anti-gay push from US evangelicals.


Note: This is the full 43 minute version of this episode. The air version this week only included the first segment. We’ll be returning to full-length episodes on air next week.

Related links:

Read more

Kony 2012: Never forget (the damage you did)

Remember when Invisible Children, a young American group with barely-concealed ties to U.S. evangelical organizations, tried to get everyone to lobby Congress to provide more support to the (undemocratic) Ugandan government, including increased military aid?

Not much policy action came of it, in part because the U.S. already provides the regime with a lot of weapons and military advisers anyway (and because Joseph Kony is nowhere near Uganda anymore).

But it was definitely great anyway to rally a bunch of American students to support the violent and regressive agenda of the U.S. evangelical-backed dictatorship in Uganda and its evangelical Christian president, Yoweri Musevini, who took power in January 1986. Nice boost of moral support for their agenda, which included seeking gay executions several years before the Kony 2012 campaign.

Oddly, that agenda of criminalizing homosexuality (along with a much more extensive multi-decade campaign of general repression supported by Westerners) didn’t disappear. And because I’m the Secretary of the Department of Told-You-So, I’ll just drop the latest on that here:

The anti-gay legislation cruised through Uganda’s parliament in December after its architects dropped an extremely controversial death penalty clause.

The measure, which has been greeted with international condemnation, would criminalize the promotion or recognition of homosexual relations.

Obama suggested that the Ugandan president — a key regional ally for both the United States and the European Union — risks damaging his country’s ties with Washington if he signs the bill into law.

“As we have conveyed to President Museveni, enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda,” Obama said.

Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice wrote in a series of tweets on Sunday that enacting the law “will put many at risk and stain Uganda’s reputation.”

She added that on Saturday, she “spoke at length with President Museveni… to urge him not to sign anti-LGBT bill.”

Museveni, a devout evangelical Christian, has expressed the view that gays are “sick” and “abnormal.” He suggested in a letter to parliament that homosexuality was caused by a genetic flaw, or a need to make money.

So on the one hand, the pressure campaign advocated increasing support for this monstrous pseudo-democracy and provided visuals of thousands of young Americans rallying behind the regime and its agenda. On the other hand, they shook a strong finger at a coked-up self-styled prophet who hasn’t been in Uganda in years.

But, of course, that was probably the point.


South Sudan: The world should be watching

south-sudan-flagSouth Sudan is Africa’s newest country and is a significant oil-producer (mostly selling to China) and fledgling democracy. At the beginning of the week we got scattered reports that there had been an attempted coup d’état by the former Vice President of South Sudan and troops loyal to him.

He is of a different ethnic group than the President, a U.S. ally. While the takeover failed in the capital, it seems the rebelling units quickly moved outside the city. The ex-VP now says his troops have control of the oil fields.

The United Nations mission on the ground — continuing to oversee the transition process from 2005 to independence in 2011 and then to present — soon reported 500 deaths in the clashes between loyalists and renegade troops in the capital. These figures have been rising quickly as casualties mount in the countryside and other towns.

Within a couple days, 20,000 civilians had crowded onto UN peacekeeping bases, seeking refuge from the fighting within the Army. That number is now up to 35,000 according to the UN. There are fewer than 7,000 UN peacekeeping troops in the country, and two soldiers from India have already been reported dead as approximately 2,000 child soldiers aligned with the renegades overran one of the bases and began massacring civilians of a the President’s (majority) ethnic group.

Troops from neighboring Uganda and Kenya have already arrived to “intervene” in the crisis as “stabilize” the government. It is fairly standard practice for the African Union — both countries are key members in AU military operations — to officially back the incumbent governments during leadership struggles and rebellions, mostly out of self-interest but also to promote legitimacy/sovereignty of existing governments. But it’s also common for East African nations to interfere military in each other’s conflicts, sometimes on the side of rebels.

The United States has hundreds of staff in the country, most of which have been evacuated from non-rebel-held areas. But BBC Africa and the New York Times reported earlier today that a U.S. emergency evacuation military mission of three planes to South Sudan was fired upon while en route from Uganda.

It turned back without completing an evacuation and landed safely in Uganda, but there were injuries on board to four U.S. service personnel. They are all in stable condition now. The Ugandan Army (a U.S. military ally in the region) said that, based on the location of the attack, that renegade troops siding with the attempted coup initiated it. The U.S. military has officially backed this hypothesis. It’s unclear when the U.S. will be able to rescue its people on the ground in the rebel zone.

President Obama announced that he has already put 45 troops on the ground — potentially from existing Ugandan or Kenyan deployments or the offshore anti-piracy patrol deployments — to protect U.S. civilians stationed in the country as part of the transition to democracy. He also announced that he would end U.S. and Western support for South Sudan for the first time, if the government falls to the rebels through force.

So to summarize: We’ve got U.S. troops on the ground now in a significant oil producing nation with close ties to China (I argued earlier this week that they should step up and intervene), the oil seems to have fallen to rebel control, UN peacekeepers have already been killed trying to protect some of the 35,000 civilian refugees hiding on their bases, and we’ve now had U.S. casualties. Oh and it’s a democracy the U.S. carefully guided into existence in just the last decade. This is about to be a way bigger global concern — unfortunately — than the nearby Central African Republic chaos.