My intention is to help give Ugandan people a voice – British MP

By Frederic Musisi

The Commons website has indicated ‘Democracy in Uganda’ as one of the key issues for debate in the House of Commons tomorrow at 1630 British time. The debate will be streamed live via https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/edad7192-19f3-4484-a385-61b6f03fe969
“We will be debating democracy in Uganda. I will be leading the debate and the minister for Africa will be responding,” UK Member of Parliament for Stockton South Paul Williams told Daily Monitor in a telephone interview from UK last Friday.

Below is the full interview;

Why and what is your interest exactly in Uganda?

I have a lot of interest in Uganda: I think it is a fantastic country, with fantastic people. I spent a lot of my time living and working in Uganda, and my intention is to try to help the people of Uganda: To give them a voice. I very much see my intervention as an intervention of an equal friend. I’m not in any way trying to reignite the imperialistic relationship—that is something of the past. I’m talking about the present and future relationship, which I think should be a partnership of equals.

You raised the same debate last year in August while President Museveni was in London for Chogm. What makes you or anyone else in the Western world qualified to delve into Ugandan politics?

I think we all have the right to be interested in other countries: we live in a global world… The international sphere is one in which partners hold each other to a certain set of international standards. Some international standards have not been particularly met in relation to some aspect of democracy in Uganda, in relation to things that concern many activists like the detention and torture of MPs Robert Kyagulanyi and Betty Nambooze, and other individuals who have not been subjected to due criminal processes but rather to the military is something that is concerning to everyone.

Don’t you think that your actions could be interpreted as nosing in Uganda’s sovereignty?

No. I think as a friend to Uganda, I have a legitimate interest in ensuring: first that there is good governance in a partner country, but also—I’m not a lone voice here—there are many Ugandans who share my concerns, and some have asked me to give a global voice to their concerns. And please don’t misinterpret me here: I don’t want Britain to have any role in telling Uganda what to do, but I do want Ugandans to be able to prosper within their own democracy, and the interference is mainly coming from the military that is undermining the thriving of democracy.

Last year in August when you called President Museveni a barrier to Uganda’s development, some government functionaries here exuded a colonial mentality—the thinking that you can determine what goes on in Africa. Don’t you think?

I completely reject that. I respect and totally believe in your Constitution that Uganda is a sovereign country. The problem is [that] the President [Museveni] keeps changing the Constitution in order to protect himself, and in order to protect the system of patronage that he has designed; it is an internal problem and the solutions ought to be internal, and all I’m doing is shining a light on that. This has nothing to do with colonial times, it is about what Uganda is and what it will in the future; I’m sure all Ugandans see that.

You just touched on the aspect of internal problems addressed by solutions, and I’m sure you’ve seen the African Union has been pushing for African solutions for African problems; you saw how ECOWAS handled Yahaya Jammeh’s exit in Gambia in West Africa, and most recently how SADC negotiated Robert Mugabe’s removal. Shouldn’t you be backing such processes to push African strongmen like Museveni out of power?

Yes, that is a role for the African Union but there is also a role of strong institutions within Uganda, particularly the Electoral Commission. There is also need to educate Ugandans, particularly people in more rural areas, about their democratic rights. There is no direct role of the British parliament here, but as partners, we will continue shining light on issue as we see them.

There is sufficient research to show that colonialism laid foundation to some of Africa’s gravest problems today; Britain like other colonial masters designed to leave behind systems they thought would continue to serve them even 50 years later. How do you then reconcile that with the fact of you shining light on the problems created by your country?

Well, there are plenty of examples in Africa where there has been peaceful transfer of power and where colonial institutions have evolved, and they have evolved in a way that systems protect minorities, and serve democratic dispensation. I don’t agree that systems designed in colonial times should remain, not at all but the fact that there is a system of protecting power in the hands of one man, his family and clan—a small group of people, and [it] is affecting a larger group is detestable. I have said before publicly that President Museveni is a barrier to development: institutions should be much bigger than individuals: my critique of Uganda is that one individual has made himself important than all institutions.

But Britain, like other colonial masters, has been involved in some of those transfer of powers you are alluding to. In Uganda, it is no secret that London supported Obote’s ouster by Amin and later his removal, and subsequently Museveni ascent. Don’t you think that has set a bad pattern in African politics?

Well, those mistakes were made in the past and I’m not suggesting that Britain should be influencing a transfer of power. All I’m saying is that Ugandans should own the transfer of power, and am giving a voice. I actually believe there are many good things President Museveni has done during his time in office, but in the last 10 to 15 years, there have been an erosion of democratic processes and institutions, and for Ugandans to see a democratic transfer of power, there has to be certain things such as strengthening of institutions like a totally independent Electoral Commission, free and fair elections without violence or intimidation, and also—this is something I will raise tomorrow—a strong opposition that can provide alternatives in governance.

President Museveni has previously scoffed at the Opposition as not having a vision which is why he keeps winning, and or promised to wipe them out: just last month while meeting select Opposition party chiefs, he said the Opposition will wipe itself out of politics for making strategic mistakes. Do you believe that?

I think it is very hard for the Opposition to effectively exist in Uganda. How many times has Dr Kizza Besigye been interrupted and how many times has been imprisoned? Museveni’s tactic with Besigye has been to totally disrupt his life, and the same is being transferred to Robert Kyagulanyi. A good confident leader should not be afraid of the Opposition: it is not unpatriotic for any Ugandan to want different government; people can love Uganda and not want Museveni and his government, and a good leader should encourage people to have a different perspective and allow that to grow.

You seem passionate about the matter but when you engage fellow British MPs or even officials at Downing Street 10, what sense do you get because it is no secret that President Museveni and other African strongmen are liked by western governments and can afford to close one eye: for example you know how we have had our army fighting proxy wars all over the place under guise of Pan Africanism?
That may have been true in the past, but I think there is increasing concern. Fifteen years ago, the British government was a huge supporter of President Museveni but there has been a gradual decline when it became apparent that it [support] stopped being about Uganda but Museveni. What Britain wants is a prosperous Uganda.

There’s a view point here that your fervent and sudden interest in Ugandan politics is about MP Robert Kyagulanyi’s ascent and that some external actors are pushing him in the highest political succession line. Is it?
Well, I have been impressed by Robert Kyagulanyi: he understands the problems of Uganda and is likewise concerned about its future. As a political leader, he has a lot to learn about governance and leadership but he understands; he understands poverty, he knows how to rhyme with the masses and how to keep in touch with the people. It is not really about Bobi Wine alone, and I have not anywhere used the word political transition.

This is about strong institutions, and Ugandans being able to change their governments peacefully without being threatened or coerced, which has never been the case because of the corrupted institutions, the rigged elections and the military which stands out above all other institutions.

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