ANDREW MWENDA: On UK sanctions against Among

ANDREW MWENDA: On UK sanctions against Among
The Speaker of Parliament Anita Among. PHOTO/X


  • The British government’s sanctions on Ugandan officials, including Speaker Anita Among, raise questions about their moral authority and true intentions. While claiming concern for Ugandan citizens, Britain’s track record, including involvement in the Iraq war and economic policies favoring the wealthy, contradicts this narrative. The sanctions, likely motivated by Among’s role in passing the Anti Homosexuality Act, highlight the complexities of Western intervention in cultural debates.

And so, the British government has sanctioned our Speaker of parliament, Anita Among, and two of our ministers. They claim to have done this because she stole resources meant for the vulnerable in our society. Do the British care more about poor Ugandans than all our elected representatives in both the government and the opposition? Bobi Wine has claimed it is him and his party that petitioned the British government to sanction the Speaker. Yet none of the MPs from his party has raised a motion to censure Among. His statement only reflects the poverty of our politicians. He naively thinks that Britain can act in the interests of Ugandans.

In censuring Among the British government is giving us four signals. First that it is morally superior in the handling of public affairs, especially those concerning poor people, compared to the elected government of Uganda. Second, Britain is exercising power over Uganda saying: “we are rich and powerful, you are poor and weak and should therefore be obedient to us.” Third, they are also saying: “we know you crave our attention, approval and recognition and now we are taking that privilege from you, and it will hurt.” Fourth, the British are saying they have no faith in our public institutions to hold Among and other thieves in government to account.

The perception of moral superiority in our minds in critical for British interests in Uganda. Using force can force compliance but not achieve legitimacy (acceptance). Britain, like her other peers in the West, seeks to capture our minds regarding her moral superiority. This is important for them to control our behavior. Once we believe Britain holds a superior morality in her public affairs, then we are likely to believe it cares about our interests. Only then are we likely to listen to dictates from London about how we govern our country. That allows the British to advance their interests in Uganda even when they conflict with our own. So, we need to first dispose of Britain’s pretense to moral superiority.

There is a lot of unpunished corruption in Britain. In 2003, the British government went to war in Iraq on false claims of weapons of mass destruction. The British taxpayer spent $10.5 billion between 2003 and 2009 and lost 179 soldiers and many wounded. The beneficiaries were the British arms industry. The losers were the poor people of Britain. This is an act of corruption and yet there was no politician censured for this fraud. And it is worse than any theft Among has indulged in.

Since 1980 Britain has promoted policies that enrich the top 1% at the expense of her poor citizens. I have just read British journalist Martin Wolf’s book, titled The Crisis of Global Capitalism. Like Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, Wolf shows that Britain’s policies since 1980 have meant that the 80% of the economic growth has gone to the top one percent of the population. Consequently, the richest 1% in Britain own 60% of the wealth while the bottom 50% own only 5%. Before trying to save the poor in Uganda, Britain should first show compassion for the poor in Britain.

The British, using IMF and World Bank, have forced these same anti-poor policies on many governments in poor countries. Uganda under Museveni implemented these policies with reckless abandon. They dismantled cooperatives through which farmers negotiated for better prices for their crops, destroyed trade unions through which workers negotiated for better wages, sold off public enterprises built at taxpayers’ expense at basement prices, facilitated their multinational corporations to take control of the commanding heights of our economies, helped them to get huge tax exemptions while repatriating 100% of their profits. These policies have harmed the poor in Uganda one million times more than the petty thefts by our Speaker.

Therefore, Britain has no moral right to make judgments about Among. It pretends before unwitting Ugandans that it cares more about poor Ugandans than our elected leaders. Once it wins our hearts, Britain can decide for us what is “good” for us. That is rule by ideological hegemony. Yet Britain pursues the interests of British capital, the richest 1% of the British population. These disguised arguments that look legitimate at face value were promoted in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan etc. with disastrous consequences. Ugandan leaders are corrupt. We should hold them to account – ourselves.

Since the British government does not protect the interests of her poor citizens and elsewhere, what motivated it to sanction Among and three other Ugandan politicians? I think it is because of her role in passing the Anti Homosexuality Act (AHA). The other two ministers are collateral damage. Although I am one of the people fighting this barbaric law, I do not agree that the British and other Western governments should join this fight, at least not in the way they have chosen to. All too often, Western intrusion into our politics has been counterproductive. And this is true of the struggle for gay rights in Uganda.

If Western countries are to play a constructive role in fighting the AHA, it cannot be through intimidation and sanctions. Force is a poor instrument of changing people’s minds especially in cultural debates. The best way for the West to help fight the barbaric AHA is to use quiet diplomacy by engaging different stakeholders especially President Yoweri Museveni and parliament. I have worked with Western diplomats before using this approach and it worked very well for both sides.

Yet there is a silver lining to the British sanctions against Among. Their subjective motivations may be bad, but the objective outcome is good. We are chronically dependent on Western countries for validation, visits, shopping, and more. In blocking our leaders from traveling to their country and using their banks, hospitals, schools etc. the British are inadvertently helping us find value in our own country; to visit its many beautiful parts and spend our money in it. Instead of Among spending $67,000 on a dress made in UK, she should spend that money on local designers like Abrynz. I wish Western countries can sanction as many African elites as possible. This will help end our chronic desire to imitate the West and to always seek validation from it. For writing this and other `subversive’ articles about the West, I am sure the British and their allies with sanction me also. I await that eagerly – to prove my thesis that they don’t even believe in free speech.

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