October 24, 2011
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni once said Africa’s main problem is leaders who stick around too long, and with Museveni now in his 25th year of rule, most Ugandans agree.
They can count the ways self-styled rule has diminished them and throw around words like justice, accountability and fair elections.
Yet Ugandans, from religious leaders to royalty to unemployed youth, openly mourned Muammar Gaddafi’s death, weeping and vowing revenge during Friday prayer, donning T-shirts with his pinch-lipped likeness through the weekend. Museveni said the same man found hiding in a drainage ditch while others fought for him died a brave man. Many Ugandans I spoke with were of the same view.
The thing I kept hearing over and over was that Gaddafi was a good leader, “a friend to Africa.” But looking past his track record of bankrolling insurrections, terrorist groups and unpopular dictators who had sapped the livelihood and dignity of their citizens, of turning light-skinned Africans against there darker, southern brethren, of masterminding instability from Chad to West Africa to Eritrea, all the while giving lip-service to the hollow dream of pan-Africanism, these people had a hard time explaining his contributions to Africa.
That the Libyan people rose against him and were ecstatic with news of his death, that Gadaffi’s whims became law, that a small group of cronies benefited at the expense of many, that he vowed to crush the will of his own people – that in a word Gaddafi shared the same tendencies Ugandans reject in Museveni, not to mention Obote and Amin before him – none of this mattered. He was a good man. Good for Uganda. Good for Africa.
Which begs asking, what has African history taught Ugandans? How concerned are they with reform? Do they really know what they’re looking for in a leader, or is democracy just an empty slogan that makes the misery of the present bearable?
Stay tuned for a video interview I did with spokesperson of the Gaddafi Mosque in Kampala.