Elizabeth Ann Palchik has what I think is an excellent article commenting on how Barack Obama’s public fist-clenching was counter-productive because it forced Museveni into a corner, and into signing the anti-gay bill just to illustrate that he wasn’t going to be pushed around by America.
But then check out Lynne Featherstone (Minister at the Department for International Development in the United Kingdom) lamenting that taking a subtle approach didn’t work.
Curiously perhaps, I agree with both Palchik and Featherstone.
The Bill, hatched in 2009, was kept in limbo for 3 years, despite clear Parliamentary backing, by Yoweri Museveni who made no pretense about why he didn’t want any part of it; it was a foreign policy matter that only he dealt with. In effect, he told his own National Resistance Movement (NRM) members of Parliament in early 2010 that he wouldn’t sign the bill because he needed donor money to fight the 2011 election and they retreated into their shells because they knew how important he was to their own political survival in a country where for the president to endorse you usually means you are a shoo-in for election or re-election and his displeasure with you is a sure kiss of death. Museveni collected the money he needed from the donors, $3bn according to some unofficial estimates, paid off the electorate and got re-elected in 2011.
Come October 2012, the Canadian foreign minister revived the comatose bill when he publicly lambasted Rebecca Kadaga in Quebec about it. Sensing an opening for her 2016 presidential ambitions, Kadaga gleefully turned to the phalanx of cameras and gave as good as she got. The bill would be decided by Uganda which was not a colony or protectorate of Canada. She returned to Uganda to a rapturous welcome from the anti-gay lobby which had all but given up on finding their way past Museveni’s intransigence that the bill must not be even debated.
John Baird’s interference had, unwittingly, changed the political tone of Uganda’s politics and now the anti-gay side had a seemingly viable champion who could challenge Museveni in 2016. Rebecca Kadaga promised to deliver the bill for Christmas 2012 and set about campaigning for the presidency even as she also openly feuded with Amama Mbabazi, another contender for the 2016 presidency. Museveni managed to stall the passing of the bill that Christmas but he was hanging on by his political fingernails.
In 2013, the internecine political wranglings in the top echelons of the NRM escalated. Kadaga’s international stature grew with all the awards and posts she was racking up, and she spent more time in Uganda’s regions and on the world stage than in Parliament – literally campaigning for the presidency even though she thinly disguised it as doing her job as Speaker of the House. We now know that Museveni’s Prime Minister was, with the help of his wife, also actively making his own presidential campaign preparations, albeit more surreptitiously than the Speaker of the House.
With the same secrecy that Mbabazi was using to set up his campaign stall, Parliament plotted to bring the anti-gay bill to the floor and Kadaga, all along conniving with a number of Parliamentarians on tactics, let them pass it shortly before Christmas 2013. Museveni and Mbabazi were both caught off guard, and Mbabazi could barely hide his chagrin at what he must have seen as his ambitions being pulled from under him by his political enemy, Rebecca Kadaga. He complained feebly in Parliament that the bill was being passed without the necessary votes needed but was totally ignored.
Usually composed and self-assured, the vote for the bill threw Museveni for a loop, forcing him to write an angry, personal attack against Rebecca Kadaga in which he inferred that she, too, was as “abnormal” as the homosexuals since she was childless and unmarried. He wouldn’t sign the bill.
But it was clear the ground was slipping from under His Excellency when the whispering became a cascade that if he didn’t sign the bill he would be abandoned by his party.
There was nothing for it but for Museveni to swing into action. He would now seek scientists’ views about homosexuality and make his mind up thereafter. In the meantime, he let it be known to his close supporters that he knew of his Prime Minister’s plotting and he allowed them to collect signatures at the ruling National Resistance Movement’s annual retreat in Kyankwanzi -all pledging allegiance to another 28 years of Museveni. That partly took care of Rebecca Kadaga who wasn’t even at the meeting to try to mount a rearguard action.
But what price had the NRM acolytes who signed allegiance to Museveni extracted? All was revealed when the scientists’ report was presented and Museveni claimed that it told him that being gay was a choice. Of course it told him no such thing but he was already prepared to spin it his way to keep his presidential hopes with his own party alive. He would now sign the bill.
By the time Barack Obama intervened publicly (I agree totally that he should have been more aware of the political dynamics on the ground and saved his breath), the die was cast. Museveni had, like Macbeth, waded in too deep, “stepped in so far that should [he] wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
Likely after some frantic phone calls from Washington, Museveni made a last gasp nod to Obama that he would ask for a second opinion from international scientists. But all that was just confused, desperate, flim-flam as he looked for a way to appease Washington while also keeping his political base in line. There was none and Museveni signed the bill February 24th without waiting for the extra scientists’ report he had announced only days before.
Signing the bill finally erased the only electoral advantage Kadaga had mastered within the NRM and Museveni could now go after his other adversary, Amama Mbabazi. Thanks to a phone tapping bill that Prime Minister Mbabazi had supported in Parliament, Museveni had voice transcripts of conversations that confirmed that his own Prime Minister was secretly plotting to be president.Within days, he made public the recorded conversations in which Mbabazi’s people were heard to be canvassing for support, confirming pay-offs and denigrating Museveni as old, tired and out of touch.
As yours truly writes this, Mbabazi is in retreat, denying this and refusing to comment on that. He is best advised to come out boldly so that if he fails in his presidential bid, he at least goes out with honor. But that’s not how Uganda’s politics works so poor Mbabazi is going to keep on denying, even as he is openly stripped of power and influence, to be replaced by the very people he was using to plan his own presidential bid.
See why both Palchik and Featherstone are right?
Once it was apparent to Museveni, in 2012, that his office was under serious threat from within his own party, what the West did or didn’t do wasn’t going to work. The anti-gay bill happened to be the vehicle Rebecca Kadaga (who is personally not anti-gay at all) was riding so Museveni had to derail her by agreeing to sign it.
The bill became tangential, thanks to John Baird, in October 2012, because Baird helped change the discourse from being about homosexuality to one of Museveni’s political survival. In that sense you can argue that Baird’s intervention was counterproductive since it gave Rebecca Kadaga the opening she was looking for to look and sound presidential on an issue that she knew the entire country could rally behind – Uganda’s national pride. Even yours truly supported her response to Baird.
Last month, Obama should have known the futility of opening his mouth against the bill, and should have kept his powder dry as Britain’s Cameron did. Palchik is right on this. But, the subtle approach Featherstone is now frowning upon shouldn’t have been bothered with either once it became clear that the anti-gay bill was no longer about the gays in Uganda but about Museveni’s political survival.
The West should have shut up shop and gone home in November 2012 when Kadaga showed she was intent on using the bill as her Trojan Horse to the presidency and it was clear she had the political traction if Museveni remained obdurate about not passing it.
Their interjections, whether loud or subtle, were never going to make any difference as Museveni was going to do whatever it took to stay in power till he died – yes, up to and including signing a bill he didn’t like, had admitted was foolish and unworkable, and on which he had incontrovertible evidence from his own scientists telling him that homosexuality was NOT different to heterosexuality.
It is to give the West too much credit to argue that, after October 2012, there was anything they could have done to stave off the signing of this Nazi bill.