In a space that is increasingly crowded with any number of African leaders ready to serve Western government interests, Uganda’s current leadership of both the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and G77+China presents an opportunity for President Yoweri Museveni to improve relations with Europe and the United States of America (USA).
Currently a pariah of sorts that is facing sanctions over passing of the anti-homosexuality act and the close to 40 years that President Museveni has been in power, Western states have increasingly lookedto leaders that have not spent as long in power for deals that require African countries as cover.
Recent deals in East Africa include the one signed by Rwanda to host asylum seekers for the United Kingdom and Kenya’s peacekeeping mission to Haiti.
Kenya is also negotiating the Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) with the US and has signed the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) both of which represent Western countries attempts at countering China’s trade dominance on the African continent.
ButUganda now has tools to improvethe country’s standing, with the West.Coupled with leadership of the global South is the fact that Uganda, which has a serving judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), is well placed to help Western countries earn some propaganda points, at a time when North America, Europe and Australia have gained notoriety for supporting Israel’s war on Gaza.
One example of Uganda serving Western interests is the case of Julia Sebutinde, a judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) being the only one to have ruled in favour of Israel on every provisional measure requested to protect the civilian population in the Gaza strip.
“It is my considered opinion that the dispute or controversy is not a legal one calling for judicial settlement by the International Court of Justice,”ruled Judge Sebutinde, as she sought to dismiss every measure approved by other judges.
Even Aharon Barak, nominated as an ad hoc judge to support Israel’s interests in the court, voted in favour of measures to punish incitement of genocide and the need to facilitate humanitarian aid for Gaza.
Since the ICJ ruling on plausibility of genocide in Gaza, Patience Rwabogo, one ofthe President’s daughter described Justice Sebutinde as a hero for her “historic” position protecting the State of Israel.
As part of her ruling, Justice Sebutinde applied the same logic, as Sam Kutesa who was foreign affairs minister in 2020, when Uganda submitted a friend of court briefto help block efforts to have Israel tried for mass atrocities in Palestine.
In his letter accompanying the amicus curiae brief, Kutesa argued that Palestine is not a state, and therefore the International Criminal Court (ICC) could not exercise jurisdiction over Palestine, in the same way as other state parties that acceded to the Rome statue.
He also argued that the Israel-Palestine question required negotiation and attempting to resolve political questions through the law was the wrong approach, the same Sebutinde as in her most recent ruling.
“It calls not only for adiplomatic or negotiated settlement,but also forthe implementation in good faith of all relevant Security Council resolutions by all parties concerned,” ruled Sebutinde in her dissenting view, as she made the point that South Africa was hiding behind a genocide case to push for Palestinian statehood rights.
AdoniaAyebare, Uganda’s ambassador to the United Nations hassince claimed thatSebutinde’s ruling does not represent Uganda’s views on the Israel Palestine question.
He says instead that Uganda “affirms its association with” NAM resolutions that among other things called for an end to the Israeli military aggression and siege on the Gaza strip.
Yet through most of the NAM conference, speeches from Uganda government officials seemed to be against the headlining Israel’s war on Gaza and the debate of sanctions against some members of the global South.
While taking some time to castigate imperialism, President Museveni never strayed awayfrom the less contentious issues of trade, investment and financing, areas that institutions such as the World Bank, which has sanctioned Uganda, love.
“Our stand is that the world should concentrate on the common human problems, of prosperity through trade and that is why I am very happy to see you here-when you are outside there you may get stereotypes, about Africa,” he said.
All through his speeches President Museveni, whose government recognized the Palestinian state in 1988, just two years after he came to power avoided the Israel-Gaza conflict. He focused instead on inviting investors to Uganda.
“Those with some surplus capital can invest in our countries and we produce goods and services, which means the NAM governments, must create a conducive atmosphere for investment,” he said, even as important guests such as the United Nations secretary general, whose diplomacy is paramount, discussed the Gaza strip unabashed.
At a time when the USA, is leading the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)support to Israel massacring over 27,000 and blockading food,water and medicine forthe 2.3 million people in the Gaza strip several leaders came ready to have this issue, on the global South agenda but on many occasions Uganda attempted to divert attention.
Antonio Guterres UN secretary general said the war on Gaza was fueling global instability and human rights violations and that it was important for NAM to try and heal the deep divisions, like had been the case during the cold war.
“The summit falls at another moment of deep division, geopolitical tensions are rising, and democracy is eroding, while populism and extremism are increasing,” he said.
The Secretary General also decried the flouting of human rights, international law and Geneva Convention and the UN charter, as has been the case with Israel and its supporters in Gaza.
To this Museveni had no response, choosing instead to focus on raising new financing sources for the global South.
“We shall talk about financing. If the Bretton Woods can repent, we can forgive them otherwise we are going to continue exploring for new ways of financing,” said Museveni.
In his speech, Guterres had mentioned the slowest economic growth in decades for the global south, debt distress and default, poverty and income inequality, as some of the other challenges that developing nations are facing.
Museveni also ignored the issue of sanctions, as he and his government officials appeared to avoid standing with countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Russia, which have been isolatedby the United States and its partners.
Uganda is itself suffering sanctions from the Western countries and the World Bank, over the passing of the anti-homosexuality act last year.
Fighting unilateral sanctions was a signature policy of Cuba, which Uganda just replaced, as leader of the G77+China.
Having endured a 60-year USA trade embargo, sanctions were on the list of Cuba’s areas of focus, while Uganda listed strengthening peace and security, combating terrorism, addressing humanitarian crises and advancing agenda 2030 as its focus areas for leadership of the global South.
Cuba’s work on sanctions appeared to have won support from 187 countries that voted at a UN general assembly in November 2023 to end the 60 year trade embargo, but the United States of America is maintaining the sanctions.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, also asked NAM to push for the lifting of sanctions targeting several members of the Global South.
“As the Non-Aligned Movement, we must continue to work together in support of the lifting of the economic blockade against Cuba and unilateral sanctions against Iran, Venezuela and Zimbabwe,” said Ramaphosa.
Yet Uganda, currently experiencing sanctions over the government’s human rights record and Parliament’s passing of the anti-homosexuality law in 2023 appeared uninterested.
The USA and Bretton Wood institutions have sanctioned Uganda by blocking multilateral lending and aid.
Some individual government officials have also been sanctioned and Uganda was at the end of 2023 removed from the list of countries that can benefit from the USA’s Africa Growth and Opportunity act (AGOA). AGOA allows countries in Africa to access the American market duty free.
Getting the Gaza strip on the agenda
From the outset, Uganda appeared ready to shoot down any public mention of subjects that would antagonize the West.
One example was when Naledi Pandor South Africa’s minister for international relations and cooperation, raised independence of Western Sahara, Palestine’s independence and Israeli’s war crimes in Gaza, JejeOdongo Uganda’s foreign Affairs Minister immediately pivoted the conversation to fighting terrorism.
Okello Oryem, Uganda’s Minister for regional affairs also told journalists Palestine would no longer be on the NAM and G77+China final agenda, as it had been exhausted during the preliminary discussions.
“The issue of Israel and Palestine is not on top of the agenda,” he said.
At the end of the meetings, however, condemnation of Israel was one of the few subjects where a clear resolution emerged thanks to efforts by South Africa’s Pandor and her counterpart the Namibia Deputy Prime Minister who also doubles Minister for International Relations and Cooperation.
Outside of investment and trade, the other issue to interest Uganda, was the Sudan war, which alongside Somaliland’s agreement to lease Ethiopia a 20-kilometre coastline prompted the convening of an extra ordinary meeting for the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Museveni had met with, HamdanDagalo better known as Hemedti and one of the protagonists in the Sudan conflict less than three weeks before NAM. As a result, the IGAD meeting was vieqedsuspiciously by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan the Sudan Army chief and second protagonist in the war.
Hemedti, whois still viewed as leader of the Janjaweed, a militia that led commission of genocide in Darfur in 2003, received a red carpet welcome at the IGAD meeting in Uganda.
Since that meeting, al-Burhan has withdrawn from the IGAD process, which could delay further, efforts to stabiliseSudan and hold elections that should have taken place shortly after the 2019 revolution that led to the removal Omar al-Bashir.
Yusuf Serunkuma a scholar at Makerere Institute for Social Research (MISR) observes that the failure to stabilize Sudan serves the interests of several imperialists including the Americans who fear the possibility of elections leading to a Muslim Brotherhood government.
“They (Americans) fear a repeat of Egypt 2011,” he says.
Following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak by a people’s revolution in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood won the general election but was quickly overthrown by the army in coup led by General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Gen Sisi has since helped the USA and Israel to maintain the status quo in Palestine and particularly the Gaza strip, where the population has now endured close to four months of bombardment in an open air prison.
The Muslim Brotherhood parties in North Africa share an ideology with the Islamic Resistance Movement better known as Hamas, which on October 7, 2023 broke out of Gaza to conduct an attack that resulted in the death of over 1200 Israelis, while another 250 were kidnapped.
Uganda under President Museveni has in recent years been part of efforts to help safeguard the Israel state, while isolating the Palestinian cause. One example, of President Museveni’s efforts was in February 2020, when he facilitated a meeting between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and al-Burhan, the de facto Sudanese leader at the time.
At the Entebbe meeting, al-Burhan and Netanyahu agreed that Sudan would start a process to normalize relations with Israel, effectively negating the question of Palestinian statehood.
During that, 2020 visit by Netanyahu, Uganda also agreed to take in asylum seekers from Israel and to author the amicus curiae brief blocking Palestine’s access to the ICC.