Ugandans campaign for Sam Kutesa as president of UN General Assembly

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Opinion | Sam Kutesa has many critics, which is why we must send him to the UN 

Daily Monitor — Much has been made of Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa’s impending election as president of the UN General Assembly. By Wednesday morning, 7,000 people had signed an online petition asking the United States government to revoke his visa and stop him from taking up the job.

The petition asks questions about Kutesa’s censure in 1999 and his rumoured vast wealth. These are legitimate questions that he will probably have to answer all his life. On closer reading, however, the petition is less about Kutesa and the regime and more about Uganda and our politics.

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For instance, much of the umbrage towards Kutesa is driven by the Anti-Homosexuality Act. It is an odious law, no doubt, but one for which Parliament and the President who signed it into law must take responsibility.

The petition makes reference to Uganda’s ill-fated invasion of DR Congo in the 1990s, human rights abuses and possible war crimes in northern Uganda and South Sudan, as well as Museveni’s “repressive and brutal dictatorship” over 28 years. The petitioner wonders whether Kutesa won’t use his position to block investigations into these matters.

These, again, are legitimate issues but I doubt that holding Kutesa responsible for the UPDF’s alleged use of cluster bombs in Bor is fair, in the same way that it would have been unjust to blame the late Foreign Minister James Wapakhabulo for our military mess in Congo.

By inference, no Ugandan can or should get the job, since they would have to be associated with the regime and the country. How long before more Ugandans in other UN agencies are targeted?

The biggest flaw with the petition is that it does not show how denying Kutesa a visa to America and a mostly ceremonial job will answer the legitimate questions. Would civil liberties and human rights improve in Uganda if the job went to a Malian or an Algerian?

The job will not shield Uganda – real power in the UN is wielded by the Security Council where, incidentally, we held a temporary seat a few years ago. What we need is to use Kutesa’s occupancy of the office to re-energise a global conversation about democracy, equality and rights in Uganda and Africa.

The patrimonial state in Uganda is creaking at the foundations as the masses with nothing walk menacingly closer to those with everything. Daily cash handouts keep them at bay, but for how long?

The easy way out is to force the grabbers to vomit their ill-gotten loot. However, doing so requires upstaging the current political order and, in the face of inevitable resistance, the use of superior and better organised violence. Our history shows that this method only replaces one thieving and despotic elite with another.

The harder option is a negotiated settlement in which deep reforms close the loopholes for abuse of power and manipulation of the political processes. This requires a set of sanctions or incentives, as well as moderates within the regime with whom to negotiate.

Isolating Museveni, his regime, and his key allies will trigger a backs-against-the-wall response and make a negotiated settlement harder. Like J.F. Kennedy said, those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. Those who seek reform must first unclench their fists.

A Ugandan at the helm of the UN will shine a spotlight on the country for at least a year and hopefully catalyse the on-going demand for political and economic reforms.

Kutesa has many critics. The best ‘punishment’ they can mete out to him is not to fight his election, but support him for the job and push him out into the glare of the world community.

Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. [email protected]
&Twitter: @Kalinaki

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