The US Department of State recently announced visa restrictions targeting Uganda government officials implicated in gross human rights violations during and after the recently concluded violent elections where Gen Yoweri Museveni was announced winner with 58% against his main challenger, Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu with 35%.
A statement from the US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken said that the government of Uganda's actions during the recent electoral process undermined democracy and respect for human rights and announced visa restrictions on those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in undermining the democratic process in Uganda including during the country's January 14th general elections and the campaign period that preceded it.
While responding to these visa restrictions, Dr Kizza Besigye who fruitlessly contested against Museveni four times from 2001 to 2016 had this to say;
"Any action beyond the usual diplomatic rhetoric- of "having frank discussion"; "expressing concern"; "condemning" etcetera; is a welcome step in the right direction."
However, the military or police officers, paramilitary and militia personnel, security operatives or administrative officers (like resident district commissioners) who've been engaged in human rights abuses do so because of the immediate big rewards from Gen. Museveni and his cronies.
They also act in the comfort that they're protected from accountability. They act with impunity. Therefore, the imposition of travel visa bans by the US government is not going to cause a marked change of behaviour for those under orders to violate people's rights.
Moreover, due to the inconsistent application of such measures by the US and other "western democracies" generally, the Museveni regime is quick to explain such actions as unprincipled arm-twisting for their other (illegitimate) interests. Sanctions will not become effective until they effectively pause a threat to Mr. Museveni's hold on power. One such measure would be to reduce the "oil" they provide for him to "lubricate" his patronage machinery.
Uganda currently runs an annual budget of about $11 billion. Annually, the US government, through different programs (including support for the military) invests about $ 1 billion - close to 10% of the budget!
The World Bank and IMF (in which the US is the main shareholder) gave Uganda government close to $1 billion in the last 1 year! This also sets the pace for other lenders.
Former presidential aspirant and also the Forum for Democratic Change president, Patrick Oboi Amuriat also welcomed the sanctions with mixed feelings and in his interview asked the US to impose such sanctions against the bull himself - Gen Museveni directly and also paralyze funding that gives him the gumption to grow feathers.
"I welcome the visa restrictions imposed on individuals in the Gen. Museveni administration. The reasons given for this include the mismanagement of the elections and blatant abuse of human rights during and after the process. It would be most fulfilling if all individuals found to have inflicted pain of whatever nature were named, shamed and restricted. This would give organizations like FDC which were directly affected by the excesses of individuals in the regime the opportunity to highlight even those left out of the State department list of affected individuals. Mr. Museveni being the chief perpetrator even if he is head of state should be affected by these sanctions. I also believe that the Museveni regime should be denied funding in areas where the US intervention helped facilitate what were turned into instruments to coarse citizens" said Amuriat.
While responding on behalf of the Kampala Capital City Authority lord mayor who is presently in the hospital in Nairobi, his deputy, also opposition firebrand Doreen Nyanjura, welcomed the visa restrictions but argued that they should have been harsher.
"We welcome such developments. It has actually been late for such restrictions against Ugandan operatives who have taken the law in their hands. I actually think that Museveni himself should be given a travel ban from all nations since he is the commander in chief of this abuse. I however continue rallying Ugandans that change will come from within we can't depend on the foreigners for our freedom without our own input," said Nyanjura
By the look of things, it seems to many that imposing mere visa restrictions against the rogue regime of Museveni and his cronies will never scare him a modicum from violating human rights and undermining democracy in the name of keeping power because such restrictions are ineffectual as long as they don't paralyze his source of funding as Besigye has explained above.
After all, they can always travel to China and other countries where they have kept their loot.
The writer is a Novelist, human rights activist and also a member of FDC.