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Fidel Castro and Yoweri Museveni: Brothers in arms 0

Museveni and Castro both came to power through a revolution. Despite a crippling international blockade led by America, Cuba under Castro made huge strides in development while Uganda, a darling of the West, has remained backward – with all those millions of dollars in aid. It is a country where ordinary diarrhea is a life-threatening condition.

Among the similarities between Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, and Fidel Castro are their being born of at least one immigrant parent, growing up to participate in multiple anti-government insurgencies and succeeding after prolonged bush wars, made possible by the support of the local people, in putting an incumbent leader to flight. In his condolences to the Cuban people, Museveni refers to Castro as a friend and brother.

They were both avuncular in manner. Commentator after commentator has remarked about Fidel Castro’s ability, regardless of what you thought of his policies, to make you stop and take notice. It seems everyone now has a Castro story that throws his humanity in to high relief. President Museveni shares a similar charisma although it has diminished somewhat since the 1980s. I have seen a senior public servant, an army officer at that, close to tears when Mzee Museveni was criticized in his presence.

In addition to their biographical and personal similarities the two guerillas shared political sensibilities although President Museveni abandoned his position on the Left shortly after attaining power. While in the bush, Museveni is quoted as commenting that the people there had diseases for which there were no names. Castro was likewise horrified by the deprivation that was commonplace in Cuba in the 1950s. They had a heart.

They shared a healthy disdain for the Western hegemony which they saw, with reason, as exploitative. The solutions, they surmised, lay in radically improved service delivery in the health and education sectors and land reform.

Post coups d’état, Uganda’s in 1986 after Castro’s in 1959, the revolutionaries rode a wave of popularity enhanced by visible change. Deeper into their tenures, reports of repression became at least as frequent as the anecdotes proving their bona fides as bringers of progress.

Early attempts at governing were frustrated by external factors. Museveni’s foray into barter trade with neighboring countries failed when subsidized commodities were dumped on the region as aid. Castro’s overtures to the Eisenhower Administration in America in 1960, similar to those made by the 16 new leaders of the African countries whose statehood was officially recognized by the US in that year, were rebuffed: President Eisenhower would not receive him or listen to his proposals for cooperation. (Ostracism was to be the fate also of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba who was also punished for the crime of leaning to the Left.)

And there the trajectories of the two men diverge significantly.

The twins are separated

Billions of dollars in grants and loans were decanted into Uganda while allegations of graft escalated to the point where the country became an established kleptocracy and the leaders of its Revolution a liability. The AFRICOM, under the US Department of Defense has come to realize this and included Uganda in a series of studies of African countries to assess potential risks to their stability. [1] J.D. Barkan describes Uganda as having only a veneer of democracy fashioned out of unfair elections. He notes Museveni’s approach to governance as authoritarian, depending almost entirely on patronage which, as Barkan points out, means he needs a constant stream of resources or opportunities for corruption to maintain loyalty to him. This has been known for some time. Uganda ranked 139th out of 167 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Index in 2015.

Even after threatening to cut off aid and later reducing aid before reinstating it again, the US and other donors remain in collaboration, or more accurately collusion, with the Ugandan Revolution.

For his part Castro persevered, surviving hundreds of American assassination attempts (verified by the Church Commission) and an economic blockade for the five decades.  His land reform programme involved nationalizing corporate going concerns and what he termed ‘idle’ land.

American owners of the nationalized properties are hoping for reparations, justly so. Their claims should be appended to the Historically Oppressed Peoples Claims Register underneath Native Americans, African-Americans and Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, formerly known as Congo Kinshasa. Either that or all the above losses should be chalked up to development and the common good.

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By Mary Serumaga

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Direttore Responsabile Stefano Arduini