The Observer (Kampala)

16 December 2012

Uganda: Dismas Nkunda - Will Museveni Step Into Gaddafi's Shoes?

When the next African Union summit ends in Addis Ababa in January next year, Africa may welcome a new leader of the continent.

This leader will replace the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya as the tower of strength for the continent. And this man may very well be President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Here is why. First, if you were alert enough to read deeper into Museveni's speech in Moscow last week, you wouldn't fail to miss the gist of his message.

He was clearly telling off the West to mind its own business and leave Uganda alone. Now, you need a lion's heart to tell the West to mind its business because it does mind others' businesses for their own business' sake.

So, why is it that Museveni threw the gauntlet down and spoke his mind now?

The answer lies in his recent rise on the African scene, which he clearly crafted so well and knows that it will hold sway for him. No other African president has wielded so much power in a single period like Yoweri Museveni is doing now. N

ot only is he the chairman of the East African, Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) but also of the International Conference of the Great Lakes region (ICGRL) that brings together eleven countries and a host of other affiliate countries.

He has also earned himself the recognition of having pacified Somalia which to date has become his bargaining chip with the West. He will threaten to pull out of Somalia, which other counties have feared to venture into, except Kenya for obvious reasons.

He was, and still is, involved in bringing some form of sanity in Burundi which was destined to becoming another scene of ethnic violence as once happened in Rwanda.

Today, no talks will take place between the M23 rebels and the Democratic Republic of Congo government without Museveni's name being invoked. He is the only one who would order the M23 to withdraw from Goma and the next day they do! Under his leadership, Uganda is mediating this conflict, despite the UN accusing Uganda of being party to it.

Now at the AU, Museveni may present himself for election as the chairman of the continental body, thus making himself leader of the whole continent. Given the cycle of the Africa Union's leadership, its now the turn for East Africa.

The current chairman is Yayi Boni of Benin (West Africa) having replaced Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (Central Africa), Nguema replaced the late Bingu Wa Mutharika of Malawi (Southern Africa) who was handed the leadership by the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya (North Africa)

The last to chair the African Union from East Africa was President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania. So who then would fit the profile for the East Africa region? Kikwete cannot stand again. Mwai Kibaki of Kenya will retire come next year in March. That leaves Museveni, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi.

Among the three, no one has the same standing as Museveni on continental matters. Nor do they have the same clout. If, indeed, he does opt to chair the AU heads of state summit for 2013, Museveni could ultimately become the most powerful figure on the continent, a position only once held by the late Gaddafi.

This, however, he will have to do with utmost care. With his newfound love with Russia, China and oil, the West will not sit by and watch as the ever-growing influence of China becomes more apparent. I would imagine that what the president did in Moscow last week was an attempt to revive his former passion of playing off leading powers whenever the stakes are high.

It is interesting that shortly before he flew to Moscow, the oil bill had first to be pushed by force through Parliament with all the acrimony that came with its passage. Mr Museveni had to present to the Russians something concrete, backed by the law.

Thus in the coming days not only will Museveni attract much attention from the West which accuses his government of massive corruption, but he will also be seen as the man who has taken over the mantle from Gaddafi in leading a pan-African vision, to the annoyance of the West.

And this couldn't be a better time for such scrutiny seeing that there are no longer powerful men on the continent for the West to contend with. With the death of Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and with Hosni Mubarak no longer in charge in Egypt, Uganda might as well take that slot which had always been reserved for the five countries that dictated the way the African Union was run.

These were Egypt, Libya, Algeria, South Africa and Nigeria, which contributed well over 70% of funds to the African Union. Reconfigured to suit the new powerful countries, Uganda would certainly sit amongst these, courtesy of how Museveni has positioned himself in

Africa and world politics.

The author is a human rights expert and specialist on refugee issues.

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