By Angelo Izama & Ismail Musa Ladu
Posted Sunday, January 17 2010 at 00:00
A Sunday Monitor snap survey of opinion over revelations this week that the United States Congress had directed America’s top diplomat to monitor Uganda’s 2011 elections, coupled with the heat generated over the anti-gay bill, has revealed mixed reaction to foreign engagement in domestic politics.
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who heads the State Department, the executive organ responsible for America’s foreign relations, was tasked by US lawmakers to report closely on the standards of the next general elections.
The demands of Congress- that approves the State Department budget- were tied to $70.6 million the US is providing in budget support to Uganda.
Ms Joann Lockard, the Public Affairs officer at the American Embassy in Uganda, explained that the conditions were introduced when the State Department budget had reached the conference committee. “Normally the President (Barack Obama) submits a budget but the legislative branch has the power to change it and make additions. The conference committee harmonises the budget proposals of both the Congress and the Senate into one final document,” she said in an interview.
This essentially means that both the lower and upper houses of the US legislature have agreed to the conditions which include reporting on freedom of the press, security of opposition candidates and other aspects of a free and fair election. Ms Lockard, however, could not say what consequences if any would arise should Uganda be found to be wanting. “The legislative branch did not say,” she added.
Early this week President Yoweri Museveni said Ms Clinton had called him and spoke to him about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The President, an outspoken critic of homosexuality, consequently told lawmakers to go slow on the Bill. Other reports say he has given the American government a guarantee that theBill will never see the light of day.
Meanwhile, the foreign pressure over democracy - and now Uganda’s right to enact its own laws -- have elicited a bitter reaction from Ugandan lawmakers and other senior government officials. “Uganda is a sovereign country, we do not need any lectures or supervision from the US,” said Steven Mukitale, who chairs Parliament’s committee on National Economy.
Mr Mukitale said Uganda can cope without aid that comes with conditions attached in reaction to another report that the US Trade Secretary Ron Kirk had said Uganda would be removed from the list of beneficiaries of a zero-tax regime for exports to America under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act initiative.
“We can cover the aid money they want to stop through disciplined spending and curbing corruption. Most of the aid they give us go on things like workshops and seminars,” he said. His colleague Gerald Simon Menhya, the chair of the committee on Presidential Affairs, said Uganda would not trade her “traditions and values because of aid”.
“We have resolved to go ahead and invite public for submission of their views regarding the [Anti-Homosexuality Bill]. The international community can also give in their opinion but we are not ready to change the order of nature,” he added.
Speaker of Parliament Edward Ssekandi this week said consideration of the Bill would proceed despite the President’s go slow appeal. However, Mr David Bahati who moved the Bill has told this newspaper he expects to meet members of Cabinet as early as tomorrow for consultations over the proposed law.
Mr Steven Kaliba , the vice chairperson Committee on Foreign Affairs said he would be “mad” not to support the bill.
“Why do they want to hold us at ransom? Even though we are in developing country, we have brains, we do not need to be threatened with scrapping of aid or being kicked out of AGOA,” he said.
However, a very senior government official who did not want to be named said the West was caught in double standards. “They want a law kicked out of Parliament on the one hand but also preach the independence of parliament from any influence,” he told this newspaper. The officer said election monitoring was a routine function of foreign embassies here. The quality of elections has drawn concern from Ugandan religious leaders who are also caught up in the debate over homosexuality.
In a pastoral letter released in full last month signed by Archbishops Jonah Lwanga, Luke Orombi and Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, ask Ugandans to be vigilant about free and fair elections. They also jointly made a case for electoral reforms warning that the quality of general elections will affect national stability.
“ [We are] determined to do everything possible within [our means] to ensure our people should not be divided on grounds of religion, ethnicity or other parochial factors” the letter reads and asks Electoral Commission to “demonstrate independence, sound judgement and integrity”.