By Stephen Twinoburyo
Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, visited South Africa this week from Thursday 20th January to Saturday 22nd January.
From the official perspective, both on his side and that of his hosts, the visit went well. He signed important bilateral treaties with Zuma in Pretoria on Friday and attended a Zulu war commemoration in Kwazulu Natal on Saturday. The treaties included areas of trade, mining and Agriculture. It’s the press conference after the official meeting with Zuma that was quite interesting. Journalists asked him if he has not learnt lessons from Tunisia considering his long stay in power. He replied that Tunisia has a different set of circumstances and added that he has done a good job in leading his country. “We have been in power for a long time yes, but we were also in the struggle for a long time,” said Museveni. “In fact I don’t see myself as being in power, I see myself being in the struggle.” This is a remark I heard being laughed at on one of the top radios. The visit has gone largely unreported by the Sunday papers though it got mention in some newscasts during the week, mainly because of President Zuma’s pronunciation on Ivory Coast and the Zulu commemoration.
Things within the Ugandan camp, however, were not going so well throughout his visit. His visit has been largely kept secret by the Ugandan High Commission in Pretoria though this information is freely available to the South African media and his itinerary could easily be found by a google search. Most Ugandans were completely unbothered by the attempts by the Ugandan authorities to shroud the visit in secrecy and not invite any Ugandans to meet him so they just went about with their normal activities.
As has been witnessed over the recent past, most power fights seen in Uganda are fiercer within the NRM than between the NRM and outside political forces. The Ugandan ambassador to SA, Mr. Kweronda Ruhemba, a bush war veteran and former minister in Museveni’s cabinet took one matter so lightly. He rejected pleas from the NRM organisation in South Africa to be included on the programme to see their president. I think he holds this group in contempt and doesn’t seem to respect its leadership. Through their contacts in Kampala, the group’s convenor and General Secretary, Mr David Rwamutemba, learnt of the president’s programme and organised his members to surprise the entourage. Dressed in NRM yellow t-shirts they out of nowhere appeared at Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria, where Museveni was scheduled to stay, shortly before he arrived. Mr Rwamutemba then met Ministers Sam Kutesa, Kahinda Otafiire, John Nasasira, Hope Mwesigye and Saida Bumba and informed them that there was a group of Ugandans that had gathered outside and wanted to meet Museveni. This took Mr Kuteesa by surprise as these people didn’t appear on the programme he was given and expressed surprise that the embassy had rejected requests to include South African based Ugandans on the programme.
Mr Kweronda appeared a few minutes later and his boss, Mr Kutesa (Foreign Affairs minister), asked him to go and meet the Ugandans outside. When he got outside, he instead asked them what had brought them to Sheraton Hotel and told them to quickly get into their cars and leave. This incensed the group who insulted and manhandled him telling him that he had no authority to tell them where they needed to be. He summoned security but Mr Kuteesa quickly stepped in and calmed the situation, and more importantly to avoid negative publicity. The group was invited into the hotel and toasted to eats and drinks on the house by Finance Minister, Saida Bumba. She went on to explain to them the government programmes that her department is facilitating, and most importantly to the diaspora, a Uganda Shillings 60 billion youth fund that will be accessible to young skilled Ugandans in the diaspora if they have ideas that can add value to the country. Later, Mr Kuteesa promised the group that they would meet the president the following day at 4 pm.
The following day, they regrouped at Sheraton Hotel and when it became probable that they would not see the president due to his schedule, they camped outside the lift he was going to use. When he got out, he was surprised to see them, greeted them, apologised for not having time to speak to them and left for Durban. That marked the end of Museveni’s visit to South Africa as far as Ugandans were concerned. The NRM group is still reportedly planning pickets outside the embassy calling for the ambassador to be replaced. His position seems to be very shaky judging from reports reaching Twino Speaks about private comments that came from some of the ministers and NRM top wigs. He is suspected by NRM royalists to be sabotaging the party and more especially, the president.
Friday also included a business workshop at Sheraton Hotel between Ugandan business people and their South African counterparts. This visit went largely unnoticed by Ugandans here, it was poorly scheduled such that Museveni failed to address it as planned and the business delegation that came from Uganda did not interact with any Ugandan business person based in South Africa.
Meanwhile the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)’s supporters in South Africa had also been planning a demonstration to coincide with his arrival but seemingly his arrival time jeopardised their plans.
Wife of the president, Mrs Janet Museveni, toured a high-tech farm from which some skills and technology are expected to be transferred to the Karamoja region.
Many Ugandans in South Africa have expressed disappointment at the way their government is treating them. Museveni last met them almost 10 years ago though he has been here a couple of times since. As far as the visit is concerned, the embassy and its parent body, Foreign Affairs ministry, shoulder most of the blame for these kinds of shambles regarding the Ugandan community in South Africa. The ministers present feigned surprise at learning of Ugandans in South Africa yet they’ve been jetting in and out of this country. Though the president’s programme is arranged, he very well knows there are many of his country people in the country he is visiting and should have told his juniours that he wants to meet them.
It is rumoured that Ugandans in South Africa are suffering the sins of Museveni’s main political challenger, Dr Kiiza Besigye, having lived in South Africa while in exile. This time Museveni reportedly promised to come back and meet Ugandans in April. Considering that presidential elections are taking place in February, it is yet to be established whether he will visit as president or common Ugandan. If he comes as a common Ugandan, many of us will surely have a chance to speak to him.