There is a country that, in the year 2021, has a presidential candidate under house arrest. His house is guarded by security forces and his communication with the world is limited.
The election in which he recently took part and “lost” was conducted while social media was banned in that country – No Facebook, No Twitter, No WhatsApp, No Instagram or Telegram.
A total ban of communication between citizens and the outside world.
That country is Uganda and it is a member of the African Union (AU).
The AU has not called out President Yoweri Museveni over the heavy-handed manner in which his security forces dealt with political opponents.
The election returned Museveni to power for the sixth time, a position he had held since 1986.
Why should this bother South Africa? South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is the current chair of the AU.
On his election to lead the AU, Ramaphosa promised that the AU would work with “political parties on the ground” in various African countries under the theme “silencing the guns”.
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Since campaigning for the presidential election began in November 2020, there have been numerous deaths of protesters at the hands of the security forces.
The presidential candidate who is now under house arrest is popular Ugandan musician Bobi Wine.
Granted, Ramaphosa has a lot on his plate at the moment.
This past weekend he had to deal with the death of Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu, who had contracted Covid-19. Mthembu was also the president’s friend.
It only makes sense that the president focuses on getting the pandemic under control in South Africa. But that would be a cop-out for him.
The pandemic has not ended his term as chair of the AU.
People like Wine look to Ramaphosa to lead the condemnation of what is going on in that country.
There is a moral obligation on the president to call out Museveni on the multiple deaths and the violence that characterised the election that put him back in power.
In paying tribute to his friend Mthembu, the president praised him for the way he called out those who were stealing state funds.
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He called them out without caring how powerful they are and without fear for his own position.
The best way to pay tribute to his friend would be to take a leaf out of Mthembu’s book and use his position as chair of the AU to call out Museveni on his anti-democratic practices.
It is an abomination that the current leader of the organisation that is supposedly there to entrench democracy in Africa has stayed silent on Uganda.
The temptation to say let Ugandans deal with their own internal issues must be avoided at all costs.
It is the same attitude that made Mugabe stay in power for decades right across our northern border.
Zimbabweans were left to deal with their own internal issues but guess which country is now carrying the economic burden of that so-called “quiet diplomacy”? Yes, South Africa.
Uganda doesn’t pose the same problem for South Africa but the principle is the same, the stability of East Africa matters for South Africa’s wellbeing.
When this pandemic is over, because it will end at some point, it will be a real shame for the president of South Africa to go and share spaces of governance with despots who feel no shame for being in power 35 years and still rely on political killings and detention of political opponents to hand on to power.
SA’s president must denounce such despots.
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