US criticism infuriates Uganda, Rwanda, DRC and Burundi

 US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power this week condemned "blatant power grabs" by leaders in the African Great Lakes region.

US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power this week condemned “blatant power grabs” by leaders in the African Great Lakes region.

While addressing the United Nations Security Council on Monday, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power on Monday singled out the leaders of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for criticism over “blatant power grabs” and the representatives of the East and Central African leaders have responded angrily urging the US to refrain from meddling in the affairs of these countries.

Ambassador Power aimed her attack at President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda charging the long serving leader’s actions during and after the recent presidential poll are both unlawful and undemocratic.

“President Museveni’s actions contravene the rule of law and jeopardise Uganda’s democratic progress, threatening Uganda’s future stability and prosperity,” Ms Samantha Power said touching on the arbitrary arrest and detention of opposition leaders and supporters, harassment of journalists and muzzling of and cracking down on civil society.

In response to Ambassador Power’s censure, Col. Shaban Bantariza, Deputy Executive Director of Uganda Media Centre (UMC), a government communication agency hit back on Tuesday telling Uganda’s Daily Monitor that the Ugandan government gets “disenchanted by groups of people who only talk about consequences while ignoring the causes.”

Mr. Bantariza wondered why the US government has been ignoring the Ugandan government’s rationale for arresting and detaining leading opposition figure Dr. Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and his supporters; their continued campaign of civil disobedience and defiance.

Bantariza said “Would the US government allow anyone with such purpose to roam around freely? Or, are they saying we let him cause the civil disobedience and sacrifice the rule of law?”

The US envoy also told the United Nations Security Council that despite the fact that Rwanda’s leader Paul Kagame has registered achievements of an “epic scale” in his country,  “the continued absence of political space — the inability of individuals and journalists to discuss political affairs or report on issues of public concern — poses a serious risk to Rwanda’s future stability.”

Samantha’s critique prompted Eugene-Richard Gasana, Rwanda’s Ambassador to the United Nations to inform the Americans that President Kagame is a “very precious man” and “our hero”. The Rwandan envoy directly warned the United States representative and her delegation never to “ever dare, ever, to treat him (Kagame) that way.”

Representatives of the leaders of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also took turns to refute US criticism that President Pierre Nkurunziza and Joseph Kabila, like Kagame and Museveni have no intention of relinquishing power.

DRC Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda N’Tungamulongo told the UN Security Council that his country has put in place democratic reforms and his Burundian counterpart Alain Nyamitwe condemned Ms Power’s assertions about Burundian and leaders in the region observing that “some talk today in 2016 as they used to refer to African countries in the 1950s, giving orders to fully sovereign nations.”  Nyamitwe reminded UN Security Council delegates that Burundi is “not a colony of anyone,” and that despite critical rhetoric against his country, the political and security situation is gradually returning to normal.

This latest tug of war between Washington and African Great Lakes Region capitals represents a growing tension between the US and the East and Central Africa because of the “third term” phenomenon.

President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi won a controversial third term bid last year and the country is still gripped by the resulting conflict. In the DRC President Joseph Kabila is under intense pressure from Washington to drop his third term ambitions and hold elections and step down later this year. In Rwanda, following December’s referendum on the constitution to allow him another term, Kagame has since declared he is indeed running for a third term next year. President Museveni in Uganda was declared winner of last month’s highly contested poll marred by massive irregularities and rigging.