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August 1, 2003
The Monitor (Kampala)
David Ouma Balikowa

In July when the US President George W. Bush visited Uganda, Global Journalist/KBIA, a US radio in Colombia, Missouri, hosted me to a live tele-discussion.

The discussion focused on critical issues on the African continent and the discussants were drawn from Africa, Europe and the US. The crisis in Liberia stole the limelight of our discussion.

Some discussants argued emotionally about the need for the US to intervene in the Liberian crisis by deploying its troops there. I opposed the idea. And with good reason.

This is a short-term solution to an endemic African problem. American troops won't end every bloody war on the continent. The turnover of wars is simply too high. There is war in the DR. Congo, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Somalia.

The list is depressingly long.

In my opinion, the solution lies in making it criminal for gunmen to wage war against legitimate governments. And secondly, to make it criminal for African rulers to hold on to power undemocratically.

Particular reference is made to a remarkable statement made recently by the former Tanzanian vice president Justice S. Warioba at the July 10 conference on political transition in Kampala, Uganda.

Warioba said presidential term limits are necessary because they are long enough for serious presidents to achieve their promises, and short enough for citizens of a given country to tolerate a bad president. Remarkable.

It is the failure to appreciate this sort of logic that has led to the high turnover of wars on the continent.

Presidents exceed their term limits by amending their country's constitutions, and as a consequence lend credence to armed rebellion.

In many instances too, power hungry army generals and civilians resort to arms to stage bloody coups or wage guerilla wars when actually the presidential term limits are short enough to tolerate a bad presidents.

The former scenario is however the most common. Presidents in Africa are slaves to extending their terms in power.

Those who win power through the popular vote, rebellion or coups end up behaving the same way - bursting their term limits.

If the US, the "international policeman" must intervene to help Africa plug its bloodletting, the above scenarios best define the intervention points.

The first step is for the international community to make it criminal to fight lawfully elected governments even when they are bad.

Whoever defies this rule and comes to power through bloodletting must be isolated by the international community and hounded out of power. It should be made clear to them that they will face the wrath of the international community.

And when it comes to military interventions to stop wars, countries like the US should ideally come in as the very last resort, not as first choice.

This would be abdicating roles on the part of emerging democracies in Africa.

The intervention in the DR. Congo by its neighbours was a bad example. None of the countries that went in have democratic credentials. They were self-seekers from the word go.

African regional powers with political credentials such as South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana could be instead be facilitated by the US to intervene in war situations on the continent.

Until early this year, eastern Africa had no credible government. But Kenya seems to be rising to fit the role of the regional leader following last year's peaceful election and transition of power. In African speak, Kenya has washed its hands clean and with time could be allowed to dine with the elders.

Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya worked hard to earn their credentials. The regimes there having won power from dictatorial regimes only yesterday, the world is watching them for consistency and ability to manage political transitions.

But for this to work, the "international policemen" must first demand political pluralism and democracy - the absence of which breeds the wars and hence the need to intervene

Related to this is the need for consistency in the foreign policies of the "international police" community.

There is an urgent need for Western governments to fine-tune the balance between their strategic interests and the need to uphold democratic governance in Africa. They must be ready to sacrifice the former in favour of the latter essentially because democratic governance is central to peace and stability.

It would also enhance their moral authority to wield the role of international policemen.

This is a key challenge the western powers need to faces up to. It could be hard, but no sacrifice is too huge to have a stable Africa.

There is nothing to be gained from letting the continent bleed, be torn apart and always turn up with humanitarian aid, peace -keepers - often too little too late.

The root causes of the violence must be confronted even at the expense of strategic interest. Strategic interests could even be best sustained in the long run through institutionalised democratic governance.

The latter tends to involve the population in the "strategic friendship", while the former is often with dictatorial rulers and unpopular regimes. The wrath of the population towards strategic friendships with dictatorial regimes is latent, ready to erupt like some active volcano.

Uganda provides some lessons. It has been hard to draw a fine line between justified and unjustified-armed rebellion.

While gunmen justify wars with the argument that they are fighting for democracy, not all of them have been justified.

Like the rest of the continent, sometimes the absence of political pluralism provides the lame excuse to engage in armed activity.

The turnover of rebel groups during the current regime has been too high. Almost every region in the country has experienced war. The worst being in northern Uganda where the clashes between the army and Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has reduced an entire region to rubbles.

Like all the rebel groups that continue to come and go, the LRA cite the ban on political parties, the army's meddling in politics and human rights abuses and oppression as reasons for taking to arms.

Of course many Ugandans do not agree with some of the rebel groups. But they acknowledge the reasons they cite.

The government is too intolerant to the opposition, often shooting at them at rallies, seminars and meetings, graduation and wedding parties and even funerals.

Just last week members of the Reform Agenda were chased by security agents while meeting in Ntungamo. While the Uganda Young Democrats meeting was blocked in Masaka. The Uganda Peoples Congress and Conservative Party have been subjected to similar brutality.

These are real issues critical to democratic governance. No Western government seeking relations with Uganda can do so without putting the issues on the table. To ignore them is to engage in deceitful relations.

In the final analysis, democracy is the best means of isolating the lame excuses by armed groups. Once that is done, governments will then have the moral authority, popular support from the population and international community to deal with the rebels once and for all.