President Donald J. Trump received praise from an unexpected corner of the world Jan. 23.
Yoweni Museveni, the 30-year president of Uganda, gave Trump seemingly glowing accolades before an audience last week. His remarks were captured in a clip published by Uganda’s NTV, a leading national news station.
“America has got one of the best presidents ever: Mr. Trump,” Museveni told the audience. “I love Trump.”
The remarks were received with strained laughter, and while some news publications have taken the opening and ensuing remarks at face value, President Museveni’s subdued grim tone seems the style of a man speaking somewhere between ironic and sardonic.
President Museveni’s musings were a reflection on President Trump’s alleged descriptions of the nations Haiti and El Salvador and the continent of Africa as “sh*tholes.” While Republican proxies walked the remarks back to terms like “hellholes,” Trump himself has since denied making any such judgment at all.
“I don’t know if he’s misquoted or whatever, but when he speaks-I like him-because he speaks frankly,” Museveni said.
President Museveni had frank talk for Africans during the same speech.
“It is the fault of the Africans that they are weak,” Museveni said. “They have this huge continent. If you look at Africa, Africa is 12 times the size of India, in terms of land area, lots of resources, and the population is growing now. Why can’t we make Africa strong?”
While the spread of violence under the flags of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram, and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) can be attributed to failed US interventions in Libya and Mali, often referred to as blowback; President Museveni is at least partly right.
In 2005, the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) found the state of Uganda’s support of rebels in the Second Congo War a violation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) sovereignty. As a consequence, Ugandan intervention obliterated billions of dollars of its neighbor’s wealth. The DRC demanded $10 billion in restitution.
By the measure of the United Nations International Monetary Fund, Uganda itself, under Museveni’s leadership, is not a model of strength. While its Gross Domestic Product (Purchasing Party Power) (GDP) of $2,352 per capita towers over its neighbor the DRC ($785) and surpasses Rwanda ($2,090); it ranks among the world’s poorest nations. Kenya and Tanzania, other neighbors, have GDPs of $3,496 and $3,296, respectively. An ocean away, El Salvador has a $4,224 GDP.
President Museveni himself, is a man of some strength. He and forces he marshaled had a hand in the overthrow the repressive regimes of Mobutu Sese Seko Zaire (now DRC), Idi Amin’s Uganda, and Amin’s successor and Museveni’s own predecessor: Prime Minister Milton Obote.
Museveni’s National Resistance Army took part in the rebellion against Obote when the Prime Minister’s political opponents accused Obote’s party of rigging the 1980 election. Obote was deposed in 1985 in a coup d’etat. In the chaos of the military duumvirate that followed, Museveni seized power and has ruled since 1986. His administration has outlasted five US presidencies.
“In the world, you cannot survive if you are weak,” Museveni said of the of Africans during the same speech.
Human Rights Watch laid out its concerns with the Museveni regime in its 2017 annual summary, citing restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and association, incidents of extrajudicial state killings, and illegal detentions and torture.
While the Ugandan military has made inroads against child slaver’s Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and the Allied Democratic Forces, Museveni has not totally put down either rebellion to Uganda’s north or west.