THE last time Airport Road was festooned with flags and portraits was in July 2002 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was here. The visit was
immediately turned into a propaganda junket and upgraded to a state occasion despite Zenawi being a prime minister and not a head of state.
Zenawi’s government has been clamouring for the extradition of dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam to face charges of genocide.
This week President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who not-so-long ago claimed to “differ profoundly” with President Mugabe over the DRC conflict, was here on a state visit. Hundreds of women carrying President Mugabe’s bespectacled face on their bums and chest were bussed to the airport to receive another true African son who had come to “learn” about Zimbabwe’s successful land reform programme. The Zimbabwean model of land reform has been praised by benevolent regional heads who have however conveniently avoided implementing it in their own countries.
President Mugabe told us that the two leaders had buried their “transient” differences, which stemmed mainly from the DRC conflict in which the Zimbabwean and Ugandan armies fought on opposing sides.
Museveni’s trip was therefore presented to us as an illustration of African brothers’ ability to make up and kiss for the sake of pan-Africanism.
Museveni described the conflict over the DRC as a “little misunderstanding” and said Zimbabwe and Uganda had “always worked together”. This is notwithstanding the thousands of soldiers and civilians killed in the conflict and the devastation to economies.
There are parallels between Museveni and Mugabe. The two leaders in 1998 sought glory from foreign military adventures at the expense of their national economies.
Like Mugabe, Museveni was heavily criticised for taking troops into the Congo. Both Uganda and Zimbabwe were implicated by the United Nations in the plunder of resources in the DRC. But there was a difference in the handling of the UN report by the two leaders.
Mugabe in his now commonplace mode of disdain frowned at the report, which he dismissed as the work of those bent on poisoning the good relations between Zimbabwe and the DRC.
Museveni on the other hand immediately set up a judicial team to probe the findings of the UN. The team implicated his brother Salim Saleh and senior army officials. Museveni, after cabinet approval, ordered a full probe, which resulted in Saleh’s resignation from government and government approving his prosecution in December last year. Zimbabweans implicated in the plunder of the Congo have political patronage to thank for their escape from censure.
That does not however make Museveni a white lily. It shows the deficit of transparency in our leadership. Museveni still has his blemishes, especially his insistence that Uganda should be a non-party state.
In 2000 the two African presidents survived polls which attracted world attention. Mugabe’s Zanu PF won a narrow majority in the parliamentary election which was followed by every TV viewer worldwide. President Museveni won the important referendum, saying that Uganda should continue being a “non-party state”, thus blocking multi-partysm.
His supporters say he is right in one aspect. Peace is still fragile in Uganda, and the country does not need leaders who thrive on ethnicity, regionalism or class. But Uganda also needs democracy and charismatic leaders and popular parties which can give all Ugandans a feeling of being represented.
But Museveni is a man on a mission to create employment and boost economic growth. Last year the country recorded growth of 6% compared with Zimbabwe’s negative growth of 8%.
His business delegation was looking at securing business opportunities and I bet they saw plenty of them here. There are companies which have mothballed expansion projects until Mugabe’s government comes up with a coherent economic policy and a durable political settlement.
The Ugandans were taken to Dairibord, which is struggling with insufficient milk supplies from farms ravaged by the resettlement programme. How about Dairibord setting up a milk processing plant in the liberalised dairy sector in Uganda? We hear the dairy sector contributes about 20% to Uganda’s food processing sector.
The delegation went to Varichem, which has started manufacturing ARVs. That would augment the vibrant HIV/Aids campaign back home.
Museveni, a strong supporter of the United States’ Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, last year spoke of his passion to secure markets on a trip to the US.
“Africa has demanded aid, aid, aid… I don’t want aid, I want trade!” He is seeking and getting trade for his country while Mugabe wants acclaim and personal adulation for stage performances.
Mugabe has been on many business forays whose benefits to the nation have remained encrusted in rhetoric. There is nothing to show for it except trade attaches and diplomats deployed across the globe to only raise the Zimbabwean flag every morning. Now we have substandard merchandise from Asia.
Museveni says Uganda does not need to set up an embassy in Zimbabwe unless there is tangible evidence of business between the two countries.
“An embassy is not a decorative feature to be used for wining and dining,” he told state media on Tuesday.
How many restaurants is the Zimbabwean government running across the world?