Reverse RSVP: Why Uganda’s Museveni, who called enslaved Africans ‘stupid’ and praised Hitler, shouldn’t come to U.S.-Africa Summit

Milton Allimadi | 7/31/2014, 2:43 p.m.

If a white person said Africans captured into slavery by Europeans deserved their fate because they were “stupid,” she or he would be treated like the plague. If anyone praised Adolph Hitler as having been “smart” but merely going “a bit too far,” that person would also invite universal condemnation. So why is it that instead of being isolated, Uganda’s dictator of 28 years, Gen. Yoweri K. Museveni (who in fact made those comments), is coming to Washington, D.C., to join dozens of other African leaders for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week?

The Ugandan ruler thrives on regional militarism, domestic political repression, torture, imprisonment and killing of political opponents and selective demonization whenever he believes it yields political capital.

Most recently, Museveni was in the news when he signed Uganda’s harsh anti-gay law Feb. 24. It calls for life imprisonment for gay Ugandans and up to seven years imprisonment for anyone, including employers and landlords, who knows of a gay person and doesn’t expose the person to the police. Museveni is promoting a witch hunt against gays, hoping it will translate into votes in Uganda’s 2016 presidential elections.

When a reporter wanted clarification about whether journalists working on a story were also obligated to “out” gay people, Museveni said not exposing the person would be like witnessing a murder and not disclosing it.

While the bill was still being debated in Uganda’s Parliament, President Barack Obama called it “odious.” At the time, it called for death by hanging for gays.

Yes, the U.S.-Africa Summit is a great idea. It holds many benefits for the continent. By bringing African presidents to Washington for a joint meeting, the continent gets the kind of media coverage it deserves to highlight development and investment opportunities. Global media would acknowledge that Africa’s story isn’t just about conflicts and diseases.

After all, according to the Economist magazine, six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies in the past decade have been in Africa. Moreover, the U.S. is eager to counter some of China’s aggressive commercial penetration in Africa. The Asian giant has signed several multibillion-dollar trade and investment deals. Many of the deals are geared toward quenching China’s insatiable need for energy and raw materials to fuel rapid growth.

It’s also true that the U.S. values its relations with Museveni’s regime because Ugandan soldiers help to stabilize war-torn Somalia. Washington fears Somalia would fall to al-Shabab, reported to be al-Qaeda’s ally. Yet a post-Museveni regime, democratically elected in Uganda, would be able to continue such a relationship. There’s no justification for supporting his dictatorship.

After all, it was Obama himself who, while addressing Ghana’s Parliament in 2009, though actually speaking to the entire continent, said, “Africa doesn’t need strong men; it needs strong institutions.”

Museveni epitomizes destructive autocracy in Africa. Such rulers are impediments to building enduring institutions of governance throughout the continent. What’s more, the U.S. has consistently accused China of ignoring human rights violations in its business dealings with African countries. The U.S. would repeat the same offense by permitting a ruler such as Museveni to the Aug. 4-6 summit.