Community, Diaspora and Immigration

Dr.Vincent Magombe, China should leave Africa alone!

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The Promota magazine decided for the first time  to feature a politically oriented interview with Dr. Vincent Magombe, who is known to be a critic of most African Presidents.

The Promota: You are now a media icon specialising on Africa issues. What is your opinion on Africa’s general political spectrum?
Dr. Magombe: Africa is bleeding. It is in deep pain… Scarred by unending wars, abject poverty, corruption and state terrorism, the continent needs radical transformation. This sad story of a continent so rich in natural and human resources, and yet bedevilled by bad politics, and a total lack of good governance, has to be told. I have spent the last 8 to 10 years, shouting out as loudly as I can about this tragic-comedy called African politics, and sadly few people seem to be listening. While it is incumbent upon Africans to solve our own problems, there is little evidence that we are about to begin to do that. What amazes me is the way in which even the so-called ‘saviours’ and ‘liberators’, have failed to live up to expectations. Of course, as some may argue, there is some positive change here and there. In Ghana, there is now fully fledged democracy. Even in formerly war-torn Liberia, we can see some progress towards political stability. Unfortunately, the pace of change is miserably slow, and the results hard to substantiate.

Do you subscribe to the notion that China is invading Africa in economical terms?
VM: China should leave Africa alone. While Africans would be happy to do business with China, given its economic power in the world, we do not want them to exploit our resources and also reverse our struggles for democracy and peaceful co-existence. At the moment, China is playing a destructive role, politically, by sponsoring and arming dictatorial regimes, such as the Sudanese government. Economically, China is busy taking our natural resources, without helping us to build the much needed industrial infrastructure. There is no difference between China and the so-called ‘imperialist’ or neo-colonial powers of the West. It is high time Africans woke up to this absurd reality.

You’ve been a strong negative critic of President Museveni’s government. Is there anything positive you envisage in the next reign of President Museveni, presuming he will win the election?
VM: If you asked me about any positive things that President Museveni may have done during his two decade rule – yes, I can mention one thing – there has been peace in Southern and Western parts of Uganda. But these peace credentials are immediately crashed by the lack of peace in Northern Uganda, and the war-mongering expeditions in DRC-Congo, Sudan, and Somalia. But, by the way, the peace in Buganda became history in September 2009, when the government security forces massacred close to 40 unarmed Baganda youths, whose only crime was to demand for the free passage of their Kabaka to Kayunga in his Kingdom.

To say the truth, it is hard to see how President Museveni can offer anything better, after the 2011 elections. In the past few years, the Museveni government has been busy closing down radio stations, bringing fictitious charges against opposition leaders, supervising massive corruption escapades and the rise of dire poverty in the countryside. I cannot see how the President can suddenly reverse his own well known approaches and visions. Ugandan people will be fools to give the NRM another chance. I have my doubts whether the President will get the required 51% of the votes during the elections.

Looking at the tribal tensions seen in Uganda recently by the Baganda, tribes especially from the west were harassed, cars burnt by Baganda youth and also some tribes joining in to support such lawlessness. What is your opinion especially on the resentment expressed by some tribes?
VM: In his recent communication from London, Ambassador Olara Otunnu, the UPC President said that Uganda was lying on a volcano that will explode, unless there is political change in the country. I agree. Right now, there is acute anger within the population. I talk to my Baganda friends – and they tell me that the September 2009 uprising was a mere rehearsal. They say that if President Museveni continues to disrespect the Kabaka and if he refuses to give back what belongs to Buganda, not to mention a fully fledged Federo system, then the future is very bleak. It seems to me that this anger is not only among the Baganda. People in the Northern regions, who have suffered enormously under NRM governance, are openly calling for change. Citizens from Western Uganda have also suffered under the NRM regime. Dr. Kizza Besigye has been beaten, imprisoned, humiliated, and persecuted in every way possible – he is from Western Uganda. Mbale in the East, where I come from, is a shadow of its former self. Mbale was once the beautiful gem of Africa. Today, it stands derelict, with its factories closed down, its coffee industry wound down. Jinja, in Busoga, is the same – a city that was once an industrial engine of Uganda, is now an industrial ghost town.

I was recently in Uganda after 19 years and I was disappointed by the state of roads in Kampala. The government and Kampala City Council are accusing each other of failure to maintain city roads. What is your opinion, now that the government has passed a bill to take control of Kampala?
VM: The NRM government, and the Kampala City Council, led by the pro-NRM Mayor, have done the City much more harm than good. Apart from the glaring new hotels that are the playgrounds of the rich and powerful, Kampala residents have suffered enormously from the horrible stench in the sewers around the city. They have had to learn new skills driving around and into gigantic potholes, and when it rains, Kampala drivers must teach their cars to swim in lakes and rivers on their roads. The situation can only get worse as a result of the government taking control of Kampala.

But these infrastructural problems aside, the grabbing of city management powers from elected officials (who can come from any party) means the appointees will be cronies of the ruling party. Another more ominous agenda is to reduce the power of the Kabaka of Buganda, by clipping his wings in relation to the over-seer role that he plays across Buganda.

Rwanda of recent has exhibited toughness on political opponents. Media and army desertion from the senior ranks is on the increase. Some opposition killings have been reported. President Kagame is now one of the recognised good leader in Africa, especially for his stance on corruption. What is your general opinion on the current political situation in Rwanda?
VM: I think that those people in some international circles who have been referring to President Kagame of Rwanda as a good leader are just ignorant of the political realities within the country. It is truly distressing to see how a country that suffered so much as a result of genocide can fail so badly to create a conducive environment for the emergence of democracy and true reconciliation. Today in Rwanda, opposition parties are not allowed to operate freely. Their leaders are either in prison, facing treason charges, or out in exile. We are witnessing an emergence of a culture of politically motivated assassinations. Independent media is non-existent.
The population lives in fear. The problem with this type of political dynamic is that it creates hatred between citizens, and it can trigger counter revolutionary activity. We are seeing the beginnings of a national rebellion, headed by disgruntled army officers and opposition leaders. Ironically, many of these people are from President Kagame’s own Tutsi ethnic group. I believe that Rwanda is headed towards a cliff, and unless the destructive power of President Kagame are contained, then we may wake up one day to witness another catastrophe like the one we saw in 1994.

If you were the Mayor for Kampala, what is the one thing that you would  change?
VM: I would work to transform the slums around the city into better places to live in – with clean water, electricity, and good transport. With Ugandan oil about to start flowing, this is clearly possible. Of course, one can also raise some funds for this project internationally. But, if Ugandan leaders stopped stealing public money, and if they prioritised their agendas in favour of the alienated common man and woman, then how can we fail to mobilise resources to improve the lives of our people?

How would you want to be remembered?
VM:  As a Ugandan, African, Mugisu man (a Uganda tribe in Eastern Uganda), who was fearless in criticising bad leaders across Africa. I owe my strength to the late Professor Okot p’Bitek, who once told me to be brave always – for, as the Acholi saying goes ‘Cowards should go back to their mother’s womb…

They are safer there’!




Profile: Vincent is a University lecturer, broadcast journalist, published writer and poet.

A Laureate of the 1998 Chukolskii Prize for Literature, Magombe is best remembered for his play 'The Fall and Trial of Idi Amin', which led to his fleeing into exile from his homeland Uganda, after an assassination attempt on his life by a group of Amin's soldiers.

Currently, he teaches film and television studies at the South Bank University, Creative Writing Studies at Chelsea and Kensington College, in addition to a course titled 'Africa Today' at the City Literary Institute. He has also lectured at the University of Westminster and at the London University's School of Oriental and African Studies.

As a broadcaster, Dr. Magombe is considered as the leading UK-based expert analyst and commentator on African affairs. He is the Director of the journalists' Network – Africa Inform International, which aims to impact on the way Africa and the Africans are imaged and represented in the international media. He regularly features, as an African affairs' expert, on the BBC, SKY TV, Channel Four News, CNN, Aljazeera, Irish TV and radio, Press TV, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Voice of America.

Since 1992, Vincent Magombe has been involved in the work of International PEN, the world Association of writers. He was a member of its Executive Board, and the President of its African Writers Abroad Centre. He was also the founding head of PEN's 'Writers in Exile Programme'. In 1998 he wrote International PEN's 'Report on Exiled Writers'.

Dr. Magombe has a PhD in Mass Communication, a Masters Degree (Honours) in Journalism, and a Masters Degree in Theatre and Film Studies. He has also trained with the BBC in Studio Production Techniques, and has other qualifications in translation & foreign language teaching, as well as community training work. He speaks fluently in English, Russian, and several African languages.

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