By Stephen Lwetutte
As the world reels from the unprovoked Russian aggression against Ukraine, world leaders have taken their positions, morally and policy-wise, with regard to this war. The world community, through the UN General Assembly, has already made its position abundantly clear and known – there is no place for aggression in today’s civilised word. President Museveni of Uganda and the leading opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi have taken opposing positions with regard to this war.
When President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation finally ordered the invasion on Ukraine on 24 February 2022 following repeated vehement denials of Western intelligence reports that an attack was imminent, the world was up in arms to strongly condemn the act. The United Nations General Assembly within a week had issued a Resolution likewise condemning Russia and demanded “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”
This Resolution was voted upon and supported by 141 UN member states out of 193, with 35 mainly African countries, including Uganda, abstain. Only five opposed this UN Resution: Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Eritrea, Russia and Syria.
You would think that the militarily weaker African countries which in principle are the most vulnerable would support and champion the cause against aggression by militarily powerful nation and lead the campaign to condemn Russian aggression, if only to set a precedent. To the surprise of many, they chose to sit on the fence and not vote. Not even President Yoweri Museveni’s strongly held opinion that Africa needed to develop its own defensive capacity to safeguard its independence was invoked to inform Africa’s UN Russia vote as it clearly compliments and supplements that effort. Instead, most of the abstaining countries cite disingenuously the “historical links” with Russia as justification for their stance as opposed to a principled position against aggression by whomsoever.
Moreover, they appear to forget that those “historical links” for what they are worth are equally applicable to Russia as they are applicable to Ukraine – both countries were part of the Soviet Union, not just Russia, and Ukraine will have made the same contribution to the “historical links” as Russia.
In Uganda, leading opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) Hon Robert Kyagulanyi, widely believed to have won the January 2021 Presidential elections, has decisively distanced himself from this African ambivalence and stoop up to be counted among those in practically promoting and defending the international law doctrines of territorial integrity, national sovereignty and independence. He has condemned the Russian aggression and spent several days in the Ukrainian capital in solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine on behalf of the majority of Ugandans who voted for him.
President Museveni, on the other hand, has hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in solidarity with Russia and has publicly queried why Ukraine was fighting and resisting Ukraine. His hypocrisy is breathtakingly brazen: on the one hand, he seeks to see a free, strong and independent Africa, yet he discourages the Ukrainians to do the same. Luckily, these double standards have been ably diluted by opposition leader Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi on behalf of Ugandans who stand in solidarity with Ukraine, a major European country with which we will need and have to deal in the future, and which will remember those who stood by them in time of need.
The late South African Bishop, human rights activist and Nobel Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Ugandans rightly applaud and congratulate Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi for his leadership,vision and wisdom to choose to occupy the moral high ground on behalf of Ugandans, where none was being taken. No doubt the Ukrainians and the world had stood up and taken note. It is not too late for President Museveni and other African leaders to borrow a leaf from Mr Kyagulanyi.
The writer is a Multilingual Human Rights Practitioner, formerly at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London for over 20 years and now Legal and Human Rights Consultant.
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