He was one of the student radicals of the 1960s. At university he became prominent in student politics and studied the then trendy Marxist liberationist philosophers. He wrote a thesis on one of these, Frantz Fanon.
He flirted with one of the insurrectionist movements, Frelimo, in Mozambique in 1971. Unlike many student radicals of the 1960s, he did not later don tweeds, a posh accent and dilettantism. He did not even go into journalism.
Instead, he joined a liberation movement to free his country from one of the most brutal dictatorships the world has known since the second World War. He then joined a foreign army to liberate his country and became a minister in the new government. Later, he seized power and became President of a country deeply divided along tribal lines.
In the 14 years since he has managed to reduce tribal divisions and has accommodated hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries. His country is regarded as an economic success story.
This man was in Dublin on Monday and he spoke at UCD. He spoke with humour and eloquence of a profound global injustice which has impoverished his country and his continent. The hall in which he spoke was half-empty. His visit just about made the television news on RTÉ.
It was accorded a few column inches in an inside page of yesterday's Irish Times. His speech did not get a mention in the Irish In- dependent but there was a photograph of him with Mary McAleese. There was no mention of him in the Examiner (that I could find).
By any reckoning, he is one of the most interesting people in world politics. The only explanation for the lack of interest in his visit is that he is African. He is Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda. He was part of the insurrectionary movement that joined the army of Tanzania in overthrowing Idi Amin in Uganda in 1979. He was a minister in the new government of Milton Obote but left and started a new insurrectionary movement when Obote rigged elections and inflamed tribal sectarianism.
He was hugely instrumental in the formation of the Tutsi army that eventually overthrew the Hutu regime in Rwanda following the genocide of the Tutsis in 1994 - he had played a key role in the unsuccessful Rwandan peace process. He was a key player in the overthrow in 1997 of one of Africa's most corrupt dictators, Mobutu of the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire. He then backed those who rebelled against Mobutu's successor (and Museveni's former ally), Laurent Kabila, and, controversially, has committed Ugandan troops to the war in the Congo, Africa's first "world war" (involving eight countries and ignored by the rest of the world).
Although tarnished by his involvement in this war, he is Africa's most eloquent champion since the retirement of Nelson Mandela and the death of Julius Nyerere.
In UCD he spoke about globalisation and how Africa was being urged to join up. Africa has been "globalised" for over 500 years, he argued. African slaves emancipated Europe and North America from underdevelopment. In 1942 there were Africans fighting for the British against the Japanese in Burma - what more globalisation do you want? he inquired.
Europe preached globalisation and free trade, but did the opposite. African beef, pork, wheat, dairy products, textiles and sugar were shut out of the European, American, Japanese, Indian and Chinese markets. Debt cancellation and development aid were useful, he said, but what mattered was access to global markets - tariff-free and quota-free access. He acknowledged how Africa had contributed massively to its own impoverishment through dictatorship, corruption, unwise nationalisation projects. But the marginalisation of Africa will not end without free access to European and other markets.
He cited coffee as an example. It takes 2.5 kilograms of bean coffee to make one kilogram of instant coffee. Uganda has been selling 2.5 kilograms of bean coffee for $3.25. In Selfridges in London one kilogram of instant coffee sells for $75. He said he sought to get Nescafé and Nestlé to establish their roasting plants in Uganda but they had already built plants in the UK. Other private investors were unwilling to take them on.
When he proposed that the Ugandan government, in conjunction with private investors, establish roasting plants, the World Bank intervened and said if they did Uganda would lose support for other projects. He wondered whether Ireland could help, help at European level and now through its position on the United Nations Security Council. He may as well go on wondering. Ireland contributes less of its GNP in development aid than many other developed countries. Hilariously, at the recent summit in Prague, Charlie McCreevy promised that Ireland would reach the target of 0.7 per cent of GNP in development aid by 2007 (or was it later?). This is some 25 years after we first promised to reach it.
The tone of his announcement anticipated applause.
At UCD, an official distributed a handout from Liz O'Donnell, breathlessly announcing "emergency aid" to assist Uganda in containing the outbreak of Ebola diseases. What would you think might be an appropriate contribution to this, while the President of that country was visiting Ireland and given our overflowing Exchequer coffers. £75 million? £7.5 million? Surely not less than £1 million?
Nope. £75,000. Yes, seventy five thousand pounds. Jim McDaid would have spent a multiple of that going to the Olympic Games. The breathless little note revealed that Uganda is a "Priority Country" for Irish aid. In 1999 a total of £7.5 million was granted to Uganda. What do countries that aren't "Priority Countries" get?
And is it remotely likely that Ireland would vote at the EU Council of Ministers to let African agricultural produce into Europe, free of quotas and free of tariffs?
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