Today I would have been at Stony Brook University in New York, hobnobbing with important scholars while attending a fully sponsored ten-day conference on news literacy, but alas! “Sorry Sir, but the standards for applying outside your country are very high; I can’t grant you a visa into USA.” So I’m up in the skies flying home after a one year sojourn in Beijing.
Carrying a Ugandan passport might not have helped matters but the fact is, obtaining an American visa remains the biggest non-tariff-barrier hindering millions of non-migrant Africans wishing to travel to USA for professional related activities.
Recently, Uganda passed a law that ‘bothered’ USA and President Obama warned of major consequences to come and a fortnight ago, a strict regime was announced for Ugandans seeking to travel to USA. So, my mind raced when the American consul repeatedly asked me whether I was indeed Ugandan and on answering in affirmative, the short verdict came, visa denied!
Here is a historical anecdote. As President elect John F Kennedy awoke on the morning of January 20, 1961, ready for his swearing in ceremony, Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo, the corrupt right-wing leader of the Dominican Republic had been in power for thirty years.
His long reign was supported by the US government and the American business community; so he ruled with brute force, fraud, terror and took pleasure in hanging his enemies from meat hooks.
“Trujillo had his torture chambers, he had his political assassinations but he kept law and order, cleaned up the place, built public works, (but most of all) he didn’t bother the United States; so that was fine with us-” Consul General Henry Dearborn, an American diplomat in the Dominican Republic at the start of 1961. Read: Tim Weiner, Legacy of ashes pg 197-198.
Fifty three years later, American foreign policy hasn’t changed; you could be Trujillo or worse so as long as you don’t bother or threaten the US interests. President Museveni’s critics have for decades unsuccessfully tried to stir up trouble between him and USA until the passing of a single legislation which ironically, was supported by even his staunchest opposition. The new law has provoked travel restrictions that most Ugandan passport holders will now live to rue, one way or the other.
On May 30, 1961, General Trujillo was assassinated. His iniquities had gotten so bad inspiring a lot of unattractive hullabaloo from various political and civil rights groups hence bothering the USA. Something had to be done.
In May 2011, fifty years since General Trujillo’s assassination, Gen. Antonio Imbert, one of the seven men who gunned-down Trujillo told the BBC that, “nobody told me to go and kill Trujillo. The only way to get rid of him was to kill him.”
But that was a lie. Two weeks before Trujillo’s assassination, Amb. Dearborn received a message from President Kennedy in Washington that read: “we don’t care if the Dominicans assassinate Trujillo, that’s alright. But we don’t want anything to pin this on us-” (Weiner, pg 198).
This weekend marks twenty years since the gallant troops of the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) brought down the curtains on the macabre Genocide against the Tutsi, liberating the country from the Trujillo-like-reign of President Habyarimana and his cronies in July 1994.
However, as we celebrate the fruits of liberation and the ensuing recovery from ashes to success, that victory is not without threats. Inside Rwanda, the euphoria of liberation remains alive but negative forces headquartered in foreign capitals in the region and afar continue plotting and wishing for renewed havoc in Rwanda.
Therefore, the new phase of liberation war should now focus on consolidating the gains and ensuring long lasting stability by keeping Rwanda’s enemies whoever they might be and wherever they are, at bay.
Unfortunately, Rwanda’s efforts at halting external threats to its home security have often been met with irrational opposition. As an icon of liberation, President Kagame continues to enjoy unmatched support among Rwandans who have already expressed their intention to persuade him to stay on as commander in chief beyond 2017.
Interestingly, the people who were not bothered as the Genocide raged on are the same people who seem to be bothered today whenever Rwanda pushes to safeguard its hard earned liberation by pursuing negative forces hiding in the neighborhood. It’s at this point that one envies USA; everyone works not to bother them.
It’s just calamitous to bother American security; but the same is true for Rwanda. After tasting the sweet fruits of peace born after liberation, Rwandans have a new mantra; ‘do anything but bother the stability of Rwanda and the security of Rwandans.’