The three-day official visit to Zimbabwe by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has clearly demonstrated the power of money. It can make or break friendships.
Museveni, who was at one time a great admirer of President Robert Mugabe and was invited to officially open the country’s primary show case, the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, in 1989, turned into his bitter foe a decade later, when the two leaders grappled for pole position to exploit the vast diamond wealth in the Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC).
Zimbabwe, which is hundreds of kilometres from the DRC, argued that it was in the country at the invitation of its leader Joseph Kabila while Museveni, whose country borders the DRC, said he was protecting his interests as the war could spill into his country.
The DRC war, coming hardly a year after Mugabe had made one of his biggest economic blunders of doling out more than $4 billion dollars to war veterans when the state coffers were empty, speeded up Zimbabwe’s economic collapse as the country had to spend the scarce foreign currency it had leading to a run on the Zimbabwe dollar followed by fuel shortages that have persisted up to now.
Stakes were high in the DRC with Museveni reported to be raking millions through his brother Salim Saleh while Zimbabwe’s defence chiefs and Speaker of Parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa were implicated in a United Nations report of fleecing the DRC of millions as well.
The war, which Zimbabwe had thought would last weeks, raged on for nearly four years leaving the country heavily bruised, while Uganda virtually walked away unscathed largely because of the west’s stance on the two countries.
The west supported Museveni but at the same time distanced itself from Mugabe. A Reuters analysis of the Museveni-Mugabe role in the DRC at the height of the war in 2000 said while both men had used questionable tactics to hold onto power, the western world poured disapproval on Mugabe while it treated Museveni as a favourite son.
The analysis said the west was treating Museveni with kid gloves because he was a winner. Mugabe on the other hand had destroyed a once vibrant economy and his reign seemed to be entering its final chapter.
Apart from their differences over the DRC war, which Mugabe and Museveni this week brushed off as a minor understanding, the two leaders seem to have a lot in common. For one they share the same stance against gays, who Mugabe has described as “worse than pigs”.
They also claim to have saved Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo from the hangman’s noose in 1994.
They also share the same passion to cling onto power. President Mugabe has been in power since 1980 and his current term ends in 2008 which would mean he would have stayed in power for 28 years.
Museveni has been in power for 18 years already. Though his term of office expires in 2006, there are moves to amend the constitution so that he can stay in power until 2011.
But more importantly they both believe Africa can make it on its own if it can only rid itself of the dependence syndrome.
Speaking at a banquet hosted for him on October 4, Museveni said Africa could be powerful if it negotiated as a bloc rather than as individual countries especially on global, economic and trade issues.
This is exactly what he said 15 years ago when he officially opened the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair. He accused African countries of suffering from a dependence syndrome and preferring goods from western countries rather than from their neighbours.
He said if African countries imported goods from the Preferential Trade Area, now the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), it would save US$3 billion.
Though there is little trade between Uganda and Zimbabwe at the moment, Museveni’s visit indicates that he is determined to improve trade between the two countries. His delegation includes ministers of trade and industry, investment, and agriculture.