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The dilemma of being rewarded by benefactors of your oppressor

Jimspire Ssentongo (C) is the latest winner of the award

Jimspire Ssentongo (C) is the latest winner of the award

The European Union has a thing they call "the Human Rights Defenders Awards," which recognised the work of activists fighting bad governance in Uganda. ( I do not know if it exists in places where the EU has operations).

In the past two years, two wonderful friends of mine, Agartha Atuhaire and Jimmy Spire Ssentongo, have been the recipients of this award. But at the risk of appearing envious, I have found this award bordering on cheapening the struggles which these comrades of mine are involved in — and not extensions of support as they are pitched.

I find this award akin to the colonial office in London sending a medal to Dedani Kimathi and his men in the Mau Mau struggle for fighting against the excesses of the IBEACO. Because the colonial office also has to send weaponry shipment to IBEACO officers thereafter.

Challenging the excesses of Museveni’s government is risky business. But annual awards make it look like child play, like a beauty pageant. Because through one door, they can fund Yoweri Museveni’s government, to a tune of billions, with its record of murders (November 2020, Kasese 2016), and corruption and then through another door, award those fighting the same brutality.

And this circus is repeated the following year. Look, Ms. Atuhaire has reported life-threatening situations, including death threats, and being thrown out of rental apartments. Dr Ssentongo has on several occasions gone into hiding with threats of arrests, and treason trials. This is all serious business.

But why does the EU treat this like child play? Why turn these struggles into music awards, with subtle competition, judges, then a shortlist, and then an event of the award? Will they soon send us links to vote for our favourite defender — before sending more money to their oppressor?

The irony could not be lost on Jimmy Spire Ssentongo himself as he recently received the award. That while he was being recognised for fighting for a better Uganda, the same people recognising and awarding his work as ‘a human rights defender’ were the same people buttressing and propping Museveni’s government.

So, in his remarks, Ssentongo would note that, “as you award me, I also urge you to isolate the individual abusers, and make the world tiny for them. Don’t wine and dine with them...”

Of course, Dr Ssentongo was extremely diplomatic for they aren’t simply dining and wining. But are exchanging humongous sums of money and ammunitions, and clandestinely dealing the country. Hidden behind Ssentongo’s mercurial diplomacy is a real modern dilemma: to be recognised is a wonderful thing, especially by a rich and renowned institution such as the EU.

It comes with both stature and material benefits. But knowing that the people trying to humour you and encourage you on actually fund the very mess you are struggling against

— but have mastered the art of camouflage

— is a real moral challenge. Especially if you are the academic Jimmy Ssentongo or investigative journalist Agartha Atuhaire, you know full well that if one looked behind the façade of Museveni, the real actors are the European Union and others like them. It is technocratized and tactfully depoliticised indirect rule through and through.


Of course, the EU will defend itself that in extending aid, grants, arms sales, and keeping good diplomatic relations with the government of President Museveni, they are doing so with the government and the people of Uganda.

They will promise to do the same even under a different president (irrespective of their policies on the people). But this argument is pedestrian because (a) activists need no awards for their work. In fact, the best of them is the unrewarded activist. Have they not seen their salaried activists in the NGO and CSO world?

On the other hand, the government of Yoweri Museveni is only alive because of immense EU (add UK, USA and others) financial and military support. No wonder this government listens to foreign power more than its people.

(b) Since it is because of the EU support that a bad government exists, activists are derivatives of this bad government. Otherwise, there is no need for them to exist “defending human rights.”

Considering that activism is not a job — Atuhaire is a journalist, Spire an academic and humourist, these folks would rather have a good government than spend their time engaged in risky activism.

But there is one more reason for me that explains what I think is EU’s deliberate cheapening of struggles (they appear to mean well) and braving the embarrassment of appearing confused. I will call this the ‘spectacle of modern colonialism’: appearing to be friendly with the general publics, while at the same time, eating them from the inside.


Let me use the recent British sanctions on Speaker Anita Among and ministers Goretti Kitutu and Agnes Nandutu to demonstrate this script. Accused of stealing from the poor, these three renown individuals (not sure they selected these ones because there are many prominent thieves in the country – even way bigger than these three) will henceforth not be allowed to set foot into the UK.

Perhaps into all of Europe. And if they had any assets in those countries, the UK would also take them. After the matter is forgotten, they will become gifts to the people of the UK. (They will not return them to the people from whom they are supposed to have been stolen. They never do).

But beyond the simply noisy matter of the iron sheets, the recently concluded #UgandaParliamentExhibition showed us that Speaker Anita Among, her workers, and all legislators were rolling in money. But whose money are they rolling in? The easy answer is it is taxpayers’ money. But thisisasmallpartofwhatoughttobeabea comprehensive response.

If we worked with Kalundi Serumaga’s historical-theoretical analysis that “parliament is the bribe” itself, started by colonial master Sir Andrew Cohen, then you realise that the money circulating in parliament is the money for which the country is being sold. Because Cohen was buying MPs in LEGCO, selling the country.

Indeed, for German, UK and Dutch companies to have monopolies in coffee sales; for European-based banks to forcefully dominate the banking industry; for European telecom companies to monopolise the telecommunication industry..., it does not come on the cheap. They don’t get these things for free.

Through a long route, they have to constantly oil the hands of politicians. Because these monopolies are legitimated in parliament. So, to a large part, it is European Union money being thrown about in parliament. But the EU knows, you have to continue this stupid indulgence of politicians for European companies to sustain their grip.

But at the same time, EU has to look like they have nothing to do with the corruption in the country, and will thus appear to sanction individuals, and reward those exposing them. Anita Among’s mistake is a PR personality crisis. Otherwise, she is such a small thief.

Again, congrats my friends, Dr Ssentongo, and Agartha Atuhaire! The struggle only continues.


The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University


+4 #1 Marvin ya Kuku 2024-05-08 11:44
UK, US, EU etc...have their own interests. 1. That money is not forced on Africa. Uganda in most cases goes actively looking for loans.

2. Aid money is essentially loans that must be repaid. 3. These awards are a representation of a large population in the world, many of whom do not support bad leadership.

The USA for example will support its companies to exploit raw materials and sell weapons but turn around and "help" the same exploited people to reduce the negative outcomes associated with such trade policy.

It is a balance and it should be obvious to see why it is done this way. All African states can mitigate this issue with simple actions. Burkina Faso kicked out France for example.

Please note many EU citizens do not support exploitation and the EU in this case is giving them a way to reward those in African fighting against it. It is not necessarily the same people sending western money undercover to dictators that do such awards.
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+1 #2 Akot 2024-05-08 13:31
Marvin ya Kuku, thanks.

This is so as Africans got independence from these developed countries, but failled to develop Africa! Yet, while getting loans, free money form former colonials pretending to help their people, they are so so rich while Africans are poor under dictatorshim/bad rule & migrating to get better living in former colonails lands!

But Africa useless rulers are blaming former colonials they replaced for badly governing Africa since independence!

African lands that woke up & UNITED to end dictatorship didn't have a real beginning as they didn't, don't have the correct education to ensure a real start for development in a real democracy!

As you said [UK, US, EU etc...have their own interests.] but they have no choise but to do business with useless Africa rulers as these developed well governed lands need Africa land riches!...
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0 #3 Akot 2024-05-08 13:32
...Ugandans MUST say NO to the tribalistic system to have the POWER through UNITY, to get chance to stop Museveni & have control of their land & riches!

This is more so for Ugandans as Museveni has no tribal land in the zone so has nothing to lose whateven end he gets!

If Rwandese Museveni isn't a colonial power, then what is he?

Ugandans should see how UK, USA, EU are locked with Hamas war on Israel; Palestinians, muslims are UNITED around Hamas & are all fed, get medicine...from USA, EU, UK while Israel only get support through WORDS & blamed for ensuring Hamas dosen't erase it!

Powerless tribally divided ruled Ugandans ensure Museveni's ownership of their land, tax money!

USA, EU, UK are also ensuring Hamas war on Israel by feeding Palestinians & Hamas, giving them medicine!
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+8 #4 Lysol 2024-05-10 01:48
Any person with a principle would refuse such awards. It's like a wife beater, who beats his wife first and later on shower her with gifts.

That is the double standard of the Western world politics. Those who receive such awards from them are self centered.
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0 #5 Akot 2024-05-10 12:58
Lysol, thanks.

Unless Africans ensure they are well governed by their own, the West will continue doing business as they need raw materials & the oans are payed back in due time, with interests!

Would Africans accept if the West impose change on them?

What is more worrying is that China, Russia...are using African useless rulers to finally own, control Africa & riches!

UK, USA, EU are ensuring Palestinians get food, medical help, ignoring that this help goes to terrorist Hamas protected by Palestinians, Muslim/ Arab!

Tribally divided ruled Ugandans are ensuring their land belongs to Rwandese Museveni constitutionally too, right?

Museveni knows he owns Uganda & ruches, but Ugandans don't?
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+1 #6 Akot 2024-05-10 13:13
Lysol, thanks.

[the double standard of the Western world politics] is already warming up & will blow out on their faces!

Feeding, giving medical help to Palestinians mean USA, UK, EU are supporting Hamas. Biden has stopped giving military help to Israel too!

Which means supporters of Palestinians in USA, UK, EU will get stronger & make these developed countries their democratic platform to sing out their support for Palestinians!

Powerless tribally divided ruled Ugandans is the reason Rwandese Museveni owns Uganda, tax money, controls every institution!

Who will, can stop Museveni for Ugandans?
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