Recently the national elections have concluded here in Uganda, and the accompanying national chaos has receded. I purposely scheduled my trip to Uganda this March to miss the election excitement, which is better avoided by musungus, I think. The final results which re-elected the popular and even beloved President Museveni to power in February, continuing his thirty years as reigning president, are being contested at court, the voter count is challenged, corruption is charged, etc., etc.

With a strange sense of déjà vu, I was amused to read in the local paper when I arrived several weeks ago that there had been a break-in to the chief opponent’s offices where the affidavits of voter corruption were being kept, and which, of course, were stolen. The opposing party was screaming that the police were behind the raid on the offices. I sooooo flashed back to the early 1970’s during the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Nixon which featured a very similar break-in to the opposing party’s offices attempting the theft of certain documents.

As I ministered on Buvuma Island last week, I felt mostly out of the flow of national politics since there are no TV’s where I could watch the news, and no newspapers trumpeting the latest scandals. However, I did run into a unique situation caused by our current election process in the U.S. which managed to reach even into the isolated populace of the island- the bishop mentioned to me that one of the locals had off-handedly wondered if perhaps I was an American spy for Donald Trump.

Ugandans, like people everywhere, love their politics and their conspiracy theories. This particular comment rose from some remarks made by Mr. Trump during one of his blustery speeches. I can assure you that every Ugandan heard some version of his remarks about their president when he threatened to work towards ending President Museveni’s [Uganda] and President Mugabe’s [Zimbabwe] long hold on power if elected US president. He also remarked that President Museveni belongs in prison. His thoughtless remarks have precipitated a rise of anti-American sentiment that is troubling to those of us who are here to help. Fortunately, the kick-back is very quiet and only voiced in remarks like that of the Buvuman who wondered if I were secretly working for Donald Trump.

I tried to express to as many as I could that Donald Trump is a businessman and not a politician. Many in Uganda think he already controls the government which is why he can make such broad threats against other world leaders – they think when they hear such things that he is stating American policy. His remarks, which often seem tactless and in violation of every rule of international diplomacy, are really just his negotiating style. He negotiates hard, then makes friends, it seems to me. Much of what he is saying now to win the vote would never be acted upon if he should reach the White House because he is a canny negotiator who comes on strong during the negotiation but doesn’t reference his true objective until he wins the negotiation. It should be obvious that his objective now is to win the presidency by capturing votes, and as a negotiator, he is saying what he thinks he needs to say to win the election. I’m not sure I agree with his method, but his objective is clear. Ugandans, however, can’t sort that subtlety out as they hear him threaten their president and their sovereignty.

This all puts American missionaries in a strange position. I am hopeful that Mr. Trump will not “ramp it up” and repeat these kinds of remarks. I am blessed to be very well received by the locals here, and I have not heard a repeat of the kind of thing said on the island. Surely, if Africans understood that Mr. Trump at this moment is not related in any regard to any aspect of the American government – he is not a congressman, senator, a governor of a state, has never held an elected office or even an appointed government position; he is just a private citizen, a businessman, no less, who is making a run at the presidency, and as a private citizen certainly is not sending spies to Uganda – perhaps they would relax and wait to see if his words will ever actually reflect American policy, at which time, I hope he will learn to negotiate in a more diplomatic manner.

[ Note: I am not writing this as a political piece, but rather as a perspective on what Ugandans hear when such things are said and reported from political campaign speeches. If I have offended anyone politically, that was not my intention. I am neither pro nor con any particular Republican candidate at this time and will not use this blog to take sides in the upcoming campaign.]

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