Africabeat template: Africabeat: The facade of democracy slipping in Uganda

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The facade of democracy slipping in Uganda

On Wednesday, Museveni announced a ban all public demonstrations in the capital, Kampala.

Supporters of Kizza Besigye, President Yoweri Museveni's opponent in the 2001 presidential , have been staging protests against Besigye's recent arrest and imprisonment. After returning from four years in exile, Besigye was charged with treason and rape. If found guilty of treason, Besigye could face the death penalty.

The ban on demonstrations, as part of a larger pattern of tightening political controls, raises some serious questions about the future of democracy in Uganda. The ease with which Museveni has been able to jail a political rival, maneuver changes to the constitution that allow him to run for yet another term, and now ban public demonstrations suggests that Museveni's Movement system - the means by which Museveni achieved a relatively stable and peaceful, one party state - may have been little more than a low-grade Dictatorship dressed as a Democracy. In the past, Uganda did well because Museveni did well by Uganda, not because the Ugandans have been successful in building strong, democratic institutions over Museveni's twenty years in power, institutions that can both constrain and outlast the personal charisma of a single man.

I would like to be wrong. Am I being too hard on Museveni?

To be fair, unrest in Kampala has lead to injuries and to the destruction of property which have may have been underreported in the foreign news media. The exigencies of maintaining public order might very well justify this ban. But that would be easier to accept if the banning of public demonstrations did not fit a larger pattern of political repression.

Or maybe Western-style democracy is just not a high priority in many African countries, nor, perhaps, should it be. Maybe Museveni and his supporters are right. Maybe unity is more important. And maybe the costs of restricting political freedoms in the short-run are worth pursuing the larger public good of prosperity, which can only be achieved in a peaceful, stable Uganda. That is, at least, one of the main justifications of a one-party state (case in point: China).

However, if Museveni really believed this to be true, if his political machinations were inspired by what he thought was best for the country, rather than his own political ambitions, surely he would not have run again. He would have chosen a successor - an ally, someone who could keep the Movement sysem intact - and he would have stepped aside and allowed someone else to stand in the election. That, I believe, is what a public servant who had a broader interest in mind would have done. After all, Museveni cannot live forever, and the only kind of democracy that can survive is one that can be tested.

No, I think this is just about power and the desperate desire not hold onto it as long as possible. If donors and aid workers were holding their breath, waiting to see what was living under the sheep's skin, I think they may have found their answer.

Related news articles:

"Museveni prevents pro-Besigye demos" BBC News
"Uganda: Political Repression Accelerates" Human Rights Watch
"By fits and starts, Africa's brand of democracy emerges" New York Times

Related blog entries:

"Museveni to run for reelection" Africabeat
"Liberia and Uganda's fragile democracies" Africabeat


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Blogger museveniOUTcampaign said...

Uganda cannot afford the rise of yet another despot! The recent and still ongoing arbitrary process in the country is the clearest indication of why Museveni and his administration should not be allowed to overextend their stay in power. The 2006 multi-party presidential election in Uganda, is going to be a watershed moment for the country's political process.
Ugandans will for the first time have to decide whether to keep the status quo of one man rule in Uganda or vote for the long overdue change in leadership for the first time in twenty years since Museveni came to power!
There is only two ways Museveni can win: one is if the majority of Ugandans who know better acquiesce and remain subservient to his erratic and autocratic rule; the other is by bribing and cajoling gullible voters!
Museveni's shameless decision to run again in 2006 has more to do with his personal quest for power and control rather than a sincere desire to establish a peaceful transfer of power in Uganda.
If Museveni had Uganda's interest at heart he would have lived up to his manifesto promise not to run for office at the end of his current term!
If Museveni had the country's interest at heart, he would not have bribed members of parliament (with tax payer money!) to amend the constitutional two term limit rule for president.
If Museveni had Uganda's interest at heart, he would have magnanimously stepped down after twenty years in office and oversaw the foundation for a peaceful transfer of power for the first time in our country's history.
Wherever you have leaders that stay too long in power, abuse of power is more likely than not! Arbitrary rule and corruption is more likely than not!

The best campaign strategy for defeating Museveni at the polls is to present consistent and straightforward reasons why he should not be reelected president.
The most obvious and recent reason for defeating Museveni is clearly the governments heavy handed and arbitrary detention of an opposition leader that had voluntarily returned to challenge the president at the polls.
Where is the reconciliation spirit he expressed at Dr. Obote's funeral?
This was an ironic and desperate act of oppression by a government that is clearly afraid of loosing power to a popular opposition leader.
Even if Dr. Besigye is kept behind bars through the elections, his supporters can still cast a clear and overwhelming protest vote in favor of a change in leadership for our country!
Voters should be reminded that Museveni came to power by overturning a legally established government by use of force of arms.
Should the country now also look into charging Museveni and his conspirators with treason?
Museveni is also a leader that came to power fiercely critical of African leaders that stayed too long in power. Museveni is now among Africa's longest serving leaders!
The longer Museveni is allowed to stay in power the more autocratic and arbitrary his rule is going to be.
Its, therefore, absolutely necessary that the people of Uganda including members of his movement, gather the courage to vote for a new leader for our country.
Let Uganda have a peaceful transfer of power for the first time in our history!
" The leadership of any nation cannot be the work of one man or one party. It must be the effort of all capable citizens getting an equal and fair chance at leadership, through a transparent democratic process."

6:43 PM  

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