Uganda: when democracy doesn’t count?


Uganda, one of the West’s most important African military allies, will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on February 18, notes analyst Helen Epstein:

Despite strong opposition, this election may be decided outside the voting booth too. In exchange for putting Ugandan troops at America’s disposal, often without parliamentary approval and other niceties required by more democratic countries, Uganda has received some $15 billion in foreign aid from the West since 1990. But since the country gained independence from Britain in 1962, it has never had a peaceful transfer of power; President Yoweri Museveni, in office since taking over in 1986 after years of civil war, has overseen a feast of corruption remarkable even by African standards.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has spent more than $7 million on his 2016 presidential election campaign in just two months. The 71-year-old incumbent, who is seeking a fifth term in office, has spent 12 times more money than his top two opponents combined, according to a civil society report on campaign financing:

uganda networkFormer Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who is also one of the front-runners in next month’s polls, has spent the second-largest amount at about $951,000. Longtime opposition figure Kizza Besigye has spent about $279,000, according to the study, which was funded by the Democratic Governance Facility and conducted by the Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring in Uganda’s capital of Kampala.

Democracy advocates [including grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy] have called for the incoming government to work with civil society to enhance greater understanding of social contracts amongst the citizenry, thereby empowering them to question, challenge and hold elected and appointed leaders to account.

Change is long overdue, adds Epstein, writing for the New York Review of Books:

Uganda’s child death rate is higher than that of any of its neighbors, except those at war. Only one fifth of students initially enrolled actually take the exams they need to graduate from primary school, according to unpublished research by lawyer Godber Tumushabe. And although the World Bank has long touted the country as an economic success story, 63 percent of the population lives under the Bank’s own poverty threshold of $3.10 a day. The income of most Ugandans is actually in the form of food they grow themselves, a Uganda Bureau of Statistics official told me, but a spate of land-grabbing cases throughout the country threatens even these meager livelihoods.

Dissidents calling attention to these problems have been subject to arbitrary arrest, seizure of property, detention without trial, and mysterious disappearances and deaths that many believe to be politically motivated. In Uganda, such abuses have tended to peak during campaign seasons, and the current one is no different. Thugs wearing ruling party T-shirts have stolen and defaced opposition campaign materials, and police have tear-gassed and fired on opposition supporters, and arrested and allegedly tortured opposition campaign agents. One was recently found decapitated and another has disappeared.


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