The 5-Minute Briefing Democracy in Uganda

Meera Selva
Thursday 09 August 2012 02:17

Their parliament voted in favour of a bill that would allow the President to stand for office as many times as he wishes – which will allow the current leader, Yoweri Museveni, to be a president for life.

The day before the MPs voted, police fired teargas at demonstrators who had gathered in the capital, Kampala, to protest against changing the current constitution rules that the president must step down after two terms.

Has the international community taken a view?

Africa has been plagued by "big men" – politicians who seize power through a coup and then cling to office as long as they can while stealing public funds.

Mr Museveni himself beat two such leaders – Idi Amin and Milton Obote – to come to power in 1986 and Ugandans had hoped that he would be different.

During Mr Museveni's rule, Uganda has become the darling of the international community for its effective, far-thinking approach to fighting Aids and providing free primary education for all children. This vote has tarnished his image as a moderate leader committed to democracy.

What can be done?

Britain, which is a leading donor, has already cut £5m in aid to protest about the slow pace at which democracy is progressing in the country. Britain has also warned that the G8 will look at the political situation when it decides whether to increase aid to certain countries.

International aid makes up more than half of Uganda's budget so such gestures are bound to hurt, though Mr Museveni has raised taxes to reduce the country's dependence on foreign donors.

Uganda's MPs also need to take a firmer stand. Last October, a group of them was given an extra £5,000 each in "travel allowances". They denied that the money was a bribe, but every legislator who received the cash voted in favour of dropping the two-term limit.

Why does Museveni want to stay in power?

To be fair, he has not yet officially announced that he will run for a third term even if he is entitled to do so.

But those close to him say he feels he is the only man who can end the country's ongoing war with the rebel Lord's Resistance Army in the north of the country. He is also convinced that Ugandan militias are hiding out in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, preparing to attack his government.

Uganda itself has backed various militias in Congo's Ituri province, prolonging the country's civil war. Cynics point out that eastern Congo is rich in mineral wealth and Uganda is determined to retain some influence in the region at any cost.

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