Wherein I gander at Uganda

February 17, 2011 § 3 Comments

Uganda has elections tomorrow, if you’re wondering why I haven’t previewed them yet it is because I was doing so for Think Africa and I didn’t want to scoop my own piece. They wanted something quite short, but here just for you, is the longer version:

Uganda election

It is a big year for elections in Africa. We’ve already had the partition of the continent’s largest country, a big – and so far successful – test for the new democracy in Niger, and a less successful election in Chad (but having one at all was quite an achievement, there not having been one for nine years). Coming up we have a fascinating campaign in Nigeria, a real test for democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a potentially incredibly close race in Liberia, and now two epoch changing elections in Egypt and Tunisia. But on Friday it is Uganda’s turn, and it could yet prove the most important of them all.

Uganda Districts

Districts and regions of Uganda

What happens in Uganda will have a huge impact on the rest of Central and East Africa. Uganda’s economy, long in the doldrums, is growing rapidly and it is now one of the primary economic forces in the region. But even more important is Uganda’s regional political clout. Uganda and most of its neighbours have active insurgencies, and these insurgencies have become intertwined; both because all sides have been operating under the delusion that the enemy of your enemy is a good person to arm to the teeth, and because insurgents are no respecters of international borders. If Uganda continues to move towards a lasting peace then that can only simplify the ongoing problems in Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. If it goes the other way then the rocky peace in the region starts to look rocker still. The discovery of well over 700 million barrels of oil on the Ugando-Congolese border has only raised the stakes.

Of course Uganda’s oil boom has only increased the likelihood of the incumbents – always the frontrunners in any case – winning.  President Yoweri Museveni, a severe autocrat but it has to be said a very successful leader, and his NRM (National Resistance Movement) are looking to extend their rule from 25 years to 30 and one wouldn’t bet against it. They seized power in a military coup in 1985 and only allowed multi-party elections in 2005. Since then the playing field has been far from even: a gang nobody will admit knowledge of – The Kiboko Squad – appear every time the opposition mount a protest and hit the protestors with sticks, sections of the police – including the brutal anti-terrorist Black Mambas – intimidate opposition leaders, the most credible rival – doctor, Colonel and former NRM minister turned democracy advocate Kizza Besigye – was arrested on trumped up charges of rape and treason (only the former have been formally dropped), and the NRM are so institutionalised in the media and political climate that there is scarcely any public space for the opposition.

But there is far more to elections than who wins them. If the NRM do what Egypt did last year and completely destroy the democratic opposition, then it will only push their opponent onto the streets or into the hills. And if the NRM are caught, like the Cote d’Ivoire’s Gbagbo, too obviously rigging the results, then that too can deeply destabilize the country. Moreover elections in Uganda are not a total formality either: both the legislative and the executive have exerted their independence on occasion, and such actual vote rigging as there is seems to be individual rather than institutional. A new pressure group, the CCEDU, has been campaigning to stop Ugandans selling their vote. If they are successful then the NRM may not have things all their own way.

Languages of Uganda

Ethnolinguistic groups in Uganda

If the issues are allowed to dictate voting behaviour, then there is a real possibility Museveni may lose for – whilst he had previously enjoyed widespread popularity as a result in the upturn in the economy – this has taken a severe battering of late.

Uganda is split ethno-linguistically in half. The north and east are dominated by Nilotic people whereas the south and west are Bantu. The north and east contest that Museveni has always favoured the Bantu areas, and it is certainly true that these areas have not seen nearly as much development recently as the south and west. The Nilotic areas voted for Besigye last time and will most likely do so again given half a chance. But what will hurt Museveni more is that his star is fading in his former strongholds.

In the west the issue is the oil. The local view is that, as it is on their land, they should receive the majority of the revenue from it. Besigye has effectively promised them this, whereas Museveni has shied away from making any commitments. As such Besigye is riding a wave of popularity in the western towns, although it does not appear to be having any effect in the rural areas. Even more damaging for Museveni is his row in the centre with the historic kingdom of Buganda.

Buganda Kayunga Uganda

Buganda (red) and Kayunga (checked) within Uganda (pink)

The Kings of Buganda were abolished by Museveni’s predecessors, something which caused deep resentment, and when they were restored in 1993 (admittedly with only a symbolic function) it appeared he had brought the gratitude of the central region for life. However since then King (Muwenda Mutebi II )and President have been at almost constant loggerheads as the King strives to make his power real and the President seeks to cut him down to size. Things came to a head in September of 2009 when it was announced that the district of Kayunga had seceded from the Kingdom of Buganda. The King wanted to visit to talk them out of it but was barred by the President. In the ensuing riots 30 people were killed, and the situation had not died down when – a year later – the historic tombs of the Bugandan Kings were burned down, seemingly by pro government thugs.

Almost all the opposition parties have joined together in a coalition around Besigye called the “Forum for Democratic Change”. They have been campaigning on all these issues, and particularly that of ethnic favouritism. Meanwhile Museveni has been campaigning on his record on the economy and on the dubious claim that Besigye has links to the brutal Christian insurgency – the Lord’s Resistance Army. A number of independents (many of whom have links to the NRM, and some of whom have just been barred for being brazenly disguised partisans), the “Uganda People’s Congress” of former President Obotoe, the conservative “Democratic Party”, the Christian “Conservative Party”, and the Muslim “Justice Forum” round out the field. Both the system and the circumstances point towards a Museveni win, but we will see what Friday brings.

The System

My idea was that this could be an insert box:

The President is elected by straightforward first-past-the-post. There is a second round (scheduled for March 9th) if no candidate receives 50% of the vote. This has never yet happened, and the weakness of third candidates suggests that this election will be no exception.

Parliament is likewise mostly elected by first past the post, but there are some parallel systems to ensure extra representation for women, soldiers, youth, workers and the disabled. 238 members are directly elected by first past the post. 112 female MPs are also directly elected by first past the post in parallel elections where each of the 112 districts forms the constituency. A further 10 MPs, two of which must be women, are appointed by the chief of the Army. A further five MPs each (four elected one by each of the four regions and one, who must be a woman, elected by the whole nation) are elected by members of the National Youth Council and the National and Central Organisations of Trade Unions respectively to represent youth and workers respectively. A further five MPs are elected by a national electoral college of people nominated by the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda to represent disabled peoples. As all these groups are quasi-governmental, these last 25 seats invariably go to the NRM.

The result last time

The Presidential result was Museveni 59.2%, Besigye 37.4%, Kizito (Democratic Party) 1.6%, Bwanika (Ind) 1.0%, and M Obote (UPC) 0.8%. In parliament it was NRM 215, FDC 37, Ind 37, UPC 9, Democratic Party 8, Conservative Party 1, Justice Forum 1

Random things I didn’t get round to saying

Besigye was, I believe, something of an NRM protege before he turned on them. If I’ve got my dates right then he was a doctor (and Museveni’s private physician) at 23, a Colonel at 26, and Minister for the Interior at 29.

Sadly there is a degree of hegemony in the attitude of Ugandan politicians to homosexuality. The law suggesting the death penalty for homosexuality will be debated by the new parliament, but unfortunately no party seems willing to condemn it.  This piece critiquing the DJ Scott Mills documentary on the subject was quite good.



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