With attention focused on Mugabe’s capitulation to the military and his erstwhile ZANU-PF cronies in Zimbabwe, and the accompanying exuberant popular optimism, the Crisis Group released its latest report of 30+ pages on Uganda as Museveni moves to clarify his status as supra-party, supra-legal supremo.
What’s the issue? Popular discontent is growing over President Museveni’s apparent desire to remain in power while governance, economic performance and security deteriorate.
Why does it matter? Uganda is not in danger of renewed civil war or rebel violence, but it risks sliding into a political crisis that could eventually threaten the country’s hard-won stability.
What should be done? The government should hold a national dialogue over presidential succession, enact reforms to the partisan police force, stop post- poning local elections and initiate broad consultations on land reform. Donors should encourage these efforts, while avoiding projects that help perpetuate political patronage.
Museveni has continued to have amazing grace from the United States which has taken a position of official neutrality as he has sought to strong arm his way to another constitutional change to eliminate the 75 year presidential age limit for the presidency.
As AMISOM has indicated its first troop drawdown of 1,000, and more U.S. forces deploy to assist the Somali National Army, Museveni volunteered another 5,000 Ugandans for the Somalia-building endeavor during President Trump’s “Nambia lunch” with African leaders in New York in September. No indication that we want to take him up on the offer, but we seem to continue to hold a stream of various defense-funded public events in Uganda and otherwise seem to desire to telegraph “strategic patience”, “immoral indulgence”, “complacent complicity” or whatever it is that best characterizes our multigenerational intertwining with the M7 regime.
Those who follow Kenya’s elections will remember that in the 2007 election, the Electoral Commission of Kenya, despite its generous USAID funding, never did publish alleged results at all below the level of the 212 parliamentary constituencies. That in itself was damning evidence of the conclusion of my “War for History” series that all of us involved essentially saw the election being brazenly stolen.
Certainly the Ugandan election process roundly deserves the condemnation it has received, and the Election Commission is unequivocally appointed by the president/general Museveni himself rather than through a process that would create more plausible hopes of independence. Nonetheless, the Ugandan EC has at least surpassed Kenya’s ECK and IEBC in it’s most fundamental of duties by an initial release of results.
“Uganda’s elections again fall short of democratic benchmarks” says the Commonwealth Observation Mission. In spite of my sarcasm about an observation being co-chaired by Kenya’s Moi-era Attorney General, the Commonwealth Mission was willing to issue a “preliminary report” laying out the deficiencies in the Museveni-controlled process:
2016 general elections were marked by a lack of a level electoral playing field, an increased prevalence of money in politics, alleged misuse of state resources, inequitable media coverage, and question marks over the secrecy of the ballot and the competence of the Electoral Commission to manage the process, according to an independent group of Commonwealth election observers.
The US State Department made similar comments without funding a formal international observation mission separate from the funding through NDI for the domestic observation group CEON-U which found “Uganda’s hope for free and fair elections dashed.”
But international observers can surely be counted on to blow the whistle on any “funny business” as Kenyan Senator Amos Wako, Attorney General from 1991 to 2011, is co-chair of the Commonwealth observation delegation, with Nigeria’s former president Obasanjo. Wako is especially known for observing Kenya’s Goldenburg and Anglo Leasing scandals as Attorney General.
Last time, in 2011, the United States made some public effort at least to press Museveni to allow an independent election commission. Museveni called our bluff and said no, so we did not say much this time.
I have no answer to this question, and I hope and pray it is just something to think about abstractly.
What I am getting at is that for purposes of public consumption at least the Western democracies were in denial in 1994 about the risk of mass slaughter and eventually genocide and failed to act to an extent that we all pretty well have acknowledged shame about. (No one bothers to suggest that China, Russia or other non-Western powers would be expected to be similarly troubled.) It seems to be recognized that the U.S. was the “indispensable” party that would have had to push forward to make intervention happen, but elected instead to pull back. There is regret that we did not take affirmative action.
Post-Rwanda 1994, of course, there has been over the years the notion that we learned a valuable lesson from that particular genocide and could now say “never again” with a newly “doctrinized” post-Cold War sense of purpose of a Responsibility to Protect.
Unfortunately the timing gets complicated by other events. We are in a presidential election year. Now the last major “humanitarian” intervention involving U.S. forces was Libya. While initially celebrated, it has become a politically dicey sore spot. The tragic loss of American lives later at Benghazi was fortunately not televised, but we now have a feature Hollywood movie coming anyway. While Washington collectively is not yet ready to examine the decision making process on intervening or not, the specics of the Benghazi incident have attracted more investigation than I recall from “Black Hawk Down” as such. The larger negative geopolitical fallout from the intervention in Libya has become much more apparent much sooner than in Somalia in the early ’90s and already appears to be a major concern of many facets and no easy solutions.
In that sense the factors supporting a cautionary holding back from acting are greater in 2016 than in 1994 (and of course I haven’t even mentioned Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan).
We have hoped that we would not be indispensable on Burundi, in particular that the (post-Gaddafi) African Union could find common purpose and means to act. That hasn’t happened. My perception is that there might be reason to hope for this sort of AU action many years in the future but that the capacity is really just not there now.
It has to be noted that governance in the region has continued to be dominated by what could be called a “league of extraordinary generals”–Kagame and Museveni as well as, in a sense, Nkurunziza. Nearby Mugabe remains and Kabila the younger. Who can really be an honest broker or claim with a straight face to be primarily acting on global “humanitarian” values without outside leadership?
Museveni and Nkurunziza are militarily allied with the West in the current AMISOM effort in Somalia which will need to continue for some long time yet. Museveni is involved with the US in our Lord’s Resistance Army operation which presumably is indefinite at this point. Kagame has apparently decided to postpone the transition to a postwar elected leadership by his constitutional referendum lifting term limits, like Museveni did long ago. He probably expects a relationship at least as good with the next U. S. administration for his re-election in 2017. He appears to continue to be a darling of Davos and to be working with a variety of endeavors involving commodities trade and related regionalization that enjoy quasi-official support around Washington aside from the public foreign aid.
If, God forbid, things turn sharply for the worse in Burundi, and there “isn’t anyone else,” would the U.S. seriously consider an emergency humanitarian intervention or not? If not, are we prepared to explain to our children why not, again, while living also with the consequences? I am in no way qualified to advocate for or against a particular course of action, nor do I know the backstory of the latest facts on the ground, I am just asking the questions as to our policy parameters as a taxpayer/citizen/ voter and a person of humanitarian concern.
The criminal complaint unsealed yesterday by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York of six individuals, including John Ashe, the former President of the U.N..General Assembly, and five others involved in a bribery and money laundering scheme to illegally advance the fortunes of Chinese-based business interests, includes a section entitled “YAN and PAIO Arrange Additional Payments to Ashe in Exchange for Official Acts on Behalf of a Chinese Security Company”. [See pages 26-30]
The “official acts” alleged involved Ashe acting on behalf of the unnamed “Chinese Security Company” as a go-between with unnamed “Kenyan Officials” to facilitate the pursuit of Kenyan Interior Ministry procurement.
Meanwhile, on Rwanda, the State Department has released a statement of concern regarding the decision of the Kagame government to form a Constitutional Review Commission that may seek to extend Kagame’s rule by lifting term limits, with a quote from President Obama citing the risk of “instability and strife–as we’ve seen in Burundi.”
In an interview in today’s edition of Uganda’s state owned New Vision, retiring U.S. Ambassador Scott DeLisi addressed the current Ugandan campaign for the 2016 elections. In response to a question about civil society concerns about narrowing of the democratic space in Uganda, DeLisi declined to weigh in and went so far as to volunteer a position on behalf of the United States that he would leave the issue of electoral reforms for Ugandans to “discuss among themselves”. Translated from diplospeak, discussion among Ugandans here means that prospective voters can mutter, murmur or swear and Museveni can decide as he will without consequence.
You have always asserted that the US mission will not get entangled in local politics. But as an ambassador, what advice would you give to players in the impending elections?
We never said we will not get involved in politics. Just as citizens of this country, we have invested in this country. Do we want this country to be a success with a strong and vibrant democracy? Yes.
If caring about this means getting involved in politics, then we will do. As for which candidate or party to support, that is for people of Uganda to decide.
We talk to leaders of all political parties – NRM, FDC, DP, UPC. Name them, we talk to them. We tell them that there should be a constructive electoral process in which people’s views are respected, where people engage each other respectively, where there is no room for violence.
So that, at the end of the day, no matter who wins the election, it is a credible result that services Uganda well and gives the new leader legitimacy to lead the country effectively and deal with the challenges that will emerge.
Do you share concerns by civil society that political space in Uganda is narrowing?
I don’t know whether it is narrowing down but I perfectly appreciate the challenges of civil society. But this is a constant dialogue we are always having with the Government to ensure that there is room for meaningful dialogue and engagement.
There is the NGO Bill currently before Parliament and during consultations; we have seen the NGO community, civil society engage with MPs in a robust dialogue that has brought significant changes to this piece of legislation. I don’t know what the final law will look like.
I know civil society would have liked to see the issue of electoral reforms addressed fully, but I leave that to Ugandans to debate among themselves about the need to strengthen the democratic process. We have seen in US that even after 250 years, we are still working to improve our democracy.
I wish I had a clear sense of how this might develop but I don’t. It seems to me that there may be several areas of impact over the next few years:
+Diplomatic leverage of Museveni, Kenyatta, Kigame et al vis-a-vis the United States will be reduced as one of the main US “asks”–UN votes to maintain nuclear-related sanctions against Iran–drops away.
+While I do not foresee the current US administration raising expectations for other US priorities from these East African leaders, the next US administration might feel some greater freedom to address “the democratic recession,” declining press freedom, and other issues on the formal US policy list.
+Oil prices: if a lot more Iranian oil gets to market both in the near term from the immediate impact of lifting sanctions and the longer term from the increase in capacity associated with ramped up foreign investment, the prospects for oil production in Uganda and Kenya will be impacted, especially as related to the 2021-22 election cycle.
+Iran will reassume a stronger role in trade and finance in the region and thus compete more strongly with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
+Iran will presumably increase its regional naval presence.
+The fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya and subsequent sad state of affairs in that country reduced one major “petrocash” player in East African politics; an Iran less cash-strapped by UN sanctions might have aspirations to finance East African politicians aside from its espionage/security/terrorism enagement.