Popular protests and discontent in Uganda are set to grow unless Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni breaks with the ways of his predecessors and the trend of his own lengthy rule. This is the view of the International Crisis Group (ICG) portrayed in its report on the East African country entitled ‘Uganda: No Resolution to Growing Tensions’.
The latest ICG report examines the increasing dissatisfaction with Museveni’s administration and argues that the main cause of the social unrest in Uganda today is ‘a slow and continuing shift from constitutional-style government to patronage-based, personal rule’. It says that in his two decades of power, President Museveni has come to rely like his predecessors – though without their wanton brutality – increasingly on centralised power, patronage and coercion to maintain control.
“Democratic initiatives lost momentum after the first decade of Museveni’s rule”, says EJ Hogendoorn, ICG’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “Instead of supporting the no-party system as the framework for unfettered participation, the president began using it to further his own objectives”.
The report says that during the time when Uganda was a British Protectorate, the country merged a highly diverse region of competing kingdoms and more loosely organised pastoral societies into a single entity. “Milton Obote, independent Uganda’s first president, and Idi Amin worsened those divisions. They entered office with broad coalitions that soon foundered over colonial cleavages and turned instead to patronage and coercion to remain in power,” the report says.
It goes on to say that after Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) seized power in 1986, he seemed at first to put the country on a more inclusive path in order to restore civilian control, rule of law and economic growth. “He created a non-partisan “democratic” system that many enthusiastically embraced, and an elaborate consultative process led to a new constitution in 1995 with checks and balances. But after a decade in power the president began using the no-party system to further his own objectives. Over time, he replaced veteran politicians and longstanding NRM members who criticised his policies with trusted members of his inner circle. He also created a patronage network loyal to him.”
Museveni, the ICG report says injected huge amounts of government funds into his re-election campaign for the fourth term in office. It accuses the NRM of harassing the opposition and adds that although Museveni won majorities throughout the country, it is uncertain whether this reflected more his popularity or the power of his purse and other state resources.
The report says that the discovery of significant oil reserves in the country is unlikely to reduce social and political tensions. “The oil may ensure Museveni’s control by enabling him to consolidate his system of patronage, but it could also feed corruption and disrupt the steady growth produced by economic diversification.” It adds: “Five years after learning that the country would become a major oil producer, the government is just beginning to put a regulatory framework in place.”
ICG reckons that the ‘walk-to-work’ campaign mounted by the opposition has been a success. This week, the country’s Attorney General Peter Nyombi announced the banning of the A4C network that has been behind these protests. “The president’s re-election, access to material resources, tactical skill, ability to deflect international criticism and ambition to control the country’s transition to an oil exporter suggest that he will try to continue to consolidate his personal power and direct Uganda’s future for some time to come, despite the consequences this may have for long-term stability,” Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director says. “Unless he changes course, however, tension will grow. Considering Uganda’s violent past, conflict might then become more deadly”. Uganda’s violent past, conflict might then become more deadly”.
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