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Museveni can avoid going like Gadaffi

By Haggai Matsiko

American group shows how torturing Besigye could affect the President

At 25 years in power, Yoweri Museveni is the fifth longest president in Africa and pressure is mounting on him to quit.

In the latest salvo, a November 11 report by an American democracy analysis group, the African Centre for Strategic and International Studies (ACSS), criticises Museveni and other leaders who stay too long in power.

An article titled “Africa and the Arab Spring” in the report, A New Era of Democratic Expectations” the report warns that leaders who stay too long in power like Museveni “are likely to depart on terms considerably less favorable to themselves”.

The Arab spring – a wave of demonstrations and protests began on Dec. 18 2010 when young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, set fire on himself in protest after police confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was selling from a street stall – have since seen the presidents of Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, toppled.

Tunisia’s Ben Ali who had ruled his country for 23 years fled into exile; Egypt’s Hussein Mubarak is being prosecuted; and Libya’s Col. Muammar Gadaffi, who had ruled the country for 42 years, was killed by a mob in the street.

“The issues motivating public anger in the Arab world — restricted civil liberties, corruption, widening disparities in wealth, lack of dignity, police impunity, and sham elections — echo loudly in Africa,” the report says.

President Museveni has repeatedly said that what happened in Libya cannot happen in Uganda.

But the report warns that, “It would be dangerous for Museveni to infer from [any] structural differences that the risk of a Tunisia-like civil insurrection is impossible in Uganda….Persistent protests in Tunisia and Egypt began almost five years ago — and see where they ended.”

Opposition FDC Publicity Secretary, Wafula Oguttu, says Museveni might end up like Gadaffi or Mubarak.

“Ugandans will not sit back and watch one man drive the country to destruction,” he said.

Wafula added that Museveni is likely to stand again in 2016 for another five-year term. If that happens, then Museveni could easily become Africa’s longest serving president.

Museveni’s options

A fundamental question raised by the report is how other leaders like Museveni, who have stayed in power for long, are likely to end?

“Historically, autocratic leaders that proactively led the process of transition to democracy, fared considerably better than those that waited for the forces of change to overwhelm them,” the report says.

Authoritarian regimes that transitioned under pressure were unable to protect the institutional interests of their parties and the military.

“Instead they were more likely to be prosecuted for corruption or forced into exile,” the report says.

The report shows how semi-authoritarian leaders could conceivably lead transitions to democracy and win competitive elections like Jerry Rawlings did in Ghana. It says long-serving presidents like Museveni are “in a unique place to champion the creation of genuinely democratic institutions that they could leave as a legacy upon their departure from power”.

The analysts have developed a democratic trajectory basing on eight political, social, and economic indicators on whether a country moved to or away from democracy. The more positive the indicators, the more likely a country’s leader would end well.

President Museveni, for example, has only two positive indicators out of nine. He is rated well on economic growth and internet use.

He scores very badly on years in power and control of corruption and is only average on oppression of civil society and development progress, oil management and inflation.

By comparison, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame performs very badly on years in power, and suppression of civil society and the media, and control of inflation, and is average on internet use. He scores highly on economic growth, development progress, control of corruption, and lacking the threat of oil. Although the indicators are descriptive rather than predictive, basing on them, Kagame’s end is likely to be better than Museveni’s.

The report is based on research that covered about 50 African countries to analyse what it called the “big man syndrome” and rank countries on the extent to which they are democratising. Museveni’s regime is categorised as semi-autocratic, Kagame’s as autocratic, Kenya as a democratising regime and Ghana as a consolidating democracy.

In the non-democratic states, which are about 40 percent, the rulers depend on mineral wealth, politicise army and police, and personality-based government that refuse to share power.

“This neo-patrimonial model has ingrained the belief that politics is a winner-take-all endeavour,” the report says.

Effect of protests

“The Arab Spring is instigating changes in expectations that African citizens have of their governments,” the report says, “There is a palpable sense that African citizens will no longer passively sit back and accept abuses of power.”

It notes that there have been protests in more than a dozen African capitals, including Kampala, demanding greater political pluralism, transparency, and accountability following the launch of the Arab Spring.

It describes the large protests that erupted when television footage of the violent arrest of opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, was captured by Ugandan media and how broadcasters were forced to stop live coverage of the protests.

“More than anything Besigye could have said or done, the images capturing the government’s heavy-handed response badly damaged the legitimacy of the Museveni regime, both domestically and internationally,” the report says.

It commends Uganda’s parliament for its aggressive oversight role of the executive branch by subpoenaing government officials and documents, to review oil contracts that have been shrouded in secrecy and forcing ministers to step aside over corruption.

Uganda is listed among countries that could easily shift from semi-autocracy to democracy because of the growing assertiveness of its parliament, media, and local government structures.

“However, the decision by Yoweri Museveni to push forward with another term in March 2011, 25 years into his leadership tenure, as well as the expectation of new oil revenues in the near future is a counterweight to these democratic tendencies,” the report says.

“Uganda’s heavy-handed response to the service delivery protests organised by opposition politician Kizza Besigye did more to undermine the legitimacy of the government than the controversial 2011 presidential elections themselves,” the report says.

In a dramatic twist, the FDC says that in a bid to completely obliterate the opposition, the government has hatched plans to assassinate Besigye and other opposition leaders. The government has denied the allegations as “absurd and ridiculous”.

To promote positive regime change, the report recommends support for regional integration, planned transitions, rewarding positive leaders, and sanctioning regimes that use force against peaceful protesters.

“Such tools should target not only political leaders but also high-level military and police officers who enforce violent crackdowns against citizens expressing their rights to free speech,” it says.

It recommends that donors align aid with democratic practices to avoid the dilemma the United States and other leading donors currently face vis-a-vis their support for semi-authoritarian Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Already donors, under budgetary constraints themselves, have been cutting aid or putting African governments on notice for government repression and ongoing corruption in several countries, including Uganda.

The demand for democracy is propelled by expanding access to information, education, urbanisation, youthful populations, and the growing awareness of governance norms elsewhere.

The report comes just days after the US Department of State, which is the equivalent of the ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Nov. 2 issued a statement condemning Museveni’s failure to respect the freedoms of expression, assembly, and the media.

Earlier on Nov. 1, the London-based human rights group, Amnesty International, had issued a scathing indictment of the Museveni regime. The report described harassment and imprisonment of journalisms, torturing of opposition politicians, and denying protesters opportunity to assemble and express themselves.

Effect on economy

It pointed at widespread impunity of the security forces, killing of civilians, and detention of peaceful protesters on charges of treason.

The report notes that since 2000, autocratic governments in Africa have typically generated economic performance that is 40 percent slower than that of democracies.

According to the report slow growth removes a key pillar in rationalising autocratic governance — that they are more effective (what some have called “performance legitimacy”) and provide greater stability at the early stages of the development process.

“The longer leaders stay in power, the more likely their populations bear the cost,” it adds.

As a result of this growing unease of the populations and loss of support from key constituents for regime leaders, like the security, will drive forces of change against these regimes.

Uganda has a history of changing power violently. In 1966, the country’s first president, Sir Fredrick Mutesa II was ousted and exiled after a violent attack on the Buganda monarch. Milton Obote who ousted Mutesa was himself toppled in a coup in 1971, to return in 1980 and be overthrown in another military coup in July 1985. To become president, Museveni fought a bitter five-year guerrilla war that claimed thousands of lives.

Museveni is Africa’s fifth longest serving after Cameroon’s Paul Biya who has spent 28 years in power. Teodoro Obiang, of Equatorial Guinea is the longest serving followed by Angola’s Jose Edurdo dos Santos and Zimbabwe’s 87 year old Robert Mugabe who have ruled their countries for 32 years.

Besigye says Museveni does not have a succession plan.

“He cannot imagine himself out of power,” Besigye told The Independent. If President Museveni, under whose regime Uganda has witnessed unprecedented economic growth, presides over a peaceful transfer of power, he will have added another milestone.

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