By Isaac Mufumba
Influential American group says
President Yoweri Museveni is an obstacle to the continued growth and expansion of democracy and only works within the limits of formal institutions when his political interests are not at stake, the 2010 Freedom House Report, ‘Countries at the Crossroads’, says.
Countries at the Crossroads is an annual assessment of government performance in 70 strategically important countries worldwide that are at critical points of determining their political future.
To compile the report, Freedom House carries out comparative analyses and quantitative ratings in the areas of government accountability, civil liberties, rule of law, and anti corruption and transparency, all of which help international policy makers identify progress and also highlight areas suitable for democratic efforts and reform assistance.
‘Despite much political and economic progress over the last two decades, the increasingly personal and patronage-based rule of President Yoweri Museveni remains the most significant obstacle to the expansion of democracy and rule,’ the report reads in part.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organisation based in Washington DC that supports democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights around the world through conducting research.
Founded in 1941, the group says ‘American leadership in international affairs is essential to the cause of human rights and freedom’. Its views are an important on foreign policy because it is funded up to 66 percent by the government and mostly furthers the interests of the U.S. government.
The Freedom House report is the latest on activities by the US government and American private entities that have shone the spotlight on Uganda.
Early this year, in an unprecedented move, the American Congress directed President Barack Obama’s government to watch Uganda’s preparations for the 2011 elections.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was directed to report to the Committees of Appropriations details of the Independence of the Electoral Commission, media and citizens’ political freedom, the conduct of the elections, and other issues.
She was to report not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act and every 120 days thereafter until 30 days after the elections, detailing actions taken by the Government of Uganda to address these concerns.
According to the Joann Lockard, the Public Affairs Officer at the US Mission in Kampala, the secretary submitted her report on the Uganda election to the US Congress on April 8.’ ‘
‘This report is considered privileged communication with Congress,’ she said in an email, ‘The U.S. Mission will not release it nor comment on its content.’
The international scrutiny comes at a time when Uganda has just recently lost its main lobbyist in the US capital, The Whitaker Group.
In a statement to The Independent, Patrick Costello, a Senior Associate of the Group said it has not officially worked for Uganda since December of 2009 and are in the process of withdrawing its representation.’
‘Some time ago we made a strategic decision to refocus our business on our private sector practice, where we’ve seen phenomenal growth.’ This applies to Uganda as well as other African countries.’ This in no way diminishes our unwavering support for the vision of the President and the people of Uganda for economic growth and transformation,’ the statement said.
However, the Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Keith Muhakanizi told The Independent that the Whitaker Group contract had ‘ended and I have not received instructions to renew it’.
He did not elaborate on the reasons for the Group’s pulling out.
Other sources, that asked not to be named, said however, that the Kampala regime is increasingly being isolated in Washington.
They pointed at President Yoweri Museveni incessant attempts nail an invitation to the Obama White House and how they have so far failed.
The Freedom House report could add to Museveni’s troubles.
It says that progress on democracy, civil liberties, and government accountability stalled between December 2005 and March 2009, largely, and ‘paradoxically, because Museveni orchestrated the return of multiparty elections as part of a scheme to extend his rule and increase his political dominance’.
Instead of retiring after his second and final term, the report says, he arranged two constitutional changes in 2005, namely the removal of presidential term limits and the restoration of parties, which paved way for his reelection and a two-thirds parliamentary majority for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), in 2006.
Other areas that it focuses on include accountability and public voice, civil liberties, rule of law and anticorruption and transparency. Uganda performs worst on rule of law, followed by accountability and public voice, and anti-corruption and transparency in that order. It does comparatively better on civil liberties.
Accountability and Public voice includes free and fair electoral laws and elections, effective and accountable government, civic engagement and civic monitoring, and media independence and freedom of expression
Civil liberties covers protection from state terror, unjustified imprisonment, and torture, gender equity, rights of ethnic, religious, and other distinct groups, freedom of conscience and belief, and freedom of association and assembly.
‘ Rule of law covers independent judiciary, primacy of rule of law in civil and criminal matters, accountability of security forces and military to civilian authorities, and protection of property rights.
Anti-corruption and transparency includes the environment to protect against corruption, procedures and systems to enforce anticorruption laws, enforcement of anticorruption norms, standards, and protections, and governmental transparency.
On a scale of 0-7, where 0 is the worst performance and seven is best, Uganda has seen the worst slide in performance on the Accountability and Public Voice that slipped from 3.95 in 2006 to 3.50 today.
Rule of law, which is the worst rating, slipped from 3.66 in 2006 to 3.40 today. Countries that are worse off than Uganda include Zimbabwe, Dr Congo, Haiti, Nigeria and Liberia. The best performers among those surveyed are Ghana and South Africa.’ ‘
The report says that though it is understood that independent news media and a vigorous civil society play an important role in reducing corruption, improving governmental responsiveness, and achieving generally better development outcomes, Uganda is showing ‘troubling signs of deterioration’ in the areas of media freedom and civic engagement.
Though the fight against corruption secured the conviction of a former Army Commander, the report says, no top politician has been convicted.
Another area in which Uganda was noted to have declined was the failure to protect property rights. The report says that ‘land grabs occurred in a number of cases, typically within a context of rising land values and poor titling and registration systems’.
The report further says that though NGOs initially flourished under President Museveni’s regime, government now regards those that address political issues as possible threats, and has applied legal tools like stringent registration processes, which involves vetting by security organisations prior to registration by the NGO Registration Board.
Uganda is among 32 countries that were examined for the 2010 edition. The countries are loosely organised into four tiers based on the overall quality of their democratic governance.
There is the tier of established democracies which includes countries like Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa; the second tier categorized as fragile progress which includes countries like East Timor, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania; the third tier categorised as faltering reforms which includes Uganda Jordan and Kenya; and the fourth tier categorised as power concentrators. This has countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo and Saudi Arabia.
Countries in South and East Africa that were analysed ahead of compilation of the 2010 include Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Malawi, and Zimbabwe.
On a ratio of 0-7, South Africa scores 4.8 in the area of accountability, followed by Malawi and Kenya at 4.3 a piece, Tanzania comes next with 4 points, Uganda comes in with 3.3 points while Zimbabwe comes last with 1.2 points.
On the same ratio, South Africa leads in the area of civil liberties with 5 points, followed by Kenya and Malawi with 4.2 points, Tanzania follows with 4 points, Uganda is second last with 3.8 points, while Zimbabwe comes last with 2 points.
On the same ratio, South Africa leads in the area of the rule of law with 4.1 points, Malawi follows with 4 points, Tanzania comes third with 3.4 points, Uganda and Kenya come in second last with 3.2 points a piece leaving Zimbabwe in last position with 1 point.
On the same ratio, South Africa leads in the area of Transparency with 3.8 points, Uganda follows with 3.3 points, Malawi comes third with 3.2 points, Tanzania comes fourth with 3.1 points, Kenya is second last with 3 points, while Zimbabwe once again comes last with 1 point.
The report makes several recommendations. It says the government should ensure the independence of the Electoral Commission by changing its appointment procedure; the chair, deputy chair, and its five other members should be appointed by the president on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission and with the approval of Parliament.
The government should establish and implement stronger guidelines within the prison service, along the lines of the somewhat successful UPDF effort, to reduce human rights violations including corporal punishment, expand the number and compensation of magistrates to reduce the delay in civil and criminal trials and improve judicial impartiality, and pass the Anti-Corruption Bill of 2008 and the Whistleblowers Protection Bill of 2008 to strengthen the legal regime for prosecuting corruption.
The government has acted on some of the recommendations but the one on the Electoral Commission remains unresolved.