Uganda election was reality check for Africa, West
We're not likely to see Uganda or other African countries revolt against corrupt governments as the Arab world has done. With the election of Museveni in Uganda, citizens chose short-term stability, with long-term consequences – not just for Uganda, but the entire region.
Yoweri Museveni’s decisive victory in Uganda’s elections will, despite complaints of election fraud, extend his 25-year rule by another five years, putting to rest any thought that winds of change from North Africa would blow south across the Sahara. It looks instead as if the veteran leader, who came to power at the head of a rebel army, is settling in for a Life Presidency in the old, African style.Skip to next paragraph
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Western donors will, or should, feel some discomfort at the political longevity of a man who they have helped to empower. And in a year that will see another 17 elections in Africa, the Ugandan case offers a reality check. While the election was good for Mr. Museveni, it is not necessarily good for Uganda – or the region, long term.
Power based on patronage is hard to sustain and encourages corruption and opportunism. The longer a party stays in power, the more the lines between party and state blur, and the more traumatic eventual change may be.
Why Ugandans elected Museveni again
So why did Ugandans re-elect a notoriously corrupt, and in some ways autocratic, government that, despite steep revenue growth, has performed poorly in delivering basic services and infrastructure?
One reason is that the fractious and divided opposition ran a lackluster campaign that sought to exploit anti-Museveni sentiment rather than offering any positive vision of Uganda’s future. This impressed the electorate so little that fully 41 per cent didn’t bother to vote at all, while 68 percent of those who did vote chose the devil they knew best.
That choice was not surprising. Steady economic growth has been highly uneven, benefitting an expanding urban elite much more than the rural population, who remain the overwhelming majority. But enough wealth has trickled down to reduce absolute poverty in most areas, and there is little rural demand for civil liberties (such as the right to be gay, which interests the opposition as little as it interests the ruling party.) Rural Uganda was not seething with discontent.
Vote-buying and patronage
It is also broadly true that Museveni bought the electorate. His rule has increasingly relied upon networks of personal patronage, starting with his senior military officers, 27 cabinet members, and 44 other ministers of state. Over the last decade, patronage networks have reached downward through the multiplication of local government districts, which have doubled in number (from 56 to 112). Ostensibly this is decentralization to bring services closer to the people. In practice, it has added layers of government staff indebted to the ruling National Resistance Movement.
A cruder form of patronage is vote buying. Opposition parties were not above greasing palms, but no match for Museveni, who allegedly raided state coffers for bribe money. Countless Ugandans received brown envelopes stuffed with cash.