Posted February 12, 2007 in Uganda

Disclaimer: I know little about political science. I only know what I read and pick up through conversation and reflection. With that in mind, here's my take on Ugandan politics.

The most obvious and striking realization is that western systems do not work here. Look to Iraq for inspiration: with divided peoples, political parties align themselves into groups which are in a constant power struggle.

Uganda is home to seven kingdoms (or tribes). Here, all people are very open to any form of religion; one's real allegiance is to one's kingdom. Kampala (the capital, where I am staying, and by far the largest city) is home predominantly to Buganda. If all decisions are made by the Buganda, naturally the other kingdoms will get jealous. And in Africa, jealousy leads to political unrest: a mild term for very real violence.

When Uganda became independent in 1962, a party system was implanted (inspired by Britain). Milton Obote and Idi Amin both came to power by overthrowing the previous government through violence (as did the other short-lived rulers up until 1986). All usurpers believed (rightly) the government was favouring its kingdom and that their own kingdoms' needs were not being served. Hence, political unrest.

Yoweri Museveni (the current president) did the same in 1986. His first order of business was to abolish the party system temporarily. Instead, individual representatives are voted in, which should give more fair representation to all kingdoms. And as an added bonus, it gives Museveni more power.

Is that a bad thing? We all know dictatorships don't work. Then again, Amin and Obote both proved that with enough corruption anything can be transformed into a dictatorship. After all, it was a party system in name only. Guns can really have an effect on the outcome of an election. As can lying about it.

Museveni's leadership is not perfect. He changed the constitution to allow himself to remain in power. Before the last election, the primary opposition was arrested and temporarily jailed: not permanently, but probably long enough to poison the well and influence voters. And while Museveni denies any foreknowledge of the consequences of his actions (the international community is quite skeptical of his ignorance), his efforts to repatriate Rwandan refugees were an indirect influence towards the massacre there a decade ago.

However! He has been president for a long time. Longer than Amin, even. He has undone a large amount of the damage done by Amin and Obote (particularly, he reinvited the Asians who were all kicked out by Amin: without them, the economy had disappeared). He has proclaimed that he wants to abolish corruption in the government; and while he has not quite achieved this goal, Uganda is more prosperous than it has ever been. He acknowledges HIV and invests in HIV/AIDS research. I get the impression that despite the number of issues on his plate, he is focused and committed to improving the state of his country.

I know that more knowledgeable people read my blog, so I will end with a question: Museveni has done some rule-bending (rewriting the constitution, using a referendum to support it; mistreating his opposition; probably playing a part in the Rwanda massacre, though I know little about his part in that; moving to a non-partisan government). On the other hand, when he came to power his country was in absolute ruins, and now the lives of rural and urban citizens seem to be improving at a remarkable rate. Uganda is surrounded by Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Congo (Zaire), all of which are far more unstable than Uganda; it seems clear that Museveni is responsible for his country's comparative stability. My question has two parts: does the good outweigh the bad? and would a party system (which Museveni initially promised to reintroduce, and which would likely inspire more foreign investment from rich countries who use democracy as a prerequisite for investment) be an improvement or a step backwards?