By AK and Ahmed
On February 24, we posted an article titled “The Tragedy of Africa”. At the end of that article we asked whether the changes we are seeing in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries will trickle down into other states whose leaders may not be as internationally recognized as some MENA leaders, but whose tenures have still been unjust.
Since that article, there have been no signs of the revolution trickling down to Sub-Saharan Africa. This can be exemplified by the current situation in Uganda where things have remained stagnant.
Kizza Besigye, the main opposition leader representing the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), continues to be sidelined by the Ugandan government, which is led by President Yoweri Museveni, who represents the National Resistance Movement (NRM). President Museveni came into power in 1986, while Besigye has unsuccessfully run for President in the last three elections (2001, 2006, and this year, 2011).
Besigye has led many protests since the recent election results in February were announced. His claim is that Museveni used corrupt practices to either make people vote for him, or change the votes on his behalf. As a result, he has been arrested several times, dragged from his car, and sprayed with tear gas at close range. His supporters face similar situations daily. Most recently, he was booted off a plane from Kenya to Uganda, which was apparently an effort to keep him and his supporters from interrupting Museveni’s official inauguration of his new term as President.
Considering Uganda’s participation in the East African Community, it seems we have a serious case of political hypocrisy. On one hand, East African nations want to champion the democratic process, and claim that they do. On the other, they seem to do very little to encourage each other into democratic practices. Nobody is going to criticize Museveni when they are doing the same thing: Sidelining opposition parties.
Another consideration is youth participation. In comparison to some MENA countries – especially Egypt – Uganda’s youth have less of an opportunity to protest against the hypocrisy. Similar to the rest of East Africa, the Diaspora living outside the country always seem to find ways to protest the status quo. But what matters most, as we have seen, is how the status quo is being challenged on the ground. The death of Gay rights campaigner David Kato in January and the continued shelving of an anti-gay bill are two main examples demonstrating how change originating from Uganda’s youth is resisted.
So, a couple of questions arise:
If an opposition leader cannot talk peacefully to the incumbent – in any context – is there any hope for dialogue among the masses?
Why are forms of political, economic and armed support from the international community dispersed in different ways to countries that need the support?
How has the media portrayed the crisis in Uganda vs. the crisis in Ivory Coast vs. Osama vs. the royal wedding?
Does the news media want to keep reporting on failed elections, corrupt outcomes and instances of corruption when it is the same old story in Africa, or is it time for the media to balance the equation with positive news?
These are questions we will probably have to ask with every other situation that will surely arise. It is hard to predict how things in MENA will play out and even harder to predict if there will be any influence among Sub-Saharan African countries. The fact that more African leaders were either opposed to or uncomfortable with NATO strikes against Qadaffi demonstrates the institutional brick wall that political freedom and prosperity will have to fight in order to get democracy or some form of it.
The effects of the “Arab Spring” will probably take some time to have a direct influence on the political dynamics of other African countries. Surely the authoritative leaders will now be on the lookout for any signs of a powerful opposition. The advantage of the people who ousted Mubarak and Ben Ali had the element of surprise as a weapon; unfortunately other countries south of the Sahara will not have this advantage.