News / Africa

As Museveni Sworn in, Questions Raised About Uganda’s Democracy

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is sworn in for another term at Kololo Airstrip in the capital city Kampala, May 12, 2011
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is sworn in for another term at Kololo Airstrip in the capital city Kampala, May 12, 2011
Michael Onyiego

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been sworn in for a fourth term in office, which will extend his rule of the country to 30 years. Once viewed as a liberator and reformer, Museveni is now facing increasing criticism over his consolidation of power and his commitment to human rights.

Security was tight in Kampala as police and military alike guarded what is likely the most internationally-watched presidential inauguration in Uganda’s history. But on a day to celebrate the country’s 15 years of multi-party politics, armed soldiers and closed streets in the city center underlined a rising concern for Uganda’s fledgling democracy.

At the center of the security is Museveni, a one-time rebel soldier who is now among Africa’s longest serving leaders. Museveni first came to power through armed struggle against two of Africa’s most notorious leaders: Idi Amin and Milton Obote. Museveni served in the rebel army that deposed Amin in 1980. Less than two years later, he led the National Resistance Movement in a struggle to depose Obote, Amin’s corrupt successor, who was responsible for an estimated 300,000 civilian deaths during six years of rule.

Godfrey Odongo, a researcher for the London-based Amnesty International, explains how Museveni moved to quickly reverse the destruction of his predecessors.

“When Museveni first came to power in 1986 he had a 10-point plan. One of the key pillars of that plan was observance and respect of human rights. In the first part of Museveni’s rule, there were considerable advancements and developments in human rights as standards, particularly relating to the opening up of space, and quite a significant degree of respect for the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of speech,” said Odongo.

Uganda has flourished during Museveni’s 25-year rule, in both economic and human terms. According to the United Nations, from 1985 to 2010, the country saw a 53 percent increase in "human development," a statistic that combines life expectancy, access to education and income to measure the quality of life in a country. During that same period, neighboring Kenya saw a rise of only 13 percent.

Museveni also has led one of the most successful HIV/AIDS campaigns in Africa. According to the World Health Organization, from 1990 to 2009, the percentage of 15 to 49-year-old Ugandans with HIV or AIDS dropped from 10.2 percent to 6.5 percent.

But all is not well in Uganda. Since the February elections, Museveni has faced increasingly harsh criticism over his heavy-handed suppression of opposition and his consolidation of power. In April, opposition groups - led by three-time presidential candidate Kizza Besigye - began the “Walk to Work” demonstrations to protest the rising cost of food and fuel. The walks were met with the full force of the Ugandan police, with hundreds of demonstrators arrested or injured, and 10 killed.

Odongo said the response has been the culmination of five years of increasingly repressive rule.

“There have been quite a number of developments relating to restriction and diminishing of political civil space. Museveni’s swearing in today comes on the backdrop of Amnesty International’s concern that the last five to six years have seen the government notch up attempts to introduce legislation that significantly restricts the space within which political choice can be exercised,” said Odongo.

Leader of the opposition party Forum for Democratic Change Kizza Besigye, background center right, beside his wife Winnie Byayima, left, waves to large crowds of supporters as he returns from Nairobi after medical treatment, May 12, 2011
Leader of the opposition party Forum for Democratic Change Kizza Besigye, background center right, beside his wife Winnie Byayima, left, waves to large crowds of supporters as he returns from Nairobi after medical treatment, May 12, 2011

The response to the "Walk to Work" movement has been roundly criticized by rights groups and international observers alike. Opposition leader Besigye was repeatedly arrested and even injured by police, requiring one week in a Kenyan hospital to treat badly damaged eyes and a broken hand. Rights groups have expressed concern over interpretations of the constitution used by police to justify the crackdowns. The international community has called on the Ugandan government to respect the freedom of peaceful assembly of its citizens.

Museveni sees the protests, though, in a different light. He repeatedly has accused Besigye of provoking police and firmly defends his duty to maintain order.

“I vote for democracy, but my democracy is a democracy of discipline,” he said.

Statistics, however, tell a story similar to that of the opposition. Though the National Resistance Movement lists corruption reduction as one of Museveni’s major achievements, opponents point to Uganda’s bloated cabinet, with more than 70 members as evidence to the contrary. Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Uganda 105 in its 2006 Corruption Perception Index, with a score of 2.7 out of 10. In 2010, Uganda’s score had fallen to 2.5, with a global ranking of 127.

The group’s 2010 East Africa Bribery Index found Uganda the region’s second most corrupt country behind Burundi, and ahead of the notoriously corrupt Kenya. The index also found Uganda’s Revenue Authority and Police among the 10 most corrupt institutions in east Africa.

Paris-based Reporter’s Without Borders has similarly criticized Uganda in its protection of free speech. The group ranked Uganda 96th in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, down from 52nd in 2002.

Museveni’s inauguration Thursday was attended by leaders from across Africa, but just down the road, thousands of Ugandans gathered at or near Entebbe International Airport to welcome Kizza Besigye home from Nairobi.

With at least five years left in his rule, the world likely will be watching to see if Museveni extends a hand to the popular Besigye or closes his fist.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid