Dictating Democracy – On Recent Elections in East Africa

These are frustrating times for supporters of liberal democracy in East Africa. Over the last two years, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have all held deeply problematic presidential elections and the latter two countries have tabled radical constitutional reforms that threaten to cement these so-called democracies into dictatorships. East African leaders have proved themselves very capable of manipulating liberal donor expectations by implementing democratic reforms in name only. The tools and language of democratic politics become means to achieve the elite’s capitalist and ethnocentric goals, while maintaining popular legitimacy.

A few days before the 2017 presidential election in Kenya, Chris Msando, the electoral officer in charge of technology and communications was tortured and murdered under mysterious circumstances. His death may equally have been committed by ruling party supporters (because they went on to win) or the opposition (as they wished to discredit the election). In any case, bloodshed at election time is nothing new in Kenya. The two previous Kenyan elections were hotly contested, with the allegations that the ruling party were cheating being supported by international observers. In 2007, the opposition leader from western Kenya denounced the results of the election as fake. Political leaders of both sides then cynically manipulated ethnic hostility, which boiled over into nationwide riots bordering on civil war. There were over a thousand deaths and mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. [Read more →]

Uganda: Anti-Homosexuality Bill update

Within a few months of the last Datacide going to press, the Anti-Homosexuality (AH) Bill was passed into law by the Ugandan government. In that issue, the article Confessions of an Accidental Activist cited a senior government insider suggesting that the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, was using the bill as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the ‘international community’ (i.e. Western donor nations). He could use his control over the AH Bill as part of international negotiations on economic and geopolitical issues, such as control of oil revenues, regional conflict and the security of his tenure. At the same time, expressing support for the Bill domestically would help secure fundamentalist-religious voting blocs ahead of the 2016 elections, which will mark 30 years of rule by Museveni’s National Resistance Movement. The president will thereby be seen to be standing on a platform of ‘traditional African values’ opposed to the decadent, domineering Western imperialists who are forcing homosexuality on Africans under the guise of human rights. The rabid homophobia rhetorically subsumed under these ‘African values’ is, ironically, an import from the US evangelist movement, whose influence on the population of Uganda is perhaps as significant as that of the Western donors.

Here was a skilful post-colonial balancing act for the president: appearing internationally as the guardian of order over an intolerant and fractious society, while pandering domestically to the most cynical demagogues of that same society. So, many were surprised that Museveni had finally tipped the balance and allowed the Bill to pass into law. How had the president achieved this without alienating the liberal donors? [Read more →]