Ugandan Election Special: Dancehall Democracy versus Anti-Social Autocrats

It’s that time of the decade, kids, and once again the Ugandan electoral spectacle shows how to put the “fun” back into dysfunctional!
Here’s a rough guide to the dynamics of central Africa’s most exciting, explosive and explicit post-colonial state.

Dramatis Personae:

Museveni on Twitter


Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
• elderly president/autocrat;
• has held the presidency since 1986, when he took power in a civil war;
• is conservative and reactionary, ruling largely through a deep-rooted form of political patronage;
• immensely popular in rural areas and with many people over 30;
• may genuinely win the election, but is being so mean and violent in the run-up, we can be forgiven for thinking he actually fears losing this time.
• Music Skills: Terrible, with ponderous hit single “Do You Want Another Rap?”
• Catchphrase: “I will eat my enemies like samosas”

Bobi on Twitter

Robert Kyagulani, aka Bobi Wine
• handsome, young-ish Dancehall superstar (it’s a bit like Shaggy running for the US presidency);
• has been MP since 2017, and founder of the immensely popular “People Power” movement in Uganda;
• is broadly socialist in his speech, but has yet to articulate a coherent ideological position or set of policies;
• immensely popular with the youth and unemployed (which is most Ugandans) and Dancehall fans;
• may possibly win more votes than Museveni, and has the incumbent more than a little worried.
• Music Skills: One of the best pop artists in Africa, mixing traditional instruments with digital beats and on-point social messages, e.g. “Kyarenga”
• Catchphrase: “We are removing a dictator”

This little summary aims not to repeat the details you can find on Wikipedia or in the news. Instead, I wanted to take you on a little trip behind the headlines.

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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 →]