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.

[Read more →]

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 →]

Confessions of an Accidental Activist

As an erstwhile PERTBUM (Privately Educated Riot Thug Backing Underground Movements), I had, in my youth, occasionally enjoyed the company of real activists. My preferred Underground Movement, Hekate sound system, was only collaterally activist, and the politics were correspondingly sloppy and oblique – we were only ever loosely (some would say ‘louchely’) involved with politics, and that is the way I liked it. Imagine my horror, then, when last year I found myself the subject of an international media shitstorm, and my innocent name tarnished with the label: “gay activist”. This would have caused no little derision in the dormitories of Westminster School, had the unfortunate incident occurred 20 years earlier.

2007 found me at a loose end in Uganda. The London underground had lost its lustre and my life had degenerated into meaningless anaesthetic abuse (to be distinguished from progressive psychonautical exploration). Africa held promise, particularly Uganda, with its absence of haughty white settlers, seemingly anarchic society and pulsating night-life. For a PERTBUM who simply wanted to open a Bohemian cultural centre in the tropics, the soil there looked exceedingly fertile and uncomplicated.

However, when I set forth from England with this missionary intent, Uganda, unlike some other parts of East Africa, had no historic tradition of western-style ‘arts’, except in music and dance. Painting, sculpture, cinema, literature and stage theatre were all barely nascent in the 1970s when Idi Amin came to power. Despite his nasty reputation, Amin was the last Ugandan leader to pump serious money into the artistic crucible of Makerere University. However, this patronage was curtailed by the slow eruption of a vicious civil war, which effectively continued from the mid-70s to the early-90s. This was accompanied by the epidemic of AIDS, of which Uganda was one of the worst cases in the entire world. “In such condition”, as Hobbes noted, “there is no place for… arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death.” However, such condition was perfect for a Leviathan-type state, externally-imposed economic structural adjustment, a recourse to fundamentalist religion, and the invasion of an army of NGOs. In this daunting, post-conflict condition, where were ‘the arts’? [Read more →]

Datacide on Mixcloud!

Check out the new Datacide mixcloud, featuring complete audio of all three talks from the Berlin conference (12-10-2013). More will be added soon!
http://www.mixcloud.com/datacide/