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Old Wine in New Bottles: The Shortcomings of the "New Leaders" Model

The debate over the movement system is not simply about the movement system in Uganda: it is about the future of democratization and respect for political rights in Sub-Saharan Africa in general. The restrictions on political rights which characterize the movement system of government are becoming increasingly common in the larger region, and President Museveni is aggressively marketing his movement system as an alternative to "alien" democratic models in Africa. When President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo suspended political party activity in May 1997, President Museveni rallied to his side, stating: "I myself don't like political parties ... I restricted their activities. If Mr. Kabila copies that situation, I wouldn't be surprised."120

A number of hybrid governments have emerged in Africa which have stated a public commitment to economic reform and good governance, but which have resisted a return to multiparty democracy. Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Rwanda are often mentioned as members of the club of "new" African governments, all led by relatively young and often charismatic guerrilla leaders turned statesmen.121 These leaders claimed that the interest of stability required strong government, and that most African states were not ready for multiparty democracy until they developed a thriving economy and an established middle class. Restrictive political systems centered around a governing "movement" were characteristic of all these countries, and such a restrictive political system has legally developed to the greatest extent in Uganda. Despite claims to the contrary, the ideology of the movement appears to be leading towards a reinstatement of one-party rule, with the one difference that the "new leaders" not only tolerate but actively encourage private enterprise. The "new leaders" share a common suspicion of politicalopposition activities, and have aggressively pursued their vision for a new Africa by intervening in the affairs of their neighbors through the sponsorship of rebel movements and, in the case of the former Zaire, through direct military intervention.122 Because of the dramatic results which some of these leaders have produced in the area of economic reform and reduced political instability, the international community has often been willing to overlook the repressive measures these states have taken against perceived political opponents.

Beginning in 1997, the international community, led by the United States, embraced the leaders of Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and the DRC as the "new leaders" of Africa, painting them as advocates of strong government which were willing to bring "African solutions to African problems." The policies of the United States towards Africa became centered around these "new leaders" and the idea that this new leadership would lead an "African renaissance." In embracing these new leaders, the U.S. and other Western governments often overlooked serious and systematic human rights abuses committed by these governments. Repressive measures taken by these leaders against political opposition and civil society were often met with silence.

Flawed Engagement and Conspicuous Silence

The international community has been reluctant to call for democratic reform and respect for civil and political rights in Uganda, despite its often outspoken calls for similar reforms in neighboring countries, such as Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. President Museveni is a popular leader in the international arena, and has shown his capacity as a power broker in the region on several occasions, such as by inviting a large number of African leaders to Kampala for a summit with President Clinton. Western countries and international monetaryinstitutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) appreciate Museveni's pragmatic economic management and rave about the positive economic growth rates in Uganda since the early nineties. Criticism of Museveni's NRM system by diplomats has been met with strong rebukes from Museveni, who likes to suggest that such critiques of his African solution are "not only meddling but meddling on the basis of ignorance, and, of course, some arrogance."123 Most of the international community has chosen not to rock the boat, often turning a blind eye to restrictions on civil and political rights. In a country surrounded by such problematic countries as Sudan, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, the international community seems to accept the serious human rights abuses in Uganda as a minor issue, and has not engaged in much critical discussion with the Museveni government about these abuses.

The United States

The United States is one of the few donor nations which has attempted to engage in a substantial public discussion with the Museveni government about the movement system. The Museveni government is a close ally of the United States, as evidenced by the frequent high-level visits of U.S. officials to Uganda. Because of the close relationship between the U.S. and Uganda, U.S. criticism of the movement system has become increasingly muted. Many opposition politicians and advocates for pluralism in Uganda expressed concern to Human Rights Watch about the lack of engagement by the United States on the issue of political rights, and viewed recent comments and actions by the U.S. administration as an abandonment of their cause.

The U.S. took a more critical stance on the movement system during the 1995 constitutional debates. Noting the "undesirable, often tragic, consequences of governments which do not allow political competition and which deny human rights,"124 the U.S. embassy in Kampala issued a strongly worded statement during the constitutional debates on Uganda's future political system:

[D]espite the remarkable progress that Uganda has achieved, the United States now notes with concern that the stage is being set for the entrenchment of a system of government which falls seriously short of full democracy and political enfranchisement. Normally a constitutionis designed to protect human rights and ensure free and fair competition for political leadership. However, some forces in Uganda would like to see a constitution that preserves monopoly power indefinitely and continues the prohibition on the right of association and the right of assembly.125

President Museveni rejected the U.S. call for a speedy return to pluralist democracy, responding that "what the people of Uganda decide is what we shall take. It is not for the Americans to decide for Ugandans what is best for them."126

The U.S. embassy continued to periodically criticize the movement political system. In a July 1997 interview with the government's New Vision newspaper, outgoing U.S. ambassador Michael Southwick criticized the draft Movement and Political Organizations Bills then under consideration, accusing the drafters of aiming to "consolidate power in the hands of one group indefinitely."127 Southwick went on to rule out any U.S. support for the scheduled year 2000 referendum on political parties: "You do not have a referendum on religious and press freedom, so why have it on freedom of association and assembly? These are not votable commodities."128 The outgoing ambassador also questioned the credibility of the 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections, stating that, "Nobody should deceive themselves that these elections were free and fair in the sense that they met international norms. They should be seen as transitional elections."129

Recognizing the severe restrictions on opposition political party activity in Uganda, the State Department's country report for Uganda for 1997 explicitly refers to the movement system as a one-party system of government and bluntly states that "Movement domination of the political process limits the rights of citizens."130 Yet official U.S. criticism of this has become noticeably muted. When Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked during her 1997 visit to Ugandawhether she agreed with former Ambassador Southwick's call for multiparty democracy, her answer was evasive and did not take a position on the movement system, citing her admiration of Museveni's "progressive role and supportive role of democracy throughout the region."131 During a pre-Clinton visit interview, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Susan Rice, seemed to endorse the idea of a referendum on Ugandans' right to free expression and association when she stated: "We all look forward to the year 2000 when the people of Uganda will make a free and open decision we hope about the form of political competition that they wish to see in their country. That's a decision for the people of Uganda."132 During the Clinton visit, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Michael McKinley organized a luncheon attended by U.S. Special Envoy for Democratization in Africa Rev. Jesse Jackson, Susan Rice, National Security Council (NSC) Director for Africa John Shattuck, and a number of other U.S. delegates. In addition to a number of movement-oriented members of the government, the luncheon guests included a number of well-known advocates of pluralism in Uganda and opposition politicians, including former presidential candidates Paul Ssemogerere (DP) and Muhammed Mayanja (Justice Forum); UPC members Cecilia Ogwal, Dr. James Rwanyarare, and Aggrey Awori; and Dr. Joe Oloka-Onyango of Makerere University. The luncheon was an important opportunity for U.S. policy makers to engage in a wide-ranging discussion on the Ugandan political climate with opposition politicians, and was perceived as a welcome message of solidarity with the cause of pluralism by some of the opposition politicians in attendance.133 Rev. Jesse Jackson addressed the meeting, stating that although the U.S. did not have theright to prescribe political systems to other countries, there were universal democratic principles which are a prerequisite for genuine governance.134

A press briefing during President Clinton's visit to Uganda offered an insight into the Clinton Administration's policy towards democratization and human rights in Uganda. The press briefing was addressed by Jesse Jackson, Susan Rice, and National Security Council (NSC) Director for Africa John Prendergast. Jesse Jackson strongly defended Uganda's movement system, arguing that it had been established by popular mandate, that Uganda was a democracy "more so than many other nations with which we have relations," and that democracy takes time to build. Susan Rice was more reserved, recognizing that "there is a long way to go" on democratization and human rights in Uganda, and stressing that respect for human rights was a fundamental benchmark for measuring democracy:

The people of Uganda will ultimately choose the nature of their democratic system, whether it is multiparty or takes some other form. That's for them to decide. But in the meantime, we have made it absolutely clear and I think the government of Uganda fully shares the view that respect for basic human rights is fundamental and that democratic participation, freedom of expression, freedom of association-those have to be the benchmarks by which a democratic society is measured.135

But this linking of human rights and democracy has not been translated into a program of action. Bruised by past Museveni rejections of U.S. pressure, democratization and human rights no longer seem to occupy a high place on the U.S. agenda, despite the considerable leverage the U.S. and other donor states have because of their extensive activities in Uganda. While other governments in the region such as those of Kenya and Zambia become subjected to conditional funding which requires progress on democratization and human rights, the international community seems happy to continue with business as usual in Uganda. The lack of resolve is particularly disturbing in light of the extensive coverage that human right abuses in Uganda receive in the yearly U.S. State Department human rightsreports. It is not that the U.S. is unaware of the political and human rights situation in Uganda: they simply have chosen to ignore it.

The Entebbe Joint Declaration of Principles signed by President Clinton and the heads of a number of African states during Clinton's Kampala visit was also seen as an implicit recognition of the movement system of government. Although the declaration recognized several core principles of democracy-the principles of inclusion, the rule of law, respect for human rights, the equality of all men and women, and the right of citizens to regularly elect their leaders freely and to participate fully in the decision-making which affects them-the declaration does not specifically recognize the rights which have been explicitly denied by the movement system. In addition, the declaration seems to accept Museveni's relativist arguments for limiting political rights when it recognizes that "there is no fixed model for democratic institutions or transformation."

A noted commentator on Ugandan politics, Professor Mahmood Mamdani of the University of Cape Town, questioned the priorities of the high-profile visit of President Clinton to Uganda:

If economic reform seemed high on the agenda for Clinton's trip, it was not clear at all whether the same could be said of political reform. The issue is of prime importance precisely in those countries which are said to be led by the new generation of Africa's leaders. Key to these is Uganda, where people understandably wondered whether President Clinton's highly publicized support for President Yoweri Museveni may turn out to be at the expense of continuing political reform in the country.136

Overall, the United States has since the departure of Ambassador Michael Southwick been noticeably quiet about restrictions associated with the movement system. The few informal and unpublicized meetings which have taken place between U.S. officials and opposition politicians have done little to dispel the widely held view that the U.S. government is the patron of the Museveni government, a view which has substantially increased the legitimacy with which this form of the one-party state is seen on the continent.

The European Union and its Member States

Like most other Western donor countries, the member nations of the European Union (E.U.) have remained remarkably silent on the issue of democratization and respect for human rights in Uganda. Several E.U. countries regularly send delegations to Uganda and funding ties between E.U. members and Uganda are extensive, but human rights and democratization is rarely part of the public agenda of E.U.-Uganda interaction.

However, the E.U. issued a strong and unprecedented statement on the need for democratization in Uganda following a stormy Consultative Group donor meeting in Kampala in December 1998. In the days preceding the donor meeting, as noted, President Museveni's brother Major General Salim Saleh and the minister in charge of privatization resigned from their positions following a fraud scandal; a parliamentary committee released a damaging report on privatization and corruption in Uganda; and the World Bank handed over a confidential report to the Ugandan government documenting twelve cases of high-level corruption. The donor meeting took place against the background of increasing concern among donors about Ugandan and Rwandan involvement in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the statement presented by Austria to the Ugandan government at the closing of the meeting, the E.U. stated its commitment to following political developments in Uganda:

The E.U. shall monitor developments between now and the referendum in 2000 very closely. In particular it shall be looking at the terms and applications of the Political Organizations Bill for the regulation of political parties which it hopes will be passed very soon; the Referendum Bill and the time provided to debate it; and Movement's structures and activities, in particular the revival of the Chaka-mchaka political education programme.... There should be freedom of association in support of preferred candidates.

During a visit to Kampala, Irish Minister of State for Overseas Development and Human Rights, Liz O'Donnell, vowed that Ireland would support the referendum. The government's New Vision newspaper stated that O'Donnell declined to comment on the movement system of government but then asked: "What could be fairer than putting it to the people in 2000? If there is anything we can do to help, we will."137

Nick Sigler, the British ruling Labour Party's secretary for international affairs, expressed concern over the movement system while attending an October 1997 conference of the Africa Multiparty Democracy Workshop sponsored by the British Labour Party. Sigler described the movement system as "worrying" because parties could not carry out their normal functions. He further stated that the referendum was a "cause for concern" because it would lead to the end of pluralism without putting into place another similarly competitive system.138

His comments contrasted with those of British Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short, who announced during a visit to Kampala in October 1997 that the British Labour government would not press for multiparty reforms in Uganda and that Britain would support the referendum:

Uganda creates new optimism for Africa. The new British government likes to work with this kind of government. Our relationship with Uganda is precious. I do not think it is necessarily right for Uganda to have the same kind of political system as Britain.139

When the Ugandan Parliament was considering the proposed referendum legislation, the British High Commissioner to Uganda Michael Cook argued in favor of allowing political parties to campaign on the referendum issue, stating that "it is important for political parties to be given a proper platform to explain their cause before the referendum."140 Thus, the United Kingdom has focused its attention on ensuring the procedural fairness of the referendum, ignoring the more basic concerns about the legitimacy of a referendum which puts fundamental human rights up for a vote.

A Star Pupil, Sheltered by the Word Bank?

The World Bank has been one of the strongest international supporters of President Museveni. President Museveni is one of the few allies of the World Bank on a continent increasingly dissatisfied with the bank's approach to structural adjustment and debt relief. Having invested heavily in making Uganda an economic success story, the World Bank is loathe to see Museveni criticized.

The relationship between Uganda and the World Bank is a symbiotic one, providing important benefits to both. Uganda is one of the few African countrieswhich has been willing to embrace the stringent structural adjustment programs which the World Bank considers essential to restoring fiscal discipline and monetary stability, and has served as an important advocate for the World Bank's programs in Africa. In January 1998, Uganda hosted a landmark closed-door meeting between World Bank president James Wolfensohn and leaders of twelve African countries to discuss the World Bank's policies in Africa.141 Uganda has benefited from close attention from the World Bank and a generous economic package.

Uganda's economy has rebounded from a complete collapse in the 1970s and 1980s, and between 1994 and 1997 Uganda posted a real GDP growth rate of 8 percent, the highest in Africa. Because of its strict adherence to the fiscal discipline requirements and its sound economic reform record, Uganda was the first country to benefit from the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. In April 1998, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund agreed to a U.S. $650 million debt relief package for Uganda, effectively reducing Uganda's external debt by twenty percent.142 Since 1987, the World Bank has provided an estimated U.S. $790 million in adjustment support, in addition to an estimated U.S. $1 billion in project support in the agriculture, infrastructure, and social sectors.

Unfortunately, despite its recent commitment to "good governance," the World Bank has done little to address the need for political reform in Uganda. Its own assessments of the Ugandan government argue that "economic reform has been accompanied by political reform," and that the Ugandan government is "composed of broad-based political groupings brought together under the country's no-party political system."143 The World Bank has touted Uganda's economic achievements and ignored its civil and political rights shortcomings, thereby playing a counterproductive role in Uganda's democratization process.

The willingness of the World Bank and key donors to ignore Uganda's rights problems was clearly demonstrated at the most recent Consultative Group Meeting in Kampala in December 1998. The donor meeting took place at a time that Uganda, together with Rwanda, was openly embroiled in the conflict in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, aiming to topple the government of Laurent Kabila, himself installed with Ugandan and Rwandan support. OnDecember 8, days before the Consultative Group Meeting, the Ugandan Parliament released a damning report on Uganda's privatization process, arguing that privatization had been "derailed by corruption," and implicating three senior ministers who had "political responsibility." According to the report, most of the funds raised through privatization had apparently disappeared due to corruption. President Museveni's own brother and defense advisor, Major General Salim Saleh, had been forced to resign two days earlier after it was revealed that he had improperly and secretly tried to buy a majority stake in the Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB). The World Bank itself shared a confidential report detailing many cases of corruption involving government officials with the Ugandan government prior to the Consultative Group meeting, a report later released to the public at the request of the Ugandan government.144 Despite these concerns and the continued moves towards a more restrictive political system, the Consultative Group Meeting ended with Uganda receiving its biggest-yet package of aid: U.S. $2.2 billion, to be dispersed over the next three years. A strong statement issued by the European Union at the end of the meeting, discussed above, was a strong indication of rising international concern about Uganda's restrictive political practices.

The World Bank's support for Uganda's economic rehabilitation may ignore one of the greatest threat to Uganda's economic recovery, namely corruption. It is difficult to track corruption in Uganda because of a lack of transparency by the government, at least partly caused by the limitations placed on political opposition and the repressive actions faced by politicians who try to raise corruption concerns. In the words of Aggrey Awori, an opposition Member of Parliament, the corruption is a symptom "of an unaccountable government. If there was an effective opposition based on party lines, that would hold them accountable and threaten their tenure as government."145 With Uganda dependent on the international community for fifty-five percent of its budget, the international community and the World Bank certainly could do more to ensure the government of Uganda respects its international treaty obligations and fundamental human rights.

The Impact of the International Community's Lack of Resolve

By publicly ignoring the abuses of civil and political rights associated with the movement system in Uganda, the international community undermines theeffectiveness of its work on human rights and democracy elsewhere on the continent. A message is being sent that the international community will be willing to tolerate significant abuses of human rights, as long as the government maintains some surface acceptability. But by turning a blind eye to the abuses committed under the movement system, it becomes more difficult to call for improved human rights records and increased democratization in other countries, as the very notion of the universality of human rights is undermined. Human rights then becomes a tool of foreign policy, used against one's enemies and ignored in the case of one's friends.

120 "Mandela Accuses West of Demonizing Congo's Kabila," May 27, 1997.

121 Scott Straus, "Africa's New Generation of Leaders," Chronicle; Scott Straus, Uganda the cradle of Modern Africa," Globe and Mail (Toronto); Demba Diallo and Corinne Moncel, "Ouganda: Une Réussite Paradoxale," L'Autre Afrique, May 28-June 3, 1997, pp. 84-86; Nicholas Kotch, "New Club of African Leaders the Event of 1997," Reuters, December 27, 1997; Johanna McGeary, "An African for Africa," Time, September 1, 1997, pp. 36-40; Philip Gourevitch, "Continental Shift," New Yorker, August 4, 1997, pp.42-55; Marina Ottaway, "Africa's `New Leaders': African Solution or African Problem?," Current History, May 1998, pp. 209-213; Dan Connell and Frank Smyth, "Africa's New Bloc," Foreign Affairs, March/April 1998, pp. 95-106; Marina Ottaway, Africa's New Leaders: Democracy or State Reconstruction (New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999).

122 The Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) was based in Uganda for most of its guerrilla campaign which lasted from 1990 until 1994, and many RPA soldiers formerly served in Museveni's NRA. Uganda and Rwanda played a major role in the 1996-97 ADFL campaign which toppled Mobutu, and again sponsored and participated in a rebellion against Kabila which began in August 1998 when Kabila ordered his Rwandan military advisors to return to Rwanda. Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia intervened militarily to support the Kabila government, and accused Uganda and Rwanda of invading the DRC. Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia have also provided extensive support to the SPLA. Sudan has justified its support for rebel groups in Uganda as retaliation for Museveni's support for the SPLA. Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis; Human Rights Watch, What Kabila is Hiding; John Pomfret, "Rwanda Planned and Led the Attack on Zaire," Washington Post, July 9, 1997; Human Rights Watch, "Sudan: Global Trade, Local Impact," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 10, no. 4(A) (August 1998).

123 Philip Gourevitch, "Continental Shift," New Yorker, August 4, 1997, p. 50.

124 Edmond Kizito, "U.S. urges Uganda to build full democracy," Reuters World Service, May 13, 1995.

125 "U.S. warns that Kampala may fall `short of full democracy,'" Deutsche Presse-Agentur, May 12, 1995.

126 Edmond Kizito, "Uganda denies swift return to multiparty politics," Reuters World Service, May 18, 1995.

127 Ofwono Opondo, "U.S. warns Uganda over referendum," Sunday Vision, July 20, 1997, p.1.

128 Ibid.

129 Ibid.

130 U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, "Uganda Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997," (January 30, 1998).

131 The Secretary of State's answer was:

Well, first of all, let me say that we believe that the progress made in Uganda under President Museveni has been remarkable. We admire the work that he has done, and look forward to working with him in the future. I think that one of the messages that the United States always has as we travel around is that every country's human rights record can be improved, and that is true here also. We talked about this very briefly. My colleagues will pursue the subject, but I think the important thing to realize is that this country is a beacon in the Central African region, and we admire the work that the President has been doing here, on behalf of his own people as well as his very, I think progressive role and supportive role of democracy throughout the region.

132 United States Information Agency, Africa News Report, March 23, 1998, p. 16.

133 Human Rights Watch interview with U.S. embassy official, Kampala, May 6, 1998.

134 Richard Mutumba, "U.S. Delegates Meet Opposition at Luncheon," New Vision, March 25, 1998.

135 White House Press Briefing by U.S. Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa Reverend Jesse Jackson, National Security Council Director for Africa John Prendergast, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Susan Rice, and USAID Administrator Brian Atwood, March 24, 1998.

136 Mahmood Mamdani, "What was that trip all about?," The Monitor, April 10, 1998, p. 31.

137 "Ireland to help on referendum," New Vision, June 4, 1998.

138 John Kakande, "DP hosts African parties," New Vision, October 28, 1997.

139 Erich Ogoso Opolot, "Britain will not press for parties," New Vision, October 7, 1997.

140 "UK Envoy Appeals on Referendum," New Vision, June 25, 1999.

141 Stephen Buckley, "African Leaders Ask World Bank for More Aid," Washington Post, January 25, 1998.

142 Press Release, "Uganda to receive U.S. $650 million in debt relief," The World Bank Group, April 8, 1998.

143 "Countries: Uganda," from the World Bank website at

144 World Bank, Poverty Reduction and Social Development Section, "Uganda: Recommendations for Strengthening the Government of Uganda's Anti-Corruption Program," November 1998.

145 Paul Busharizi, "Uganda under pressure to embrace more democracy," Reuters, January 15, 1999.

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