An anthropologist's take on Uganda and the Great Lakes region...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

LRA on the march again

The first time I was told that the LRA were on the brink of defeat was in 1997. Since then, the rebel group has shown a remarkable ability for sustaining their insurgency, even in the face of (at times) massive military opposition to it.

The current round of military pressure against the group was begun in December 2008, with the launch of the Ugandan Army's (UPDF) Operation 'Lightening Thunder'. Targeted against the LRA's main bases in North-eastern Congo (DRC), the operation - which had the support of the Congolese Army (FARDC), the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), and even the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), aimed to achieve a final defeat of Joseph Kony's men with 3 weeks.

The operation got off to a poor start, with the Ugandans failing to deliver enough men and supplies to the front line, and with the LRA receiving tip-offs about the attack (many of the Ugandan soldiers involved in the operation were themselves decommissioned LRA fighters, some of whom remained loyal to their former boss). Nevertheless, as the months went on, and especially following the UPDF's entry into the Central African Republic (CAR) in mid 2009 - to which many LRA leaders, including Kony himself, had fled in February of that year - the tide began to turn in the UPDF's favour.

Into late 2009, the UPDF began to score some significant victories, including the capture of one of Kony's most senior officers, Major Okot Atiak, and the killing of at least seven other senior LRA leaders. In November, another senior commander, Lt. Colonel Charles Arop, surrendered to the UPDF. It later transpired that on 2nd October, the UPDF had come close to securing the biggest prize of all when, in an attack in Djemah in Eastern CAR, they had fired upon, and almost captured, Joseph Kony himself.

However, the optimism which followed these victories proved short lived. By the end of 2009, it was increasingly obvious that these military successes were coming at a terrible price, as the LRA, in its weakened state, was carrying out ever greater predations on surrounding civilian populations, as the group looted supplies, and sought to bolster their ranks through the forced recruitment of child soldiers. In one attack in December 2009, LRA fighters killed an estimated 345 civilians over 4 days in Haut-Uele (DRC) in the largest single massacre in the group's 23 year history. By August 2010, it was estimated that in the preceding 18 months, Kony's men had killed up to 2000 civilians (which would again make it the bloodiest 18 months in the group's history). Over the same period, the LRA had also kidnapped 1,600 more people, and had caused a massive 300,000 to flee their homes.

In addition, despite the UPDF's best efforts to disrupt Kony's command and control structures, by mid-2010 the LRA had reestablished organizational coherence, by moving to a 'zonal' mode of operation. In this way, each remaining LRA commander was allocated a particular zone in which he could operate without further authorization from Kony. Thus, Kony's brother, Major David Olanya, was allowed to operate freely in Maboussou-Gambala (CAR), General Binasio Okumu in Obo (CAR), and so on. Operating as independent units in this way, the LRA became much more difficult to disrupt than it had been previously, and it was able to operate over a much wider area. By mid-2010, the group's increasingly bloody attacks were being carried out as far apart as the extremes of Orientale Province (DRC), Western Equatoria (Southern Sudan) and in Eastern CAR as far north as the border with Chad.

At the same time, the UPDF force deployed in the CAR in pursuit of the LRA had began to run into problems of its own. Primary among these was a wave of infighting among the leadership, which eventually resulted in the force commander, Colonel Emmanuel Rwashande, being replaced. In addition, the Ugandan government decided to withdraw 1000 of the 7000-strong force, and to redeploy these men to Karamoja in North-western Uganda. Further drawdowns are also likely as President Museveni seeks to bolster security back home ahead of the next February's presidential elections.

Thus, by September of this year, the LRA had become significantly emboldened that they appear to have made contact with the Khartoum controlled Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). The LRA was formerly equipped by the SAF throughout its long-running insurgency in Northern Uganda. If these reports are true, it would suggest that LRA leaders are confident that they may once again prove useful to the Khartoum regime - especially if, as expected, the forthcoming referendum in Sudan results in a further round of conflict between the SAF and the SPLA.

Last week's report that Kony himself has now moved to Darfur might also point to this Khartoum connection. So too would recent reports that the LRA are also now forging an alliance with another CAR militia, the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) - another longtime proxy of Khartoum. Certainly, if the LRA and the UFDR were to join forces, then it would bode ill for UPDF troops in the CAR, especially given the wealth of fighting experience, and sophisticated weaponry, upon which the UFDR can draw.

I was recently at a conference at which I heard, in a paper given by a European government official, that the LRA insurgency was now on the wane and that, following the passing of the recent anti-LRA bill by the US Congress (in May this year), that the group should now on the brink of a final defeat. I hope that he's right, of course. However, the first time I was told that the LRA were on the brink of defeat was in 1997.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The recent offensive against the ADF-NALU

One of Uganda's most notorious rebel movements of recent years, the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) are back in the public eye following a recent offensive against them by the Congolese army (FARDC). The offensive, called 'Operation Rwenzori', was launched in late June, and targeted the remnants of the ADF-NALU, who have been holed up in several villages in the Beni region of North Kivu since the late 1990s.

The operation appears to have been quite successful, and within a month of its launch, the FARDC had overrun all of the ADF-NALU's positions, had killed or arrested several dozen of their number (including several of their military leaders), and had put the remainder of the estimated 1,300-strong force to flight. However, the offensive also resulted in ADF-NALU reprisal attacks against civilian targets, and the displacement of 90,000 Congolese citizens.

A question remains as to why the FARDC offensive was launched at this particular point in time?

Formed in 1996, the organization that became the ADF-NALU is best known for a series of bomb blasts they carried out in Kampala in the late 1990s, and for an insurgency the group mounted in Western Uganda - especially in the Banyuruguru and Kasese regions - around the same period. The insurgency was never as large as that of other rebel groups, such as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Nevertheless, it soon became notorious, especially follow a series of particularly violent attacks against civilian targets. In one such attack, on Kichwamba Technical Institute, on June 8th 1998, ADF-NALU fighters burned 49 students to death in the dormitory, and abducted 80 others.

Like many people working in Western Uganda during this period, I remember the insurgency well, not least because it required me to relocated my planned field site, for my doctoral fieldwork in anthropology, away from Banyuruguru, to a site further east (I have ended up working in the Rwampara Hills ever since). In addition, I later discovered that the brother of one of my closest friends in Uganda was amongst the 49 students killed in Kichwamba. He actually survived the initial fire in the dormitory, and was flown by military helicopter to Kampala, but later died from his injuries. However, in late 1999, the Ugandan army (UPDF) destroyed most of the group's bases in Eastern Congo, and either captured, or killed, most ADF-NALU fighters. Since 2001, the group has been more or less dormant (although they did resurface briefly in March 2007).

Thus, the recent FARDC operation against the group came as something of a surprise. In recent months, the UPDF have been making public statements that the ADF-NALU were again recruiting, and some media sources have since linked them to the July 11 bomb blasts in Kampala. However, there is little evidence that the group has been mobilizing again, and it has now been established that the recent bombings were almost certainly carried out by Somali militants.

Thus, the question remains as to why did the FARDC launch Operation Rwenzori at this time?

The real answer probably lies in President Kabila's current attempt to present himself - ahead of next year's Congolese presidential elections - as the best person to deliver security to the troubled Eastern regions, and as the key defender of Congolese 'sovereigneity'. In pursuit of this agenda, in recent months Kabila's government has been putting increasing pressure on the UN to have all international peacekeepers withdrawn from the country before next year's elections (which start in November 2011). In late May, the Security Council allowed the mandate of the existing UN Mission to the Congo (MONUC) to expire, but voted to create a new one-year mission, the UN Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO), with only a minor drawdown in forces. In effect, the UN has given Kabila, and the FARDC, a new deadline by which to prove that they can manages the security situation in the east on their own. It is in this context, then, that the FARDC had been looking for an 'easy target', against which to prove their capabilities to international observers, and it appears that the remnants of a largely dormant Ugandan group simply best 'fit the bill' here.

However, routing the ADF-NALU is one thing. There remain much bigger, and much better organized, militias in Eastern Congo, and much bigger security challenges lie ahead. Thus, the FARDC still has much to do if it really is going to prove that it can achieve order in the East.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Kampala bomb blasts

Most people are struggling to comprehend last Sunday's bomb blasts which left at least 74 people dead, and several hundred more injured. The blasts took place at around 9.30 pm local time in two locations - Ethiopian Village, in Kabalagala and Kyadondo Rugby Club, in Nakawa - as patrons at both venues were watching the final stages of the World Cup final.
Responsibility for the attacks was eventually claimed by Somalia's Islamist militia, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (usually known as just 'al-Shabaab') which both the international community, and the global media, have been quick to connect with the al-Qaeda network.
This is the first time that al-Shabaab - which is currently at war with Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) - has struck outside of Somalia itself, and the attacks therefore represent a significant widening of the Somali conflict, a 'regionalization' of that war. However, the question remains as to why al-Shabaab should have attacked targets in Uganda, rather than in, say, Ethiopia, or Kenya?
Certainly, part of the answer lies in the fact that Uganda is currently supplying over half of the troops (2700) for the African Union's Mission to Somali (AMISOM). Since early 2007, AMISOM has been effectively fighting al-Shabaab, and other Islamist militias, on the TFG's behalf, especially in and around Mogadishu. Perhaps not surprisingly, in the wake of the Kampala bombs, the Ugandan army (UPDF) has now offered an additional 2000 soldiers to the mission. However, other East Africa countries, especially Ethiopia, have also been engaged militarily in Somalia, and indeed, over a much longer period than Uganda. So why, then, were none of these other countries attacked on Sunday as well?
One answer is that al-Shabaab may well have tried to launch strikes in those other places as well, but were thwarted by local security services (some of whom are better placed to deal with Somali threats than the Ugandan security services). Certainly, the fact that the initial arrests after Sunday's blasts were all made in Kenya - or on the basis of Kenyan intelligence - suggests that the Nairobi-based intelligence services have a much tighter grip on al-Shabaab than do other regional governments.
In addition, it may have been easier for al-Shabaab to launch an attack in Uganda given that a number of their operatives had recently been brought into the country by…the UPDF.
From late last year onwards, the Ugandan army have been training Somali forces at the Bihanga Military Training School in Ibanda, South-western Uganda (as part of their AMISOM commitment). While this training programme is obviously designed for units loyal to the TFG, it is now clear that from the very beginning, it has been infiltrated by al-Shabaab. For example, it has been revealed that several al-Shabaab members who were recently killed by the UPDF in Mogadishu had previously been trained at Ibanda. Yet if the Bihanga programme has been infiltrated in this way, then it would have been particularly easy for an al-Shabaab cell to carry out Sunday’s attacks, by simply ‘staying on’ in Uganda after the course had finished.
In addition, it is also worth pointing out that Uganda may be a more highly symbolic target for al-Shabaab than either Ethiopia or Kenya. After all, the country is about to host a summit of AU leaders. More generally, not least because of its current status as the ‘development miracle’ in East Africa, Uganda perhaps better symbolizes the kind of (imagined) Western modernity against which groups like al-Shabaab perceive themselves to be resisting.
In this regard, the fact that the two main bomb attacks took place in the Kabalagala neighbourhood of Kampala is probably not coincidental, given that this area has for long symbolized ‘free living’. The neighbourhood first emerged as social hub during the Amin years, at which time most ordinary Kampalans feared to venture out in more central parts of the city after dark, given the fear of arbitrary arrest at that time. However, in recent years it has become more synonymous, in popular discourse throughout Uganda (and indeed, throughout East Africa) as a symbol of the social excesses of the western ex-patriot community.
As a result, over the last twenty years or so, Kabalagala has been repeatedly targeted for bomb attacks, by a range of reactionary groups (including by a number of other Islamist-oriented organizations). Thus, for example, in the late 1990s, a number of bars in Kabalagala were targeted in a series of grenade attacks carried out by the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
In short, then, Kampala may well have represented both a key political target, and a perfect symbolic target, for those who carried out last Sunday’s attacks.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Election 2011 - Besigye shows his political acumen

So we now have the probable date of next year's elections, following the publication of the Electoral Commission (EC) 'roadmap'. If all goes according to plan, the main presidential and parliamentary elections will take place in late February 2011.

As the campaigns now gather pace - ahead of the new deadline for the registration of candidates (on October 26th) - Besigye is once again demonstrating his political skill. Having recently suffered a series of setbacks, including challenges from within his own Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and competition from other opposition candidates - most notably Olara Otunnu of the Uganda People's Congress (UPC) and Norbert Mao of the Democratic Party (DP) - Besigye is once again on the offensive:

- In recent weeks, Besigye loyalists have undertaken a sustained campaign of undermining both Otunnu and Mao, by representing them as stooges of the NRM. The tactic, previously used on one of Besigye's internal challengers, FDC MP Beti Kamya, is to list historic connections between those individuals and Museveni, in an attempt to portray them as moles who have been planted specifically to fragment the opposition vote.

- Besigye has also sought to undermine both Otunnu and Mao by providing both public and private support to splinter-groups within both the UPC and DP. In late June, the FDC leadership gave their approval to a break away UPC faction led by Sam Luwero, which has subsequently formed its own party, the Uganda National Congress (UNC), and which is now expected to also joint the FDC-led Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC).

- This follows an earlier move in which the FDC had stood-down their own candidate for the Mukono North byelection, in order to let DP candidate Betty Nambooze win (FDC leaders, including Besigye himself, also travelled to Mukono to campaign on Nambooze’s behalf). Nambooze represents a faction of the DP which is openly hostile to Mao’s leadership.

- The move also played well with the FDC’s Baganda constitency, given that Nambooze is also a prominent member of the baganda elite. Indeed, as a result of the event, several key members of the Kingdom of Buganda establishment appeared to come out in support of Besigye – something which did much to repair the ethnic divisiveness of his earlier rift with Beti Kamya (who had based her challenge of on the claim that Besigye - an ethnic mukiga - was sidelining baganda interests within the party).

As a result of these moves, Besigye has once again emerged, in recent weeks, as the key figure in the Ugandan opposition. And it is for this reason that the government are currently focusing so much of their attention on him personally.

Thus, over the past three months alone, the police have twice stood by as Besigye was beaten up, first, at a rally in Mpigi District (as he was attacked by a lone agitator), and then at an event in Kampala, (when he was set-upon by a vigilante group, the ‘Kiboko Squad’). In addition, the police have twice arrested Besigye, first for comments he allegedly made urging FDC members to ‘break the thumbs’ of NRM supporters, and then for comments he allegedly made that the government had secretly sold-off Lake Kioga to an (unnamed) South-African firm. He has also narrowly avoided arrest on a number of other occasions. Moreover, regional administrators have effectively barred local radio stations – or any other media outlets – from carrying interviews with Besigye, or any other members of the FDC (as noted in the recent HRW report, discussed in a previous blog).

The opposition's chances against Museveni at next year's elections will be greatly improved if they can unite around a single candidate. Recently events have once again demonstrated that Besigye still has the best chance of emerging as that candidate. And it is for this reason that the government are currently so focused on trying to thwart his campaign.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A nation of drunkards?

Earlier this week, the head of the Kampala-based Serenity Centre for Alcoholics Rehabilitation, David Kalema, claimed that 3 million Ugandans (approximately 10% of the population) drink excessively, with a further 1.5 million being 'vulnerable to alcohol'. The comments are apparently based on figures published by the WHO.

However, Kalema then went on to blame all of Uganda's social ills, from poverty, to unemployment, to family breakdown, to HIV/AIDS, to car accidents on alcohol.

The argument that alcohol consumption in Uganda is both excessive, and a generally bad thing, is one that is shared by most of the development community. Indeed, I have yet to meet any development professional who does not share these views (even though they might not always express them as forcefully as Mr. Kalema), and I have yet to read any development report that does not decry the 'evils of alcohol'.

However, it is interesting to note that the academic literature on alcohol in Africa frequently takes an almost diametrically opposite line on the social effects of alcohol. Thus, rather than seeing alcohol consumption as the root of social degeneration, a range of academic studies from Uganda and elsewhere have instead emphasized the importance of drinking events - in both rural and urban settings - as a key means of social cohesion (especially amongst men), as the basis of many types of ongoing exchange relations, and as spaces for political mobilization.

So which is it, then? Alcohol as 'social evil', or alcohol as 'social glue'?

At least part of the answer here may be found if we take a longer time perspective. Drawing on the historical evidence from South-western Uganda, it is clear that by the mid-nineteenth century, at least, most social events, from ritual exchanges, to weddings, to funerals etc. involved some form of alcohol consumption. Originally, this involved millet beer (amarwa), although following the establishment of bananas as the staple - from around the late-nineteenth century onwards - this was generally replaced by banana wine (tonto).

Even today, most social events in this region involve an exchange of tonto, whilst daily social life frequently also revolves around sharing a glass or two with some or other relative, neighbour or friend (this is especially true for men, and for either younger, or older, women). In addition, the social networks which emerge from these daily drinking practices fulfill an important role, their members often helping each other to gather a harvest, raise school fees, or to deal with some sort of crisis (for example, I was once living in a village during a period of prolonging famine, during which drinking groups of this sort met daily to discuss survival strategies for their members' households).

Thus, drinking practices, and the social forms these create, are central to sociality in this region. However, it is also true that some later developments have had some less propitious effects. Specifically, during the Second World War, thousands of Ugandan men served abroad in the King's African Rifles (KAR), and upon their return, brought back knowledge of 'the bar', and of the practices of stilling. Thus, from the 1950s onwards, bars were established in villages throughout Uganda, which now sold not tonto, but its stilled variant, waragi. In other words, alcohol became both commercialized, and much (much!) stronger.

Also in the 1950s, commercially bottled beer became widely available, with the establishment of Nile Breweries (in Jinja, in 1956), and the expansion of the Kenyan giant, East African Breweries, into the Ugandan market at around the same time.

The commercialization of alcohol changed the way in which tonto was produced. Previously, someone who was brewing a batch of the drink would make only enough to give to his 'exchange partners'. Now, on the other hand, a brewer was guaranteed that any excess could be sold to a local bar, and as a result, people began to produce much more than they needed. Young men, in particular, began to give over more and more of their plantations to the tonto-making variety of bananas (embiire); in effect, embiire became a cash-crop. And one result of this was that more and more tonto began to circulate in the villages than ever before. It was in this context, then, that bar owners increasingly used up the 'excess' tonto by making waragi (it takes about 25 litres of tonto to make 1 litre of waragi. In addition, there is also the advantage that even 'stale' tonto - that which has become too sour to drink - can be used for stilling). And the result of this was more and more waragi.

Moreover, throughout the colonial period, Ugandans were effectively banned from buying alcohol, the sale of which was reserved for Europeans (the historian Justin Willis has written very well about this in his book 'Potent Brews', 2002). However, as elsewhere, the result of such prohibition was to stimulate the desire for commercial drinks. Thus, as soon as tonto, waragi and branded drinks became available for purchase, their purchase became marked as an act of status and prestige (an act that more and more people were able to achieve, as cash incomes became ever higher, at all levels of society, from the 1960s onwards). Today, all of this holds just astrue for a local village man who celebrates the sale of his cow by buying everyone in the bar waragi, as it is for the state minister who displays his status by serving everyone at his party with Johnny Walker whiskey.

So Mr. Kalema's comments are overly-pessimistic, certainly. Much academic, especially ethnographic, research has shown how crucial alcohol is to (male) sociality in this part of the world, and beyond. Nevertheless, the history of production and consumption in this region also reveals that the amount, and the strength, of alcohol in circulation has become ever higher over the last half century or so.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Review- A Media Minefield (HRW Report)

I have just finished reading HRW's new report on Uganda's media, 'A Media Minefield'. The full report can be downloaded here.
The report's main argument is that 'freedom of expression across the country is in significant jeopardy' (p. 2), as the government seeks to rescind some of the media freedoms it introduced following its accession to power in 1986. The argument is that the government is making these moves in the run-up to this year's general election, in an attempt to stifle opposition campaigning on both urban and rural media outlets.
The basic tenets of this argument are sound, and there is little doubt that media freedoms have been gradually eroded in Uganda over the last few years. In addition, the government has increasingly sought to displace criticism of its own actions onto the media. In the most recent example, President Museveni had Monitor group Managing Editor Daniel Kalinaki and Sunday Monitor Editor Henry Ochieng arrested for 'forgery'. The charges related to a letter that Museveni himself had written to the Bunyoro Kingdom - promising to 'ring-fence' certain elected offices for ethnic Banyoro - which the Sunday Monitor had later published. Interestingly, the president never disputed that he had written the letter, but instead argued that certain of its details had been altered in the publication. That case continues. In addition, there is little doubt that the opposition has most to fear from these moves, certainly if the rhetoric of current Minister of Information and National Guidance, Kabakumba Matsiko, is to be believed. Matsiko is an example of one of the new generation of NRM firebrands' (about which I have written in previous blogs), who wastes no opportunity to attack the opposition. Matsiko is also one of the driving forces behind the new Press and Journalist (Amendment) Bill (2010), which if passed, will make it more difficult for independent outlets to report opposition views on certain key issues.
Nevertheless, as someone who has been researching Uganda's media environments for over a decade, I still found the narrative of this HRW report too simplistic, and its interpretation of the evidence too narrow. In particular, the idea that the 'expanded number of government regulatory bodies, which have mandates to oversee, control, and monitor the media' (p. 11) have been introduced only for purposes of limiting media freedom - i.e. for the government's own instrumental political purposes - fails to understand just how complex Uganda's media environment has become over the last 10 years.
Since the NRM first introduced their media liberalization reforms, in 1993, Ugandans have gained access to a quite startling array of international, national, and regional media content. For example, in the past 15 years, more than 100 new newspapers have appeared in the country, more than 50 new radio stations, and at least a dozen new TV operations (some of which, such as DsTV or GTV, have themselves each carried a dozen or more channels). Many of these new outlets have not lasted, not because the government has restricted them, but usually because they were simply not commercially viable. However, a number of those outlets that have survived have gone on to have quite powerful social effects.
I havedocumented many of these effects in my published academic work. However, to note just one example here, in the late 1990s, the leadership of a charismatic Christian sect, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, used broadcasts on a Western regional radio station, Radio Voice of Toro FM, to convince people that the world was about to end. Many of the MRTC's members then went on to die in an inferno at Kanungu.
In this context, then, the creation of ever more (and, I would add, ever more complex) regulatory bodies should be seen less, as an attempt by the government to undermine the media, so much an attempt by them to keep up with the increasingly complex realities that their own reforms had created.
A similar point could also be made in relation to this report's main case study: the events surrounding last September's Baganda ethno-nationalist riots in Kampala. Certainly, the behaviour of some police officers, in the context of the riots themselves, was totally unacceptable, with numerous allegations being made of journalists (especially photo-journalists) being attacked by the police in their attempts to cover the story. However, the HRW report also goes on to criticize the government's decision - taken at the height of the rioting - to close down the Baganda Kingdom's own radio station, the Central Broadcasting Service (CBS). This criticism seems misplaced to me. Throughout the first day of the rioting, CBS presenters dedicated large parts of their shows to ringing around various parts of Kampala and its surrounds, to ask members of the public (on their mobile phones), whether any rioting had yet taken place in those areas. These calls had the effect of alerting all listeners to the places in which rioting had not yet begun, following which mobs travelled to those locations to 'stir things up'. The station's modus operandi was similar to that used by certain Kenyan radio station during the post-election violence of 2008. For that matter, it even smacked of the behaviour of Radio Television Libre des Mille Colines (RTLM) during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
In this context, then, it was in fact quite right and proper that the government should have pulled down the station's mast when they did, as parts of central Uganda teetered on the brink of even more serious ethnic violence. Certainly, the government have since made political gain by using this incident as a means to keep CBS off air (the station is currently suing the government over this decision, with the case due to be heard on 8th July). However, this alone does not invalidate the government's initial decision to turn-off the CBS signal when they did. Indeed, the rioting ended within just a few hours of the CBS shut-down (although there were other factors at play here as well).
Thirdly, the HRW goes to great length to argue that the government is today going to great lengths to curtail all media, throughout Uganda. However, looking at the list of cases included in the report's Annex, I am struck by the fact that most of the charges have actually been brought against quite a small network of journalists. Thus, this list of defendants does not represent a broad swathe of opposition media in Uganda, but a small clique within the upper echelons of the Monitor group (some of whom have since gone on to create their own outlets, such as the Independent, and Life FM). Whilst this doesn't justify the charges, of course - indeed, I have no doubt that many of them are false - it might suggest that the government are taking aim here at not, the opposition media as a whole, so much as a specific set of people within those outlets, with some of whom they have historic grievances (and the fact that Andrew Mwenda tops the list here, is no surprise). Thus, there are also a number of other opposition newspapers and radio stations in Uganda which are not represented on this charge sheet.
As I say, the basic tenets of this HRW report are sound. However, a more convincing attempt to sustain it would perhaps focus more on the problems that the New Vision group (which is government owned) have had in recent years. Whilst these did not lead to (significant) criminal charges, they did result in first William Pike, and then Els de Temmerman, resigning (in 2006, and 2008, respectively).
Moreover, a more nuanced report might also make more of the limits of the state in its attempt to control the media. Simply put, Uganda's new media environments have becomes so complex, and so 'globalized' (not least since the advent of the internet), that it is today doubtful that any state body, or bodies, could - at least in any simple sense - 'control' it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Election 2011 - Opposition disarray

In a few months' time, Ugandans go to the polls in both presidential and parliamentary elections.

With election fever now hotting-up in the country, I thought that I would begin my own coverage by examining what is rapidly becoming the main story of the presidential election: opposition disarray.

In mid-2009, four of the main opposition parties, including the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the Uganda Peoples' Congress (UPC), Jeema and the Conservative Party, joined up to form the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), to field a single presidential candidate against incumbent Yoweri Museveni.

At the time, there was great optimism that a united opposition could succeed this time around. If they could reproduce the swings seen between the 2001 and 2006 presidential elections (see map 1), then they would have a good chance of success. As map 1 shows, this period saw the opposition making significant gains in some of the most populous parts of the country, especially in the East and the Southwest.

However, since forming the alliance, the IPC has been plagued by in-fighting. In particular, its biggest member, the FDC, has suffered a protracted leadership dispute between Kizza Besigye (who was Museveni's main challenger in both of the last two elections) and former army commander Mugisha Muntu. Although Besigye has now formerly won this battle - by winning the FDC nomination in late April - the dispute has left the national party deeply divided.

More significantly, the Democratic Party (DP), which remains outside of the IPC, has since fielded its own presidential candidate, the charismatic Norbert Mao. Mao hails from Gulu, and is a prominent member of the northern political scene. His candidacy will therefore split the northern opposition vote - in the region in which Besigye won the majority of his constituencies in 2006 (see map 2).

In addition, former diplomat Olara Otunnu, another prominent northern figure, has also joined the race, and this may further fragment the opposition vote in regions north of Lake Kiyoga.

Certainly, there are still a number of unknown factors here. In particular, it is not clear whether recent expressions of, and trends towards, Baganda nationalism will lead to the emergence of a 'Baganda vote'. If such a bloc vote were to emerge, then it could potentially alter entire balance of the whole race. However, Museveni remains popular among many Baganda voters, especially women, and his group of government Baganda MPs remains strong. And, of course, as the incumbent, Museveni has both the finance, and the apparatus of state, on his side.

In response to their current predicament, the opposition have sought to shift all of the blame onto Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). For example, in the last few weeks, they have attacked the Electoral Commission (EC) as corrupt, and as a puppet of the government. The IPO have even said that they might withdraw from the elections if the EC is not reformed.

Certainly, the EC, in its current form, is largely controlled by the NRM. Nevertheless, these recent opposition attacks should still be seen as a tactic on their part, to deflect from their own current position of weakness.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The politics of anti-homosexuality

On the day that a court in Malawi has found the gay couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga guilty of 'unnatural acts and gross indecency' - for which they now face up to 14 years in jail - I am reminded that Uganda's infamous 'anti-homosexuality bill' is still not quite dead:

The fact that it is taking Museveni so long to kill off this bill - which he has been explicitly against since at least late October - highlights the strains that now exist been the president and parts of his parliamentary party. In particular, over the last couple of years, tensions have begun to emerge with a number of younger NRM MPs, who have begun to pursue their own agendas which are sometimes at odds with Museveni's avowed policies of social equality.

The author of the anti-homosexuality bill, David Bahati, is a prominent member of this new generation of 'young turks'.

It is illustrative that when the president, and several of his senior loyalists, first spoke out against the bill, in late 2009, they were more or less ignored by large sections of the parliamentary group. Instead, several of the young turks, and their allies (including Ethics and Integrity Minister James Butoro) went on a counter-offensive, and gave wide-ranging media interviews in which they sought to defend the draft legislation.

Eventually, Museveni issued an executive order in an attempt to quash the bill, citing the fact that it had by then become a 'foreign policy issue', due to negative donor reactions. However, even this did not silence the young guns - who were by now enjoying their 'moment in the sun' - and they continued to mobilize support for the legislation.

Finally, the president was forced to create a special committee to examine the bill. Chaired by a staunch Museveni loyalist, Adolf Mwesigye, the committee finally reported last week, and emphatically found '99 per cent' of the draft legislation to be either 'unconstitutional' or 'redundant'. It will be interesting to see whether this judgement will finally destroy the bill. We can only hope...

I will return to popular perceptions of homosexuality in Uganda in a later blog. However, it is interesting to note the political context in which the legislation itself has developed, not least because similar contexts now appear to be driving the development of anti-homosexuality legislation in other African counties as well.

However, before passing final judgement on the African lawmakers behind these new bills, we should also note that the legislation under which Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were convinced today was in fact created by the British colonial administration of (what was) Nyasaland.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The trouble with oil

Here's a subject that we will be returning to again: Uganda's newly discovered oil reserves.

Since late 2007, reserves of between 2-6 billion barrels have been found by the UK's Tullow Oil, in the Lake Albert basin. When production starts later this year, Uganda could become the fourth biggest producer in Africa.

In a recent report, the National Planning Authority (NPA) suggested that oil revenues will transform the country's economy, reducing its reliance on foreign aid (which currently accounts for 32% of the budget), and turning it into a middle income country by 2015.

However, much will depend, of course, on how the oil funds are distributed, and the arguments have already begun:
  • Museveni initially refused to make the Tullow contracts public, amid rumours that he was negotiating the terms himself. Damagingly, the contracts were then made public by a UK-based activist group, Platform. They can be viewed here.
  • The opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) now plans to challenge the legality of the contracts through the courts.
  • Arguments have also begun at the local level. Once production starts, the government plans to retain 80% of the revenues for itself, and to return 20% to the region from which it came (Bunyoro). However, some are now saying that this should go only to ethnic Banyoro, and not to any of the region's other ethnic groups (Bunyoro is also home to large populations of Baganda and Bakiga).
Thus, before even a single barrel has been produced, the 'black gold' is already raising both political and ethnic tensions.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

CHOGM, and on, and on...

More than two and a half years after the event was held in Kampala, talk of 'CHOGM' continues to stir the passions in Uganda. On Tuesday, Public Accounts Committee chairman Nandala Mafabi was due to table the findings from his seven-month enquiry into the alleged misuse of public funds from the meeting. However, the Speaker of the House decided to block the presentation, citing unnamed procedural irregularities as his reason for doing so. Much acrimony ensued.

The truth is that no one within the upper-echelons of the NRM wants the report to see the light of day. Mafabi's enquiry was begun in mid-2009, at the end of a year in which the ruling party were rocked by a series of major corruption scandals:
  • In March 2008, one of Museveni's former closest allies, former Ugandan army (UPDF) commander James Kazini, was convicted by a Court Martial for the misappropriation of funds related to 'ghost soldiers'.
  • In August 2008, another of the President's key men, Security Minister and Secretary-General of the NRM Amama Mbabazi, was involved in a land deal in which 411 hectares of public land was sold to one of his private companies at a vastly undervalued rate.
  • In September 2008, former Health Minister Jim Muhwezi was accused of taking part in the embezzlement of UgSh 1.6 billion from a major donor fund. Criminal proceedings for this case are still pending.
Already damaged by these scandals, the last thing Museveni's government needed was a series of further allegations, that up to UgSh 500 billion had been embezzled from the CHOGM funds. Moreover, as these allegations developed, into 2009, it was further suggested that Museveni himself may have sanctioned some of the moody deals involved. Certainly, the President himself was the star witness at Mafabi's probe.

No, no one within the NRM wants any more talk of CHOGM. But the meeting is far from over yet.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Welcome Post

Welcome to the Africanist blogspot:

The purpose of this blog is to provide comment on social and political developments in Uganda, and the wider Great Lakes region. Its posts will be concise and analytical, and will attempt to make sense of the daily headlines, and broader trends. Guest bloggers from Uganda will also be featured, as and when their views are relevant to the subjects at hand.

The site will be mostly in English, but also in Runyankore/Rukiga. Other Ugandan languages are also welcome.

Kaije! Nyina amatsyiko ngu noza kweshemeza!