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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Qadhafi and Uganda

In the five weeks since Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi was killed by the National Liberation Army in his home town of Sirte, both scholars and media commentators have examined the legacy of his 42-year long reign. Across the many acres of print that have resulted, a key theme which has emerged has been the complex nature of the Colonel's foreign policy, especially in Africa. And nowhere, it would seem, are these complexities more obvious than in the history of Qadhafi's engagements with Uganda. Indeed, this helps to explain why the Libyan leader's recent demise has been greeted with such mixed reactions both from the Ugandan government, and from the Uganda public.

Thus, on the one hand, there are those mostly older Ugandans, especially those from the Central and Western regions, who still keenly recall the significant military support that Qadhafi provided to the Idi Amin regime during the 1970s. Following Amin's rise to power in 1971, Qadhafi quickly recognized that as a fellow Islamic regime - and moreover, as one that was explicitly anti-Israeli in orientation - Amin's Uganda would not only be a useful ally, but might even as a 'bridgehead' for the expansion of Libyan influence throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. It was for this reason that less than 12 months after Amin came to power, the Libyan leader sent 400 soldiers to bolster the Ugandan Army, and why he later replaced the 11 military jets that were destroyed by the Israelis during the famous Entebbe raid of 1976.

However, it was following Tanzania's invasion of Uganda in January 1979 that Qadhafi played his most decisive role in Uganda. With the Amin's army on the brink of collapse, in mid-February, the Libyan leader airlifted a major force of 2500 troops (consisting of regular soldiers, as well as members of Libya's People's Militia and its Islamic Pan-African Legion), along with tanks, armoured-personnel carriers (APCs), multiple-rocket launchers, artillery, and even a number of warplanes. The Libyan force finally met the Tanzanian advance at Lukuya swamp (about 70 miles southwest of Kampala, on the main Kampala-Masaka road) and a major engagement ensued. Even today, a number of burned-out vehicles from the battle are still easily visible from the Kampala-Masaka road.

The Battle of Lukuya (as it became known) initially went very well for the Libyans, and on the morning of 10th March, they routed the Tanzanian 201st Brigade, and took Lukuya Town. However, they then failed to press home their advantage, by not continuing on to the major urban centre of Masaka. One of the key mistakes the Libyans made was to not send out any reconnaissance south of Lukuya - which would have revealed that at that time, practically no opposition stood between them and Masaka. In addition, the Libyans failed to build proper defensive positions in and around Lukuya. In consequence, the Tanzanians were able to regroup, and on the night of 11th-12th March, launch a major counter-offensive against the town. Using a pincer-movement of the 201st Brigade and the more elite 208th, the Tanzanians caught the Libyans by surprise, and cut them to pieces. In one rather macabre detail, one Ugandan exile who had fought alongside the Tanzanians at Lukuya later recounted to me that many of the Libyan militiamen were unluckily dressed in desert fatigues. In the bright moonlight, and against the background of Lukuya's dark papyrus swamp, this attire resulted in their being 'lit up like Christmas trees', and eventually turned the whole thing into (what the Ugandan exile described to me as) a 'duck shoot'.  

Lukuya was the last major engagement between the Libyans and the Tanzanians, although there were some further skirmishes in and around Entebbe - and one amusing episode in which the Libyans tried to retaliate by bombing Arusha. On that occasion the Libyan pilot famously got lost, missed his target, and ended up blowing up a herd of antelope near the Ngorongoro Crater. Finally, on 11th April that year, the Libyans secured Amin safe passage out of Uganda, and he spent almost a year in Tripoli before finally settling in Saudi Arabia. But the point is that because of this extensive military support to the Amin regime, Qadhafi became an especially despised figure in those Western and Central regions that had seen the bulk of the fighting. In addition, he remained persona non grata in administrative circles throughout the years of Obote II.

However, following the rise to power of Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Movement (NRM) in 1986, Qadhafi once again became an influential figure on the Ugandan political scene. Yet from the beginning, the Libyan leader's relationship with Museveni was much more complicated than it ever had been with Amin. This stemmed from the fact that although Qadhafi provided the NRM with significant funding, arms and training during the bush war, Museveni - who had, after all, fought alongside the Tanzanians in 1979, as a senior member of the then Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) - always remained deeply suspicious of the Colonel's motivations, and especially his plan to use Uganda as a 'bridgehead' for Libyan influence into the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa (an aim that never really diminished, even after the fall of Amin). Moreover, the relationship between the two men became even more complicated still, following Qadhafi's turn away from Arab nationalism, and towards African integration, as his major foreign policy objective, from the late 1990s onwards.

Following Qadhafi's move towards African integration - which eventually resulted in his being elected chair of the African Union (AU) in 2009 (amidst talk of a Libyan-sponsored unified African currency, a future 'United States of Africa', and so on) - Museveni continued to do very well financially out of Libya. Thus, it is widely rumoured that Qadhafi donated US$4 million to Museveni's 2000 referendum, and a further US$5 million towards his 2001 election campaign. Either way, the period since the 1999 has certainly seen Libyan companies invest US$375 million in Uganda. For example, Libya now owns a 60% stake in Tristar (which exports textiles from Uganda to the US), a 49% share of the National Housing and Construction Corporation (Uganda's largest real-estate developer), and a number of Uganda's largest hotels, including the iconic Lake Victoria Hotel in Entebbe. In addition, prior to Qadhafi's downfall, it was widely anticipated that Libya would also invest heavily in Uganda's nascent oil infrastructure, especially in the proposed US$300 million pipeline from Kampala to Mombasa. Yet against all this, over this same period Qadhafi also became increasingly suspicious of Museveni's deepening ties with Britain, Israel and (especially) the US, whilst for his part, the Ugandan president saw the Qadhafi's integrationist project as a threat to his own plans for a more integrated East African Community (EAC, which - according to current rumours - he one day hopes to lead).

In addition, it is my surmise that Museveni was also deeply suspicious of the popular effect that the Libyan leader's vision had upon the Ugandan public. Whilst much has been written both about the history of, and the reasoning behind, Qadhafi's drive towards an integrated Africa, existing commentary has (to my mind, at least) failed to capture the sheer pizzazz of the Colonel's enterprise, or the at times electrifying effect that it had upon ordinary Africans. And nowhere was this more obvious than in Kampala. Thus, I remember being in the city during Qadhafi's visit in 2001, on which occasion he behaved with such panache - in addition to his convoy of Mercedes-Benz, and his striking female bodyguards, on his first day in town the Libyan leader bought the entire stock of a local jewellers, and then proceeded to toss all of the jewellry, along with a load of cash, into the waiting crowds - that it couldn't fail but to galvanize public opinion. In these and other ways, he seemed to embody the very best of 'Afro-optimism', something that is deeply seductive in many African contexts. Thus, for months after his visit, images of Qadhafi remained a best seller for Ugandan photograph dealers, as people came to regard these as a 'must have' item in their personal photograph albums. Indeed, for a period, at least, Qadhafi may have even achieved greater popularity in Uganda than that enjoyed by Museveni himself. Moreover, the Libyan leader later erected a grand symbol of his authority in the Ugandan capital, in the form of the magnificent Qadhafi National Mosque which, sitting atop Old Kampala Hill, now dominates the city's skyline, especially at night (see my recent - albeit not very good quality - view from Kampala Road). Qadhafi took up the project in 2003, reviving an older plan for a 'grand mosque' in the city which had first been floated by Amin in the early 70s.

For these reasons, the relationship between Qadhafi and the current Ugandan president was always somewhat ambiguous, and this continued up until the end. Thus, following the start of the NATO bombing of Libya, in March 2011, Museveni embarked on a major round of 'shuttle-diplomacy' across Africa, in an attempt to secure an AU resolution against the airstrikes (an extraordinary meeting of the AU held in late May in Addis Ababa later called for an immediate cessation of the attacks). Yet at the very same time, we now know (thanks to the wikileaks cables) Museveni was privately concerned that the Libyan leader might even try to assassinate him, as a result of which he applied to the Americans for additional air radar information on his flights over international airspace. Finally, following the beginning of the NATO campaign, Museveni published a long (and somewhat rambling) treatise on Qadhafi in the journal Foreign Policy, in which he developed 11 reasons why NATO should desist, alongside 5 'positive points' about the Colonel, yet in which he notably also went on to expand 4 reasons why Qadhafi was 'no saint'. Moreover, it would appear that it was not only Museveni who picked up on the complexities of Qadhafi's approach to Uganda. Thus, I leave the final word here to Godfrey Ahabwe, former MP for Rubanda East, who finishes his own recent eulogy to Qadhafi in the Independent with the words:

"Fare thee well, the Great Leader of Libya and Africa, certain weaknesses notwithstanding."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

More problems with oil

In mid-September, shadow attorney general Abdul Katuntu, and government MP Theodore Ssekikubo, announced that they had gathered enough support for a petition on oil tax payments to force a special sitting of parliament (in the end, they gathered the names of at least 166 sitting MPs, significantly more than the 125 that are required to force an emergency debate. The signatories included a large number of members from the ruling National Resistance Movement, NRM). The MPs’ petition related to an ongoing dispute between the Ugandan government and Canadian oil firm Heritage Oil, over the latter’s sale of its exploration rights in the Lake Albert basin to UK-based Tullow Oil in July 2010 (Heritage is claiming back the US$405 million that was paid in capital gains tax on the US$1.5 billion deal). After several months of legal wrangling in Uganda itself, in late August, the government agreed that the case be shifted to an arbitration tribunal in London. However, MPs remained unhappy that important details of the dispute – including key documents (not least Heritage’s original Production Sharing Agreements, PSAs), as well as the government’s reasons for agreeing to take the case to London – remained classified. They are therefore attempting to now use parliamentary privilege to force further disclosures. 

Then, in early October, another government MP, Gerald Karuhanga (MP for Youth, Western Uganda), tabled documents which purported to show that Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa had received a £16.5 million bribe from Tullow Oil. The claim led to older allegations against Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi resurfacing in the press - allegations that they had received bribes from Tullow and ENI, respectively. Interestingly, the documents relating to both the Kutesa and the Onek allegations have long been proved to be fake (even before the former were tabled in parliament). As early as mid-2010, the Maltese Police had dismissed the documents relating to Onek as forgeries (they involved a Maltese bank account). And the evidence against Mbabazi is equally thin, being based only on one of the US Embassy cables that were released by Wikileaks. Nevertheless, the allegations have had a major political impact. Just two days after Karuhanga's portfolio was presented to parliament, Kutesa resigned, and in the subsequent debate over the documents, Onek announced that he too would be stepping down - although it is not clear whether or not he has actually done so. (Kutesa's resignation also coincided with the start of his court case concerning another set of bribery allegations, related to the CHOGM meeting of 2007). Following Karuhanga's disclosures, Mbabazi has also come under increasing pressure - with growing calls for him to resign as well - although he has so far managed to remain aloof. 

The current anger over the Heritage dispute, and the corruption allegations, reflects wider concerns amongst legislators over the way in which President Museveni and his inner-circle have handled oil issues, and the secrecy with which they have surrounded these dealings, from the time of Heritage and Tullow’s initial explorations in the Lake Albert basin, in 2007, onwards. In particular, recent months has also seen growing criticism of Museveni’s decision of early-2010 to place all of the western oil fields under the control of the Special Forces group, which is commanded by his son Lt. Col. Kainerugaba Muhoozi. Ostensibly done for reasons of security – following an earlier series of cross-border skirmishes between the Ugandan Army (UPDF) and their Congolese counterparts (the FARDC) – many now argue that the Special Forces’ deployment is in fact being used to control all access to the oil fields, and also to surrounding areas and populations. Thus, for example, the Special Forces group is also now policing the special permits which, issued by the executive, are required for anyone wishing to interview local authorities in the oil districts, to conduct research amongst local farmers and herders, and/or to take photographs in the region. (In addition, throughout 2011, a growing number of MPs, NGOs and journalists have found the permits themselves increasingly difficult to secure).

Opposition MPs, along with various Ugandan academics, NGOs, and the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Oil (CSCO), have also voiced growing concerns over the new legislative framework that the president and his senior ministers have begun to develop around the oil finds. In February 2008, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) published a National Oil and Gas Policy (NOGP), which paved the way for new legislation related to revenue management and administration, revenue management, and environmental management. However, when Museveni released advanced copies of the first of these bills – the Petroleum (Exploration, Development, Production and Value Addition) Bill – in May 2010, it came in for immediate criticism. In particular, the draft legislation was once again seen as too secretive (for example, if passed, the new law would not even require mining companies to declare quantities of oil being extracted), but also as granting the Energy Minister too much power (amongst other things, he would have full discretion over all licencing issues), yet without providing adequate provision for an independent Petroleum Authority. In response, Museveni quietly dropped the bill in the run-up to the February elections. However, cross-party legislators are now gearing-up for further battles, following Energy Minister Irene Muloni's recent claim that she plans to have all three of new laws passed by the year's end. It is in this context, then, that a British-based NGO, International Alert, has recently published an overview of existing oil and gas laws in Uganda, as a guide for MPs in their upcoming debates over future oil legislation.

Moreover, it is not only at the national level that Museveni faces growing pressure over his handling of oil issues. In addition, in recent months local bodies such as the Kingdom of Bunyoro have also become increasingly vociferous in their complaints against the president (the majority of the newly-discovered reserves lie within the Bunyoro region). Bunyoro’s current grievances trace to the 2008 NOGP, which requires that 20% of all state oil revenues be returned to the region the oil came from, yet which effectively bars the Kingdom itself from receiving any of these monies (given that the institution is a purely ‘cultural’ organization). However, during 2011, this antagonism has been further exacerbated by a series of land disputes, including one in January during which a group of pastoralists known as the Balaalo were evicted from lands adjacent to the oil fields in Buliisa District. It has also occurred in a context in which Banyoro have become increasingly emboldened in their dealings with the central government, not least as a result of a growing ‘cultural pride’ that has been generated by a project to create a new US$1.5 million cultural centre in Hoima Town (the project is itself being partly funded by Tullow Oil). As a result, recent months have seen a growing number of localized protests against the police and the oil companies, including one in late August during which villagers in Buliisa blocked a road between the Kigogole oil well and Tullow’s nearby workers’ camp (the protest resulted in 10 arrests). In early September, Kingdom officials announced that they were joining up with regional MPs (of the Bunyoro Parliamentary Caucus) to lobby for a greater share of future oil revenues. Amongst the various initiatives already announced by the partnership are a planned land committee, to  investigate disputes such as that involving the Balaalo, and a development group which will lobby for projects such as the proposed tarmacking of the Kihumba-Hoima-Kyenjojo road, and the mooted upgrades of several regional hospitals.

Nevertheless, the president himself may yet come to regard all of these developments as but minor inconveniences, given the enormous political capital that he stands to gain from forthcoming oil revenues. In April, Tullow Oil paid into the Bank of Uganda US$313 million, against the outstanding tax bill from the Heritage purchase. This payment is also now a source of legal action, again in London, with Tullow claiming that the money was actually part of Heritage's tax liability (they are now trying to recover it from the Canadian firm). Nevertheless, the payment removes the final hurdle in Uganda for Tullow’s proposed US$2.9 billion farm-out deal with France’s Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), and as a result, that deal should now be completed soon (indeed, it was cleared by the Ugandan regulators on 12th September). As a result production may begin as early as mid-2012. Whilst it is difficult to separate out fact from rumour in the current talk over oil, it is highly likely that at least some of the president’s inner-circle will make vast personal fortunes once production starts. More importantly, though, once oil exports begin, Uganda will be much better placed to service its huge foreign debts, and to bolster its meagre foreign currency holdings (which have dwindled in recent months, not least as a result of the Museveni’s decision to purchase US$740 million-worth of Russian fighter jets). Once production starts, oil is expected to generate US$2 billion a year; the current national budget is US$3 billion pa. These factors will in turn greatly improve Uganda’s trade volumes, especially with its partners in the East African Community (EAC). Moreover, given how astute Museveni has always been at turning any economic success into political gain – and given that he has recently faced popular protests over rising food and fuel prices – it is almost inconceivable that the president will not turn all of this to his significant advantage with the electorate. 

These same developments are also likely to have positive effects upon Uganda’s foreign relations, and especially upon its relations with other EAC states. These relations will be further improved by Uganda’s recent decision to build a US$2 billion public-private oil refinery near Hoima, which when complete, will have a capacity to refine 150,000 barrels per day (bpd). Given that Uganda’s domestic market currently uses only about 12,000 bpd, it is highly likely that the refinery will soon be flooding regional markets with cheap petrol. Indeed, it is with this in mind that in April, the MEMD applied to parliament for a US$13.5 million loan to buy land for an extension of Kenya’s existing Mombasa-Eldoret pipeline into Kampala. The idea of extending the pipeline was first been mooted in the mid-2000s, as a means for more easily importing petrol into Uganda. However, in the current context the plan has gained even greater urgency, as a potential infrastructure for exporting petrol as well (the updated plan almost triples the original estimate for the project, not least because it now includes a reverse flow on the pipeline). In addition, the EAC recently secured a US$600,000 grant from the African Development Bank to conduct a feasibility study on developing the pipeline into a pan-regional facility, which when complete, could extend as far as Kigali and Bujumbura. Finally, Nairobi is also hoping to gain from additional Ugandan crude oil that may be transported across its territory. With current estimates suggesting that the Lake Albert oil fields may eventually produce up to 350,000 bpd, it is clear that even when it is fully operational, the Hoima refinery will be able to process only part of Uganda’s output. The remainder, then, will have to be transported to the coast for shipping via Kenya.

However, in the meantime, Museveni will continue to face opposition from MPs over his handling of oil, and especially from the 'young turks' within his own parliamentary party. Whilst these challenges are unlikely to become significant enough to ultimately threaten his position as president, they are likely to become a growing 'thorn in his side'. Museveni has already suffered some significant setbacks at the hands of the new (9th) parliament, and he may well have to make further concessions (including some major concessions?) before it is completed. However, his own personal standing with the electorate is unlikely to be significantly effected by these wrangles. In the meantime, local disputes in Bunyoro - especially those involving land - will rumble on, and may well intensify in the months and years ahead. Moreover, whilst these issues remain relatively localized at present, they could potentially escalate further, especially if they were to take on an ethnic-hue - for example, by becoming articulated as difficulties between the region's ethnic Banyoro, and Bakiga, populations - or more significantly, if a foreign power were to meddle in the region's affairs. 

Whatever happens, it is unlikely that Uganda's problems with oil are over yet.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Museveni faces growing difficulties

It is now almost 5 months since President Yoweri Museveni’s was sworn in for his latest five-year term of office, which when complete, will extend his rule to 30 years. However, the ‘political barometer’ has registered a significant drop both in the president’s political fortunes since the February polls (which he won with 68% of the vote). The reason for this relates to the storm of problems that Museveni has faced over recent months, as he struggles to control a major economic crisis, against the backdrop of growing discontent within his own party (the National Resistance Movement, NRM), and an emboldened domestic opposition.

The biggest difficulties that Museveni faces at this time relate to the economy. Since late 2010, rising food and fuel prices, combined with extravagant government spending in the run-up to the February polls, have steadily pushed up inflation. Annual inflation reached 21.4% in August. In protest, several large commodity suppliers in Central Kampala (and other urban centres) temporarily suspended trading, in an action that appears to have had widespread popular support. The Ugandan shilling - along with with other East African currencies - has also been under huge press for much of 2011. Following several dips early in the year, on 26th August, the currency slumped to an all-time low against the greenback, at 2825:1. The Bank of Uganda (BoU) was eventually forced to intervene. This trend is primarily driven by falling exports. However, in June, it was exacerbated by an article published in the Financial Times of London, in which the normally highly diplomatic, and deeply loyal, BoU Governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile openly criticized Museveni’s economic policies. In particular, the governor attacked the president’s earlier decision to purchase six Russian-made Sukhoi-Knaapo military jets using US$740 million of Uganda’s foreign currency reserves. According to Tumusiime-Mutebile the purchase, which was made without parliamentary approval, leaves the country dangerously exposed in the event of future global shocks.

Since the February elections, the president’s difficulties have been further compounded by growing dissent from within his parliamentary party. For several years now, a growing body of younger NRM MPs have become increasingly distrustful of Museveni and the party executive, and have sought both to pursue an independent legislative agenda, and to block the president on certain key votes. For example, it was a group of these ‘young turks’ – most of whom are in their 30s or early-40s, and are therefore 3 political generations removed from the ‘NRM historicals’ – who introduced the notorious Anti-homosexuality Bill in 2009, and who then kept the bill alive even after Museveni had issued an executive order against it. In addition, the same actors were also behind a parliamentary rebellion against the president’s Cultural Leaders’ Bill in December 2010. In the end, that challenge was seen off only after Museveni gave each of the rebel MPs a personal UgSh20 million grant to monitor National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) projects in their constituencies (grants which have since been decried by the opposition as ‘bribes’).

However, during the current sitting of parliament, the ‘young turks’ have become even more emboldened still, not least given that their number grew at the February general election. In other words, that election saw a record number of younger NRM MPs being elected to parliament, many of whom feel no particular loyalty towards the president, nor have any direct ties to him. Thus, the beginning of this 9th parliament has already seen rebel MPs:
  • Rejecting four of Museveni’s proposed ministerial appointments, on the grounds that the candidates had either ‘questionable morals’, or inadequate academic qualifications. 
  • Building a consensus against the president’s draft Anti-Bail legislation (which if passed, would remove the right to bail for certain crimes, including that of ‘economic sabotage’ – a charge that Museveni has previously leveled against his main political challenger, leader of the opposition, Kizza Besigye).
  • Voting down Museveni’s favoured candidate for the chairpersonship of the influential Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association, UWOPA (in the end an opposition MP, Betty Amongi, was elected to the position).
  • Coming out against the president’s plan to revive the sale of part of Mabira Forest outside Kampala to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda (the sale would raise an estimated UgSh 11.5 billion. However, such is the strength of public opinion against the sale, that a previous attempt to do so in 2007, resulted in rioting across the capital).
  • Blocking an attempt by Energy Minister Irene Muloni to raise a $50 million loan for outstanding subsidies owed to electricity distributor UMEME (who in early July had pulled the plug on the national grid, temporarily plunging the entire country into darkness).
  • Refusing to endorse the budgets of a number of Ministries, including those of Defence and Foreign Affairs.
  • Rejecting a government proposal to increase teachers’ salaries by up to 44%.
In response, in mid-July, Museveni began inviting groups of NRM MPs to a series of ‘agricultural modernization tours’ at his home in South-western Uganda, during which he again offered to facilitate each to create a model agricultural project in his/her home constituencies. However, there is a growing danger that if these sorts of tactics don’t work, and the current trends within the parliamentary caucus continue, that Museveni may soon become seen as a ‘lame duck’ president – something that would almost certainly trigger an internal challenge for his position. Indeed, the president now seems to be guarding against just such a possibility, for example, in his recent sacking of NRM heavyweight Gilbert Bukenya as vice-president; he had been widely tipped to one day challenge Museveni for the party leadership. Bukenya saw Anti-Corruption Court proceedings against his restarted in June, on charges related to alleged embezzlement during the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kampala.

However, other potential challengers within the NRM cannot be so easily removed. In particular, the career of Bukenya’s main rival, Amama Mbabazi, continues to go from strength-to-strength. Following his successful coordination of Museveni’s recent re-election campaign, in June Mbabazi was rewarded by being made the new Prime Minister. Although Museveni stipulated that Mbabazi give up the position of NRM secretary-general in order to assume the premiership, Mbabazi has simply refused to do so. As a result, he now holds the two most senior offices of the party – below those held by Museveni  – leaving him very well positioned to eventually challenge for the presidency. Should a genuine leadership challenge develop, then Museveni would likely rely on his power base within the army, the upper-echelons of which remain loyal. 

Against this background of deepening economic crisis, and internal strife within the NRM, on 16th July, opposition leader Kizza Besigye announced his intention to restart the ‘Walk to Work’ (W2W) campaign:

Previous actions within this campaign had in April and May led to some of the worst civil unrest in Uganda for 25 years, and – amidst accusations of heavy-handed tactics by the police – left at least 5 people dead, and more than 130 hospitalized. During the fifth W2W action, on 28th April, Besigye himself had been badly injured, and was subsequently taken to Nairobi for treatment. Upon his return from Kenya he was placed under house arrest, although all charges against him were eventually dropped. 

However, whether a second round of W2W protests will ultimately prove more successful than the first – and might thereby turn popular discontent over the economy, and youthful anger against the authorities, into a genuine swing away from the ruling party – seems highly doubtful, not least given how divided the opposition currently are. On 5th July Besigye announced his decision to step down as party leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) when his current term ends (in 2014), in a move apparently designed to ward off a leadership challenge before that time. However, the move may have been counter productive, in that it makes it increasingly unlikely that other opposition parties – especially the influential Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and the Democratic Party (DP) – will ever unite behind future Besigye-led protests. Indeed, at around the same time that Besigye was making his leadership announcement, the UPC and the DP – along with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) – were busy creating an opposition platform of their own. Called ‘Free Uganda Now’, this platform has since attempted to mount a number of protest events of its own (although to date, most of these have been thwarted by the authorities). But as a result, at present, it is not clear whether the UPC and DP – both of whom were active participants in the first round of W2W – will even take part in future actions organized under this banned. Yet if the opposition cannot even agree upon a common platform for protest, then genuine, and sustained, political gains seem unattainable.

Monday, September 26, 2011

South Sudan in the Region

Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia all stand to benefit greatly from the recent independence of South Sudan. All three countries had a long history of engagement with the 2nd Sudanese Civil War, and with the 6-year political settlement that followed the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. As a result, all three governments are now seeking to strengthen their diplomatic and commercial ties with Juba, in moves that will doubtless improve the security situation both within the new new country itself, and in bordering areas. These deepening ties will probably also result in the South Sudan being quickly incorporated into the EAC, which will in turn make Juba less reliant upon its current economic lifeline of oil exports through Sudan.

It is probably no coincidence that the largest national delegations to attend the 9th July independence celebrations in Juba were those led by Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. All three are long standing allies of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) – which forms the basis of the new Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) – and as such, all were deeply involved both in the civil war, and in the peace process that finally ended it. Moreover, all three now regard the establishment of a strong state in Juba as crucial both to their own security interests, and for the general stability of the East African region as whole:

Uganda: Uganda was a key ally of the SPLM/A throughout the war, and provided major military and logistical support through the fighting. From the mid-1980s onwards, Kampala was also the hub for the SPLM/A diplomatic efforts abroad, and Uganda was also involved in the Machakos talks (in its capacity as a member of the IGAD sub-committee on Sudan). There is strong evidence that in recent months, Kampala has also been providing ongoing military assistance to the nascent GoSS. By engaging with Southern Sudan in these ways, President Museveni’s primary motivation throughout has been to secure his northern regions from insurgencies such as that of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In the present context, his hope is that a more stable government in Juba will mitigate against the LRA ever being able to re-establish their former bases in Southern Sudan (from which they were expelled during Operation Iron Fist, in 2002). In addition, he may also be hoping that South Sudan will continue to support ongoing multi-national military operations against current LRA positions (in North-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic).

Kenya: Nairobi has also been a longstanding regional ally of the SPLA/M, having hosted the organization’s leadership and headquarters since 1991. From 2002 onwards, Kenya oversaw the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-supported peace talks which resulted in the signing of the CPA (the talks were held in Machakos and chaired by retired Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo). Immediately following the agreement, in February 2005, Kibaki set up the Kenya Southern Sudan Liaison Office (KESSULO), ostensibly to monitor the implementation of agreement, but also as a conduit for Kenyan support into Southern Sudan. In the run up to South Sudan’s independence, KESSULO provided both commercial and legal advice to the SPLA/M leadership, and also channelled several million dollars worth of aid into the region, especially for purposes of training a nascent GoSS civil service. In so doing, the Kenyan government are partly motivated by a desire to eventually repatriate the 25,000 Southern Sudanese refugees who remain in their country (although this number is greatly down from the 100,000 who were based in Kenya at the height of the Sudan civil war, their ongoing presence remains a point of political contention in Nairobi). In addition, though, the Kenyan government also hopes that a more stable and prosperous South Sudan might have similar, ‘knock on’ effects in their own Rift Valley Province (which partly borders the new state, and which was the scene of some of the worst violence following the contested Kenyan presidential elections of December 2007). This is particularly an aspiration of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who hails from Rift Valley.

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa was a third crucial ally of the SPLM/A, especially during the early part of the war, when they provided bases, training, and equipment to the rebel group. Following the rise to power of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPDRF) in 1993, the SPLM/A were expelled to Kenya. However, relations soon improved, and Ethiopia later went on to also be a key partner in the IGAD talks. President Zenawi has also gone on to support the nascent GoSS both diplomatically and militarily, ever since. Once again, the main concern relates to security, and in particular, the potential effects of renewed major civil war in Southern Sudan. In recent years, Ethiopia’s main security concerns have primarily related to Eritrea (following the border war of 1998-2000) and Somalia (following their invasion of that country, in December 2007). However, the thinking in Addis now seems to be that a resumption of fighting in Southern Sudan could vastly complicate those other situations, by providing opportunities that both Asmara and the Somali Islamic Courts Union (ICU) might be able to exploit. In particular, Zenawi appears particularly concerned that a renewed Sudanese war would require large numbers of Ethiopian troops to be redeployed along the country’s western border.

However, it is also worth pointing out that although Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia have been strongly in favour of the creation of an independent South Sudan (given the factors described above), other nearby states have been less impressed by the development. In particular, elements in Mogadishu who oppose the recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign state have been downright alarmed by the African Union’s (AU) complicity in a move which overturns a long established legal principle on the continent that colonial borders should never be redrawn (because of the problems that this would create). Similarly, Kinshasa may now also have cause for concern, especially if the creation of South Sudan were to reignite discussion over the sovereign status of, for example, the Kivus or – more importantly – Katanga.

Yet it is worth pointing out that in addition to these geo-political considerations, several East Africa government are also now eyeing-up the economic potential of an independent South Sudan. In the period leading up to independence, economic ties had already deepened significantly, as for example, in the fact that between 2006-2008, Ugandan exports into South Sudan grew by 300%, to US$250 million pa (making it Uganda’s largest export market. With little manufacturing industry of its own, South Sudan is likely to remain dependent on imports for some time to come). In addition, hundreds of Kenyan entrepreneurs began to set up operations in Juba, and other Southern Sudanese urban centres.  And the next few years will likely see these ties expand much further still. In particular, trade with all East African countries will be hugely boosted by South Sudan’s eventual entry into the East African Community (EAC). In April, outgoing EAC Secretary General Juma Mwapachu described South Sudan’s entry into the bloc as a question of ‘not if, but when’.

For one thing, the accession of South Sudan into the EAC would make it much easier to integrate the country into regional transport plans, which are widely expected to boost economic growth throughout the bloc over the next two decades. Indeed, the Kenyan government already regards South Sudan as a critical element of their plan to build a new deep water port at the Lamu archipelago (one capable of taking ships bigger than those that can be currently accommodated at Mombasa). Given the location of the Lamu project, close to Kenya’s northern border with Somalia, it is already anticipated that goods moving into and out of South Sudan will account for a significant proportion of the port’s overall cargo flows. In addition, plans are also afoot to incorporate South Sudan into the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s (UNECA) and Africa Development Bank’s (ADB) Trans-African Highway Network (THAN), through the construction of a feeder highway into Juba (either from Kampala or, more likely, from Northern Kenya). When completed, the THAN aims to establish a network of continuously-metalled roads that transect the entire continent from North to South, and East to West, and which will act as international trade corridors. Finally, South Sudan’s entry into the bloc will also bring it into the EAC’s plans to develop a new regional rail infrastructure. The EAC Secretariat recently announced that they plan to invest US$25 billion in road and rail over the next 10 years (although it is not yet clear how this will be financed, or whether it will be enough to pay for the current designs).

However, potentially the most significant economic implication of South Sudan’s independence relates to oil extraction. At present, South Sudan sits on an estimated 80% of all of the former (united) Sudan’s oil reserves. Yet at present, this can only be exported northwards, either through a pipeline which runs to Port Sudan, or to refineries in the north, and as a result, the new nation remains entirely dependent on the north for its major revenue stream (and vice-versa). Moreover, Juba has to date failed to agree a mechanism with Khartoum as to how the revenues from this ‘division of labour’ will eventually be divided. In this context, then, both Uganda and Kenya, in particular, are pressing for advantage, Uganda through a plan to expand its proposed refinery at Hoima, in Western Uganda, to allow it to process some of South Sudan’s oil as well (construction of the refinery is due to begin next year), Kenya through a proposal to build a new 1400 km pipeline from Juba to its planned Lamu facility. Both plans are currently attracting widespread international investment interest.

Finally, the creation of Southern Sudan will almost certainly also affect current international debates over management of the Nile River, which have so far seen disputes between Egypt and Uganda and Ethiopia (the latter two of which plan to build major hydroelectric facilities on the White and Blue Niles, respectively). However, it is not yet clear how the government in Juba will position itself vis-à-vis these disputes (or the wider issue of Nile management in general).

In recent months, much of the commentary on South Sudan's independence has focused on the new state's relationship with its more powerful northern neighbour. Certainly, Juba's diplomatic agenda will continue to be dominated by its relationship with Khartoum for some time to come. Nevertheless, it is as well to remember that the genesis of South Sudan also has highly significant regional implications.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009

It is now almost two years since a group of young Ugandan MPs within the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) tabled the notorious private members bill, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The bill proposed increased sentences for all forms of homosexuality, and the death penalty for any act of 'aggravated homosexuality' (defined in terms of 'serial offending', sex with a minor, sex with a person with disabilities, or sex for an HIV+ individual).

Led by David Bahati, MP for Ndorwa West, this reactionary political gesture challenged the public views of their party's leader, President Museveni, and his government's avowed commitment to social equity. As a result, the bill was immediately disowned by several senior ministers. However, Bahati and his conspirators used skillful PR and a sympathetic media to build popular support for the draft legislation. Their rabble-rousing may also have been tolerated because it served to distract public attention from growing social and political unrest.

In late 2009, the President attempted to squash the proposal by issuing an executive order against it, in which he claimed that the legislation had become a ‘foreign policy issue’ (given the widespread condemnation that it was by then receiving from donors, and from the international human rights community). He also appointed a special parliamentary committee that found '99 per cent' of the draft legislation to be either 'unconstitutional' or 'redundant'.

However, despite these, and other, legal rulings against it, the bill continued its passage through parliament, bolstered by the homophobic content of some popular radio stations, and print media outlets. One key forum for this sentiment became the radio ‘phone- in’ show, in which callers would typically take it in turns to berate either an individual gay man, or gay people in general. The print media – especially the tabloid press – also dedicated a growing number of articles to the subject. This toxic media environment reached its zenith in October 2010, when a tabloid newspaper called Rolling Stone published the photographs, names, and addresses, of 100 allegedly gay indviduals – including one Anglican Bishop – alongside a banned headline that read: ‘Hang Them’. 

For a thoughtful examination of this poisonous media environment, and its implications for Uganda's LGBT community, see BBC Radio 1 DJ Scott Mill's documentary on the subject, which was first broadcast in February 2011. The first part of Mill's film can be viewed here:

But encouraged by this media response to his plan, and by the support that he was receiving from certain sections of the Pentecostal-charismatic (P/c) Christian community, in early 2011, Bahati and the others attempted to revive their bill. With dissent growing around Museveni’s twenty-five year incumbency, the timing seemed right. Whether by cynical manipulation or unhappy political coincidence, the timing was in fact potent. In January 2011, just weeks before Museveni’s seventh election win, a prominent gay-rights activist called David Kato – who was one of those named in the Rolling Stone list – was brutally murdered at his home in Kampala. In one particularly shocking aspect of the case, fighting then broke at Kato’s funeral, when the presiding pastor delivered an anti-gay sermon. 

This time the international furore reached heightened proportions, and led in May this year to a major campaign putting pressure on the Ugandan parliament. As a result, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s passage was again blocked (this time on a technicality). However, reflecting just how emboldened the NRM's 'young turks' have become within the current (9th) parliament, it seems likely that Bahati and the others will again attempt to revive the draft legislation. Either way, the wider homophobia remains.

Earlier this year, Dr. David Mills and I were approached by members of All Our Children, an education charity with which we are involved, to comment on the current situation regarding both the bill and wider homophobia in Uganda, and to think through its implications for individuals and agencies who are working in the country. Our discussions on the subject eventually led to us drafting a 'briefing paper', and this has now been published on All Our Children's website. In this paper we look at the background to the current bill, and also at some of the wider historical, political and cultural dimensions to homophobia in Uganda. We hope that the paper - which can be downloaded here - will be of interest and use for a wide range of actors currently engaged in the country.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The 'Walk to Work' campaign

People across Kampala, and other urban centres, are today bracing themselves for the sixth day of the 'Walk to Work' campaign (W2W). This campaign has already resulted in the worst civil disturbances in Uganda since the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power, in 1986. However, contrary to what some commentators are now suggesting, these protests are unlikely to develop into an 'Egyptian style' uprising.

Rather, W2W needs to be seen as a consequence of the recently concluded presidential and parliamentary elections. Following their disastrous showing in those polls, in early April, the Uganda opposition launched an organization for direct action, called the 'Activists for Change' (A4C). President Museveni's main opponent Kizza Besigye (who polled just 26% in February) and his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) played a key role in its formation. MP-elect Mathias Mpuuga, a senior member of the Democratic Party (DP) and well-known Buganda-nationalist, fronts the organization, while two other presidential contenders - DP leader Norbert Mao and Uganda People's Congress (UPC) leader Olara Otunnu - are also highly visible. It is also supported by other opposition groups, and by a number of civil society organizations (including senior figures within the Church of Uganda).

On 11th April, A4C launched the W2W campaign, which was designed to harness popular discontent over rising food and fuel prices. Inflation had weakened to single digit figures following the global downturn, after averaging 12.5% during 2008-9, but has climbed steadily in the past six months - driven by rising food and fuel prices, and a weakening Ugandan shilling. In addition, government spending rose ahead of the polls - in line with January's supplementary budget of UgSh 600 billion - exacerbating these pressures. Food production also dropped throughout early-2011, as a result of a prolonged drought caused by the La Nina weather system (incidentally, I have documented the profound social consequences of a previous La Nina in my book Ghosts of Kanungu, 2009). The combined result was that headline inflation hit double-digit figures in March and April, while the food price index increased by 39.3% in April.

However, from the beginning, the main story of W2W was the security forces' markedly draconian response to the protests. On the first day of the campaign, Besigye, Mao and several dozen opposition MPs were arrested. Mao's arrest resulted in violent protests, in which the police shot dead three people. Besigye was arrested again two days later, and shot in the arm with a rubber bullet. Besigye and Mao were also arrested during the third W2W event. On 21st April, the fourth day of W2W, the police responded to a protest in Mpuuga's home town of Masaka by firing live rounds, accidentally killing a baby. On 28th April, during the fifth W2W action, Besigye attempted to drive into Kampala city centre. However, the police stopped his convoy on several occasions, before finally halting it near Wandageya. During the ensuing standoff, plainclothes police stormed Besigye's vehicle, and subdued him with pepper spray. Tear gas canisters were also fired directly at some of his entourage. Besigye was dragged from the vehicle, and manhandled into a waiting police truck. Cameramen from Kampala's NTV recorded the entire incident, and their footage can be viewed here:

When these images were broadcast on NTV (and other stations), and were posted on the internet, they triggered riots in various locations around Kampala. The earliest incidents were reported from various central locations, including the densely populated areas around Kisekka Market, the Old Taxi Park and Lugogo Stadium. However, they soon spread to various outlying locations as well, including the areas around the FDC headquarters in Najjanankumbi, and various sites along the Entebbe road (the largest being at Kajjansi, which is about 20 km south of Kampala). Later, they also spread to Makerere University, as well as to various other urban centres around the country (including Masaka, Mbale and Mbarara). At each of these locations, scores of mostly young men set tires and cars alight, and fought running battles with police and the army. The security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition into the crowds. At least 5 people were killed (all of them in and around Kampala), at least 139 were hospitalized (at least 20 of them with gunshot wounds), and more than 700 were arrested. Some sources have put the death toll as high as 9.

Both the opposition and media commentators have been quick to paint the events as a spontaneous outbreak of popular unrest directed against Museveni's government, similar to that which occurred in Egypt, and thus likely to gather momentum. However, the opposition's position here is overstated:

Firstly, there is no anti-regime consensus. Many Ugandans share the opposition's unease over food and fuel prices. However, there is no indication that most people directly blame the government for these. A recent televised address, in which Museveni cited external pressures for the economic strain, was sympathetically received among large sections of the population. And we must remember that Museveni was reelected with an overwhelming majority less than three months ago. Secondly, although there has been growing outrage at Besigye's treatment in recent weeks, it is unlikely that Friday's riots can be seen as an expression of popular support for him, or for his movement. All of the riots in Kamapala, in particular, occurred in and around long-established FDC strongholds - suggesting that they were orchestrated by existing FDC sympathizers (possibly even by the network of 'vigilante' groups with which the party has been associated in the past). Moreover, the fact that they all ended so quickly - even in Kisekka and Kajjansi, the scenes of the heaviest clashes, the rioting lasted no more than two hours - contrasts with the image of a 'popular uprising'. Finally, there is little indication that more people will become mobilized to the A4C cause as a result of Friday's riots. Certainly, FDC activists - especially the young men - are now expecting more violence, starting today. However, throughout 30th April and 1st May radio talk shows were also inundated with callers appealing for calm. For his part, Besigye himself - who following his arrest was flown to Nairobi for medical treatment - has subsequently made a similar request (albeit while also reiterating that peaceful protests would continue).

However, this is not to say that the government has emerged from all of this unscathed. On the contrary, Museveni and the security services have come in for growing criticism for their handling of events. The footage of Besigye's fourth arrest (above) - as well as a rather confused press conference in which Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura criticized his own commanders for their actions before and during the riots - has fed negative perceptions. During Friday's events, the police entirely lost control of at least one of the riot sites (Kisekka), following which the Special Forces group - under the command of Museveni's son Kainerugaba Muhoozi - had to be called in (significantly escalating the violence at that location). Yesterday, Wednesday 4th May, hundreds of lawyers across the country began a three day strike to protest what they called the 'crimes against humanity' committed by the security services last Friday.

However, the biggest criticisms of the government's handling of events appears to be coming from the international community. In a snub to Museveni, Besigye was visited in prison by the Irish and Dutch ambassadors (on 11th April) and by the Norweigan and French ambassadors (on 18th April). And following the riots of 29th April, both the EU and the UN have publically criticized Museveni. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on the Ugandan government to halt its 'excessive' use of force on civilians.

So where do we go from here? Certainly, more civil unrest is likely in the days to come. However, this is unlikely to turn into an Egyptian style uprising. More likely, a combination of domestic and international pressure will force Museveni into major concessions, possibly involving a large tax reduction on fuel (a move just made in neighbouring Kenya). Rumours now abound in Kampala that the international community may even now try to force Museveni into forming a 'unity government' with the opposition, as a means for diffusion tensions. However, this is unlikely to happen, given the leverage that Museveni has as the lead player in ongoing peace keeping operations in Somalia. In addition, even if the opposition were brought into such an arrangement, it is unlikely that they would be able to turn this into tangible gains. To achieve these, they would also need to have to develop a coherent agenda - something they have singularly failed to do for the past 5 years (indeed, the W2W campaign is probably the first thing that they have agreed on, in all that time).

Still, in light the growing chorus of criticism of Museveni's handling of the protests, Besigye and his allies may already count the W2W campaign as a significant success.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Publication- Photography in early colonial Uganda, circa 1904-1928

We have recently published a special issue of the journal History and Anthropology, entitled Routes and Traces: Anthropology, Photography and the Archive. The collection is co-edited by myself and Marcus Banks, of the University of Oxford, and explores recent debates concerning the interpretation of historical ethnographic photographs.

The collection includes chapters on Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, West Africa and elsewhere. However, my own contribution explores the early history of the camera in Uganda, especially in the period around the staging of the famous Kampala Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition (which was held on the newly created show-grounds, below Mengo Hill, on 9th November 1908). Like other colonial expos of the time, the Kampala Exhibition was a key event in the early development of the colonial state in Uganda.

Many of the 'official' photographs that were taken in and around the Kampala Exhibition were produced by one photo studio, the Alfred Lobo Studio, which was opened in Entebbe in 1904, and which later moved to Kampala - where it remained until its closure circa 1939. Very little is known about Alfred Lobo himself, or about any of his studio's staff. The few biographical details we do have are neatly summarized in the Royal Commonwealth Society Photographers' Index, at the University of Cambridge Library. Nevertheless, my article argues that much can still be deduced from Lobo images about the contexts of photographic production, and circulation, in Uganda at this time.

Specifically, the article argues that many 'official' photographs of this period were taken in an attempt to represent the new Uganda colony as an inclusive, even collaborative, social project - one in which all of Uganda's ethnic groups, and all classes of its European colonists, had some part to play. However, these intentions were subsequently lost, as the photographs themselves were later circulated, and reproduced, in new ways. In particular, the article traces how several images from the Exhibition were later reprinted in a series of picture postcards, in ways which instead cast their African subjects in largely negative, and in some cases overtly racist, terms.

The contents of the special issue can be viewed here, on the Taylor and Francis website. This contents page currently allows the introduction to be downloaded, and it also includes an audio-interview I recorded with journal editor Stephen Lyon, in New Orleans in November 2010. The interview discusses the evolution of this special issue, recent scholarship on African photography, and some current general issues in visual anthropology.

Monday, February 21, 2011

NO CHANGE!... they say in Uganda.

And so it has proved once again, with incumbent President Yoweri Museveni winning another 5 years in office, which will take his cumulative time in power to 30 years, by 2016. Whilst the fact that Museveni won the presidential election on 18th February came as a surprise to no one, the scale of his victory took even some veteran Uganda commentators by surprise. The final tally gave Museveni 68%, which is a return to his 2001 level of support, and a significant improvement on the 57% he received in 2006. His main challenger, Kizza Besigye, reversed gains made across the previous two elections by polling just 26%, whilst none of the other presidential candidates secured more than 2% each.

As I've argued before, the main story of these elections was one of opposition failure. Certainly, it did not help Besigye that throughout the campaigns, he was frequently harassed by the authorities, and effectively barred from many media outlets. Nevertheless, he also made key strategic errors, in particular in his choice of locations for campaigning, and in the tone of his rhetoric in some areas (for example, in the Southwest, his discourse centred around issues of ethnicity, even though this subject is of no great concern to most voters there).

However, again this, Museveni also ran a flawless campaign throughout, using both his own (extensive) personal charisma, and his control of the levers of state, to great effect. The first element was evident from the beginning, when he kicked off his bid for re-election by releasing a 'rap song' recorded by the fashionable Fenon Studios in Kampala. The song was played on radio stations throughout the country, and played particularly well with young urban voters - a constituency that had previously been a mainstay for the opposition - thus galvanizing Museveni's campaign from the off.

From there, though, Museveni also went on to 'repair' his relations with Baganda voters (who according to some commentators, are historically the most important voting bloc in the country). He achieved this by granting two key concessions. The first was to reopen the Buganda Kingdom's FM radio station, which had been closed since the Baganda-nationalist riots of September 2009. The second was to heavily amend several contested clauses within the Institution of Cultural Leaders Bill - which was passed into law on 31st January - related to the limiting the movement of Uganda's monarchs. Many Baganda felt that the original wording would have overly restricted the activities of their own king, Kabaka Mutebi II.

In the North, too, Museveni also made significant gains among the local electorate. Certainly, this was helped by the largesse he had at his disposal following the notorious 'failed' Juba peace agreement with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in November 2008. Although Joseph Kony infamously failed to sign that peace agreement at the 11th hour, those international donors who had made commitments to the reconstruction effort that would follow its signing still made good on their commitments. Thus, over the last 2 years, tens of millions of dollars of new donor money have been flowing into the LRA-effected parts of Northern Uganda. And as Museveni has moved around those same areas during these campaigns, he left no one in any doubt as to who had to thank for this new money. Yet so too, his rhetoric also seemed more in tune with local concerns over land issues, especially in the potentially most contested areas of Bunyoro. It is for these reasons, then, that Museveni won in all but three Northern districts - an outcome that would have seemed almost impossible even 18 months ago.

Moreover, donor money was not the only largesse that Museveni distributed during these campaigns. In addition, Museveni also gave out 'new district' status to a number of regions (including Kapelebyong, in the east, and Nabilatuk, in the north). This follows his long-standing policy of using increased decentralization - and the new revenues it generates - as a means for satisfying local elites. Elsewhere, the connection between Museveni's campaign and the distribution of state funds was even more direct. My favourite example was from Mbarara Town, where National Resistance Movement (NRM) officials literally handed out cash to trading associations in the town, in return for their support.

In this context, then, the scale of Museveni's victory is not really as surprising as it at first appears. The key questions, then, are how and when Museveni might ever be removed from office? Certainly, this current result would suggest that the opposition momentum which had been built up over a decade or more has now dissipated. Yet if this is the case, then it might suggest that Museveni will simply never be beaten at the polls. Debate continues over whether Museveni might eventually hand over power to his son, Kainerugaba Muhoozi. However, this doesn't seem likely in the short term. In addition, it is possible that he might eventually face some sort of internal challenge from with the NRM (perhaps led by someone such as Minister of Security Amama Mbabazi). However, regime insiders have the prospect of impending oil production and associated revenues as an incentive to remain inside the tent, and it is thus unlikely that they are going to 'rock the boat' anytime soon.

Thus, it is NO CHANGE! as they having been saying in Uganda for many years and, it seems quite likely, will be continuing to say for some time to come.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Besigye raises the temperature

Kizza Besigye should be doing better in the current campaigns. Having eroded Museveni's share of the vote across the last two presidential elections (Museveni received 75% in 1996, but only 69% in 2001 and 57% in 2006), everyone - including Besigye himself - anticipated another strong showing this time around.

Moreover, in late August, Besigye emerged from the nominations as the sole Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) candidate, and therefore in his strongest position ever. At the time, the IPC was made up of Besigye's own Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) as well as the Uganda People's Congress (UPC), the Justice Forum (JEEMA) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Besigye secured the nomination after seeing off a strong challenge from UPC leader Olara Otunnu, thanks in part to a major strategic error that Otunnu made in the latter stages of the nomination process, by calling for the IPC to withdraw from the election, in protest at the perceived bias of the Electoral Commission (EC).

Otunnu's suggestion to withdraw may well have been influenced by recent events in Burundi, in which opposition parties similarly withdrew from the June 2010 presidential polls, in a move which significantly undermined incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza's eventual victory. However, in Uganda, the very suggestion of just pulling out appeared to contradict the main opposition parties' proud democratic traditions (which are most keenly felt among Otunnu's own UPC). After all, most opposition groups had even stayed in through the notorious December 1980 elections, long after it became clear that those polls were badly flawed. Thus, although most members of the IPC, including Besigye himself, have long decried the EC's connections to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), Otunnu's plan was flatly rejected by the IPC, and by large sections of the UPC. Otunnu later withdrew from the IPC, to stand for the presidency on a UPC ticket. However, a number of UPC MPs, led by former party leader Jimmy Akena, announced that they did not support him, leaving his challenge dead in the water.

With Otunnu out of the picture, Besigye was well positioned to mount a strong challenge against Museveni. However, his campaign has faltered from the outset. Certainly, a significant factor has been his near-constant harassment by the authorities. Moreover, the IPC has been in effect blocked from many media outlets (in one example, the IPC Campaign Bureau claimed in mid-December that nine regional radio stations had refused to carry any opposition content whatsoever. In addition, Museveni himself is running a much better campaign this time around than many had expected.

Nevertheless, Besigye has also made a number of key strategic errors. Firstly, in mid-September, he chose to launch his manifesto in South Africa, in an effort to appeal to the international community, and to the Ugandan Diaspora. By doing so, he presumably hoped to bolster his backing in the event of another contested election result (Besigye eventually won a partial High Court victory over the 2006 election, when it was ruled that 'irregularities' had taken place in those polls). However, in light of the Otunnu affair - during which Besigye was in effect forced to confirm his faith in the EC (he went on to say on radio that there will be 'no rigging' in the current election, and that he will not contest this result through the courts) - the move to South Africa now appears to have been wasted.

Secondly, Besigye has made a huge mistake in these campaigns by concentrating his own campaigning upon the rural areas. The problem is that much of the IPC's appeal to date has been to a mainly urban base (especially of young, educated voters), and thus may not address rural concerns. This was highlighted, for example, during Besigye's recent campaigns in the north-west, during which he spoke a great deal about the distribution of future revenues from the region's recently discovered oil reserves. While this issue will affect the political landscape in years to come, few people in the rural areas would today regard it as nearly as pressing as, say, the region's land issues.

As a result, then, Besigye's support has slumped in recent opinion polls. His response has been to file a High Court injunction, compelling the EC to postpone the elections, on the basis that as many as 4 million new voters will not have been issued with voter cards by the time of the 18th February polls. The move was a new tactic, in that it again attacked the EC, although this time not for its bias, but for its incompetence. However, the injunction was rejected, the High Court ruling that the elections can go ahead without the voter cards.

It is in this context, then, that over the last couple of weeks, Besigye's rhetoric has become more confrontational, and he now claims that the IPC may withdraw from the elections after all, given that the elections will be rigged. This latest move is doubtless designed to renew his appeal to the international community, and to the Diaspora. However, in light of his previous rejection of these same arguments when Otunnu made them, and his own subsequent statements about his faith in the electoral process, the current rhetoric sounds quite peculiar indeed. In addition, in recent days Besigye has sought to raise the temperature still further, by raising the spectre of Egypt, by referring to the current government as a 'dictatorship', and by making oblique references to 'popular unrest'.

If tensions continue to rise here, then Uganda may well be in for a bumpy few weeks. We will find out soon enough.

Monday, January 24, 2011


A recent opinion poll conducted by Afrobarometer left us in little doubt as to who is going to win the presidential election on 18th February: it placed Museveni on 66%, and Besigye on just 12% (with Otunnu and Mao on 3% each).

Certainly, the incumbent was always going to be the favourite here, given his privileged access to the 'levers of state'. Nevertheless, it has come as a surprise to many, even to veteran Uganda commentators, that he is so far ahead at this stage.

One of the reasons why Museveni is doing so well is the skill with which he (with his team) has controlled his media persona throughout these campaigns. Perhaps it is the case that all elections, the world over, now hinge on the way in which the protagonists present themselves in the media. However, it is worth remembering that in Uganda, this is a relatively recent phenomenon, given that most of the population, outside of the main urban areas, still have only limited access to print media, or to television - or in other words, to any form of visual media. Hence it is a masterstroke that Museveni's media persona in these campaigns has been centred around sound, or more specifically, a 'rap' song - one which has been played seemingly ad infinitum in recent weeks, on the dozens of radio stations which now broadcast throughout the countryside.

The origins of Museveni's song trace to a free concert that was held in Central Kampala a few days before the nominations closed, in late-October. Museveni arrived at the concert in full military fatigues, and proceeded to 'rap' to the gathering crowd (he was in fact reciting two well-known Runyankore nursery rhymes). His efforts were recorded, and were subsequently re-mixed as a campaign soundtrack by the fashionable Fenon Studios. The track was an immediate success, for two reasons.

Firstly, the song has galvanized Uganda's young urban voters to the president's cause. This constituency had previously been a mainstay for Besigye and his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). Secondly, and more importantly, the way in which Fenon remixed Museveni's words recast his patter in the style of someone doing 'okwevuga'. This is a highly technical form of public oratory, by no means easily mastered, which involves a stylized form of rapid rhyme that is rich in allegory and metaphor - hence it is in some ways similar to (at least the more artful forms of) commercial 'rap'. The practice of okwevuga is today most frequently associated with wedding ceremonies, where guests sometimes use it in their speeches. However, it has also been associated, from pre-colonial times onwards, with skilled political leadership. In recent years, a well-known radio presenter in South-western Uganda used it in the credits of his show, and to powerful effect - for a period, his show became the most popular program on the airwaves.

Thus, with the song now playing day-in, day-out, in villages across Uganda, the population is constantly reminded what a capable leader they have. Listen to Fenon's song:

In the weeks following the release of the track, a number of newspapers, including Uganda's main Luganda-language paper Bukedde, poked fun at the song, by publishing pictures of Museveni's face spliced onto the body of various famous 'gangsta rappers'. Museveni's press secretary Tamale Mirundi reacted angrily to the images, describing them as 'offensive', and demanding that they be immediately dropped from future publications.

Yet Mirundi's reaction is itself illustrative. Because it shows that his team does not want any unauthorized images of the president to undermine their carefully constructed control of the aural media space - the very space in which their campaign is currently being won (and the fact that Zain telecom have now turned the song into a mobile phone ringtone is another interesting aside here).

A member of Besigye's campaign team recently quipped that if he wants to mount a come-back in the current campaign, then he will also have to release a rap-song. Otherwise, it will surely be DJ Museveni who is still in State House on 19th February.