Afro-Disillusion

The Observer of London calls President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda "the new Mugabe."

Museveni is the longtime leader of East Africa's wealthiest country, running for reelection in a nationwide vote on Thursday. Throughout the African and British online media's coverage of Musuveni's campaign to extend his 20-year rule runs a broader story about Western-style democracy's failure to spread in Africa.

The "old Mugabe" -- a strongman who presides over the potentially prosperous but now crumbling nation of Zimbabwe -- is seen as the prototype. As a guerrilla leader in the 1970s, Robert Mugabe defeated a white-minority colonial government in the country then known as Rhodesia. He took power in 1980 and has never relinquished it.

American expat Ken Mufuka speaks for many in the country's independent media when he writes in the Financial Gazette that "the crony government ... is beyond redemption." Yet Mugabe is secure in power for the time being.

Europe fears Museveni is following Mugabe's example, according to the United Nations Regional Information Network via Allafrica.com. Several nations are  now "withholding millions of dollars in direct aid to Museveni's administration over concerns that the former darling of Western governments has grown increasingly autocratic."

Musuveni's response: "You can keep your money."

In Kenya, three cabinet ministers have been forced to "step aside" after revelations that multimillion-dollar government contracts have been paid to nonexistent companies based in Europe. The vice president now faces questioning.

One  optimist says "Kenya is coming of age ... public officials can yield to public opinion on matters of public concern." Ababu Namwamba, a fellow at American University here in Washington is a pessimist. Writing in the Kenya Times, he says an "incompetent and larcenous regime" has "reversed the promise of a bright new dawn into the disillusionment of a misty dusk."

As Uganda votes, democracy vies with disillusionment among African opinionmakers.

By Jefferson Morley |  February 22, 2006; 9:40 AM ET  | Category:  Africa
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Having just returned from working with an NGO in Uganda, I can vouch for the fact that if Museveni remains on his current path, he will be the next Mugabe. Between his pilfering of the treasury and his not-so-veiled threats that if he loses an election he will start a civil war ("I am not too old to go back to the bush"), many Ugandans are rightfully concerned about tomorrow's elections. If Museveni does not receive more outside pressure from his donors, there's no telling the depths to which Uganda will fall. He may say "Keep your money" for now, but if his meal-ticket of foreign aid shrivels up, his underlings who feed off his scraps may not be so understanding. If media outlets within his donor countries can report the truth about what is happening in Uganda and these donor countries repond through withholding more funds, the historically image-conscious Museveni can avert the "Mugabe" path that he currently walks on.

Posted by: Washington DC | February 22, 2006 11:08 AM

Alexandra Fuller's excellent memoir of growing up in Africa, "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" provides some jarring revelations about the sentimental illusions and aspirations of western societies in regard to contries like Rhodesia and Uganda. We may mean well, but we are doing harm. We should, as Museveni has suggested, keep our money. Our aid only ends up in the pockets of corrupt dictators. We have got to understand that this really is a different culture, not just an undeveloped version of the west. We cannot nurture these societies along the path to homogeneity with Europe and America as if they were children. Respect the difference.

Posted by: Barbara Klein | February 22, 2006 11:23 AM

Unfortunately, Uganda should be compared to an abused child. After years of seemingly positive rehabilitation, the child still flinches when you reach out to touch them. When Museveni took over the country everything seemed to be heading in the right direction. The scars of neglect, abuse, corruption and instability by the government were starting to heal. Western governments began to reward Uganda with money and promises of new business development because tangible reforms were being made. Uganda became a prototype for other troubled nations. The West hailed its praises and all seemed to be well. The only problem is that the Ugandan people did not forget the way it used to be. The old days of chaos and civil wars, the old days when schools and businesses were closed, and when the infrastructure of the country was nonexistent. I guess you could say that nothing stirs up these bad memories more so than elections. If you had to choose between the pre-Museveni Uganda or the current government which one would you choose? The answer is clear. It is the fear of letting go of this comfortable, seemingly safe government that has kept Museveni in power for over twenty years. The Ugandan people do not have delusions about democracy, for them it is a choice between the politics they are okay with versus an unfamiliar new regime. In all fairness, we should not blame Africa for being disillusioned with democracy instead we should discuss the West's frustration with Africa for not having replica ideals and values.

Posted by: Lydia Kakwera | February 22, 2006 02:14 PM

Don't over simplify Africa. Africa has more than its fair share of bad leaders but in addition to the Mugabe style leaders you also have Presidents like Nujoma in Namibia and Nyerere in Tanzania and of course Mandela in South Africa that did (eventually) step aside.

Posted by: Don't Forget The are also un-mugabes | February 22, 2006 02:22 PM

Through years of unqualified support and praise, the west has produced tyrants like Mueseveni and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, the other despot in Ethiopia, who is killing his people left and right and operating a network of concentration camps after he lost the election. It is tragic that our tax dollars continue to be used to help this tyrants stay in power and kill their people.

Posted by: Micheal Oubong | February 22, 2006 02:24 PM

While I am nost suggesting remaking Africa or any part of the earth in our own image, there needs to be some effort made to improve the economies, health, and education systems in Africa. It may be necessary to bypass the governments involved, and, somehow, get the money directly to the people.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | February 22, 2006 02:35 PM

The crucial condition of African advance is education. Only an educated people can claim their rights. Only they also can make the economic gains that will bring some fulfilment as well as care for health and transport. Finally, if aid is put into education it is harder to embezzle it than what is put into other spheres.

Posted by: Pat Murphy | February 22, 2006 06:00 PM

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Posted by: yPLfGUYvLe | February 25, 2006 04:33 AM

Well, democracy is still very far away from being realized in most parts of Africa but the syndrome to stay in power is not only confined to African leaders...did Western media complain about Mr Berlusconi of Italy who refused to concede defeat for several weeks? The author suggests that uganda is the wealthiest nation in East Africa, but I beg to differ because Kenya is Wealthier and much more developed in all aspects than her neigbors.

Posted by: Dr. Marasa | June 1, 2006 04:51 PM

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