Democracy still far away in Uganda

NAI researcher Anders Sjögren answers three questions about his book `Between Militarism and Technocratic Governance. State Formation in Contemporary Uganda' (link to digital archive opens in new window).

Your book is being published in Uganda. What is the intended readership in Uganda and in what ways do you think the book might contribute?
First of all, I’m delighted that it’s finally available. Of course, the readership for an academic book like this will always be limited, but you can never tell. I hope it might stimulate intellectual debate about where Uganda is coming from, where it’s at and where it might be heading. There are of course other books of its kind around, and I’m not the only person to be saying what I’m saying about authoritarianism in Uganda, but hopefully the book might play its part.

Are there any signs of a democratic development in Uganda or is power becoming more concentrated? In what ways?
The tendency over the last fifteen or so years has been towards entrenched authoritarianism. This has taken another turn after the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 2005 (in itself democratically ambiguous, as this was granted “in exchange” for the abolition of presidential term limits). Political pluralism meant new challenges to President Museveni and his NRM party. There are now more arenas, and when opposition groups try to assert themselves in these –parliament, courts, the media, through demonstrations – the government has chosen to resort to repression to clamp down on dissent. The President’s ultimate power base remains the military, which he continues to use: both, once in a while, as a direct instrument of control, and by making references to it so as to scare people and push them into line. And things are coming to a head. Museveni is getting old, and the succession battle looms on the horizon.

What is needed for Uganda to democratize?
A democratic political order in Uganda requires so many fundamental changes: autonomous political institutions respected by everyone, a level playing field, and so on. And who is willing and able to push for this? The political opposition is divided and weak – in resources, organization and strategy. Democratic forces in the wider society are subdued. The President and his inner circle appear strong and forceful – but opposition is building up (yet again) within the NRM, and possibly even the military. Challenges to authoritarianism will intensify, but it will be a long time before we see consolidated democracy in Uganda, and it won’t be under the present government.

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