Power Flows From the Barrel of a Gun; Don't Point That Mike At Me

>> Monday, June 2, 2008

By Charles Onyango-Obbo / The East African (Nairobi) / 2 June 2008

In the past 10 years, President Yoweri Museveni's government has rolled back a record number of the democratic and civil rights that it had introduced or that had grown of their own in his first dynamic decade between 1986 and 1996.

The government, for example, has pushed through the most extreme "anti-terrorism" law in the region. Though it didn't play a lot in the local media, and was hardly picked up abroad, among other things, the Terrorism Act potentially opened the way for a journalist to be hanged for quoting a news source the government considers to be a "terrorist."

In later years, it has dismantled the presidential term limit, passed laws restricting further the freedom of assembly, and rigged elections like it was going out of fashion.

Two glimmers of enlightenment are the 2005 end of one-party rule and reintroduction of multiparty politics, and the fact that the radical economic reforms that marked the first 12 years of the Museveni government have, remarkably, not been tampered with, although widespread corruption has eaten away a lot of their benefits.

The past five years, however, have been marked by the Kampala government's disregard for the authority of the courts. Thus, when the court granted opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye bail, the government simply ignored the ruling.

Secondly, it has been unrelenting in its persecution of journalists. Over the past three years, editors and journalists from independent newspapers and magazines have been arrested and slapped with all sorts of charges.

In a fresh anti-media outburst, the government has put together a Cabinet committee to crack down further on an already emasculated press. One of the proposals the committee is mulling is to altogether scrap the "freedom of the press" provision in the constitution.

This action, reprehensible as it might be, is not unique to Uganda. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has systematically frustrated the media. However, as he did that, his government also passed some mildly progressive laws on elections.

IRONICALLY, IT WAS THE CHANGE IN the electoral laws that made it impossible for Mugabe to steal the election outright in the first round from opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the recent polls.

There's also an interesting pattern, that may be a pointer to how an African leader is likely to behave towards the media and the opposition.

Leaders like Museveni, Mugabe, Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Gabon's Omar Bongo, came to power through the gun - either as guerrilla leaders or masterminds of coups de tat.

Though there are a few exceptions to the rule, "original" leaders of rebellions and coups are lousy democrats and usually hate the free press. It's possible that this is because, even when they become elected leaders later, they always consider that their legitimacy is derived from the struggle or the risk they took in staging a coup against the day's ruler, and not from the electorate.

Because of that, they feel unaccountable to anybody, and don't like to be challenged.

It takes the death or overthrow of the original rebel or coup leader for this to change. In Mozambique, for example, after the tragic death of Samora Machel, his successor Joachim Chissano was able to talk with the Renamo rebels to end the war that had bled the country dry, and to carry out economic and political reforms.

In Uganda, then, one can expect the wave of illiberal actions by the Museveni regime to continue until he is out of office. Given that he is already campaigning for a sixth term, which will end in 2016, when he will probably stand for a seventh, it could be a long wait.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group's managing editor for convergence and new products.



About This Blog

The X.U.G (Xpose Uganda's Genocide) Coalition was created to bring to light the truth about Yoweri Museveni's woefully undemocratic regime and the ongoing secret genocide in northern Uganda, with the aim of the restoration of human rights and peace.

The coalition's secondary goal is to ensure accountability for reconstruction and development funds slated for war-torn N. Uganda by the US and other donors.

A crisis of epic proportions, the genocide being carried out against the Acoli for the last two decades has produced devastating consequences.

For the sake of current and future generations in Uganda, the world must recognize and end the genocide in Uganda. All Ugandans have a right to basic human rights, including the right to health, protection and education.

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