Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Uganda and CAR: Hopes for peace and democracy

Presidential elections in Uganda and Central African Republic conclude without significant violence, but not without detractors who claim rigging and unfair practices, writes Haytham Nuri

Al-Ahram Weekly

Electoral commissions in Uganda and the Central African Republic (CAR) announced the results of presidential elections held in the two landlocked countries, both critical races despite the seemingly different political conditions in each.

Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, is facing a serious challenge for the first time. His competitor received more than one-third of the votes of youth, who face high unemployment and have never known a president other than Museveni.

The Ugandan president is also facing a wave of protests against the extension of his presidency. While the leaders of neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi survived such protests, they brought down Museveni’s counterpart in Burkina Faso, in what some see as the first spark of an “African Spring” that could sweep away several leaders who have long occupied places in their citizens’ hearts.

For its part, CAR is seeking change through stability, to find a way out of the religious civil war between Muslims and Christians that claimed tens of thousands of lives and left millions homeless. Two former Christian prime ministers were competing in the elections. Faustin-Archange Touadéra won the poll, which saw a heavy turnout by voters hoping to bid the war farewell. Whoever wins the presidency, CAR faces several obstacles that will take more than one president, or even one generation, to overcome.

 

UGANDA: Museveni won a fifth five-year term as president on Thursday, to add to his long years of rule since 1986, when he led an armed rebellion against his predecessor, Milton Obote, who led the drive for independence from Britain in 1962.

According to the electoral commission’s website, Museveni won 61.55 per cent of the vote (more than five million votes) while his closest competitor, Kizza Besigye, came away with 34.47 per cent (about three million votes). The remaining eight candidates only won four per cent of the vote combined.

Besigye rejected the results, describing the elections as “a sham” and calling for the cancellation of the results. Speaking to the electoral commission, he said: “I ask you, on behalf of the people of Uganda, to show the courage to cancel these elections.”

Millions of Ugandans — about 8.6 million of more than 15 million registered voters — went out to cast their votes at more than 28,000 polling stations. The landlocked country, home to 37 million people, has not seen democratic elections since independence, and half of its people know only Museveni as president.

Obote ruled the country from independence until Idi Amin’s coup in 1971. With Amin in power until 1979, the country experienced a political catastrophe, with hundreds of thousands killed by the regime.

In 1978, Obote and Museveni led a military rebellion against Amin, taking the capital, Kampala, in 1980. But the revolutionary forces fragmented in the mid-1980s with a coup plotted by Museveni.

The presidential and parliamentary elections were conducted in Uganda amid violence and opposition allegations of government rigging. Polling stations in the capital opened five hours late, spurring voters standing in line to break doors and tables. International news agencies quoted voters waiting in line as saying that the failure to open polling stations on schedule was “planned, because the government knows that no one likes Museveni here”.

According to news analysis carried by the BBC, opposition candidate Besigye enjoys substantial support in the cities. Besigye was Museveni’s personal doctor during the years of resistance in the late 1970s, after which he occupied several ministerial posts before cutting ties with the regime in the 1990s.

Besigye ran against his former boss in presidential elections three times previously, in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Although he declared that clean elections in Uganda were impossible, he gave in to his desire to hold higher office and declared his candidacy a fourth time in the recent race.

Uganda’s government blocked access to social media, especially with the increasing popularity of the hashtag #1986pictures, which shows Museveni with four US presidents over the years, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama.

Museveni has a complicated past. A former Maoist and a major supporter of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement established by late Southern Sudanese rebel leader John Garang, he is now the most reliable US ally in Central Africa. He has also intervened to assist Democratic Congo rebels since the 1990s. His supporters say his strong policies are the reason the Somali terrorist Shabab group has avoided operations in Uganda while striking at neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.

But none of this prevented criticism of Museveni’s bid for an additional presidential term, especially considering the increasing bent of several African leaders, like the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, to amend their countries’ constitutions to allow them to stay in power, though an attempt to do so by Blaise Compaoré, the former ruler of Burkina Faso, ended with his ouster.

According to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, Museveni will face broad popular protests if he does not alter his decades-long methods of rule. But the report does not expect a major rebellion that would remove the African leader, who supporters believe is uniquely capable of ruling the country.

 

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: The electoral commission in CAR announced the victory of former Prime Minister Faustin-Archange Touadéra in the second-round of the presidential poll held in mid-February. Touadéra received 19 per cent of the votes cast in the first round on 20 December, while his rival, Anicet-Georges Dologuélé, also a former prime minister, took 24 per cent of votes in that round.

Turnout was 80 per cent, which Centrafrique Radio saw as an indication that the people are ready to turn the page on three years of civil war that divided the country between Christians (50 per cent of the population) and Muslims (15 per cent of the population). The war left tens of thousands dead and displaced a quarter of the population.

The BBC reported that voter enthusiasm in the second round was not at the same levels as the first, raising fears of broad frustration.

These are the second democratic presidential elections in the country, after the poll of 1993 that brought Ange-Félix Patassé to power (he was brought down in the coup of 2003) and put an end to the military dictatorship that had ruled since independence from France in 1960. CAR saw one of the worst regimes on the continent under Jean-Bédel Bokassa (1965-1988), who declared himself emperor of the landlocked, metal-rich country.

The UN deployed 11,000 peacekeeping troops in 2014, more than 2,000 of them in the capital, while France sent 900 troops to West Africa. A civil war erupted after the removal of the Muslim-majority Séléka militias, led by François Bozizé, and the rise of Michel Djotodia to power.

The UN, the African Union, and the EU all criticised Bozizé for his inability to control Séléka fighters, who carried out atrocities against Christians. During the fighting, the UN announced its readiness to evacuate 19,000 Muslims threatened with massacre by Christian militias.

The anti-Balaka Christian militias quickly responded to the crimes of Muslim fighters. Tens of thousands of Muslims evacuated the city as a result, leaving only one Muslim neighbourhood today, the PK5 district.

Thousands of Muslims still live in camps on bases protected by UN peacekeepers and France, the only barrier protecting these persecuted people, according to a UN statement.

Pope Francis on 30 November 2015 visited the great mosque in the sole remaining Muslim neighbourhood of Bangui to declare that “Muslims and Christians are brothers.”

In January 2014, Djotodia was forced to resign under international and regional pressure. He was replaced by interim president Catherine Samba-Panza.

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