Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A man reads a newspaper after the re-election of President Yoweri Museveni on Jan. 17, 2021, in Kampala, Uganda.

YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

Rita Abrahamsen is a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa. Gerald Bareebe is an assistant professor at York University, currently based in Kampala.

Observers of Ugandan politics will regard the results from last week’s election with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. President Yoweri Museveni, in power for nearly 35 years, won with almost 59 per cent of the vote. His main rival, the musician and member of Parliament Bobi Wine, received about 35 per cent. In a familiar pattern, the opposition contests the results, while the President claims it was the most free and fair election since independence.

Make no mistake: This was an election, but not democracy. Elections in Uganda have long been a foregone conclusion. Mr. Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents, has perfected a system allowing him and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) to reap just enough votes to claim that democracy is working and thus bestow a thin veneer of legitimacy on their continued rule. The keys to the system’s success are a well-oiled patronage machine, a ruthless, politicized security apparatus and an international community willing to turn a blind eye to democratic decline and human-rights abuses in return for stability and support in the fight against terrorism. This time, COVID-19 also rose to the President’s defence, as did the widespread retreat of democracy around the world.

Story continues below advertisement

Curfews, lockdowns and physical-distancing regulations were introduced in late March, 2020, and remained in place throughout the electoral campaign, providing ample opportunity to curtail the opposition, harass their supporters and clamp down on civil society and the media. This made the Jan. 14 election the most violent and the least fair in a two-decade-long history of violent and unfair elections. In one incident alone, at least 54 people were killed by the security forces and more than 1,000 arrested. Mr. Wine spent most of the election campaign wearing a bulletproof vest and a helmet, constantly trailed by an intimidating convoy of police vehicles, mobile prison vans and armoured personnel carriers. His home remains surrounded by soldiers, and members of his campaign team are in jail, as are numerous other activists and politicians.

This oppressive regime is bankrolled by international donors. As a top contributor of troops to peacekeeping missions in Somalia, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, Uganda has become a key ally of the United States and a pivotal state in the fight against terrorism. In return, the country has been lavished with development and military assistance. The U.S. provides nearly US$1-billion a year, and another US$1-billion flows from other countries, including Canada, and international institutions. The U.S. has trained more troops from Uganda than from any other country in sub-Saharan Africa except Burundi.

It is this well-trained, well-equipped military that Mr. Museveni placed in charge of security in the capital city and the surrounding areas in advance of the election. Battle-hardened generals with extensive experience from operations against terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and soldiers trained to combat violent extremism patrolled the streets of Kampala.

It is not only military aid that strengthens Mr. Museveni’s grip on power. Development assistance also ensures that patronage flows to loyal supporters, and corruption is rampant. For example, a recent US$300-million World Bank loan for COVID-19 relief appears to have been transferred to a classified budget used to fund the security forces.

After the violence of this election, international support for Mr. Museveni’s regime can no longer be justified in the name of security and stability. There is an urgent need for donors to rethink their relationship with Uganda. This should not entail a return to the high-handed and arrogant democracy-promotion of the past. Democracy cannot come from outside or be dictated by finger-wagging donors threatening to withhold aid.

But past mistakes do not invalidate the value of democracy nor diminish the need for solidarity with democratic struggles. Five of Uganda’s opposition leaders have urged the UN Secretary-General to encourage donors to suspend all but the most essential humanitarian aid to their country. Mr. Wine has argued that the West has helped “cripple Uganda’s democracy” and that it must now stand by those struggling against tyranny.

These are difficult times for democracy and for democracy promotion. The recent attack on the U.S. Capitol deeply wounded America’s standing in the world. But the answer is not to retreat from democracy; it is to recommit to it. Uganda is a test case for the incoming Biden administration and for all Uganda’s donors. This includes Canada, which has joined others in calling for the investigation of election irregularities and violence by the security forces. That is a good start, but ritual condemnation followed by a return to business-as-usual needs to end.

Story continues below advertisement

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies