Back in February, NewsAware examined elections in both the Central African Republic and Uganda. First, we detailed the challenges facing the Central African Republic and the two men who were running to take on those challenges. Next, we explained that Yoweri Museveni’s electoral victory in Uganda’s presidential election was more of a dictatorial inevitability than a democratic triumph. While we believed that the election in the Central African Republic had the potential to mark a turning point from conflict to peace, we viewed the election in Uganda as the promotion of a damaging status quo. Now, a few months after these elections, recent events indicate that these predictions were correct.
Central African Republic
When we first wrote about the election in the Central African Republic, it was on the eve of a run-off between former prime ministers Anicet-Georges Dologuélé and Faustin-Archange Touadéra. The candidates shared many similarities. Both advocated primarily for a restoration of national unity while also emphasizing the importance of economic development. Dologuélé, with better economic and business credentials, was in a stronger position to argue for economic development. Yet his ties to the former government were stronger, and Touadéra, an independent, was better at painting himself a unifier. After years of a sectarian civil war, a unifier is ultimately what Central Africans wanted. They were tired of war, and, as a result, elected Touadéra as their president.
Since Touadéra’s election, the Central African Republic has continued on its fragile path to peace. François Hollande, the president of France, is currently visiting the country. Yesterday, he announced the end of Operation Sangaris, a military intervention launched in 2013. France deployed troops to the Central African Republic, its former colony, in order to pacify areas that were plagued by the brutal violence of the civil war. The end of this operation, like the election of Toudéra, symbolizes the end of the post-war transitional period. So life in the Central African Republic is slowly returning to normal. Instability is slowly giving way to stability. Yet the country is still divided by religion and ethnicity; it is still one of the least developed countries in the world; and the United Nations still maintains a peacekeeping prescence in the country. Thus Touadéra is on the right track, but staying on that track will likely be a very difficult task.
In Uganda, on the other hand, there is little uncertainty as to the track the country is on. Having used February’s election to extend his 30 years in power, Museveni is likely feeling very secure in his position. If the events of this week are any indication, it seems that, because he is in such a secure position, Museveni has quite a bit of licence to do as he pleases–and to do what he has been doing for years.
A few days ago, Museveni held his inauguration ceremony. What could have been an uneventful occasion generated some controversy when American, Canadian, and European diplomats abruptly walked out of the event. Why would they do such a thing? Well, it comes down to a disagreement over the International Criminal Court (ICC). Omar al-Bashir, the leader of Sudan with outstanding arrest warrant from the ICC, was one of the guests at Museveni’s inauguration. As a member of the ICC, Uganda was required to arrest al-Bashir and turn him over to the ICC in The Hague. Yet the country did no such thing. Why? Well, it is a common feeling in Africa that the ICC unfairly targets African leaders. So when Museveni called the ICC “a bunch of useless people” during his inauguration, the western officials decided that they’d had enough. The fact that Museveni was able to be so brash is a reflection the security of his position.
Museveni’s inauguration ceremony was not the only one that generated controversy in Uganda this week. Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s opponent in February’s election, held his own ceremony in protest of irregularities in the electoral process. In response, the government had him arrested and charged with treason, which carries the death penalty. Think about that for a moment. Museveni’s position is so strong that his primary political opponent was charged with treason and no one batted an eye. This may be because Besigye has been arrested numerous times throughout his political career. In fact, this isn’t even the first time he’s been charged with treason. So while Besigye may eventually be released in time to run in the next election–he has run against Museveni in the last four elections–he will never be able to pull off a win. If the months since the last election are indicative of anything, it is Museveni’s entrenchment.
While the Central African Republic and Uganda held elections at roughly the same time, the implications of the elections could not be more different. In the Central African Republic, we see a country marked by change in a time of instability. In Uganda, we see a country marked by a lack of change in a time of political entrenchment. These trends, which were evident in the results of each election, have become even clearer upon reflecting on the months since.