Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Democracy struggles in evolving Uganda


A demonstrator holds a placard outside the US consulate in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Friday to protest next week's visit by US President George W. Bush. Bush leaves tomorrow on a five-day tour of five African nations, Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria.


When US President George W. Bush arrives in Uganda next week, he will meet a leader who says all the right things about free trade and terrorism and has overseen one of the world's most successful fights against the spread of HIV.

What he won't find is a full-fledged democracy.

Bush is making a five-day, five-country tour of a continent often depicted as a place of war, famine and AIDS. Liberia with its unending civil war, and Zimbabwe under an aging dictator are the failures that tend to overshadow such successes as Kenya, where a corrupt autocracy is becoming a mature democracy.

Three of the countries Bush plans to visit -- Senegal, South Africa and Botswana -- are among Africa's democratic success stories.

A fourth, Nigeria, has alternated between democracy and military dictatorship since it won independence from Britain in 1960. Right now it's a democracy.

But Uganda is not. And it's not clear how hard Bush is willing to push for change in dictatorships that play ball with the US on key issues, mainly security and trade.

"Bush's emphasis is on issues that are important to America, mainly national security," said Maria Nzomo, the director of the Institute for Diplomacy Studies at the University of Nairobi.

"We don't hear much about helping us develop our social and economic infrastructure, the basis of any democracy," she said.

Critics point to the US's intense courting of dictatorial Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea during maneuverings at the UN in the lead up to the war in Iraq.

Both countries were considered swing votes on a possible UN Security Council resolution authorizing war on Iraq.

Bush in a speech last week said "corrupt regimes that give nothing to their people deserve nothing. Governments that serve their people deserve our help and we will provide that help."

Bush wants to back the deserving with what he calls the Millennium Challenge Account -- increased financial aid to countries that clean up their politics and trading practices.

But the initiative has idled since Bush proposed it March 2002. No funds have been authorized and it's not clear how much will be earmarked for Africa.

If help means face time with the world's most powerful leader, however, next week the leaders of some African democracies will get plenty.

Senegal, which is 90 percent Muslim, holds the distinction of being one of the few nations in postcolonial Africa that has never known a coup.

Nigeria has an elected civilian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a one-time military dictator.

South Africa peacefully transformed from a repressive, racist state to a democracy whose leaders have taken a lead role in peace efforts elsewhere in Africa.

Botswana is considered one of Africa's least corrupt countries, and its diamond-rich economy one of the world's fastest-growing.

Uganda is different.

President Yoweri Museveni's talk of free markets, his success in combating AIDS and his staunch support for the Iraq invasion have made him a US favorite, despite his questionable democratic credentials and the country's role in stoking neighboring Congo's brutal civil war.

Uganda's press is free and elections relatively fair, but political parties are banned, so individuals have to run for office without the resources of a party.

Meanwhile, Museveni's National Resistance Movement -- to which every Ugandan belongs and which Museveni claims is not a party -- runs the country.

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