East Africa’s democracy engages full reverse gear

Monday, November 9th, 2020 00:00 |
Africa Union, Adis Ababa. Photo/Courtesy

The state of democracy in East Africa should be a big cause for concern for the African Union (AU), and other international institutions concerned about peace and development.

This is because countries that are run parallel to democratic principles are usually the ones that degenerate into instability.

Let us start with Tanzania, where the incumbent, Dr John Pombe Magufuli, was re-elected to a second term in October 2020.

The election was marred by violence, brutal repression, media blackout including switching off social media on the day of elections, and sustained harassment of opposition politicians.

Magufuli’s main challenger, Tundu Lissu, has called on all opposition forces to come together in mass protests to demand a rerun of the election. The police crackdown of the opposition continues.

Assassination attempts on key political leaders as well as physical assaults have reached alarming levels.

Lissu was shot 16 times three years ago in Tanzania’s administrative capital of Dodoma, and spent three years being treated in Belgium.

The chairman of the main opposition party, CHADEMA, Freeman Mbowe, was assaulted in June 2020, by unknown assailants who broke his leg.

In Burundi, President Evariste Ndayishimiye, was elected president in elections held in May 2020.

He replaced outgoing President, late Pierre Nkurunziza, who had won election in a violence marred poll in 2015, that drove hundreds of thousands of Burundians into exile, and saw political assassinations of political opponents of the government.

The May election was tension-filled, with reports of intimidation of opposition supporters and political violence between opposing groups.

In Uganda, President Kaguta Museveni is widely expected to seek to extend his rule of three decades when the elections are held in January 2012.

Brutalising and crackdowns on opposition politicians and supporters in Uganda have become a daily staple. 

The most recent demonstration was the beating up of Museveni’s main challenger, pop-star turned politician, Bobi Wine, when presenting his nomination papers as a presidential candidate in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is routinely harassed, with his rallies repeatedly dispersed by police, and his supporters beaten and detained. That is the environment in which Uganda runs its democracy.

This has been carried on from the last two elections in which Kizza Besigye was Museveni’s main challenger.

Besigye was constantly harassed by police, and has suffered house arrest for most of the time when he was challenging Museveni for the presidency.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame, a complete autocrat, makes no pretence of democracy.

Political activity is dead, and political mobilisation or even any form of dissent is swiftly crushed.

He routinely wins the presidential elections which he undertakes every five years by garnering nearly all the votes cast.

Further north, there’s even bigger trouble brewing.

South Sudan continues its downward spiral into violence that even an IGAD-brokered government of national unity seems unable to stem.

Political violence broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, when President Salva Kiir, accused his deputy, Dr Riek Machar, of plotting to overthrow his government.

Violence continues unabated across the country, unleashed by militias allied to the political formations, who have been indiscriminately attacking and killing civilians and robbing them of their property.

Ethiopia is in a complete meltdown. The federal government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has sent troops into Tigray province, one of Ethiopia’s administrative regions, and a full scale war is currently underway.

Tigray province carried out elections in August 2020 in defiance of a directive from the federal government that they be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Somalia remains tenuous as best. There has been an extended period of an uneasy peace, as the various competing political clans and interests in Somali negotiate political power.

President Mohamed Farmaajo, is due to seek re-election again in an upcoming poll. Email: [email protected]

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