It’s time for the U.S. to rethink its approach to Uganda

Women wait in front of their food stalls for the final result of the presidential election in Kampala, Uganda, on Feb. 20. (Dai Kurokawa/European Pressphoto Agency)
Women wait in front of their food stalls for the final result of the presidential election in Kampala, Uganda, on Feb. 20. (Dai Kurokawa/European Pressphoto Agency)

UGANDA IS showing the world what electoral malfeasance can look like, more than a month after voters cast their ballots. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni won the country’s Feb. 18 elections amid widespread reports of voting irregularities, ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition candidates.

Last Thursday, Uganda’s Supreme Court unsurprisingly rejected third-place finisher Amama Mbabazi’s official petition to challenge the election, claiming that there was insufficient evidence of irregularities that would have swayed the polling result. Opposition leader and second-place finisher Kizza Besigye, who has been under effective house arrest since the vote, was unable to file a formal challenge of the results. On Tuesday, he was once again arrested after leaving his house for the first time since he was forcibly detained.

As Mr. Museveni cruises toward his fifth term in office, marking his 30th year in power, it is time for the United States to seriously revisit its relationship with Uganda. Uganda has been touted as a key ally in Africa in the fight against the al-Shabab terrorist group, and contributed troops to peacekeeping efforts in South Sudan. The United States gives an estimated $750 million in aid to Uganda annually — an estimated $170 million of which goes to military assistance and cooperation. In the past 10 years, the United States has trainedmore troops from Uganda than from any other country in sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of Burundi.

Mr. Museveni, however, is making a mockery of President Obama’s call for good governance and democracy in Africa, or “strong institutions,” not “strongmen,” as he put it in a 2009 speech in Ghana. As aging autocrats such as Mr. Museveni use U.S.-bankrolled security forces to crack down on opposition candidates, journalists and peaceful protests, lavish security assistance from the United States may be helping to enable an environment of increasing repression in Uganda, and sending the message to other African nations that trampling on rights is permissible so long as the country remains a U.S. counterterrorism ally.

The United States has raised concerns. After the flawed vote, the State Department said that the Ugandan people “deserved better.” After last Thursday’s Supreme Court announcement, the United States called for a peaceful response to the decision, and added that “we hope that the government will now address the grievances voiced by its own people in the wake of these elections and take the necessary steps to enact reforms.”

But hopeful statements are not enough. There are fears that the 71-year-old leader might change the constitution’s presidential age limit of 75 to allow him to run again. Others are concerned that Mr. Museveni’s son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who has rapidly risen through the ranks of Uganda’s military, is being groomed to succeed his father. The United States reallocatedaid and canceled a military exercise with Uganda in the wake of Uganda’s harsh anti-homosexuality bill in 2014 but has not publicly threatened to do the same in response to Uganda’s repression of nongovernmental organizations, crackdowns on journalists, attempted silencing of opposition leaders or tampering with elections. It’s plain for the world to see that democracy is backsliding in Uganda. It’s high time that the United States condition its support on tangible political reforms.

*Source Washington Post.

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