Death of democracy: Creeping authoritarianism in Africa’s great lakes region


This past Saturday, the results of the Ugandan presidential election were released. The incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni, won just over 60 percent of the vote, beating opposition leader Kizza Besigye by 25 points. Unfortunately, this election was anything but free and fair, as Besigye and his supporters claimed that the election was rigged. The members of the opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), told VICE News that police forces tampered with ballots, replacing pro-FDC ballots with pro-Museveni ballots. The FDC also believes that the delivery of voting supplies and materials was purposely delayed in areas where the FDC enjoys a certain level of support. The FDC and another opposition party, who tallied their votes independently, found that the results released by the electoral commission did not match their findings. Besigye, along with other FDC officials, has since been arrested, after security forces raided FDC headquarters. The crackdown by police on the opposition party in Uganda has raised fears that President Museveni, who came to power via a rebel coup in 1986, has become corrupted by power and will not allow for any transition of power in the future.

The political crisis in Uganda is just the latest in a series of democratic failures in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Currently, Burundi is in the throes of political upheaval after President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial bid for a third term as president. President Nkurunziza has, since winning reelection, used state security forces to quash members of the opposition party. The Rwandan government has championed a bill that would allow President Paul Kagame to run for a third term, in direct violation of the two-term limit of presidents set out in the constitution. Meanwhile in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, political opponents of President Joseph Kabila have taken to the streets to protest Kabila’s threats to not respect his term-limit and have been met violently by security forces.

The political crises unfolding in the Great Lakes region these past few months point to a general failure of democracy in the region. Although some of these heads-of-state, especially Ugandan President Museveni, were touted as model leaders by the West when they first came to power, they have since violated core democratic principles by failing to uphold civil liberties and their respective constitutions. It falls upon the international community, especially the United States, to promote democratic values in these countries. Were these grave abuses of political power to go unchecked, there is the potential for region-wide instability and civil war.