“Analyse the factors behind the success or failure of the consolidation of democratic institutions in Kenya and Uganda.”
This paper examines the factors that have contributed to the success or failure of the consolidation of democratic institutions in Kenya and Uganda. The post-independence period of these two countries is the starting point for this study. In arriving at its conclusion that attempts at consolidation of democracy in these two countries have been abortive overall, this paper lists factors, both peculiar to these countries and those endemic in the larger context of African society as inhibitors of democracy. If the reign of dictators in these countries, most notably of Daniel arap Moi in Kenya and Milton Obote and later Idi Amin in Uganda were undoubtedly great factors in stalling democracy, this paper sees this phenomenon as only a symptom of the disease that has afflicted Africa –its near incompatibility with democracy. The factors that have brought about this situation are mentioned in the concluding part of this paper.
It needs mention that the scope of this paper precludes the need for a detailed examination of the chronology of events, because of which only events concerning the thesis topic are listed. Only actions concerning mostly Moi’s and Amin’s regimes are detailed in this paper.
In the assessment of this paper, the most important outwardly factor to have acted as the stumbling block to democracy in these countries has been its dictators. Kenya’s rendezvous with democracy was also severely blunted by pathological corruption, as a result of which the country has been swinging between authoritarianism for most part of its post-independence existence, and some democracy. Kenya was placed on the road to democracy after independence, by its founding father, Jomo Kenyatta who had given the country a sample of democracy, but his successor, Daniel arap Moi chose the opposite route, and took the country toward totalitarian, one party rule. When multiparty elections did come, they were flawed. The end of his long rule paved the way for more democracy, but this was also severely affected not so much by despotic rule, as much as by corruption and compulsions of coalition politics.
In Uganda’s case, the role of two consecutive dictators, Milton Obote and Idi Amin were enough to keep democratic institutions in shackles for most part of its post-colonial history. The excesses of their establishment were the antithesis of any democratic attribute. If the Obote regime was going all out to kill democracy, then that of Idi Amin was brutal and abominable even by African standards. There has been some movement towards democracy in Uganda in the last two decades and in Kenya in the last few years, but this has not been in conditions that were different from those that fostered autocracy. There exists some democracy as of now on paper, but it is a fragile one, and the system can slide into its anarchic past at the slightest provocation.
Such brittleness of democratic institutions in these countries has been the outcome of the inward, critical reason for the stunted growth of democracy –the inability of the African political and social system to adapt this form of governance, which has been explored in the concluding part of this paper.
Kenya: Kenya’s tryst with democracy was full of difficulties, as a result of the fact that it was never based on serious intent. Arap Moi’s stranglehold over the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party he inherited from Kenyatta was complete. An attempted coup in 1982 was the perfect pretext for him to stifle democracy. His victory speech announced the justification for the continuance of single party rule:
There had to be a party giving people everywhere a sense of belonging and an arena of unity. The party was also to serve as an institution which the government and the people had in common — so that philosophies, policies and aspirations all sprang from the grass-roots of society. It was further visualized that the party, as a political instrument, must be appropriately involved in sustaining the countrywide momentum of nationalistic forces and feelings . . . (Ogot & Ochieng, 1995, p. 203)
Moi’s penchant for tyrannical rule got strengthened over time; the first multiparty elections held in 1992 came about three decades after independence, and were marred by a lack of consensus or a pact among the parties. This fact made the elections a farce and rendered the opposition impotent. Coming as they did in the backdrop of increased international pressures over its human rights record and abysmally poor living conditions caused by corrupt governance, the elections of 1992 were a charade. Although they were multiparty elections held under the watchful eyes of international donors, they were won by the ruling party with skulduggery and the complicity of a pliant Election Commission and judiciary. Even after attaining a majority in parliament, the KANU led by Moi persistently refused to carry out constitutional reforms aimed at more democracy implying transparency in public administration. His term in office was marked by acts such as hounding opposition figures and the media, denying them the right of association and the carrying out of frequent arrests. The KANU’s unwillingness to relinquish power made them carry out much political stealth during the elections. (Harbeson, 1999, pp. 49-51)
This was a great slump in the democratic credentials of a party that had for most part of the “father of independence”, Kenyatta’s presidency, been a fairly neat example of democracy in Africa. From the time of independence in 1963 till his death in 1978, Kenyatta had nurtured a polity that had been surprisingly open to opposition parties. Although the KANU held monopoly of power on the national political scene since at least 1969 and the political system was based on patronage, Kenya was not a one-party monocracy. During his presidency, elections had been held regularly. Also, in a system that was at great variance with that in most other African regimes, for most part, the press was allowed to function without fear of political reprisal. There was liberty for the people to practise any religion, the Church and trade unions were allowed to voice their say, and civil liberty was being enforced by those in the legal profession and the judiciary. As Moi’s rule progressed, civil liberties starting taking a backseat, and power now started flowing into and getting consolidated into select ethnic communities. (Throup & Hornsby, 1998, p. 26)
Daniel arap Moi ran the government like a personal fiefdom, with extremely high levels of corruption wreaking havoc in the daily lives of people. While corruption had been a bane of Kenyan society from Kenyatta’s time, accountability, a prerequisite of democracy, plummeted to new levels during Moi’s time. The treasury was virtually emptied during this time in innumerable scandals. The Goldenberg scandal was only the most famous of these, by which billions of Kenyan shillings were emptied from government coffers by fraudulent means. (Wright, 1998, p. 108) This resulted in strictures from Kenya’s donors and the World Bank culminating in suspension of vital aid, but even this did not alter the basic fabric of governance. (Lundahl, 2001, p. 99) This is where lay the problem –the inherent venality in the Kenyan society that some see as a takeoff from the colonial times, in which the colonisers used every method possible to deplete the exchequer. (Versi, 1996, p. 6)
Yet another factor of critical importance to arrest graduation to democracy was that Kenya’s opposition leaders were more mired in tribalism and had greater loyalty to their kinship, and were less clear about the system they wanted to put in place in the event of Moi’s defeat. Their cohesiveness was pre-empted by ethnic loyalty, which was always at the core of African society. It was never difficult for the seasoned Moi to exploit these inherent divisions. (Bates, 1999, p. 91)
Kenya also has some internalised and deep-rooted social factors that have made transition to democracy difficult. If the political factors listed above were direct and concrete factors that stalled the progress of democratic forces, social divisions such as ethnicity, location, education, income and gender lie at the heart of the society. This historic lopsidedness has made the assumption of more powers by some of such groups easy, while confining others into oblivion. Among these factors, perhaps the most important are “[e]thnic hostilities (which) reflect a weakness inherent in Kenya’s civic culture; (and) primordial fears and mistrust permeate society.” (Miller & Yeager, 1984, p. 74) This last factor has been the most important, larger reason for the lack of consolidation of democratic forces in Africa, of which these two countries are only a part. A presentation of this fact has been made in the last part of this paper.
Returning to Moi, finally, when the time came for him to hand over the reins of power, the administration that succeeded him, led by Mwai Kibaki, has been mired in coalition constraints; this administration, which came to office amid high promise and expectations, got entangled in corruption in much the same manner as its predecessor, (Kabukuru, 2006) to the extent of attracting censure from international donors if the system did not change. (Versi, 2005, p. 13) The crux of the power struggle has revolved round his attempt to acquire more power by bypassing his coalition partners, even while the entrenched system remains basically unchanged. (Wrong, 2005, p. 22) It has always been difficult for democracy to take root and flourish in such conditions.
Uganda: As was the case with Kenya, in Uganda, too, highly fragmented tribal and ethnic loyalties produced a splintered polity that could be exploited at will by the men in power. Right at the time of independence, major differences between the country’s most prosperous region that had the most powerful ethnic group, Buganda, and the rest of the country erupted and threatened to split the nation apart. Using their bargaining power, the Buganda had obtained a special status under the constitution of 1962, the nation’s first. Early into his term in office, the country’s first Prime Minister, Milton Obote was confronted with serious differences with the Buganda. After attempts at reconciling these and other various factions, Obote went on the offensive, and by 1966 had had the constitution annulled. When the Buganda protested this act and rose in rebellion by seeking foreign aid for separatism, the Obote government decided to take this state head on. Declaring a state of national emergency, he ordered an Army crackdown on the Buganda stronghold, the tribal chief’s palace on Mengo Hill. Even as the Buganda chieftain, the Kabaka fled and the threat from this province receded, the Prime Minister seized this initiative to accumulate absolute power, starting with making himself president. This was the start of his autocratic regime; soon, what started as a measure to control internal dissent became an instrument of absolute power. A new constitution was promulgated in 1967, ostensibly to abolish the four dominant kingdoms and create a new government of unity, but was misused to gain total control. (Ofcansky, 1996, pp. 39-41)
Once he had been overthrown in a coup led by Idi Amin, his once trusted aide, what followed was a virtual bloodbath that was to soak the entire country, and mark a terrible chapter in its history. Amin first accused Tanzania of backing Obote, and chose this as a reason for rounding up alleged supporters of the deposed ruler. He next targeted officers of a failed coup, butchering several of them arbitrarily; one of his first acts was to proclaim himself ‘president for life’. Among his long list of perverse acts that were undemocratic was the suppression of the Catholic Church, on grounds that it was taking part in subversive activities; he even had the Anglican archbishop of Uganda murdered. Such egregious acts continued with impunity till he was overthrown in 1979. (E.Jessup, 1998, p. 24) These were not before he had foreign journalists killed for attempting to cover the war with Tanzania, (Hachten, 1992, p. 42) and ordered the mass deportation of Indian businessmen who earned the cream of the economy. (Sowell, 1996, p. 321)
In Uganda, too, like in Kenya, society was deeply fractured along ethnic and tribal affiliations. Moreover, it was a country that had been built almost entirely on the strength of its agricultural sector. Industrialisation was almost totally absent, which meant that not only was dependence on this ancient system of production attracting more tribal loyalties, there was a total absence of any form of industrial bourgeoisie. This made organisation of the masses against tyranny ever more difficult. Thus, affiliations were more on the social rather than labour-oriented lines. This led to a solidification of the forces of concentration of power. This inhibited the spread of democracy to the grassroots level. With the advent of the colonisers, the geographical imbalance of power that was tilted in favour of Buganda was further aggravated in the form of animosity between the Catholic and Protestant and Christian and Muslim. (Hansen & Twaddle, 1988, p. 29)
In this milieu, the growth and consolidation of democratic institutions has always been next to impossible, as the present incumbent, Yoweri Museveni has been discovering. Despite not being given to the despotism of the earlier dictators, he has been having a difficult time keeping the country together due to insurrection from the sectarian Christian movement, the Lord’s Resistance Army, whose frequent attacks, and his government’s involvement in the civil war in Sudan (P.Scherrer, 2002, p. 56) have weakened the graduation to democracy.
Conclusion: It is generally easy to point the difficulty in establishing democracy on a handful of dictators that ruled these two countries. While prima facie it is true that these men were responsible for this process as shown in this paper, a deeper understanding needs to be made of the conditions which enabled these men to assume absolute power and unleash such highly dictatorial regimes in these countries.
Discerning analysts and commentators have pointed out to systemic problems lying at the heart of African society as being the chief impediments to the fertilisation of democracy. This has been analysed thread bare with amazing clarity by Smith Hempstone (1995). The nub of this highly perspicacious analysis is that the genus of democracy was never present in Africa. This was a continent that had been blissfully insulated from all major events that shook the world –the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, explorations and political revolutions. The manure necessary for the sapling of democracy to sprout –openness, innovation and enterprise, was alien to African society. The institutional units that comprised society were the tribes, absolute and unquestioning obedience to whose leaders were the highest hallmarks of sacrosanct piety. All the dictators produced by Africa, Kenya and Uganda included, were people who made the best of this core of African life and society. The idea of accountability, rule of law and checks and balances were unknown to Africa. In a society that was light years away from the consciousness of nationhood, the parliamentary institutions that Britain put in place turned out to be seeds planted in an arid area. It is only natural that the only yield this continent threw up was dictators, the modern day avatar of tribal chiefs. (Hempstone, 1995) A Moi and an Idi Amin were the manifestations of this highly entrenched malaise that Africa has lived with. The democracy that has been seen in the last two decades has sprung out of the same conditions; hence, it should not be surprising if it breaks up on account of a consolidation of these primeval forces.
This being the core reason for the failure of democracy in Africa, it is not possible to understand or explain how Kenya or Uganda could have been exempt from this nature of governance in Africa. This, in the real and holistic sense, has been Africa’s story, and sums up the fulcrum of factors behind the failure of the consolidation of democratic institutions in Kenya and Uganda.
Written By Ravindra G Rao
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