Michael Costello,
criticising “realist” views of foreign policy in today’s Australian,
reminds us that “all experience is that given half a chance, people of
all kinds and places love the chance to vote.” Further evidence, if any
was needed, came yesterday in Uganda,
where “long queues of Ugandans braved alternate sun and downpours to
vote” in the country’s first multi-party election for a generation.

Although few Australians would be able to locate it on a map, Uganda is
one African country that brings back memories: particularly of its
ruler from 1971 to 1979, Idi Amin, self-proclaimed field marshal,
president for life and conqueror of the British Empire. Amin was a
godsend for comedians, but also one of the world’s most brutal tyrants.

Unfortunately, Uganda’s woes did not end with Amin’s overthrow. Ethnic
warfare and massive human rights violations continued under former
leader Milton Obote, who returned to the job in 1980. He was deposed in
a coup in 1985, and the following year a successful insurgency brought
current president Yoweri Museveni
to power. Museveni is credited with bringing stability and political
freedom to the country, although conflict continues with the rebel
Lord’s Resistance Army, one of the world’s few Christian fundamentalist
insurgencies.

Museveni has been re-elected twice in what Adam Carr
describes as “reasonably fair elections against non-party candidates.”
This year, however, he has been prevailed upon to allow opposition
parties to compete, and is facing a serious challenge from Kizza
Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change.

The opposition has predictably complained of fraud and intimidation; as the BBC reports,
Dr Besigye has “had to contend with imprisonment and numerous court
appearances to defend his name against charges of treason, terrorism,
weapons offences and rape.” If he can prevail over those obstacles,
Uganda just might have its first peaceful transfer of power in living
memory.

Peter Fray

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