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Reviewed by:
  • No-Party Democracy? Ugandan Politics in Comparative Perspective
  • Ishmael I. Munene
Carbone, Giovanni. 2008. No-Party Democracy? Ugandan Politics in Comparative Perspective. Boulder, Colo., Lynne Rienner. 259 pp. $58.50

A lot has been written about Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's mercurial transformation of Uganda, politically and economically. Giovanni Carbone's work is the first comprehensive empirical study of the Museveni's rise to power using his no-party democratic dispensation. Carbone, a political scientist, presents a refreshing account of Museveni's uncanny ability to reconfigure the country's sociopolitical institutions and overcome political resistance to create the longest-running stable presidency in East Africa.

Chapters 1 and 2 of the book lay the framework for understanding no-party democracy. In the first chapter, Carbone shows the historical confluence between ethnicity and religion in creating and consolidating cleavages in Uganda's body politic, both before and after the achievement of independence. The attendant consequences, including political parochialism, exclusion from political power, demise of political parties, and weakening of political institutions, with the rise of a politicized military [End Page 91] and constitutional abrogation, are well delineated. Museveni's no-party democracy was aimed at mitigating these political weaknesses by infusing individual merit as the basis of political participation. Chapter 2 shows how Museveni crafted a no-party state amid two conflicting political tensions: those in favor of state reconciliations and those hostile to new institutions and organizations.

To survive politically, Museveni embarked on an institution-building, institution-destroying strategy. He consolidated power through the military, reengineering the constitution to restrict political-party activities and enable his National Resistance Movement (NRM) to retain political power, and decentralizing local administration. How is it that a transitional experiment in no-party democracy lasted more than twenty years? Carbone interrogates, in Chapter 3, the political economy of regime support. Museveni has ensured local and international political legitimacy by manipulating the intersection between domestic politics and international forces, thereby ensuring regime survival.

Rapid economic recovery, the emergence of a strong domestic constituency content with the status quo, a price paid by opposition-oriented northern and southeastern regions, and the benevolence of external multilateral and bilateral donors, provided Museveni with a broadly supported political apparatus to fortify his regime. The chapter's strength lies in demonstrating how markedly the Ugandan case differed from the situation in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which were under intense international and domestic pressure to institute multiparty political democracy.

Chapter 4 is a study of Museveni's personality and how it meshed with the emerging politico-institutional development of a no-party state. His charisma, with his antipolitical rhetoric, won him appeal as a political outsider. Ironically, he has been part and parcel of the political apparatus in Uganda since the overthrow of the Idi Amin regime. Once in power, he used "ple-biscitarian appeals… to reject any institutional restraints on that power[,] thus contributing to a… deinstitutionalization of the state" (p. 77). Parliament, the judiciary, the civil service, the press, and the constitution—all of which could impose restraints—were attacked and emasculated.

In chapter 5, subtitled "The Movement: A Partisan Organization in Disguise," Carbone delves into the murky waters of conceptualizing the NRM as a political system. As it turns out, contrary to the public proclamation of NRM as a mass movement open to all and sundry, constitutional vagueness allowed it to function as a full-fledged political organization, committed to the conquest and retention of political power. Its relationship with other political organizations has been anything but hegemonic—a role played by a political party in a multiparty democracy. The author offers contrasting cases from Tanzania, South Africa, Mexico, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

As the NRM became a powerful political actor, older actors had to give way. The task of chapter 6 is to catalogue the political stratagems employed by Museveni to neutralize old parties, namely the Democratic Party (DP) and [End Page 92] the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC). Political tools at the disposal of these parties were integration, boycott, or violence, each with its strengths and risks. Carbone demonstrates how contextual variables like resource scarcity, individual and community benefits, divisions within the...


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pp. 91-94
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