- Museveni’s Uganda: Paradoxes of Power in a Hybrid Regime
In Museveni’s Uganda: Paradoxes of Power in a Hybrid Regime, Dr. Aili Tripp opens by discussing the political economy of development in Africa in the context of liberalization, democratization, and economic development. From the beginning to the end, she has done a superb job of flushing out the juxtaposition of politics and economics as well as their impact on overall development.
Since the end of colonial rule in Africa, political development has been dominated by authoritarian and military regimes, which have provided few or no liberties and internal progress to the citizenry. When military regimes emerged out of coups d’état to exercise political power, they came with the promise of eradicating varied ills, including corruption, but the new leaders had plans to forge a pathway to progress. Rather than solving the continent’s contemporary political and socioeconomic problems, most of the emerging [End Page 108] military regimes tended to drive the continent into worse suffering, despair, and turmoil.
In the 1990s, however, significant changes took place on the continent, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, beginning with a critical shift away from authoritarian and military regimes to less dramatic regime systems, called semiauthoritarian or hybrid regimes. The emergence of these new regime types led to a reevaluation of democratization, which has received mixed reviews in Africa. Some pundits have observed that it has been “a crushing disappointment . . . and although in many ways, it opened up African politics and brought people liberty, it also produced a degree of chaos and instability that actually made corruption and lawlessness worse in many countries” (Fareed Zakaria, 2003, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, p. 98). Others have argued that political liberalization stalled in Africa since the democratization process surged on the continent, leading to civilian-led regimes.
Richard Joseph, a distinguished scholar of African politics, is quoted as arguing that democratization was not supposed to happen in Africa because it had too little of what seemed necessary for constitutional democratic politics. Furthermore, the argument is that African countries were too poor, too culturally fragmented, and insufficiently capitalist. Additionally, the contention is that they were not fully penetrated by Western Christianity and lacked the prerequisite civic culture, while the middle classes were usually deemed to be weak and more bureaucratic than entrepreneurial, often coopted into authoritarian political structures. Therefore, African countries constituted infertile terrain for democracy. It is against this backdrop and the context of this shift that Tripp analyzes and articulates the paradox of power in Uganda under the leadership of President Yoweri Museveni, who made the transition and shift from a military-led to a civilian-led regime.
The book documents how the dominant political phenomenon of the past forty years has been democratization, the transition from nondemocratic to democratic regimes in various parts of the world—in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and many areas of Asia and Africa. In more recent times, the growth and shift from military to hybrid or “transitional” regimes, especially in Africa, has sparked considerable interest; hence it is no surprise that various labels have been coined for these democracies, including hybrid regimes, semiconsolidated authoritarian democracies, partial democracies, defective democracies, competitive authoritarianism, and electoral authoritarianism, just to mention a few.
The end of the cold war posed a fundamental challenge to authoritarian regimes. Single-party and military dictatorships collapsed throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the late 1980s and 1990s. The type of political system that emerged was not democratic because elections were often manipulated: there was unfair media access and constant abuse of state resources. As a yardstick for measurement, regimes are considered democratic if they hold free, fair, and open elections for all the principal positions of political power. [End Page 109]
A query ensues: with many countries shifting away from authoritarian to hybrid regimes, how do we distinguish hybrid regimes from democracies? Three clear distinctions have been suggested: first, elections are biased toward the ruling government (that is, state resources are used to promote the...