The World Today for May 14, 2024

NEED TO KNOW

Naming and Shaming

UGANDA

Barred from staging street protests, Ugandans are leveraging social media to shine a light on the misdeeds of their corrupt and incompetent leaders. The latest online protest, or “exhibition,” is trending under #UgandaParliamentExhibition on X (formerly Twitter), and it details how bureaucrats are abusing public funds, committing nepotism, and other graft while the landlocked East African country’s infrastructure crumbles.

Recent posts, for example, revealed how the Speaker of the Parliament, Anita Among, an ally of autocratic President Yoweri Museveni, received almost $900,000 in per diems for foreign trips she did not take – “an astonishing amount in a country struggling to implement its budget amid persistent revenue shortfalls,” the Associated Press reported.

The campaigns have been rattling Ugandan officials, Africa News noted, especially after it led to a probe by the country’s Inspector General of Government, which investigates corruption.

“The digital activism revolution has been huge,” Agather Atuhaire, a Ugandan journalist and community activist, told Al Jazeera, adding that the online protests have been successful in exposing nepotism and corruption in a country where the media is restricted, intimidated and bribed. “It’s a new thing. I think that’s why the authorities must be worried about it – there’s nothing they can do about it.”

Museveni has been in office for 38 years. He and his ruling political party, the National Resistance Movement, nominally restored multiparty politics in Uganda in 2005. But the country nonetheless remained a one-party state dominated by the ruling party. All other opposition political party organizations today are in disarray, added the Africa Report, noting that the president would likely run again in 2026 for a term that would extend his total time in office to 45 years.

Meanwhile, the party’s opponents – or anyone who deviates from Museveni’s conservative ideology – face violence and oppression. Ugandan cartoonist Jim Spire Ssentongo, who has started some of these “exhibitions” – initially via humorous campaigns targeting potholes – has been summoned by police for cyberstalking and had threats on his life. Atuhaire says she’s been threatened, too.

Both remain in the country, unlike prominent activist Steven Kabuye, who ran the advocacy group Coloured Voice Truth to LGBTQ Uganda, and who has asked for asylum in Canada after government thugs allegedly attacked him, according to the Washington Blade. Uganda levies harsh punishments against homosexuality, including life imprisonment for consensual same-sex conduct, Human Rights Watch noted.

As World Politics Review explained, Museveni has maintained this oppressive system by doling out the country’s riches to retain the support of the elites whom he needs to maintain his regime. Now, however, this practice has alienated ordinary Ugandans who must deal with their country’s problems while their leaders make off like bandits.

#UgandaParliamentExhibition and other online protests are airing this frustration in public – and emboldening the public.

For example, Ugandan media have refused to transmit Museveni’s message to the nation on the importance of participating in the country’s census, saying the government is not paying for the service, the BBC reported. State regulators have mandated that the media broadcast the message for free, but media outlets feel able now to ignore the rules.

And, for instance, when senior British officials recently congratulated Uganda’s new defense chief, Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba – Museveni’s son – over the appointment, human rights activists and others immediately criticized the move, embarrassing both sides. Kainerugaba allegedly tortured Ugandans who spoke out against his boss-father, wrote the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Uganda’s international allies are not necessarily pleased with the state of things in the country. Because of human rights concerns, the US this year has excluded Uganda from a trade assistance program, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), that allows thousands of duty-free exports into the US, a rebuff heavily criticized by Ugandan officials, VOA reported.

And the United Kingdom imposed sanctions on three Ugandan lawmakers late last month, accusing them of corruption – including parliamentary speaker Among, who had received the $900,000 in per diems for the fake trips.

“The UK is sending a clear message to those who think benefiting at the expense of others is acceptable,” said the UK’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrew Mitchell after the sanctions were announced. “The actions of these individuals, in taking aid from those who need it most, and keeping the proceeds, is corruption at its worst and has no place in society.”

He added: “Corruption has consequences and you will be held responsible.”

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