Uganda is among the African countries characterized by high levels of politico-military fusion. In 1986, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), led by President Yoweri Museveni, assumed power after winning a five-year guerrilla war. NRM’s takeover was a continuation of an established tradition in which military means such as coups d’état, guerrilla wars, and military schemes had been used to effect regime changes since Uganda’s independence from the British in 1962. From its inception as a guerrilla force, the NRM’s military commanders, including Yoweri Museveni, doubled as political leaders, and Uganda is the only country in Africa where the military has official representation in the national assembly. Additionally, several military officers serve in the executive while others have been appointed to head numerous government departments that are ideally of civilian pursuit. Moreover, many significant political decisions, including constitutional amendments intended to facilitate Museveni’s presidency for life, were in essence determined in the context of a military atmosphere at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi (central Uganda). The military, the police, and other paramilitary structures are the bedrock of the NRM’s long-term grip on power and have played profound roles in President Museveni’s “victories” in the five presidential elections (1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016) in which he has competed. Thus, the presidency, the ruling party, and the military essentially function as a single entity. The wider society equally attaches high sociopolitical value to military culture, sustaining the shared mentality that military credentials are crucial in politics. Ultimately, an analysis of Uganda’s politico-military fusion contributes to our understanding of the militarization of politics and the general character of governments that emerged out of guerrilla wars in Africa and beyond.
Aymar Nyenyezi Bisoka
The study of politics in the African Great Lakes region is not exempt from the epistemological hardships that often accompany the study of Africa more broadly: dehistoricization and simplification, analogies with the West, a decontextualized miserabilism, and poverty porn. Internal political processes, often visible from a bottom-up perspective, allow us to understand sociopolitical transformation and the meanings that local citizens give to them. In the case of the Great Lakes region, it is a question of understanding the complexity of politics through an articulation of the historical heritage in the longue durée, the strategies adopted by the elites in power, and the national, regional, and international strategies that influence them. It is necessary to abandon an analogic, exotic, culturalist, or romantic point of view that represents a way of understanding African dynamics that still bears the legacy of colonialism. Such an improved framework calls for a rigorous analysis comparing different ideological visions and theories of realities with the reality on the ground in the Great Lakes region.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has generated considerable controversy since it came into force in 2002, principally because of its overriding focus on African conflict situations and suspects. This has led to accusations that the ICC is a neocolonial meddler in African affairs, wielding undue and unaccountable influence over the domestic political arena. Drawing on the author’s field research in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2006 this article contends that the neocolonialism critique of the ICC exaggerates the power of the Court while underestimating the capacity of African states to use the ICC to their own ends. Delivering distanced justice from The Hague with limited expertise on African societies and spending scant time in the field, the ICC has failed to grapple sufficiently with complex political dynamics “on the ground.” Combined with the Court’s heavy reliance on state cooperation, these factors have enabled African governments to use the ICC to target their political and military enemies while protecting themselves from prosecution. This has also emboldened African states in continuing to commit atrocity crimes against civilians, especially during periods of mass conflict and fraught national elections. While claiming to hover above the political fray, the ICC has become heavily politicized and instrumentalized by African states, with lasting and damaging consequences for the practice of national politics across Africa. To avoid being willfully used by African governments, the ICC must bolster its political expertise and become politically savvier. Rather than claiming to be neutral while hovering above the domestic terrain, the ICC must embrace its inherently political nature and deliver justice in a way that improves rather than undermines the practice of national and community-level politics across Africa.