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Democracy in East Africa loses out as governments battle opposition 0

A look at the region’s political scene reveals the grim struggle between those in power and those who oppose them, in a way that augurs ill for the political pluralism they have all subscribed to, at least on paper. The gap between the written constitutional provisions, which set up multi-party dispensations, and what happens on the ground grows wider every year.

In Kenya, the opposition, led by lynchpin Raila Odinga of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), has locked horns with President Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee coalition on the former’s insistence on the reform of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which the opposition claims is biased in favour of the ruling coalition.

So far, some deaths have occurred from police shooting during demonstrations called by Mr Odinga and his supporters to force President Kenyatta to agree to a negotiated settlement of the matter.

Apart from the wrangle over the electoral body, Mr Odinga has appended other issues for discussion, including what he terms rampant corruption and ethnically biased appointments to government positions.

On its part, the presidential coalition, which includes Deputy President William Ruto, has vacillated between a hard stance and conciliation, stating that the opposition is free to continue with its demonstrations, but that police would take stern action against offenders, a grim warning when people have already been shot.

In Uganda, the epic struggle between President Yoweri Museveni and his erstwhile comrade Kizza Besigye of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) shows no sign of letting up.

President Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, has consistently roughed up any opposition to his tenacious hold on power. Dr Besigye, who was with President Museveni in the bush and served as his personal physician, has been the latter’s nemesis, refusing to buckle under incessant police beatings, incarceration and house arrest.

After the last election in February, which was officially won by President Museveni, Dr Besigye was once again subjected to harassment as he sought the nullification of the results. In a farcical gesture, the “Colonel Daktari” as he is nicknamed, Dr Besigye organised his own swearing-in ceremony proclaiming him “president” and is now facing treason charges.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame remains the unchallenged chief of the political pecking order, and his Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) controls most of the power.

The opposition has generally been pushed into exile, with some of the president’s closest former allies, who came into power with him after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, in self-exile abroad from where they mount propaganda campaigns against him.

The opposition that remains in the country is weak and inconsequential; some of its leaders have been co-opted into government in accordance with a formula agreed in the Arusha Accord of 1993.

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By Jenerali Ulimwengu

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi