Recognizing that stability and democracy go hand-in-hand in Uganda

Living in Uganda and working in a government that provides durability and progress in a complex and sometimes insecure region, I look forward to a time when the international community’s common perception of Africa allows for recognition that stability and democracy go hand-in-hand, and to meddle in one can surely upend the other.

Africa today is home to close to one-and-half billion people — comparable with China or India. I am convinced those Western diplomats and representatives dedicated to observing our continent of 54 different nations and thousands of languages are working as hard as they can. Yet I remain astonished by how scant is resource assigned by Western nations led by the United States to support, collaborate and — most importantly — understand our multitude of cultures, attitudes and governments.

The fact remains that in this new age of rising tensions between the world’s great powers, there is increasing attention focused by the West on nations in the east. With resources elsewhere, there are too few knowledgeable Africa-watching policy experts or trained Western media located on the ground to accurately understand and report back.

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This leaves the flow — and control — of information on Africa matters reaching the ears of policy makers increasingly in the hands of Western-funded NGOs and special interests in Washington, D.C., and London. They do not come armed with neutrality but their own special agendas. In turn, with a dearth of responsible Western media reporting, what counts as African news is to blindly trust anyone with a cellphone and a Twitter handle as a credible source.

I have long suspected different standards in reporting are applied to African governments. For example,last year the government of Uganda, faced with an escalating spike in coronavirus cases, took the decision to implement a full national lockdown. This decision was not taken lightly, but with the experience of Uganda’s highly successful deployment of lockdowns to cauterize Ebola virus outbreaks in the past.

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Later in the year, however, the story was all over Twitter and the Internet that the government was using coronavirus restrictions only to halt campaigning by the opposition. This is untrue. As a country we had a choice: go ahead with the election whilst simultaneously lift all COVID restrictions; postpone the vote; or try to find a middle way — where campaigning continued with limitations to contain the virus.

In fact, the day before official campaigning commenced, the threshold for public gatherings was raised from 70 to 200 to allow some semblance of normality during the contest. But this trade-off still had unfortunate consequences: a spike in infections clearly coincided with the cycle of the election.