Wednesday, March 30, 2005

No Congregating in the Halls. . .

That was what security guards always used to yell at us in high school. Those were the good old days . . . A controversy over free association is developing in Uganda. Right now, the nation is transitioning from a de facto one party state to true multi-party politics, and that is causing a number of headaches. Especially for those in power. One particularly thorny spot involves President Museveni, and whether or not he should enter President-for-Life territory and be allowed a third term. Demonstrations and rallies were planned both for and against the issue of term limits and Museveni's third term, but apparently so far Internal Affairs Minister Rugunda, of the incumbent force known eerily as "the Movement" hasn't cleared them. And yes, demonstrations have to be cleared in Uganda. His logic:

Rugunda said as the country enters the period of political transition to full multiparty politics, it is crucial that while our people play a more active role in determining the future course of the enjoyment of democratic governance, they do so in an organised manner consistent with the Public Good.

Citing the two public demonstrations - one of them pro, the other against, the third term - Rugunda said, the Movement is committed and has demonstrated its political will to achieve a peaceful political transition.

"Now that the two parties to the constitutional amendment contention have expressed their opinions through public debate and demonstrations, the conduct of a multiplicity of public demonstrations is not necessary. In fact it could be a recipe for disturbance of law and order," he added.

Ugandans, especially those planning the demonstrations, are predictably upset about this. Some talk of going on with their demonstrations anyway. But this is about more than a couple of protests. It suggests how we define a democracy globally as well. Is a democracy just elections? Is a democracy defined by multiparty politics? Is a democracy defined by civil liberties such as free speech, legal equality, and in this case freedom of association? Should a state be able to decide these things and regulate such uses of political space? As the Fourth Wave of democracy continues to sweep the world and despots, Presidents-for-Life, and one-party political monopolies are swept aside the obvious parts of a democracy are established. But that's the easy part. Forging the civil society and political space necessary to reinvigorate and push the machine forward are the hard part.