Democracy Lab Weekly Highlights, April 13, 2012

In "Pictures at a Revolution," Luke Allnutt explores how visualizations of social media data can help to track the dynamics of social upheaval.

Oliver Kaplan and Michael Albertus argue that land reform holds the key to drying out the drug trade in Latin America.

In his weekly column, Christian Caryl wonders whether the planners of NATO intervention in Libya paid sufficient attention to the possible side-effects of their actions.

And Greg Rushford explains why state-owned enterprises in Vietnam (see photo above) and Malaysia are holding back economic development in the region.

And from our blogs:

Jackee Budesta Batanda sees a political awakening among young people in Uganda.

Endy Bayuni examines the growing dysfunction of political institutions in Indonesia.

Franciso Toro reflects on the unlikely tale of a chavista's fall from grace.

Min Zin analyzes Aung San Suu Kyi's options as she and her National League for Democracy enter parliament in Burma.

Mohamed El Dahshan asseses the Muslim Brotherhood's attempt to monopolize the drafting of the next Egyptian constitution.

And now for this week's recommended reads:

In his article "Leave Room for the Unbelievers," Commentator Hussein Ibish explains why the Arab Spring has yet to fulfill the promise of genuine religious freedom.

Washington Post commentator Fred Hiatt criticizes U.S. President Barack Obama for not doing enough to defend pro-democracy movements around the world.

In its latest survey of the prospects for economic development in Asia, the Asian Development Bank arrives at the conclusion that rising inequality is the biggest threat to the region's prosperity.

In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, John Stifton of Human Rights Watch takes Malaysia's prime minister to task for claiming that other Southeast Asian countries can take the credit for recent reforms in Burma. The International Crisis Group offers a handy overview of the past year of political change in that country.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released its second report on the gulag system in North Korea.

Alex Thurston, author of Sahel Blog, argues that NATO's intervention in Libya was a mistake.

Chinese novelist Ma Jian assails the British government for its decision to invite Beijing's censor-in-chief to the London Book Fair.

And in a piece for FP's AfPak Channel, Anjana Ravi and Eric Tyler describe how "mobile money" can help to combat corruption in Afghanistan. 


Democracy Lab

What is Museveni afraid of?

Questioning the change Yoweri Museveni promised Ugandans when he seized power in 1986, two university students, Ibrahim Bagaya and Doreen Nyanjura, have written a book, Is this the Fundamental Change?, juxtaposing Museveni's speeches with Uganda's present realities. A scheduled book launch for April 11 in Constitutional Square, the heart of the capital of Kampala, did not take place, however. In a scenario now common in Uganda, Bagaya and Nyanjura were arrested and detained for "inciting violence." While political rallies in Constitutional Square are banned, police have denied receiving a letter from the organizers informing them of their scheduled gathering. The police say they will press charges against the students.

The book -- with a foreword by the Hon. Nandala Mafabi, leader of the opposition in parliament -- is widely seen as anti-government. In Uganda, writing a book critical of the president or ruling party is considered by the authorities to be synonymous with inciting violence.

These latest events mark a growing trend of Ugandans writing books critiquing the Museveni regime. The government response in all these cases has been to arrest the authors, thus bringing them untold fame and actually publicizing and popularizing the books in question, which otherwise might not have sold many copies.

The book release was scheduled to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the formation of Activists for Change (A4C), the pressure group behind the "Walk to Work" protests against rising food and fuel prices. Early last week, Attorney General Peter Nyombi invoked the Penal Code Act and banned the group, a move highly criticized by civil society groups.

But government suppression of dissent is only making the people involved more determined, and also wins them public sympathy. Clearly, it is the issues that lure people to join demonstrations that need to be addressed: Until the people see government commitment to improving basic services and infrastructure, disgruntlement will continue to grow.

In a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing, there are more and more angry young people. Uganda's Daily Monitor ran an article on the number of unemployed in the country, arguing that they are a ticking time bomb for the establishment. There is also a great discrepancy in wealth between those who fought in the liberation war and those who did not.

While the government is investing more in the security forces (reports show that Uganda has, for the first time, exceeded Kenya in military spending), it is doing very little when it comes to providing services for the people and improving infrastructure. (The current state of public infrastructure in this country is appalling).

For years the youth were told about the "bad days" of previous regimes. But this rhetoric is like a history book sitting on a shelf gathering dust. For many of the Museveni generation (those born after 1986), given the state of hopelessness many of them face, the "bad days" are now. Indeed, this appears to be the most challenging time of Museveni's presidency. Protests are increasing. Many Ugandans with no personal memory of the previous regimes understand that they are being led down the road. They are growing more critical of the government and want to see the state of affairs improve. They want change.

Last year, Vincent Nzaramba was arrested for writing a book calling for the President to leave power. Now, with Ibrahim Bagaya and Doreen Nyanjura joining the fray, one only wonders how many more young people are becoming critical and penning their views.

For some time, Ugandans believed the younger generation was apolitical, but these events should serve to change our minds. They are only the beginnings of growing political activism among the previously disinterested youth.