Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, September 21, 2012

Jared Bissinger explains why Burma's opening isn't necessarily the great economic opportunity it's chalked up to be.

Fadil Aliriza tracks the institutional reasons for the disillusionment of Tunisia's revolutionaries.

Cenk Sidar takes a critical look at the progress of economic reform in Turkey.

Christian Caryl examines the tension between democratic ideals and nationalist sentiment in China and Japan's fight over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Jeffrey Tayler offers an inside view from Moscow's latest mass protest against Vladimir Putin.

Former Tahrir Square protestor Sarah Naguib writes an emotional open letter lamenting the failures of Egypt's revolution.

Endy Bayuni takes a look at the uniquely Indonesian response to the controversial film Innocence of Muslims.

Jackee Batanda compares the two sides of Uganda's eventful summer.

And in this week's historical case study from Princeton's Innovations for Successful Societies, Richard Bennet lays out a community approach to challenging gangs in South Africa. 

And here are this week's recommended reads:

The latest Freedom House Countries at the Crossroads report finds declines in governance around the world. Freedom House analyst Vanessa Tucker gives a close reading of the results.

GlobalPost reports on the life and death of three Syrian rebels. The Economist provides a situation report on the war. And Nir Rosen covers a rare inside look at the pro-Assad Alawites of Syria. (The image above shows pro-government forces outside the damaged citadel in the city of Aleppo.)

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Will McCants presents an insightful look into the thinking behind the new ultraconservative Salafi movements in the Middle East.

Activist Dai Quing explains the limits of public protest in China. 

The Henry Jackson Society unveils a new project to promote awareness of pro-democracy activism in Russia.

The Guardian reports an intriguing comparison of data on the role of women in peace treaties. The paper also reports on Peruvian farmers who are using innovative "fog catchers" to combat the country's water scarcity.


Democracy Lab

Uganda: a summer of contradictions

Uganda seems to thrive on contradictions. A couple of weeks ago, we were celebrating Uganda's second-ever Olympic gold by the hitherto unknown athlete Stephen Kiprotich, who broke the 40-year-wait since Uganda's previous gold. For many of us, he was the salvation from the negative press we were receiving in the international media regarding the Ebola outbreak earlier in the summer -- and how poorly it was handled. However, on the same day of Kiprotich's win, a team from the Uganda People's Defense Forces, part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping troops in Somalia, crashed into Mt. Kenya; they were on their way to launch an assault on the al-Shabaab Islamic militant group operating in Somalia. Several versions of the crash have come out, but we still await the final version of what exactly happened.

As to be expected, that day we all participated in the excitement of Kiprotich's win. The state-owned newspaper launched a cash drive to reward Kiprotich as the nation's hero; President Museveni also rewarded Kiprotich in cash and promised to construct a three-bedroom house for his parents. Kiprotich has also since been promoted from his position as prison warder to assistant superintendent.

Meanwhile, a team of underprivileged 11-year-old boys from Lugazi, a small town in eastern Uganda, also made history this year as the first African team ever to compete in the Little League Baseball World Series. The team won accolades and brought more positive publicity to Uganda. While the boys received much attention in international media, their success was hardly recognized in Uganda, according to the Ugandan newspaper The Independent.

That same month, in August, while we were still basking in this sports victory, Transparency International, in its 2012 East African Bribery Index, named Uganda the most corrupt country in the East African region. We weren't surprised by this survey. It only confirmed what we've been seeing all along: funds mismanaged with little or no political will to apprehend the culprits.

The icing on this bitter cake is that, according to a police investigation, over 63 billion Ugandan shillings were paid to 1,000 ghost pensioners. Ghosts are synonymous with Uganda's Civil Service, which has been plagued with non-existant ghost teachers, ghost soldiers, and ghost voters. The pensioners are the latest ghosts to be recruited into the process of embezzlement from the state under the guise of public transfer programs.

It was also no great shock when, three days ago, The Daily Monitor, a local newspaper, reported that the child victims of nodding disease in northern Uganda were being fed rotten food provided by the Office of the Prime Minister, which has been in the press due to massive corruption scandals. The Office's principal accountant was arrested last month for embezzlement and fraud, exposing the inner rot plaguing the department.

Meanwhile, President Museveni is alleged to have stormed out of a meeting with members of parliament after MPs asked him why the government had failed to fix the ailing health sector. The Daily Monitor reports that the president had sworn not to sacrifice the defense budget for anything else. The meeting had been held to encourage MPs from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), who hold the majority in parliament, to pass the 2012/2013 national budget. The MPs insisted on additional spending for the health sector before passing the budget.

The contradictions continue with the news that a 19 year-old girl, Proscovia Alengot Oromait, won the parliamentary by-election in September for the small constituency of Usuk on an NRM ticket. Because the vote was marred by massive violence, some are saying that the election results were delivered to Alengot on a bloody plate. While she may go down in history as the youngest MP in Uganda, and perhaps even Africa, many are skeptical of her ability to capably represent her constituents.

Next month, Uganda celebrates 50 years of independence. As we approach the 9 October celebration date, I suggest that we all harness our energies to make sure that the positive stories outweigh the bad ones.

Jackee's twitter handle is @jackeebatanda

Photo by AFP/Stringer