Guest post: Will Uganda's protests play out like Egypt or Libya?

FP alum Michael Wilkerson on the latest from Uganda:

The government response to Uganda's ongoing "Walk to Work" protests took a sinister turn today when opposition leader Kizza Besigye was violently dragged from his car and arrested. Security officers first broke the windows of the car, and then sprayed in pepper spray and/or tear gas to force the occupants out.

This is the fourth time Besigye has been arrested since the protests started on April 11, encouraging people to walk to work in solidarity as a protest against rising commodity prices and a lack of government response. At least five civilians have been killed as the government responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and, often live fire. Besigye himself is still wearing a cast after being shot in the finger with a rubber bullet during the first protest. This arrest, however, was by far the most violent.

The first three times, Besigye was actually walking when arrested, though after being arrested the first time immediately outside his house, he used his car to drive closer to downtown Kampala the second and third times. According to the Associated Press, today, Besigye got out of his car briefly and then got back in when police and military officers rushed toward him, precipitating the scene in the video.

Besigye, head of the FDC political party, has been the leading opposition candidate against President Yoweri Museveni in elections in 2001, 2006, and 2011. In the elections this February, Besigye received 26 percent  of the vote to Museveni's 68 percent. Museveni, now in his 25th year at the helm, was widely expected to win the elections this year, but took no chances. Hundreds of millions of dollars in state resources seem to have been diverted to Museveni's campaign, and despite U.S. requests to the contrary, Museveni reappointed the same Electoral Commission widely regarded as either biased or incompetent after Uganda's 2006 vote.

Fearing protests like those in North Africa, the government directed mobile phone companies the day before the election to block text messages with words or phrases they feared, including Mubarak and Egypt. Massive army deployments, allegedly to protect against a terror threat like the Al-Shabab bombings in Kampala last July, were also used to suppress any thought of opposition demonstrations.

Though Besigye did indeed call for mass protests after the election results, they did not materialize, probably due to the military intimidation. Now, however, Uganda has had sharp increases in fuel and food prices due to drought and international oil fluctuations, and the opposition seized the opportunity to mobilize public dissatisfaction. The design of the Walk to Work protests also makes it harder for the government to vilify than protests rejecting election results. Each time Besigye is on foot, however, massive crowds gather and the government has used this as the reason for arrest, saying he was blocking traffic.

During the first week of protests, the government itself tried to take a page from the Egypt handbook and sent a letter to internet service providers on April 13 instructing them to block Facebook and "Tweeter (sic)" for 24 hours. TV stations were also ordered not to carry live footage of the protests. Before this most recent arrest, the U.S. State Department issued a statement of concern about the violent response to peaceful protests and the attempt to restrict access to internet or other media.

But while the protests are getting more attention for the opposition, they don't necessarily mean progress. Melina Platas points out the opposition's lack of cohesion or ideology, and uncertain outcome of the protests:

[I]f the state (read: Museveni) appears in disarray, so too does the movement opposing it. Anger, not vision, drives people to the streets. Not one Uganda, one people, but one Besigye who has been brutalized. The campaign is still more anti-Museveni than pro-anything.

As Andrew Mwenda says, Uganda is barreling down a highway, facing four exits: Exit Saudi Arabia, where protests go to die, Exit Yemen where stalemate prevails, Exit Egypt with transformative revolution, and Exit Libya, where civil war reigns.

Note that there is no exit in which Museveni decides to step down peacefully and retire anytime soon.

Follow Michael on Twitter at @MJWilkerson


China publishes foreign aid strategy

Over at Xinhua you can check out the full text of the Chinese government's new "white paper" on foreign aid strategy. Claire Provost has a good write-up at the Guardian, suggesting that the paper is aimed at dispelling the notion that China's aid efforts in the developing world are merely a ploy to secure natural resources. That certainly how Chinese officials are selling it: 

On Tuesday, the Chinese vice-commerce minister, Fu Ziying, said foreign aid to Africa was motivated by solidarity. He pointed to China's role in constructing the Tanzania-Zambia railway, which was financed by a $500m interest-free loan from Beijing between 1970 and 1975. "Just as western countries abandoned newly independent Africa, the Chinese came," said Fu. "Sixty nine sacrificed their lives and thousands laboured with the Tanzanian and Zambian people. Why? For friendship."

Of course this was during a period when China was more interested in bolstering ideological allies than obtaining resources. Indeed, the white paper begins its summary of the history of China's aid efforts by noting that "China's foreign aid began in 1950, when it provided material assistance to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Vietnam."

Here's how the white paper defines the thinking behind Beijing's current efforts:

- Unremittingly helping recipient countries build up their self-development capacity. Practice has proved that a country's development depends mainly on its own strength. In providing foreign aid, China does its best to help recipient countries to foster local personnel and technical forces, build infrastructure, and develop and use domestic resources, so as to lay a foundation for future development and embarkation on the road of self-reliance and independent development.

- Imposing no political conditions. China upholds the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, respects recipient countries' right to independently select their own path and model of development, and believes that every country should explore a development path suitable to its actual conditions. China never uses foreign aid as a means to interfere in recipient countries' internal affairs or seek political privileges for itself.

- Adhering to equality, mutual benefit and common development. China maintains that foreign aid is mutual help between developing countries, focuses on practical effects, accommodates recipient countries' interests, and strives to promote friendly bilateral relations and mutual benefit through economic and technical cooperation with other developing countries.

- Remaining realistic while striving for the best. China provides foreign aid within the reach of its abilities in accordance with its national conditions. Giving full play to its comparative advantages, China does its utmost to tailor its aid to the actual needs of recipient countries.

- Keeping pace with the times and paying attention to reform and innovation. China adapts its foreign aid to the development of both domestic and international situations, pays attention to summarizing experiences, makes innovations in the field of foreign aid, and promptly adjusts and reforms the management mechanism, so as to constantly improve its foreign aid work.

As Provost notes, the paper doesn't do much to address the international criticism of a lack of tranparency in China's aid efforts. Here's the closest it provides to a breakdown: 

By the end of 2009, China had aided 161 countries and more than 30 international and regional organizations, including 123 developing countries that receive aid from China regularly. Of them, 30 are in Asia, 51 in Africa, 18 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 12 in Oceania and 12 in Eastern Europe. Asia and Africa, home to the largest poor population, have got about 80% of China' s foreign aid.  

Which specific countries are receiving aid in what amounts and for what projects is still a little murky. 


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