New NGO bill shows dictatorial democracy.


New NGO bill shows dictatorial democracy.

‘Political freedom is not only about majority-vote elections but also about checks on the power of government to abuse individuals’; this is according to William Easterly in his latest book The Tyranny of Experts.

In a hybrid democratic system like Uganda where political competition, let alone government, is skewed towards regime survival, civil societies (particularly NGOs, the media and academia) become central pillars to undertake due diligence and check on the excesses of the ruling elites.

The political events in countries under the fangs of dictatorship or struggling to build democratic systems after years of tyranny – Uganda, Ethiopia, Burma, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, etc – point to a narrative sourced from the same ideologue intended to achieve nothing less of ‘limiting civil society spaces to mobilize and engage citizens’.

The recently-tabled Non-Governmental Organisations Bill 2015 in Uganda is clearly scripted from the NGO laws in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Here, the ruling command instituted a stern state-led grip over the registration and engagements of civil society organisations.

The proposed Ugandan bill is bent on positioning the state regulatory agency to close down NGOs without recourse to court or any tribunal, especially those that fall in the category of rights, accountability and good governance advocates.

The perennial recourse to legislation as a panacea to regime illegitimacy is a growing syndrome characterized by enactment of laws that aim to clamp down citizens who aspire to freely express themselves and associate.

Regimes in countries like Uganda whose ascension and hold onto power is characterized as ‘takeover’ and associated with questionable democratic processes are always threatened by organic civic spaces.

As an active participant in civil society, and in particular rights advocacy, I am witness to the fact that the rulers in this country are apathetic to anything ‘civil’. In its simplest form, civil is tolerance of divergent viewpoints.

You don’t have to go beyond the citizens’ compact on free and fair elections as well as the proposed Non-Governmental Organisations (amendment)Bill 2015 to appreciate the indifference of the ruling clique.

Over the last three years, civil society in Uganda has strongly repositioned its approach by directly developing initiatives that build synergy with political parties and directly engage citizens.

First, it was the Black Monday movement that saw the regime and its corrupt elements on their toes; this was quickly followed up with the campaign on free and fair elections whose compact presents citizens proposals on what needs to be done to have a free, fair and credible electoral process. In countries like Uganda, the ruling elites assume monopoly over the public policy process. They subsequently adopt that individuals that question and raise alternateive viewpoints on governance and public policy processes are regime opponents or sympathizers to the opposition.

While the regimes here, just like in other classical examples – Ethiopia, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Senegal – have managed to enact restrictive legal regimes, they have been unable to completely eliminate citizen organizing.

As regimes narrow the civic spaces, citizens find alternative spaces and sophisticated methodologies to engage and reclaim their spaces through possible means.

These legislations aimed at suffocating civil society organizing are a sign of unproductive longevity of a regime whose actions are suspect and quality of service delivery questionable. Unfortunately for the regime and fortunately for civil society, the impetus to narrow civic spaces is instead a motivating factor which affirms impact and relevancy. It’s a matter of time.

The author is a policy analyst and associate at the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies.