Defend Truth


There is no way the Ugandan elections can be declared free and fair – yet the AU and SA stay silent


Mmusi Maimane is leader of Build One SA.

History will judge this South African government and the African Union for their silence in this moment. To continually side with oppressive leaders does not serve the needs of the continent and creates far more adverse prospects for the region.

The recent elections in Uganda, where Bobi Wine (38) ran against Yoweri Museveni (76), were a stark reminder of our democratic regression and that the one-time liberators can quickly turn to dictators who undermine freedom and the right to free and fair elections.

What we have witnessed in recent times in many African states is that democratic rights are not guaranteed, and that Africa still has a long way to go in the democratic project. One could even argue that Africa is regressing in the journey towards democracy. We have seen atrocities taking place in Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia at the hands of heads of state who seek to stay in power at any cost.  

A number of years ago. I was introduced to Bobi Wine. We agreed to work together in creating a network of opposition leaders on the continent – many of whom are effectively modern-day freedom fighters against the tyranny of dictators and military regimes in Africa.

These are men and women committed to ensuring that the continent upholds human rights, ensures democracies thrive in their nation and that elections are free and fair – with media that works to support transparency and democracy. We are also committed to building a new generation of leaders who would not need to be held captive by the brotherhood of comrades that has become the African Union (AU). The AU is effectively an old boys’ club of presidents who no longer protect human rights but turn a blind eye to atrocities. We have been working together since then to seek out the best ways to uphold democracy.

Since I met him, I have known Bobi to be a man of passion, vision and integrity. I have been following these elections closely since he announced that he was running for president. What I have observed has been two years of brutality and repression at the hands of the Museveni regime. There is no way that these elections can be declared free and fair.

It is clear that the government of Uganda has done everything in its power to frustrate the legitimate aspirations of its people. What has bothered me the most has been the silence of the AU. It has the duty and the authority to speak up and yet it has remained criminally silent. This, despite the United Nations issuing a statement of concern outlining that there were significant human rights abuses in Uganda.

In addition, several observer missions outlined that they were not able to get the right levels of accreditation for their observer missions, and many of those groups withdrew from the process. As all of this was going on, the internet was shut down and social media platforms were blocked in an attempt to stop the flow of information and hide what was happening. The AU was still nowhere to be found. The great tragedy is that such an attitude of silence and non-intervention is the DNA of the AU.

History will judge this South African government and the AU for their silence in this moment. To continually side with oppressive leaders does not serve the needs of the continent and creates far more adverse prospects for the region.

When I was in Parliament, I asked Jacob Zuma a question about human rights violations in Zambia and Sudan. His response was predictably classic: South Africa ought to respect sovereignty and allow those nations to determine their own course of action. Not only did it insist on ignoring atrocities, but the Zuma government aided and abetted dictators, such as helping Omar al-Bashir – who was wanted by the ICC for war crimes – to escape accountability, in violation of South Africa’s own laws.

To this day, the South African government turns a blind eye to the conduct of Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa – a dictator who is jailing journalists like Hopewell Chin’ono and consistently attacking the opposition. The mayor of the capital city, Harare, the spokesperson for the MDC Alliance and student activists are all in jail.

Our government seems to have only one foreign policy position, which is solidarity with liberation movements and quiet diplomacy, even in the face of atrocities. This position must be challenged. Sovereignty is not recognised for its own sake and for the service of the interests of dictators. If and when regimes act against their own people, they cannot and should not be allowed to hide behind the veil of sovereignty. There are times when it is important to save those who live next door to you from abuse.

History will judge this South African government and the AU for their silence in this moment. To continually side with oppressive leaders does not serve the needs of the continent and creates far more adverse prospects for the region.

My concern is that these human rights violations are only going to get worse as more young people express dissatisfaction with the status quo. At first, countries begin with unfair elections, and soon we will end up with civil war. The youth will not stop, and radical options will inevitably be pursued. This is how we got to the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon.

What we need in response to the Ugandan elections is a continental level response similar to that during the 2016 Gambia elections. I happened to be in Senegal and, in my conversation with the president of Gambia, it was evident how quickly democracy can falter. He had won an election and the incumbent was refusing to concede or to vacate. The leadership of Ecowas and that of Olusegun Obasanjo affirmed what I believe the role ought to be of these bodies, that when democracy delivers an outcome, people must vacate office and a peaceful transition of power must take place. A military exercise was initiated from the region and the incumbent, Yahya Jammeh, was removed after being in government for 20 years. This was decisive action and accountability. I am grateful for such actions and endorse them.

Our pandemic in Africa has been poor leadership across the continent. The silence and inaction of the AU is an indictment on its capacity to connect with the youth. This is not just about one election, it’s about the integrity of the AU moving forward. DM


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  • Sydney Kaye says:

    By staying silent, at least they are not hypocrites. Unlike the US state department which had the chutzpah to query those elections.

  • Sergio CPT says:

    The disgusting and shameful reality that is our pathetic anc government in just about every way. From day 1 they sprout democracy, ubuntu and human rights but close ranks with pariahs, who have no regard for such values and positively assist in repression, misery, poverty and violence. We are basically anti-West, but bosom buddies with Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, China, Iran etc. How different Southern Africa would have been if we had stood up to Mugabe at his first stolen election!! Instead we embraced him, molly-coddling a murderous dictator and betrayed all and sundry as we dare not criticise a liberation movement. As for the AU – another pathetic, inept, hypocritical and compromised bunch of halfwits – just like our anc government. As if this wasn’t enough, we are also governed in SA by a criminal, corrupt and predatory government!

    • M D Fraser says:

      ……and we let Omar al-Bashir go free, back to Sudan. to mention only one more “atrocity”.
      It’s all around us in Africa, true democracy is not. has not and never will be, applicable in Africa.
      Having said that, what’s happening in USA speaks volumes too. Quo Vadis civilization ?

    • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

      I’m with you 100%. The anc is most likely the absolute worst of the lot. Seen as liberators, but in fact are more like exterminators of democracy and (quiet?) supporters of looting and dictators across the continent.

  • Christopher Campbell says:

    The CIA are calling the shots but at least the ANC should have made an utterance against the violence. Unfortunately they were busy hosing down disabled people queuing in Cape Town.

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