Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Uganda "8th most democratic in Africa"

Uganda is one of the 10 most democratic countries in Africa, according to a survey by a Germany research firm.

The German Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation Index put Uganda at number eight out of 38 African countries. The firm analyses the quality of democracy, market economics and political management in 125 developing countries across the world. Areas examined are political participation, the rule of law, stability and democratic institutions, political and social transformation as well as economic performance, competition, currency and price stability, welfare regime and sustainability. “It is beyond dispute that the government has achieved an extensive reconstruction and economic recovery following an almost complete economic collapse,” the report notes. “The government has been relatively successful in liberalising the economy and establishing the basic foundations of a socially integrated market economy.

This has enabled the country to reach fairly satisfactory macroeconomic growth, achieving growth rates between 5 and 6% per year, and to also make notable progress with respect to key social programmes, although genuine and sustainable poverty reduction and structural changes remain rather limited.” As a result, Uganda has received a lot of aid as well as generous debt relief. However, it points out that political analysts tend to reach different verdicts on Uganda from that of the aid agencies and economic observers. “Until recently, analysts have evaluated with some ambivalence Uganda’s political role in a region continuously grappling with armed conflict.”

“On the one hand, Uganda has promoted economic cooperation, particularly in East Africa, but on the other hand, it has been engaged in dubious confrontations with its neighbours such as the DR Congo, Rwanda and Sudan,” the report added. The contradictions, it says, are reflected in the way various external observers characterise the country, which has been praised for its exemplary reforms by some and criticised as an authoritarian political regime by others. On democracy, it said constitutional changes resulting in the lifting of restrictions on political parties represented a step in the right direction.

It, however, points out that the new constitutional and political framework still favours the ruling authorities and does not provide a fair “level playing field” for all political actors. It also notes that Uganda’s military continues to be an influential background factor. Freedom of speech and of the press is tolerated to a fairly large extent, the survey found. “Surprisingly, critical public discussions and statements in the media, including private FM radio stations, are normally the rule of the day, but from time to time massive intimidation campaigns are also carried out by state authorities,” according to the report. “All in all, the political climate is characterised by a carefully balanced fusion of relatively open and independent discussion, on the one hand, and of nevertheless keenly-felt control and sometimes even intimidation on the other.”

The foundation notes that corruption continues to be a major problem in Uganda. “While there have been many investigations into corrupt practices and subsequent dismissals or other actions in proven cases, there is still a widely prevalent perception that, in a lot of other cases, no stern action is taken and corruption is implicitly allowed to continue to a significant extent right up to the highest political levels.” It also notes that politicians and society as a whole have been slow in understanding and considering the value of environmental concerns.

In the rest of southern and eastern Africa, the survey found most countries stagnating in their economic and political growth. “Although many have made significant strides on the road to democracy and a market economy, the vast majority are characterised by very little significant change.” The countries which have progressed more in their political and economic transformation are Mauritius, followed by South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Ghana and Benin. Somalia scores the worst, followed by Eritrea, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In East Africa, Kenya came below Uganda at position 12, followed by Tanzania. Burundi is at position 21, while Rwanda is 27th.

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