“And they call it democracy.”

The title for this could easily have been–The Tyranny of Democratically Elected Leaders.


A little while back, a Libyan friend, Miloud, (more English than anything) commented about my posts and me being “very political”. My response was that, I could not remember when I wasn’t.

In the 1970s, I was anti-nuke, CND in the UK, and would have joined Earth First.  During the 1980s, I started helping my good friend/artiste Mark Holmes make “political” t-shirts, some that I took to Kenya that almost got me thrown in jail in Nairobi. Nevertheless, the idea of democracy was always a central theme. I supported the Sandinista movement (FSLN) in Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega who helped in ousting the right-wing (Reagan supported “Contras”) dictator, Anastasio Samoza.

However, many years have passed since independence from colonial masters, especially in Africa, and on a number of other “democratic” fronts. As such, I have been disappointed with Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua (since 2007) and a couple of those democratically-elected dictators in Africa: Yoweri Museveni (Uganda, 1986 -now), and Paul Kagame (Rwanda, 2000 -now).

To date and to my knowledge (there could be more), but notably, only three (3) African leaders have stepped down or surrendered power to “free and fair” elections: Julius Nyerere (Tanzania, 1964 -1985), Nelson Mandela (South Africa, 1994 -1999), and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia, 2006 -2018).

Back to the discussion of “democracy”, my good friend (still alive maybe) George Evashuk would often remind me of what Aristotle said about what democracy means: “The right to dissent”.

So, in a number of countries where they say their presidents and prime ministers where ‘democratically elected’, these government heads are now doing their best to quell any ‘dissent’.

Uganda: Since coming to power after the debacle of Idi Amin and Milton Abote in 1986, President Museveni has been no angel either and his government has arrested the Opposition opponents too. Just this past week, President Museveni’s motorcade had been stoned by opposition supporters. In retaliation for this ‘dissent’, prominent Opposition members, MP Kiffa Kizza-Besigye and MP/pop star Bobi Wine were arrested. Wine was charged with ‘weapons charges’. Subsequently, the military court dropped the ‘weapons charges’ yesterday and Wine was set free only to be arrested again on ‘treason charges’ by the Ugandan civilian court. For his ‘dissent’, a wobbly Wine left court and it was obvious that he had been tortured and beaten while in custody by Museveni’s military ‘thugs’, and they call it democracy.

Power is difficult to give up, especially when you consider yourself the saviour and the only leader who can govern your country. On first taking office in 1986, Museveni had promised to only run for a term and then let someone else run the country. Power corrupts and since then, he has changed the Ugandan constitution: presidential term limits (2005) and presidential age limits (2017) which would let him run as long as possible. He has also shut down the press, jailed, beat reporters and Opposition members resulting in many Ugandans fleeing into exile in Kenya, and they call it democracy.

Rwanda: The Rwanda Genocide in 1994 had sent that country into political and tribal chaos. Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was instrumental in ending the chaos of the genocide (1994) and he has been running Rwanda since 2000. Kagame is another leader who finds it hard to let go of power, and has done his best to jail any opposition–especially those who dissent his powers. He has managed to shut down the press, jailed outspoken journalists or critics, and many have disappeared or had mysterious deaths, most opposition leaders have gone on trial, some have been jailed, some tortured with many other dissenters going into exile, and they call it democracy.

Nicaragua: Hope had been high after the Sandinista Revolution of 1979, and the removal of the brutal Anastasio Samoza authoritarian rule. Under Samoza, illiteracy had been 75% – 90%, but once the Sandinistas overthrew the Samoza dictatorship, their platform to educate the poorer peasants increased literacy to 83%. However, news agencies report that Ortega has spent the last decade dismantling Nicaragua’s democracy. In recent times, there has been plenty of political unrest in Nicaragua since Ortega took over in 2007. Claims that Ortega’s Sandinista Party had stolen elections from their Congress, enabled corruption within his government, and offered bogus contracts to Chinese contractors that would only benefit his family. Recently, Ortega is trying to reform the pension funds and attack those old pensioners who fought and supported the 1979 Revolution. As a show of strength, Ortega has commanded the Sandinista Youth to attack those pensioners who are protesting his proposed changes, and they call it democracy.

Kristofferson, Lightfoot and Joplin sang a song about “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, but it seems like those who oppose a bogus government or president, and those who dissent have everything to lose.

The title for this blog comes from a song, “Call it Democracy” by Canadian folksinger/activist, Bruce Cockburn (1986).

One thought on ““And they call it democracy.””

  1. Nice analysis Em. Of course, much of the world seems to be moving in the wrong direction politically from the US to India to Philippines. At least Canada seems to be bucking the anti-democratic trend.


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