Democracy Has Failed Us. Let’s Play Football

So Uganda’s long-awaited election is a few days away. The “stupid” season is finally coming to an end, a friend of ours would say. We must say it has been a long grueling, yet sometimes boring, campaign season.

With a lot said and done, a few things are clear now: the winner of the upcoming presidential election will be male, 59 years or older, from western Uganda and with a military background. He will be an NRM ideologue too – past or present. Which is why at a recent interview with the good guys at NTV, we said this election is as much about pas de changement – No change – as it is about anything else. The real fight will be in 2021 when the old guard must cede ground for the millennial generation: young, aspirational and un-scarred by Uganda’s tumultuous post-independence history. In other words, the future belongs to Museveni’s “children”!

There will be more than 5 million of them taking part in this upcoming election, even more if you considered those who participated in the last one as first-time voters. And yet no candidate has appealed to this important constituency. No one seems to have a clear strategy to deal with these first-time voters; to reach out to them specifically with a message that resonates with their dreams for Uganda. All have opted for more mundane messages – education for all, health care and good roads. Former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi had started well with a campaign largely driven by new media that has now all but lost steam, and the rate at which his team is shrinking lately he might be left with only close family members by Feb 18th.

Meanwhile, just when we thought this was one was going to be one of the more peaceful polls, our friends at the NRM were nursing other ideas. Their secretary general, Kasule Lumumba last week issued death threats to whoever took to the streets after the polls.

Polls are a matter of life and death in this part of the world, which is why we think,and this thought we have haboured for a while now, that political contests should be resolved through football matches. Only then can the results be accepted.

The democracy vaccine Africa was inoculated with in the 1990s doesn’t seem to be very effective. The Institute of Defense Analyses recently released findings that more than half of the 300 elections in Africa between 1990 and 2015 were characterized by violence. And this year will see polls in 14 African countries, amongst them Joseph Kabila’s DR Congo where the incumbent is seeking a(n unpopular) third term. Gabon’s Ali Bongo will look to extend his family’s grip on that tiny country as he seeks a second term while Djibouti strongman Omar Guelleh will seek to extend his 17 year iron grip on the horn of Africa state. All signs from Rwanda suggest Kagame will seek re-election next year, possibly going on up to 2034! Burundi meanwhile is up in flames over a disputed third term.

Show me an election in Africa, and I will show you disputed results, violence and a grumbling opposition. Elections therefore, other than entrench democracy, have tended to fan violence and division.

But there are a few lessons we can learn from the recently concluded African Nations championship (CHAN) in Rwanda. The first one is that a host country, Rwanda, did not make it to the finals but still crowds turned up to cheer eventual winners, DRC, who beat Rwanda in the quarters. It is the equivalent of Museveni organizing an election in Uganda,  without intimidation or resorting to violence, recognises an opposition victory, and NRM supporters cheer the winner. It is the stuff of fairy-tales, right? Well Rwanda did that.

Anyone familiar with the two countries’ history will tell you that with the exception of perhaps Tanzania, there are few countries at the hands of which the Rwandans would want to taste defeat – military or of a sports nature. Which makes the DR Congo win even more significant.

Our second, and final lesson from CHAN, will take us back to our opening that Africa is on the verge of a generational shift – thanks to its youthful population – that will leave its immediate post-independence leaders holding onto nothing but the hardware of the state – tanks, tear gas, and kiboko-wielding hooligans – while young people wrestle away with the boundless potential that the internet and new media provides. The point is buttressed by Joseph Kabila’s Congo: written off by most of the world as a basket case, Congolese citizens have had to look within themselves and give the world their best talent exports – Fally Ipupa, TP Mazembe and a couple of football stars gracing European leagues. While the Congolese state remains terribly incompetent, unable to deliver even the most basic of services, it can still produce football champions and world class music stars.

Maybe next time we shall talk more about TP Mazembe’s renaissance under its chairman, a certain Moise Katumbi, governor of Katanga province. He is the man the watch!


Veteran journalist Charles Onyango Obbo writing in the East African last week argued that with the death of Rajat Neogy in 1995, intellectual debate in Africa died a natural death. His pan-African Magazine left the continent long time ago and is now hosted at the Hutchins Centre at Harvard. You would be inclined to agree with him, until you changed the lens and looked at Transition in a different light: true, we might not have another magazine of its kind, but certainly there are many 22 year olds who are irrigating the fields of pan-African intellectual discourse with their ideas. The problem is, the internet has democratised debate and there is no need for physical magazines anymore. So once in a while you land into these “spaces” and are left thinking, not all is lost. The good guys at Writivism – another of those pan-African literary projects by young folks – shared an article by a 22 year old Motswana young lady, who prefers to describe herself as “…a 22-year-old writer who is obsessed with Africa and the internet. [w]ho in her spare time  studies mathematics at the University of Botswana”. In Siyanda’s words you will find the gist of our argument.

Turns out Transition and Rajat Neogy’s ideas have not died, they have morphed into a more potent, though yet to be realised, form thanks to the internet.








4 thoughts on “Democracy Has Failed Us. Let’s Play Football

  1. “Show me an election in Africa, and I will show you disputed results, violence and a grumbling opposition” Huh, that’s too much for someone who is ruffled by stereotypes about the African continent!

  2. Africa’s future lies in the young people’s attitude and vision of what lies ahead, tolerance too! Singing along the CHAN Champions in the Amahoro developed in me a great feeling of Pan Africanism as they won and we lost, but still thousands of young Rwandans joined to celebrate with the DRC fans. In a flash, I saw Patrice Lumumba & Julius Nyerere smile in their graves.
    This is what we should be. A young people with bright perspective of our continent; maturely agreeing to disagree on somethings considering this is inevitable & what we can do for the continent and doing it together; not as Ugandans, Rwandans or Congolese; but as Africans. We will be stronger.
    This indeed is a generational shift!!

    Thank you for the piece Mr. Tabaro!

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