In This Review

Africa's New Leaders: Democracy or State Reconstruction?
Africa's New Leaders: Democracy or State Reconstruction?
By Marina Ottaway
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999, 138 pp
Hostile to Democracy: The Movement System and Political Repression in Uganda
Hostile to Democracy: The Movement System and Political Repression in Uganda
By Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch, 1999, 173 pp

In a cogent policy study, veteran Africa analyst Ottaway considers the politics of Uganda, Eritrea, and Ethiopia -- three impoverished countries emerging from years of warfare and authoritarian rule. Each has a dynamic national leader dedicated to economic development but less enthusiastic about multiparty democracy. Ottaway uses each country's history to develop an argument contrary to the West's standard recommendation that all African countries immediately adopt multiparty systems. In her view, such a step presupposes the existence of state power and authority, but collapsed states need to be reconstructed before competition for leadership is appropriate. In turn, state reconstruction requires strong leadership, which comes with the risk of a slide toward personal rule. Nevertheless, Ottaway argues, foreign donors can help establish the foundations of democracy (e.g., pluralism, the rule of law, and independent media) while waiting out the process of state reconstruction as part of a long-term effort to foster democratic outcomes.

Taking issue with this approach, Human Rights Watch makes the case for upholding the rights to free association and assembly in Uganda. In their view, President Yoweri Museveni's "no-party" system, which has imposed his own "movement system" as a government of national unity, has come to resemble a one-party state in all but name. Uganda's achievements in economic reconstruction and its efforts to promote human rights in other ways do not justify its suppression of political rights. Nor does it allow Western governments and multilateral lenders to turn a blind eye to this suppression. It is a serious debate with merit on both sides.