After he came to power in 1986, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was hailed by the Washington establishment as part of Africa's "new breed" of leaders for his ability to restore stability to Uganda and achieve both political liberalization and economic growth. But his reputation has slowly eroded. As Tripp makes clear in her thoughtful study of the regime, the real, if limited, democratic progress of the 1990s has stagnated and in some cases been reversed. The government has committed serious human rights abuses, intimidated the press and the opposition, and become increasingly corrupt. Her most interesting argument is that Uganda's economic success and increases in foreign aid lessened the incentives for the regime to implement the political reforms it had promised. Instead, like many other African governments, it has sustained itself in an uneasy equilibrium of semiauthoritarian rule -- a hybrid that combines the trappings of democracy, such as regular multiparty elections and a tolerated opposition, with regular abuses of power to emasculate that opposition and ensure the regime's hold on power.
One of the privileged pillars of the current regime has been the national army, whose prominence the government justifies by pointing to international and domestic security threats. Museveni's repeated military interventions in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo have been well documented, but less understood is the government's decades-long campaign against the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda. Allen and Vlassenroot's collection demystifies the LRA by placing it squarely in the context of several decades of conflict in Uganda, Sudan, and Congo. Journalistic accounts of the LRA have typically highlighted its syncretic mixture of Christian ideology and native beliefs and its reliance on child soldiers, but this book examines the more prosaic reasons the LRA has sustained itself for so long. Several excellent chapters discuss the history of failed negotiations between the LRA and the Ugandan government and the latter's counterproductive strategy of repression. The book also contains some of the most detailed analysis available of the LRA's internal organization, recruitment process, and fighting tactics.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.