Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem examines Musoveni's politics in running Uganda:

Norway has cut some Aid to Uganda reportedly in protest against slow pace and direction of democratic reforms’ in the country. The Norwegian Ambassador to the country, Tore Gjos, put a sum to this displeasure at "mishandling of the democratic process’’ at a whopping sum of $4 millions which is ten percent of total Norwegian Aid to Uganda. The British government earlier in April took a similar line when it withheld $9.5 million in budgetary support to the Uganda government.

It will not be surprising if one or two more so called Donor countries took a similar action. But they will be merely symbolic. It is important to note that both the British and the Norwegians talk about withholding’ not canceling their Aid altogether. So the opposition needs not congratulate itself that its campaign against Museveni is succeeding.

No doubt the withholding of Aid has something to do with the stated displeasures at the zig zags in the transitional politics of the country from a virtual one party state to a formal multi party system.  The irony is that return to Multi partyism canvassed by both the opposition parties and Donor friends of the President for many years especially after the first ten years of division of Labor between them and the President is exactly what Museveni has been come round to. Is it now a case of not heading the advice: 'Be careful what you pray for, you may just get it'! From 1986 to 1996 as a reward for bringing Uganda up from the backwaters into a 'positive' role model through macroeconomic reforms Museveni was given a huge discount on the usual democratic conditionalities beloved of Western countries when it pleases them. For being the apostle of IMF/World Bank Structural Adjustment policies he was more or less allowed to shape the politics of the country in his own image. He left the economy to them and they left the politics to him. He became the darling of the west and Kampala a must destination for Western delegations desperate for some good news from Africa or wanting to feel good about themselves. However the romance has gone soar for many reasons. One, Uganda is no longer the single success story it used to be. Just look at the stories about Mozambique today and you wonder if you were not talking about Uganda of the 1990s. Two, almost all African countries have accepted the reactionary neo-liberal orthodoxy that proclaims No alternative to the market. With so many of them prostrating before imperialism there is no need to be specially disposed towards one particular state or leader. Three, imperialism has only permanent interests, not permanent friends. This is something that African and other Third world leaders always miss. They think they are so close, so popular and well liked in Washington, Paris, London or Brussels and delude themselves that they are indispensable. They are as dispensable as disposable towels in a toilet. When their Western patrons are tired of them they turn off the tap. The same people who praise them to the heavens as ‘the best leader possible’ ‘the savior of the country’, ‘the best they can offer’ or ‘without him there will be chaos’ will turn round to condemn them in the direct opposite of those praises. Four, one of the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet bloc are the more positive environment for democratic politics to take roots in many countries. While the West is not necessarily interested in democracy but continuing domination / exploitation, in recent years they are becoming more sophisticated in trying to give democratic legitimacy to their domination through some legitimate domestic processes. Partly this is because Civil Society in the West itself demands that their governments support what they preach although where their interests are more threatened like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, they do not shout so much. Also domestic pressures in many countries challenge the West’s hypocrisy and double standards but also make democratic claims on their rulers. However for the many Banana/Ugali republics in Africa their shouts are much louder and impact more direct.

President Museveni and his supporters have generally reacted in two predictable ways. One, they consider the threats of cutting Aid or withholding such and critical comments on the political transition as unacceptable foreign intervention. Their second counter is a seemingly democratic one. All the political issues, they argue, are to be decided by 'the people' therefore it is undemocratic for foreign countries to think they know better than the Ugandan electorate.

In principle both counters are legitimate but the politics is not. Uganda and President Museveni enjoyed so much foreign patronage and basked in it for a long time that it is too late in the day to start decrying foreign intervention. They are not opposed to foreign intervention in principle as long as it is on their side. They obviously think that the saying ‘those who pay the piper dictate the tune’ does not apply to them.

The second argument about letting the people decide is the most unconvincing of the various populist responses from the NRM. They did not ask the people of Uganda when they went to the IMF/World Bank and prostituted themselves to all kinds of Donors and foreign interests in the name of inviting investors to Uganda and building a middle class, why now ask the people to decide only when you have contradictions with your friends? It is not evrytime that people vote that there is democracy or even a democratic outcome. Even Hitler came in through the ballot box.

The bitter truth though is that after this process is all over the same Donors will crawl back to the State House in kampala bearing their Greek gifts and the president will make his usual jokes, pet talks and foreign rounds and things will return to business as usual. It happened in 1996, 2001 and who says it will not repeat itself even in the changing circumstances of 2006? The NRM has succeeded in creating an opposition whose internal bickering and inconsistencies make many to fear them more even when they are alienated from the government. The opposition must learn from the experience of other pro-democracy groups in Africa like Senegal where it took more than forty years and an alliance of 17 opposition parties to get rid of Abdu Diouf or Ghana where Jerry Rawlings' party was fought to a standstill and eventual surrender through consistent battles within democratic spaces opened up through a constitution that he had orchestrated to perpetuate himself or his party if self -succession failed. Or just look across to neighboring Kenya where after several years of squabbles and internecine warfare, once Moi was not in the picture the opposition was able to get rid of KANU. In both Ghana and Kenya it was important that the long-term ruler was not standing in the election. This is where the removal of limitation on presidential terms in Uganda posits different challenges for a coalition of opposition parties. As long as the President is standing it may be extremely difficult but as the Abdu Diouf experience in Senegal shows, it is not impossible. It may not be the sad term coming up next year but may be a sadder one to follow.

What unites all three examples is the continuing engagement by the political parties within the skewed and unbalanced political field but niggling away at the authority of the ruling party. They did not achieve their victory through boycotts and I do not see how Uganda’s anti NRM groups will use boycott to get rid of Museveni and the NRM.How can they boycott a referendum simply because the government is on the same side. Why bother about the reasons of the NRM instead of concentrating on their own intentions for supporting a return to Multi Party democracy? Why boycott the referendum and then contest the election to follow?