This semester, I have had the good fortune to enroll in an African Politics course, taught by BYU’s Dan Nielson. The following is an essay I recently wrote for the class on African political institutions, particularly state governance institutions. As Invictus Institute continues to expand their presence in Uganda and elsewhere, we will have to rely on state government’s cooperation and acceptance to best serve their people. This post examines the importance of state governments meeting the needs of their people, including education:

The key types of African political institutions are those dedicated to state governance. Although colonialism left a harsh legacy behind, evidence suggests these institutions are beginning to accept a factor critical to their longevity and are changing accordingly – meeting their citizens’ needs.

In the geopolitical spectrum, states remain king. Even the United Nations appears to acknowledge this, with Article 2 of its Charter enshrining state sovereignty’s inviolability (United Nations, 1945). This especially holds true throughout Africa. Overall, state governments across the continent are heavily centralized, with no illusions of separation of powers. Additionally, African state governments are often the primary bulwark for their respective labor markets, nationalizing commodity industriesand granting government positions to supporters (The Economist 2011; Arriola 2009). Such dominance over day-to-day life makes governance institutions crucial.

Supremacy to this degree is no accident; it is one of the far-reaching aftereffects of European colonialism. This era of Africa’s history was marked with (generally speaking) iron-fisted, and oftentimes, vicious oppression of the majority by the ruling minority (Hochschild 1999; Stone 2001; Crowder 1964). Although some occasional, half-hearted attempts were made to integrate African natives into the governing process before independence, as Alex Thomson states, “liberal democracy had no historical foundations in Africa” (Thomson 2010, 26). Yet newly independent African countries were “expected instantly to create a political culture that could support these pluralist political institutions” upon declaring independence (Thomson 2010, 27). With nothing but autocratic rule in their cultural memory, it is no surprise that this domineering legacy from European colonists survived, and lives on to this day.

However, while it is a controversial matter, evidence is beginning to surface that this may be changing (Strohecker 2016; United Nations Economic Commission for Africa 2016). Signs suggest that some oppressive regimes are starting to realize the essential factor to staying in power – ensuring their populace’s needs are met.

One example is Yoweri Museveni’s reign in Uganda. While not a democratic regime by any stretch of the imagination, Museveni’s government seems to understand this principle and is, at the very least, attempting to live by it. In 1996 Museveni adopted Uganda’s Universal Primary Education (UPE), opening the door for all children to attend school (Ndeezi 2000). Since coming to power, Uganda has experienced steady drops in child mortality and pregnancy-related maternal deaths (Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2017). In terms of anecdotal evidence, Professor Nielson has remarked that new roads and stoplights continue to spring up in provinces that did not support Museveni in their so-called elections. Though there is certainly more work to be done with Uganda’s social services, Museveni is at least trying to fill societal gaps his citizens keep falling through.

Conversely, one of Museveni’s predecessors stands as an example of what happens to rulers who do not meet the people’s needs: Idi Amin. After overthrowing Milton Obote, Amin “made little attempt to build institutions or links with civil society” (Thomson 2010, 148). Instead, he chose to consolidate resources in a militaristic tyranny. By all appearances, Amin viewed the people’s needs as irrelevant, relying on strength of arms to maintain office. As a result, when Tanzanian forces marched in to overthrow him, they did so handily. This was in large part because “Amin’s government was always weak, having never tried to legitimize its rule through linking state and civil society” (Thomson 2010, 150).

As a Cameroonian proverb summarizes, “the mouth that eats does not speak” (Bayart 1993). If Africa’s state governance institutions choose to live by this credo and fulfill their people’s needs, they should enjoy stability; more stable, equitable governance should consequently lead to a more stable, prosperous Africa.

Works Cited

Arriola, Leonardo R. “Patronage and Political Stability in Africa.” Comparative Political Studies 42, no. 10 (October 1, 2009): 1339-362. February 27, 2009. Accessed October 26, 2017. doi:10.1177/0010414009332126.

“A debate that will persist.” The Economist. December 03, 2011. Accessed October 26, 2017.

Cited in Bayart, Jean-Francois. The State of Africa: The Politics of the Belly. London: Longman, 1993. 188.

“Combating Corruption Improving Governance in Africa.” United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017.

Crowder, Michael. “Indirect Rule: French and British Style.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 34, no. 3 (1964): 197 205.

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. 1st ed. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Ndeezi, Alex. “Focus on Policy: Universal Primary Education in Uganda.” Enabling Education Network. 2000. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Stone, D. “White men with low moral standards? German anthropology and the Herero genocide.” Patterns of Prejudice 35, no. 2 (2001): 33-45. December 7, 2010. Accessed October 26, 2017. doi:10.1080/003132201128811133.

Strohecker, Karin. “Africa struggles to improve governance in past decade: Ibrahim survey.” Reuters. October 03, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017.

Thomson, Alex. An Introduction to African Politics. 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 2010.

Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) and ICF. 2017. Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2016: Key Indicators Report. Kampala, Uganda: UBOS, and Rockville, Maryland, USA: UBOS and ICF.

United Nations, “Charter of the United Nations.” United Nations. October 24, 1945. Accessed October 26, 2017.