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Museveni’s Uganda: Paradox of Power in a Hybrid Regime is aptly titled. The author, Aili Mari Tripp, takes her readers on a journey through Ugandan history in an attempt to understand how Uganda, and by extension other African nations, have transitioned from autocracies to what she calls “semiauthoritarian regimes”. In doing so, she examines the institutional design in Uganda by trying to understand what motivated its president, Yoweri Museveni, to want to move toward a democratic regime without fully embracing all the constitutional and structural constraints that such a regime requires. The author does a good job of using qualitative data and historical perspective to argue her point effectively, even though I wish she would have used more than one African country in her analysis to give her arguments more gravitas. Analyzing the author’s method of analysis and the merits of her arguments will help showcase any new contributions that she brings to the debate on African democratization.Professor Tripp’s argument in this book is based on political institution theory. She starts her analysis by highlighting that the majority of regime transitions in Africa haven’t been from autocracy to democracy, but from autocracy to some form of a hybrid system. She differentiates between two types of hybrid systems which are the semidemocratic system and the semiauthoritarian system; the difference in these two systems being that on the semiauthoritarian side, rulers are not interested “in fully opening up the political process.” The author speaks to this point when she writes that “in semiauthoritarian regimes like Uganda and Angola, unlike those that are more democratic, elections are not intended to allow for a change of the ruling party or the executive in power.” The reason why neither one of these systems can be called full democracies is because they lack the inclusive institutional designs that would allow for the rule of law and make them accountable to civil society.The analysis in this book relied heavily on historical perspective and qualitative examination. I appreciated that the author didn’t limit herself to statistical modeling and regression analysis. Yet, I still wish she would have used some quantitative data to give her argument a sounder foundation. When I compare her method to other authors such as Michael Schatzberg, in his book Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa, I find her process of using fieldwork and interviews with members of civil society and the business world more credible than the way in which Schatzberg relied on state newspaper propaganda and political rhetoric to craft an argument. The one flaw that I’ve found in her method of analysis is that it focused too much on Uganda and didn’t expand to other semiauthoritarian regimes to showcase a pattern of behavior.The author’s examination of Uganda’s different political institutions gives some context as to why Uganda hasn’t developed into a full democracy with inclusive institution. Tripp discusses the role of the legislature in Uganda, noting that from the time Museveni took office he made sure that his party, the National Revolutionary Movement (NRM), had the most seats and in essence relinquished as much power to him as possible . Based on this analysis the bright hope for democratic transition in Uganda is the relative independence of the Judiciary which has had the courage to make some controversial decisions against the authority of the executive and the legislature. This mapping of Ugandan institutions helps to illustrate the semiauthoritarian flux that Uganda finds itself in. Tripp speaks to this when she says that: Semiauthoritarian regimes combine characteristics of both democracies and authoritarian states: they adopt elements of democratic institutions and rhetorically define themselves as democracies, but in reality they fall short of meeting the basic criterion of liberal democracies, namely respect for civil and political liberties. This statement, in the beginning of the book, prepares the reader for her robust analysis of those institutions in chapters 3 and 4.The author’s perspective brings to voice a notion about African politics that some scholars fail to incorporate in the discussion on Africa. African democratization is relatively new, and will undoubtedly be a long and nonlinear process. To help explain this point the author first graphs political liberalization on the continent and shows that there was more semiauthoritarian transition than there was democratic transition after the end of the Cold War. She then tries to explain why rulers in countries like Uganda go to great lengths to maintain a patronage system. Tripp rejects the idea that there is an African exceptionalism and simply describes what she calls the “catch-22 power imperative”. Unlike Goran Hyden, who thinks that there is an “economy of affection” in Africa that explains the use of patronage and violence to maintain political power , Tripp argues that “since the Museveni government took power by force and, in the process, made its share of enemies,” the personal cost of leaving power is too high. For her, this explains the reason why the primary goal of semiauthoritarian regime rulers is to stay in power. Having lived in Africa and met some of the so called “big-men” myself, Tripp’s argument falls more in line with my own observations, and is far more logical than the idea that somehow Africans aren’t able to form an effective state with functioning political institutions. We are left with the question: why would an authoritarian regime want to move toward democratic institutions in the first place? Tripp starts by looking at the way in which the political elites were split within the NRM after taking power. She says that this split led to some form of political liberalization in the hopes of appeasing military defectors, and then eventually to the use of elections as a means of gaining legitimacy vis-à-vis the Ugandan people. The establishment of a constitution and then eventually multiparty politics was all needed to consolidate Museveni’s rule. This explains why his regime has a democratic shell. Tripp highlights that the “catch 22 power imperative” is the most important factor in the decisions that semiauthoritarian regimes consider when choosing when to arrest members of the press and when to threaten the Judiciary, or use military force against citizens. Even though Uganda and, by extension, other semiauthoritarian regimes are not yet democratic, when I think back to Bratton and van de Walle’s book, Democratic Experiments in Africa, I point to their institutional argument that “regimes are shaped by the institutional legacy of preceding political regimes.” Based on Bratton and van de Walle’s analysis there is hope that the institutional foundations that have been built within the Ugandan regime, and the relative autonomy of civil society and the judiciary, will be conducive to a future democratic transition in Uganda and other semiauthoritarian regimes. The author’s institutional perspective is one that I tend to agree with, as it pertains to political outcomes in Africa. Her solution starts with establishing the rule of law through effective institutions, which will in turn allow for a strong and politically independent business class that should be favorable to economic development and democratic consolidation. While this book gives a great look at Uganda – one of many semiauthoritarian regimes in Africa – I would love to read further in-depth analyses and studies that look at African authoritarian regimes in a comparative manner and use a little more quantitative analysis to distinguish certain patterns. Professor Tripp’s book is a good start at this type of analysis and gives me hope that there is still a path to African development and democratization. Though the current situation of poverty and semiauthoritarian control is disheartening, her argument leads me to believe that these types of regimes have laid the groundwork of institutional design for the next series of rulers that won’t have to worry about the “catch 22 power imperative”.
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