Two African countries, the Central African Republic and Uganda, held presidential elections last week, working from comparable histories and achieving different results.Both are landlocked and were once led by dictators, the CAR by self-proclaimed emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa and Uganda by Idi Amin Dada — both noted for their brutal, rapacious rule.
The countries became independent half a century ago, the CAR in 1960 from France and Uganda in 1962 from Great Britain. Today the CAR has 5 million people and Uganda 38 million. Since their independence, both countries have undergone rocky periods, which have stalled economic development.
The CAR’s election campaign began with more than 20 candidates, a list that was culled by a runoff that put two finalists before the voters on Feb. 14. Uganda had eight candidates in the running on Feb. 18.
The conditions leading up to both countries’ elections were a study in contrasts.
In the CAR, after years of a murderous struggle for control between the Christian majority and Muslim minority, a hefty presence of French and African peacekeeping forces tried to keep order. It was not a felicitous experience since some of the foreign troops committed human rights abuses, even against children.
The CAR’s election was therefore a desperate bid for peace and stability. Fifty-eight-year-old Faustin-Archange Touadera, a former prime minister and mathematics professor, won with more than 60 percent of the vote.
In Uganda the election was about whether one of the continent’s “big men,” President Yoweri Museveni, who seized power 30 years ago by military force, could win another term at 71. To no one’s surprise, he did, despite the fact that the opposition is charging fraud.
While democracy kept the same ruler in power in Uganda, it brought change to the CAR, where people can now hope for order and a better future.