How much do western nations really care about democracy? Some would argue that democracy remains a system that needs global implementation, but I’m not convinced. The United States, the unequivocal leader of democratic nations, has been on quite the roller coaster ride in the past couple of months. From the unbearable wait for election results, the many attempts from former President Trump to overturn the outcome, the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol and the nation’s attempts at moving past that dark moment in the new Biden administration — one thing has remained clear: America wants to “protect democracy.” For the entire election period up until President Biden’s inauguration, phrases like “preserving the soul of our democracy” and “safeguarding the temple of democracy” have been thrown out by politicians and reporters who all fear democratic collapse. Though this appears to be their foremost interest, it is evident that this interest has not and likely will not be realized. Not when hypocritical western nations continue to turn a blind eye to several abuses of democratic systems around the world.
Uganda has suffered for decades under the leadership of Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled for 35 years via many undemocratic elections. His only opposition, musician turned activist Bobi Wine, has rallied the people for years to fight the injustice of Museveni and strive for a better future under a more youthful leadership that better represents the population. Through unjust arrest and near-death experiences, Wine has persevered. Another critical moment in Uganda’s future arose on January 14th, when Wine challenged the incumbent Museveni for the presidency. Before and during the elections Museveni committed crimes against his own people by arming streets with military presence, cutting off access to social media and the internet and attacking and placing Wine on an unofficial house arrest for days as officials tallied the results leading to the rigged outcome. While this nightmare raged on, the world’s self-proclaimed protectors of peace have been daydreaming. Even the United States has ignored this plague of unjust elections that have pained the citizens of Uganda. No one can hear Wine’s pleas to condemn Museveni. Organizations like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court might as well not exist if they’re just going to ignore this attack on the Ugandan people.
This is not the first instance of frustrating elections or injustice around the world that has been ignored by western, democratic nations. Only a few months ago, President Buhari of Nigeria was responsible for the deaths of many in a youth-led movement to stop police brutality and killings. No one responded. If we look past the surface here and ask ourselves who benefits from dangerous leaders like Museveni, we are led to those who fail to act when it is most necessary. In a Foreign Affairs article just before the election, Wine wrote, “It pains me to say this, but the international community is part of our enduring problem in Uganda. Over the years, Museveni has managed to position himself as a military ally and development darling of many Western governments that look the other way when it comes to his horrendous human rights record.” By playing a decades-long role in the interests of the United States, Museveni has bought the blind eye of those powerful institutions and nations who should be the first to act.
Again, this begs the question: does the West really care about democracy? High-level threats to democracy are experienced on a daily basis. Why does “protecting democracy” only start and end when it comes to the United States and its partners? All democracies are strategically important. Surely a democratic collapse would be easier if democracies aren’t actively being strengthened around the world. Together we must turn our eyes to Uganda and to nations like it and by doing so, force the United States and the great democracies of the world to realize that the fight is not only domestic, but global.