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Despite recent elections in Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda and upcoming • elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Great Lakes region shows worrying trends toward electoral authoritarianism and political fragmentation, with new divisions that intensify the potential for confrontation.

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Summary

  • Despite recent elections in Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda and upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Great Lakes region shows worrying trends toward electoral authoritarianism and political fragmentation, with new divisions that intensify the potential for confrontation.
  • A shrinking political space and a tight grip on the state by the ruling elites and their parties are signs of authoritarianism in the region—a cause of concern since armed conflict in all four countries has been strongly linked to a history of exclusion under autocratic regimes.
  • New divisions beyond previous alignments in armed conflicts also have occurred and already led to serious confrontations, flight, and at times violence. An increasing political fragmentation has become visible, and splits embroil intraparty conflicts in the political landscape instead of resolving them.
  • The two trends—electoral authoritarianism and political fragmentation—are mutually reinforcing within and across the countries of the region and risk jeopardizing economic and social progress in Uganda and Rwanda as well as an emerging vibrant civil society in Burundi and the DRC. In light of the history of conflict and autocratic regimes in the region, these trends have to be a serious concern for local and international actors. The preference for stable leadership, economic performance, and security considerations regardless of political conduct has been a fatal miscalculation before in the Great Lakes region. Rather, acting early and using pressure constructively, the international community should do what it can to support a more open and less fragmented political sphere in the Great Lakes countries.

About the Report

In 2010 and 2011, sub-Saharan Africa has seen a wave of general elections. This report highlights the political development indicated by the recent round of elections in the African Great Lakes, a region that has long been associated with intense warfare and violence. Despite improvements in security and some socioeconomic achievements, the political evolution in the region since the last round of elections between 2003 and 2006 shows worrying trends. Clear signs of electoral authoritarianism are coupled with new divisions and increasing fragmentation. The report argues that these trends sow the seeds for repeated exclusion and instability and should thus be a serious concern for international actors.

About the Author

Judith Vorrath is a 2010–11 transatlantic postdoctoral fellow for international relations (TAPIR) at the United States Institute of Peace. Her current research deals with aspects of political transition after civil wars, such as the return and political integration of exile groups as well as causes and consequences of fragmentation. She holds a PhD from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and from 2005 to 2010 was engaged in a Swiss research project on democratization in divided societies with a specific focus on the African Great Lakes region. For helpful comments on an earlier version of this report, thanks go to Michael Bratton, Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, and Elizabeth Cole.

Related Publications

Feingold Urges DRC Reforms, Great Lakes Regional Cooperation in Remarks at USIP

Feingold Urges DRC Reforms, Great Lakes Regional Cooperation in Remarks at USIP

Friday, February 21, 2014

By: USIP Staff

Africa's Great Lakes region is ripe for progress in resolving its deadly conflicts, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but it will take deeper regional cooperation and the DRC's full implementation of internal reforms that it has already agreed to, Russell D. Feingold, the U.S. special envoy for the Great Lakes and the DRC, said at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) on February 20.

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