Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

“A valid electoral exercise”? Uganda's 1980 Elections and the Observers’ Dilemma

  • Justin Willis (a1), Gabrielle Lynch (a2) and Nic Cheeseman (a3)
Abstract
Abstract

The presence at Uganda's 1980 general elections of a Commonwealth Observer Group might be seen as a seminal moment. This was the first formal international observation of polls in a sovereign African state and the precursor of multiple similar missions that later became routine. Yet the 1980 mission sits uneasily in the history of election observation. The observers endorsed the results despite evidence of malpractice, and Uganda plunged into civil war within months. Internationally, the mission is now either forgotten or treated as an embarrassment. Within Uganda, it has been denounced as part of an outsider conspiracy to foist an unwanted president on an unwilling people. This article argues that the 1980 mission was neither entirely seminal nor an aberration, and that both the elections and observation were driven partly by actors within Uganda rather than simply imposed by outsiders. The availability of UK government records allows us to see the events of 1980 as a particularly clear example of a recurring “observers’ dilemma.” Ideally, elections combine democracy and state-building. They offer people a choice as to who will lead or represent them, and at the same time they assert through performance a crucial distinction between a capable, ordering state and a law-abiding citizenry. Yet these two aspects of elections may be in tension; a poll that offers little or no real choice may still perform “stateness” through substantial, orderly public participation. When that happens in what would now be called a “fragile state,” should international observers denounce the results?

Copyright
Corresponding author
justin.willis@durham.ac.uk
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Amanda Sives , “A Review of Commonwealth Election Observation,Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 39, 3 (2001): 132–49

Jorgen Elklit and Palle Svensson , “What Makes Elections Free and Fair?Journal of Democracy 8, 3 (1997): 3246

Justin Willis , “‘A model of its kind’: Representation and Performance in the Sudan Self-Government Election of 1953,Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 35, 3 (2007): 485502

Andreas Schedler , “Elections without Democracy: The Menu of Manipulation,Journal of Democracy 13, 2 (2002): 3650

David Chandler , “International Statebuilding and the Ideology of Resilience,Politics 33, 4 (2013): 276–86

Kimberley Coles , Democratic Designs: International Intervention and Electoral Practices in Post-War Bosnia-Herzegovina (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007)

Staffan Lindberg , “The Surprising Significance of African Elections,Journal of Democracy 17 (2006): 139–51

Susan Hyde , The Pseudo-Democrat's Dilemma: Why Election Monitoring Became an International Norm (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011)

Larry J. Diamond , “Thinking about Hybrid Regimes,Journal of Democracy 13, 2 (2002): 2135

Susan Hyde , “Catch Us if You Can: Election Monitoring and International Norm Diffusion,American Journal of Political Science 55, 2 (2011): 356–69

D. Anglin , “International Election Monitoring: The African Experience,African Affairs 97 (1998): 471–95

John Comaroff and Jean Comaroff , “Law and Disorder in the Postcolony: An Introduction,” in Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff , eds., Law and Disorder in the Postcolony (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006)

Kimberley Coles , “The Construction of Democracy through Technique,Cultural Anthropology 19, 4 (2004): 551–80, 553

Jean-Francois Bayart , “Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion,African Affairs 99, 395 (2000): 217–67, 226

Tom Young , “Elections and Electoral Politics in Africa,Africa 63, 3 (1993): 299312

Goran Hyden and Colin Leys , “Elections and Politics in Single-Party Systems: The Case of Kenya and Tanzania,British Journal of Political Studies 2, 4 (1972): 389420

Norman Provizer , “The National Electoral Process and State-Building: Proposals for New Methods of Elections in Uganda,Comparative Politics 9, 3 (1977): 305–26

Derek Peterson and Edgar Taylor , “Rethinking the State in Idi Amin's Uganda: The Politics of Exhortation,Journal of Eastern African Studies 7, 1 (2013): 5382, 61–63

Cherry Gertzel , “Uganda after Amin: The Continuing Search for Leadership and Control,African Affairs 79: 317 (1980): 461–89

George Roberts , “The Uganda-Tanzania War, the Fall of Idi Amin, and the Failure of African Diplomacy, 1978–79,Journal of Eastern African Studies 8, 4 (2014): 692709

Dennis Galvan , “Political Turnover and Social Change in Senegal,Journal of Democracy 12, 3 (2001): 5162

Stephen Brown , “Authoritarian Leaders and Multiparty Elections in Africa: How Foreign Donors Help to Keep Kenya's Daniel Arap Moi in Power,Third World Quarterly 22, 5 (2001): 725–39

Timothy Mitchell . “The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and Their Critics,American Political Science Review 85, 1 (1991): 7796

Susan D. Hyde , The Pseudo-Democrat's Dilemma: Why Election Monitoring Became an International Norm (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011)

Dan Slater , “Can Leviathan Be Democratic? Competitive Elections, Robust Mass Politics, and State Infrastructural Power,Studies in Comparative International Development 43, 3 (2008): 252–72

Stephen Brown , ““Well, what can you expect?” Donor Officials’ Apologetics for Hybrid Regimes in Africa,Democratization 18, 2 (2011): 512–34

Judith Kelley , “D-Minus Elections: The Politics and Norms of International Election Observation,International Organization 63, 4 (2009): 765–87

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 7
Total number of PDF views: 70 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 530 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 25th January 2017 - 20th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.