By Crispy Kaheru
Coordinator Citizen Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda
I have heard some people speak as if the 2016 elections are over. This is inaccurate; 2016 is not yet over! Firstly, there are certain elections that are not yet held, including the important Local Council I elections. Secondly and most importantly, there are still unresolved issues – call them questions. And that is partly the reason why there is the presidential election petition number one of 2016 in the Supreme Court.
The prevailing thick air hovering over the pearl of Africa is not as a result of global warming – it is as a result of the unsettled questions on the context under which the elections were held – leave alone the polling day dynamics. While many Ugandans have silently felt contented that their vote counted, others feel impotent – that their vote did not count. Some braved the scotching sun; others braved the heavy rains especially in northern Uganda all in the name of fulfilling their civic duty, to vote. They didn’t do this in vain, they did this in anticipation that their vote would be honoured just like how they respected the rallying call, to go and vote. There are sections of the population which continue to argue that the 67% voter turn out (for the presidential election) as declared by the Electoral Commission may not be reflective of the long winding queues seen across the country; some people contend that more voters could have turned up to vote.
Anyway, back to the main point: democracy begins to take shape when the people with opposing views begin to listen to each other, think through challenges together and collectively propose and act on solutions. Democracy begins to happen when protagonists talk to their critics – in a constructive way. Democracy begins to make sense when the state looks out for the oblivious – and resolves the concerns of the few (or many) in just, fair and accountable ways.
The state has an inherent responsibility of being accountable to both the majority and the minority. Many times, unfortunately, there is always an allure of disregarding the misgivings of the few in favor of self-assurances of many. This is not only wrong; it is undemocratic and morally inept.
Whether the February 18th election is being contested by a few or many, let’s find it within our hearts to genuinely listen to the complaints arising. Let’s give everyone a fair hearing. The healing process becomes quicker and more sincere if we create spaces in which people can speak about what worked and what didn’t work in the polls. Closing spaces and opportunities through which the citizens share their experiences actually makes the political wounds more septic.
Both the state and its people must be working hard to heal any wounds and scars left behind by the elections – and we can do it. The post election tension characterized by distrust, ethnic anxieties, use of inflammatory language and conflict in some places exemplify a seething post election context which each of us must (without doubt) work to end.
As we work to end the currently existing tensions, we must be aware that beneath this uneasy silence, there lies joy that cannot be celebrated fused with a lack of satisfaction that is discernible on the other hand. Some people feel that the palpable power they hold has been sapped away by both circumstance and design. And again, we must work to reverse such veracities.
The enthusiasm of Ugandans towards the 2016 election must now be transformed into a post-election conviction to take the country forward, peacefully and in a united manner. It will certainly not be an easy ride, but together we can make it.
Remember, the task ahead is never as great as the power within you!