MEDIA AND ELECTIONS IN UGANDA
DELIVERED AT THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY DIALOGUE, 3RD MAY, 2019, GOLF COURSE HOTEL, KAMPALA, UGANDA.
- 1. INTRODUCTION.
In his book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’, Francis Fukuyama postulated that liberal democracy constituted ‘the end point of mankind’s ideological revolution and the ‘final form of human government’.  Fukuyama envisaged liberal democracy as a ‘more pluralist model’, giving rise to a free state whose values include good governance, respect for individual rights and freedoms, better delivery of services and political empowerment. Largely driven by this ideology, Huntington argued that in such a political model, ‘the right to speak, publish, assemble and organise’ would be supreme.  In tandem with this school of thought, Roper argued that ‘democracy is responsive, guarantees liberties, encourages participation and ultimately promotes political equality’. Participation, a key ingredient of this model, it is argued, promotes ‘active citizenship’ as opposed to a ‘passive society’ and confers a ‘sense of freedom’ to the individual.
In a liberal democratic state, the media plays an important role in building an informed society. Citizens need credible information from media that can moderate debate and provoke meaningful conversations that can lead to societal transformation. The media has a more critical role: through its traditional function – to inform, educate and entertain, it plays a catalytic role of deepening and institutionalising democracy.
Dr Livingstone Sewanyana
Though considered as the ‘fourth estate’, the media and government in many neo-liberal African countries including Uganda is at loggerheads. Chinje, argues that government and media are two sides of the same coin. If they fight they destroy the coin. While government brings policy, the media should bring information about those policies to enrich the ideas and improve their implementation for the good of society.  According to Mukum Mbaku, Senior Fellow at the US-based Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative, free and independent media is instrumental in cleaning up corruption and enhancing bureaucratic accountability.
Journalists see themselves as watchdogs . To enable the media to function effectively as such, journalists need to be guaranteed the constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression. The right to freedom of opinion and expression is provided for in Article 29 (1) (a) of the Constitution of Uganda, Article 19 of the UDHR, Article 9 of the ACHPR; Article 19, and Article 25 of the ICCPR .  But in practice what does the right to freedom of speech and expression including the media mean?
 Francis Fukuyama End of History and the Last Man (London: Penguin Books, 1992) xi.
 Samuel P. Huntington The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).
 Jon Roper Democracy and its Critics: Anglo-American Democratic Thought in the Nineteenth Century (London: Unwin Hyman Ltd, 1984) 204.
 Roper op cit note 3.
 A New Era for African Media ‘available at https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/august-2016/new-era-african-media [accessed 30 April,2019].
 Adopted on 16 December 1966, UN General Assembly Resolution 2200A (XXI), 21 UN GA0R Supp (NO.16) at 52, UN Doc A/6316,999 UNTS 171, entered into force on 23 March 1976.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day' theme speaks directly to Uganda’s current context. The 2021 general election is approaching; and already, journalists are being targeted; in some cases harassed, attacked or restricted from doing their jobs. Our journalists work under critical conditions and in a stressful environment. Such a context makes it difficult for the media to ensure effective transparency and accountability during political processes including elections - the way it should.
The media needs both access to information and the freedom to freely and safely communicate that information. In Uganda, that space seems to be getting more and more constricted.
This is the moment for the media to decisively stand up for itself, fight fake news, disinformation and report fairly without fear or favour. Whereas civil society reiterates its unwavering commitment to free press, the media itself is going to be its own savior.
I wish the entire media fraternity, a rewarding World Press Freedom Day, 2019.
Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)
There doesn’t seem to be much interest on the side of government to support democratic electoral processes in Uganda, lately:
1) There has been reluctance of the executive to cause or effect electoral reforms – as recommended by Supreme Court, the Election Observation Missions; and other government bodies including Electoral Commission (EC), National Consultative Forum (NCF), Political Parties, Civil Society Organisations since as far back as 2016 and even before;
2) Government seems to be dragging its feet on funding the implementation of the electoral roadmap to 2021 general elections;
3) Government appears averse towards facilitating the process of holding elections in the new districts created on 1st July 2018.
All these cast a doubt on government’s commitment to hold democratic elections in whatever form and fashion. It is less than two years to the general elections; and there’s little or no publicity around on-going or upcoming electoral milestones.
It is difficult to believe that government cannot simply afford a budget for priorities relating to elections; yet the same government has of late been spending lavishly on some seemingly vanity projects that seek to benefit only a few people.
Previous elections have had a weak legal and administrative framework and the consequences have been clear: violence, corruption, tech-based manipulation of elections, unbalanced media coverage of political parties and candidates, use of state resources to run individual political campaigns etc.
Therefore, 2021 elections may not be any different if we do not reinforce the existing legislative and administrative framework for conducting democratic elections.
It is frustrating that we seem not to have learnt from our past election experiences.
A successful election does not depend solely on what happens on ballot day, the totality of the process must be examined, including preliminary issues such as the nature of the electoral system, Voter organization and Voter education.
Article 1 of Uganda’s Constitution vests all power in the people of Uganda. The people are required to exercise their sovereignty in accordance with the law. In order to exercise this power, the people must be informed. Voter education creates awareness and knowledge among the electorate and spells out the roles of the stakeholders in the whole electoral process. Voter education is an important aspect that promotes the credibility of an election because it empowers citizens with knowledge on how to exercise their right to vote in any election.
A polling official checks for the details of a voter in Kaboong during the parliamentary elections in 2017.
According to the post-election evaluation undertaken between April and July 2016 by ACACIA, a consultancy firm in collaboration with the Electoral Commission, the 2015-2016 general elections registered the highest voter turnout of 67.6%. This was explained by strong voter mobilization strategies laid down by both the Electoral Commission and 26 civil society organizations out of the 72 accredited. In the end, 15,277,198 voters were on the voters roll. Out of the 15 million who registered, 10,329,131 people voted. In other words, 4,948,067 didn’t participate in the 2016 general elections. Who are these people? let’s assume we have the security personnel keeping law and order, journalists, local observers, electoral staff, those admitted in hospitals, doctors on duty, Ugandans in the diaspora and prisoners. If we still go by the current laws these people will still not exercise their right to vote, the question is why register if you won’t vote.
The study also found out that there were high numbers of invalid votes (477,319) registered in 2015-2016 general elections. Some of the challenges highlighted in the study were that the massages were not pre-tested both the Electoral Commission; and civil society had no time to do that. For the commission to register a low number of invalid votes, there is need to intensify voter education in the rural and hard to reach areas such as Karamoja, Amudat, Ntoroko ,Kalangala, Buvuuma Islands, Mayuge etc. CCEDU observed that voter education was inadequate in these areas due to the limited budget allocation accorded to the activity during the election period. The Constitution clearly spells out the relevance in Article 61 (1), which mandates the Electoral Commission to carry out voter education .A good percentage of those intending to contest in 2021 are focusing on raising money to facilitate their campaigns forgetting that if the voters are not sensitized they might either stay home or vote and cause invalid votes. Chances are high that the candidates might fail to attain the required 50% of the total votes cast, which might cost the country billions of shillings as we go in for election re-runs.
Reason why voter education should have started yesterday and on a continuous basis The commission should revise its strategy and reconsider the recommendations by different election observers, the consultancy firm (ACACIA) which mainly suggests that EC should use the existing field structures of parish and sub county election officers coordinated by district registrars to conduct continuous and sustainable voter education especially during periods with less electoral activity. The job descriptions of district registrars and their deputies need to be revised to emphasize voter education as a core and continuous responsibility and appraisal should be conducted on such. The Electoral Commission should also consider mobilizing civil society organizations such as CCEDU that have traditionally been undertaking this noble task and support them to be the providers of voter education countrywide. In 2015, observer reports noted that the amendments to the Presidential elections Act and Parliamentary Elections Act were enacted in August, 2015 and October, 2015; the EC had already prepared and publicized a voter education manual which was based on the provisions of the principal Act indicating that polling would close at 5:00pm. That information remained on the EC’s website till polling day, 18th February, 2016 despite changes in the law on closing time which had been reviewed to 4: OOPM.
BY LULE FARIDAH
Analyst Elections &Learning
Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU).
As we celebrate the International Women’s Day, 2019, CCEDU re-affirms its commitment to supporting the elimination of barriers to women participation in political processes – especially elections. We implore relevant state structures to institute the much-needed reforms that further encourage women to be at the forefront of political processes in Uganda.
We would like to see reforms that regulate campaign financing in order to make it possible for women to run for elective offices – even with minimal resources. We want reforms that rid our elections of violence, because we have found out that violence in elections mainly affects women; it discourages them from participating in electoral processes.
In brief, we want to see an electoral environment that makes it possible for women to participate in determining the future of their society without feeling or being disadvantaged in any way.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Crispin Kaheru, Coordinator,
Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)