Two weeks ago, the Witzards Media Foundation organized a debate between university students and civil society organisations. The students were asked to suggest ways in which voter bribery could be stopped as a means of improving electoral processes. Majority of the students said it was difficult to get rid of voter bribery from our elections because Ugandans are generally poor and anybody who offers salt, sh500, sh1,000 has to be welcomed because of the biting poverty. Civil society protested this position from the students arguing that in the past our parents and their parents were poor, but had high moral values and believed in hard work not free handouts. The students would not budge they insisted poverty would drive voter bribery to greater heights with coming elections.
Students categorise the young enthusiastic voters in Uganda, and if they believe that nothing can be done to stop voter bribery, then improving electoral processes in Uganda is still a daunting task.
Voter bribery and generally monetization of elections is not new in Ugandan politics. Having observed the 2016 general Elections, the Citizen’s Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) documented several cases across the country. I will cite a few examples of voter bribery that happened during the 2016 elections. In Buyonjo Village, Gadumire sub-county, Bulamogi County in Kamuli district, voters were being bribed with money ranging between sh2,000 and sh5,000 per voter.
In Bulamogi North West Constituency, one candidates’ agents bribed voters with money ranging from sh10,000 to sh20,000 per voter. In Kamuli, Jinja and Mayuge it was common practice for candidates to buy food, refreshments and alcohol for voters at their rallies. Whereas these candidates argued that in African tradition it is difficult to host people and you do not give them food, when it comes to elections this food is interpreted as a bribe. A bribe is anything that can sway a voter’s choice from one candidate to another.
Ms. Charity Kalebbo.
At Jinja Secondary School polling station some candidates bought food for the Electoral Commission officers, this too can be perceived on two fronts. It can be regarded as a kind gesture, but in the wake of an election, it can be viewed as a means of softening the hearts of the Electoral Official to alter the results in favour of a particular candidate. At St. Gonzaga Primary School polling station and Jinja Secondary School polling station in Jinja, a candidate offered the polling officials sh1m each, if they could help him alter the DR forms in his favour. Thankfully, the polling officials rejected the offer and instead alerted the CCEDU and European Union observers who increased vigilance at the two polling stations.
In Rukungiri Municipality and in South West Ankole particularly at Ruhoko Health Centre 11 polling station, Kabagyenda play grounds polling station and Nyamisha Polling station cases of voter bribery were observed. In Bushenyi district one prominent party chairperson supplied sh20,000 for fuel to over 200 boda-boda cyclists. Several candidates also gave out T-shirts to lure voters to turn-up at campaign rallies and vote for them on election day.
During the 2016 elections, CCEDU further observed that politicians often sunk money into SACCOS because they viewed them as organized groups that could easily sway more voters in their favour. Whereas sinking money into SACCOS benefits them because they are able to increase on their activities, in an election season donations to SACCOS is viewed as bribery because it can sway voter’s choices. As to whether voter bribery can be completely eliminated during our elections, remains the call of the citizenry.
Beyond the 2016 elections, to the by-elections that were conducted in 2017 voter bribery was one of the vices observed during the processes.
During the Kagoma by-election of Thursday May 11th 2017, in the villages of Lukolo, Buyala, Kibibi, Budondo and Buyenga, CCEDU observed that candidate agents were giving out money to voter’s, not the candidates themselves. The candidates feared being dragged into court for the act. During the by-election a secretary general of one political party donated sh3m to Buwenge Catholic Church and sh4.4m to st. Luke’s Church of Uganda. Section 68 (&) of the Parliamentary Elections Act states that a candidate shall not fundraise or give out donations during the period of campaigns. During the Kamuli by-election voter bribery was observed at Namwendwa Ward at st.Mark Polling station. One person was arrested trying to bribe voters and largely the chaos that was observed during this by-election was due to the Police looking protective of the people who were involved in voter bribery.
On 19th January 2019, CCEDU wrote an Open Letter to the president and among other issues raised monetization of elections and corruption as an impediment to holding free and fair Elections. In the Letter, CCEDU alerted the president that the practice was a grave danger as it undermined the responsibility of citizens; to freely choose their leaders.
What happens is that in the face of voter bribery, it is not necessarily competent leaders who end up in Parliament, but rather leaders who bought their way into the house and must do everything while in the house to recoup the money they spent during elections.
CCEDU suggested to the President that the only way to avert this serious problem in our electoral processes is by hinging electoral politics on a value-system that denotes competency, integrity and vision. CCEDU also implored the President as the head of Government, to regulate campaign financing by setting and implementing limits for campaign spending for elective positions.
The writer, is the Senior Communication and Advocacy Manager, FHRI/CCEDU
This article was also published by The New Vision.