The Electoral Commission is established under Article 60 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution and mandated under Article 61 of the same Constitution to organize, conduct and supervise regular free and fair elections and referenda, among other functions. As an evaluator of the Commission’s mandate my work began on 11th December 2018 at hotel Africana, when the roadmap towards 2021 elections was launched by the prime Minister of the republic of Uganda, Rt.Hon. Dr Ruhakana Rugunda together with the Commission’s Chairman and his team of Commissioners. According to the roadmap, the deadline for the country to enact enabling laws and the code of conduct for political parties/organizations is Tuesday, October 30, 2018. If the Government keeps within this timeframe, the Commission will be able to run its activities, basing on any amendments as approved by Parliament. We are now in March (of 2019), but there are no signs that enacting the enabling legal framework is about to commence. Can we, therefore, conclude that the Government will conduct elections in 2021 in disregard of the recommendations on electoral reforms handed down by the Supreme Court in 2016? What would happen when the same judges or same Court receives another presidential electoral petition challenging the 2021 presidential elections on similar grounds? Could this justify nullification of the elections?
The Electoral Commission’s five-year strategic plan for the period July 2012-June 2017 guided the conduct of the general elections in 2015/2016. The Commission was directed by recommendations of the Supreme Court following a presidential election petition filled by Kizza Besigye challenging the outcome of the 2006 presidential election. In this case, the Court highlighted critical areas for attention and improvement in the conduct of elections. However, many of the Court’s recommendations were never enacted into law.
The fluctuating dynamics of elections in Uganda drives the narrative on the changes in the electoral process, to help voters understand what to expect when they go to the polls ahead of the 2021 elections.
The Minister in charge of constitutional affairs, Hon. Kahinda Otafire, has reportedly stated that his Ministry has no money to facilitate the constitutional review process which incorporates electoral reforms and urged the Ministry of Finance to allocate the money to his Ministry, without which, he argued, his Ministry can not do much. Instead of Parliament calling on the line minister of finance to re assure the country that the ministry will facilitate the process, they are busy discussing Kyaligonza and miss curvy!! Cry my beloved country. How did this sneak onto the agenda of issues to be discussed in Parliament? Yes, his actions were uncalled for, but Parliament has also not played its role of driving the discussion on Electoral Reforms.
Despite the launch of the roadmap the Commission has urged the Government to make money available for them to implement the roadmap with no response to date. Are we really ready for the upcoming general elections or not?
One of the assumptions made by the Commission in its roadmap was that Government will provide timely and adequate funding for the strategic plan and general elections. All stakeholders will embrace and support the strategic plan by the financial year 2020/2021. For the 2021 elections, the estimated total number of districts shall be 141, municipalities (80), counties (200), sub-counties (2000), parishes (9500), villages (65,200) and polling stations 35,000 compared to the 28,010 polling stations we had in the 2016 general elections. These figures will only be confirmed after the Commission carries out demarcation of constituencies and electoral areas and reorganization of polling stations, capturing of demarcation and reorganization of (returns?). All this has to happen by Sunday, 12th May 2019. The relevant Certificate of Availability of Funding from the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development is crucial at this point in time. Given that the roadmap has not yet been funded, the activities to engage, raise awareness and increase participation of key electoral stakeholders in the priority areas of the electoral cycle, hangs in balance.
The Council on Foreign Relations notes that, the 2017 elections in Kenya indicate that Africa is yet to overcome the curse of governance by the so-called big man. Current examples of big men elsewhere on the continent who subordinate the interests of their countries to their own include Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila – are you sure?- please tone down. Kabila and Mugabe are now taking care of their families with little or no influence in the electoral process of their country.
Analyst Elections &Learning
Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda. (CCEDU)
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.
Following the video clip that had circulated on social media on 24th February 2019, in which a traffic officer identified as Esther Namaganda was assaulted by Uganda’s Ambassador to Burundi Maj Gen Matayo Kaligonza, two bodyguards were arrested by the Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) as investigations are underway.
The action taken by the UPDF has been commended by many, however, the Executive Director Foundation for Human Rights Initiative Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana questions the application of the law onto some while others are left to go scot-free.
“It is not only the bodyguards that were involved even Maj Gen Kyaligoza was involved. Therefore, the law must apply equally. There shouldn’t be selective application of the law,” Dr. Sewanyana said.
“He should be held accountable and disciplinary action by the highest appointing authority should be taken against him because he does not serve as a good example of a disciplined officer who is ready to respect the law and others,” He added.
The two officers currently detained at Makindye Military barracks are Lance Corporal Peter Bushindiki and Private John Robert Okurut who appeared in the video holding traffic officer Namaganda by the neckline of her uniform.
The army spokesperson Brig. Richard Karemeire regretted the incident and extended apologizes in a tweet.
Dr. Fred Sekindi, a human rights defender and also the Director of Research and advocacy at FHRI does not differ with Dr. Sewanyana’s view.
“It is important that we respect the rule of law. It is important that every person regardless of their position is made answerable to the purported crime or incident. It is not right for junior officers to be arrested and charged and for their commanding officer whose instructions they were acting on to walk away scot free,” Dr. Senkindi said.
The human rights activists argue that for the security agencies to promote the rule of law, the courts of law ought to alert the public about what sort of punishment is given to the law offenders.
Ugly scenes from a video that was circulating on social media where UPDF soldiers were assaulting a female traffice officer on Sunday 24th Feb 2019 in Seeta.
The alleged assault has been condemned by various people including the speaker of parliament Rebecca Kadaga who said such “conduct is unacceptable for a leader”, and asked the Inspector General of police Okoth Ochola to promote Officer Namaganda.
Foundation for Human rights Initative in its statement released on 25th February 2019, condemns Major General Kyaligonza’s conduct.
“This brutal and egregious assault is one of the many recent acts of impunity by state security agents highlighting a trend for the disregard of rule of law and the role of state institutions. Impunity by state security agents has reached acute levels and requires urgent remedial actions from the Government.
FHRI condemns in the highest terms acts of impunity by state security agents and calls for the perpetrators, regardless of rank or standing in society, to be brought to account. FHRI calls for an expeditious inquiry into the incident, by the mandated state institutions to ensure that justice is served to the policewoman and journalist who were both assaulted in the course of their duties,”… Read a section of the statement.
The Police has created two task teams to pursue the matter, which include; the Kampala Metropolitan Police (KMP) Traffic Commander who will investigate the conduct of the driver, for inconsiderate use of the road; and another team under the CID Commander KMP to investigate the charges of assault and wilful obstruction of an officer on official duty. The team is also investigating an additional complaint of assault from a UBC Journalist, Peter Otai, who was allegedly assaulted while capturing the incident on video.
CCEDU and EC staff take a photo at the EC Headquarters in Kampala following the lifting of the CCEDU suspension on 21st February 2019.
The Citizen Coalition For Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) has developed a partnership with Record TV to popularize the Electoral Reform Agenda through social media and the various engagement platforms that Record TV has. Record TV has platforms such as lunch time request, Ekitobeero, Current Affairs Show, Day breaker, Wano na Wali (news segment) all segments that are highly engaging. These platforms allow for intermittent information sharing and have vast audiences that CCEDU hopes to utilize. CCEDU and Record TV have agreed to start engagements with some of the materials CCEDU has developed to advance electoral democracy, but particularly focus on CCEDU’s 2019 Open Letter to the President. Record TV is on star-times, Go-TV and free to air channels and will soon sign up to DSTV. CCEDU was particularly excited about the 12 million social media feeds that RECORD TV garners in a day. The two organisations are developing social media based activities to support CCEDU’s upcoming media campaigns.
Record TV broadcasts in 156 countries and on 5 continents and has quality image. CCEDU envisages a boost on social media especially twitter and facebook by partnering with Record TV. In a pictorial we capture the communication team as they discussed the partnership with Ezekiel Motsoeneng, Managing Director, Record TV.