Published by Patra K on

Weaponization of 2020/2021 general elections in Uganda

Photo courtesy of BBC.COM

Every after five years since the promulgation of the 1995 constitution, Ugandans were given a chance to exercise their voting right by choosing the government of their own will through a credible, free and fair election.

Regardless of Uganda’s institutionalization of holding periodic general elections as mandated by the constitution, the quality of the elections held ever since the re-introduction of multi-party dispensation have been questioned by observers and other political actors.

This is due to the precepts, structures and processes of elections which have been characterized by reckless use of teargas, voter bribery, intimidation, arrests, violence and subversion. One would argue that these incidences are being done to favor the incumbent government’s continuous entrenchment and stay in power.

It is not surprising to witness the current “weaponization” of the electoral process with arrests, violence, blocking of opposition presidential candidates from accessing campaign venues and radio stations and shooting of unarmed civilians with live bullets particularly those not subscribing to the ideological orientation of the regime in power.

The polarization of the electoral environment is making many Ugandans fear to come out and meaningfully participate in campaigning for candidates of their choice. It is alleged that Resident District Commissioners who are heads of security in districts are master-minds of “weaponizing the electoral process. If this is true, this then tantamounts to misuse of state personnel and resources that are paid for by tax payers because they are expected to act in a non-partisan manner. 

It is evident that most of the election actors such as security forces, Electoral Commission, Political parties and candidates have occasionally been under the spotlight for either failing to follow the electoral guidelines or selectively applying the law in favour of other candidates. For instance, Security forces have been blamed for “weaponizing” the electoral process by use of tear gas, and live bullets to disperse the supporters of opposition presidential candidates with claims of quelling mass gatherings that were banned as measure to contain the spread of COVID-19.

So far it’s reportedly that the use of unreasonable force and unnecessary shooting by security forces on unarmed civilians has claimed lives of over 50 Ugandans. Opposition presidential candidates such as Robert Kyagulanyi, Patrick Amuriat Oboi, Henry Tumukunde have on numerous occasions been blocked from accessing radio stations and also campaign venues which the Uganda Electoral commission had gazetted for them.

It must be recalled that in 2016 during President Museveni’s swearing in, he promised to do away with opposition by 2021. His promise as of today is not far from being a reality, as evidenced by the current fratricidal wars dominating opposition camps; also Museveni and some of his colleagues in the ruling party enjoy all the advantages of incumbency using the state machinery to limit the spaces within which their opponents can mobilize and organise themselves to compete effectively during elections.

The current trend of “weaponization” of democracy has left many Ugandans wondering whether the country is headed for an election or war due to the brutish and nasty manner security forces are handling citizens. The Uganda Electoral Commission which is constitutionally mandated to organize and conduct elections is also concerned of the continuous mis-handling of presidential candidates and wrote to the police.

In a letter dated November 16th, Justice Simon Byabakama Mugenyi, the chairperson of the Electoral Commission revealed to have received several complaints from the candidates expressing dissatisfaction over the continuous interruption of their meetings by the police.  His letter further pointed out that the actions by the police have caused unnecessary confrontations which have portrayed the campaigns in a negative way.

“As you are aware after the nomination exercise, presidential candidates harmonized their respective campaign programs covering the entire country…Please note that conducting campaigns as per the harmonized program is a recognized activity under the Presidential Elections Act and the Roadmap of the 2021 general elections,” in part. Presidential candidates have a right to move and access the designated venues for as long as they comply with the Standard Operating Procedures issued by the Electoral Commission that limits to 200, the number of people to attend a political meeting.” Byabakama’s letter reads.

Though the chairperson of the Electoral Commission has been seen to come out and inform security forces to work within the law. Such disheartening incidences have made many Ugandans look at elections as an institutional tool in the hands of the ruling regime serving to consolidate their rule through providing tools for legitimation, co-optation and/or repression.

Such trends of “weaponization” of the electoral process can never offer an environment where credible, free and fair election can be conducted if actions of all actors distorting the electoral integrity are not put to order.

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