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East African Community observers remind Uganda on campaign finance law

The East African Community Election Observer Mission delegation in a meeting in Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 2021.(Photo courtesy of Hajarah Nalwadda Xinhua)

The East African Community Election Observers have once again called on the government of Uganda to consider enacting a standard law that regulates the use of money in elections. The mission was headed by former Burundi president Domitien Ndayizeye.

In their pre-liminary report on the 2021 general elections, the EAC observation mission makes eight major recommendations to the Electoral Commission and government of Uganda. Among them is legal amendments to regulate campaign financing by introducing disclosure of and ceilings on campaign expenditure as a way of levelling the election playing field and the government to allow free access to media by the opposition.

The African Union election expert mission to the Ugandan elections led by Dr. Samuel Azu’u Fonkam – the former chairperson of electoral commission of Cameroon, also made a similar recommendation.

The AU noted that unregulated campaign spending has undermined fairness in the playing field during campaigns and has deprived the electorate the rights to hold the elected leaders accountable.  

In 2016, the EAC mission observed that the lack of a campaign finance law that regulates the use of money in elections, undermined the fairness of elections. This recommendation was suggested by the former Burundi president Domitien Ndayizeye the head of mission.

Ugandan politics is viewed in perceptive of investment on the return. Over the last decades of elections, the practice and norm of transactional politics has metamorphosed into a monster that must be dealt with.

The recommendation on enactment of campaign finance law was a common denominator in the reports of other international election observers in 2016. Among them the Commonwealth Observation Group who recommended as follows:

“Enact legislation in accordance with good practices for mandatory public disclosure of campaign income and expenditure. This will help to create a higher level of transparency and accountability”.

It’s high time for East African Community to consider developing minimum standards for regulating money in election campaigns in the region. This is because too much money flows in elections in the region and it is mindboggling where it comes from!

The secret known is that the power of the incumbency with access to state resources influences electoral outcomes in general elections. Candidates from the ruling parties spent astronomically to win public office, due to their positions that provide access to state funds giving them an edge over their challengers. Incumbent candidates are often bankrolled by private interests to push their agenda in the future and gained comparative advantage making it hard for the incumbent to lose elections in the East African Community. These practices have undermined democratic growth and mushroomed leaders who are self-aggrandised and devoid of public interests.

The East African Community members Uganda in particular have grappled with service delivery due to breeds of political corruption that emanate from rituals of periodic elections held. Corrosive expenditure incurred by candidates in elections have oftenly driven candidates to spend the term in office looking for means of recovering their money. They have concentrated on private interests than public interests hence retarding growth development and service delivery in government sectors.

The East African Community is therefore, urged to enact an instrument that promotes transparency through reporting, government oversight, sanctions for breach of campaign finance regulations and impartial access of information. These practices will uphold democratic values through promoting electoral integrity. 

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