BEYOND 2021, IS UGANDA’S DEMOCRACY AT CROSS ROADS?

Published by Patra K on

Beyond 2021, Is Uganda’s democracy at cross roads?

Security officers guard a polling station as electoral officers count the ballots in January ealy this year) (Photo courtesy of Taiwan News)

Uganda has had six consistent general elections since the 1995 Constitution was enacted. Despite this, many Ugandans have been left wondering whether Uganda’s democracy is moving forward, stagnated, or rather facing reversals.

The 59-year-old nation faces criticism on whether it is indeed democratic based on the just concluded 2021 elections. The electoral process was extremely commercialized right from the pre-campaign period into the general election which was also soiled with violence.

Ms. Ahimbisibwe Charity, Executive Director, Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) who was hosted on last week’s episode of ACFIM Talks elaborated the key findings of CCEDU’s newly launched report dubbed: “Beyond 2021, Positively influencing Uganda’s democracy and Elections.”

She pointed out that Uganda’s elections have become a do-or-die affair because of the money involved in and after elections. This is because every aspirant is thinking about the financial benefit that will come from the office they are going to occupy.

In Uganda currently, many people invest money into elections and do just about anything to get power. The influence of money in electoral outcomes has made the political arena obscene. “Politics has degenerated from politics of ideology to politics of money, confrontation, and hate speech,” Ahimbisibwe said.

Whereas active participation in elections is crucial, out of the 18 million Ugandans that registered to vote in the 2021 elections, only 7.7 million participated. Ms. Ahimbisibwe explained that many Ugandans were disinterested in taking part in elections because they find it difficult to participate in a process they don’t trust.

She expounded that the repressive and coercive political environment characterized by violence is what has caused the distrust in the elections among Ugandans. Key findings from the report indicated that citizens assumed that if they didn’t have a voter slip they would not vote hence stayed away.

Some did not take part because of the violent nature of the electoral process, others stated that none of the candidates appealed to them because of their valueless manifestos. Collectively, CSOs need to work on voter and civic education to change voter mindset.

Ms. Ahimbisibwe advised that conversations on how to deal with repression must begin now to deal with the coercive and repressive political environment in which our elections are usually contextualized.

Many CSOs that wanted to observe elections were denied accreditation and this speaks to the kind of environment of operation. It is unfortunate that state institutions have labeled CSOs as opposition who are working for foreign powers. Many CSO heads were arrested on Election day with accusations staged against them.

Ms. Ahimbisibwe highlighted from the report that the campaign messages by the candidates were less ideological and more of hate speech. Many candidates today are not being driven by ideas or service delivery, rather by financial gain.

There is a lot of political intolerance in Uganda today and this has greatly affected the political spectrum. This stems from the fact that everyone is looking out for what to “eat.”

The report also emphasizes the need to look at the definition of a campaign and its importance to the electoral process. According to the key informant interviews CCEDU held, FDC’s Amuriat Patrick was the presidential candidate with the highest number of interruptions during his campaign.

Mr. Amuriat revealed that out of the 60 days of campaigns declared by the Electoral Commission, he only successfully campaigned for 5 days and constantly faced tear gas and brutal arrests by the police for the rest of the 55 days.

This not only happened to Mr. Amuriat but also National Unity Platform’s Robert Kyagulani aka Bobi Wine who had to campaign in a bulletproof helmet. Ms. Ahimbisibwe paused a question on whether that was an election or war. The constitution provides only for the police force to keep security during elections, the army however always takes an upper hand when it comes to elections.

Conclusively Ms. Ahimbsibwe emphasized the need to educate citizens to stop begging for money from candidates but instead demand developmental ideas and manifestos that improve the livelihood of the people.

If you missed this episode, click here to watch the show.

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