Published by Patra K on

Why politics of banknotes dominated Uganda’s 2021 general elections.

Last week the High Court in Mubende district situated in the Central region of Uganda nullified the election victory of Mityana District Woman Representative, Joyce Bagala on grounds of voter bribery. Joyce Bagala who is affiliated with the young and leading opposition political party, National Unity Platform was dragged to court by her opponent, Judith Nabakoba the current minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.

Another nullified election on the same grounds of voter bribery was that of Isabirye Iddi affiliated to National Resistance Movement ─ ruling political party. Isabirye Iddi did contest for a parliamentary seat in Bunya South, Mayuge district in Eastern Uganda

Annulment of elections on grounds of voter bribery should not come as a surprise, because in Uganda today, there is an increasing trend in which political candidates prefer to use money and other material inducements to buy support of the voters. The politics based on ideology has been substituted by the politics of voter inducement. Why? Because there is a sense in which political candidates believe that donating cash, in-kind items and services is the best way of becoming attractive to the electorate.

There is also a sense of political cynicism on the part of the voters informed by the growing perception that political office holders are corrupt and that politics is a dirty enterprise where politicians go to enrich themselves. In fact, during the previous elections (2016) there was a candidate in Rubaga South constituency, Kampala Capital City who told voters point-blank that he is seeking election so that he can “go and eat”, and they voted for him to ‘go and eat’ and he ‘ate’ as promised.

When that same candidate was seeking re-election in 2021, he came back to the electorate and asked them to elect him back in office to go and this time he ‘eats’ together with the electorate. That candidate lost his seat. ‘Eating’ in this case means using the political office to amass wealth.

This kind of culture being practiced has made the politics of voter inducement reign over the politics of ideology. Preliminary report by ACFIM on Campaign spending by political parties and candidates indicates that voter inducement formed the largest proportion pre-campaign and campaign incurred by political parties and candidates as illustrated below.

Spending on Voter Inducement in comparison to other campaign costs

Source: ACFIM Campaign Finance Analytical Platform (2021)

Voter inducement was in form of voter facilitation through cash handouts, voter hospitality where the electorate was entertained by the ‘kind-hearted’ candidates providing food, drinks, and other forms of entertainment, donation in-kind items. This was in addition to community service goods such Covid-19 relief, grading community roads, extending electricity and water supply line provided to the electorate, and credit facilities to women and youth groups.

Voter inducement is not different from voter bribery, which is an illegal practice under the Uganda electoral laws. For instance, section 68 (1) of the Parliamentary Election Act (as amended) 2005 states that a person who either before or during an election either directly or indirectly tries to influence another person to vote or refrain from voting for any candidate by giving away money, gift or other consideration to that person commits an offense of bribery and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding 72 currency points or imprisonment not exceeding three years or both.

This illegal practice of voter bribery will continue to dominate Uganda’s elective politics if nothing is done to strengthen civic competence of citizens who participate in electing leaders. It will also require punitive and deterrent actions to be taken against those propagating the act.

If we let our politics continue in this direction, we risk stagnating the growth of democracy in Uganda, and worse still a leadership crisis. Imagine a country ruled by incompetent and corrupt individuals because they have the money to buy their way into power!

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