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Politics in Uganda is entirely a money issue- Experts say

Alliance for Finance Monitoring (ACFIM) on Sunday held her 4th Annual symposium on Money-in-Politics in Africa. The symposium is an annual event organized by ACFIM purposely to stimulate debate towards fostering open, transparent, and accountable political financing in Africa. This year’s theme was Money, Elections, and Covid19: Implications on the credibility of Electoral Outcomes in Africa. The event was graced by eminent speakers from all over the African continent.

Professor Nuwagaba Augustus, an international consultant on economic transformation and the Keynote speaker for the event stressed that politics in Uganda is not based on reasoning, issues, or virtues but is entirely a money issue. He adds, “in the current electoral politics, the ballot is cast in a marketplace.”

Professor Nuwagaba who is also a former political candidate for Kabale Municipality MP in 2016 shared his experiences, revealing that the money he spent for the election would have purchased him a building in any town in Uganda. He added that the voters were not interested in listening to what he had to say and only wanted money, explaining why he got almost zero votes.

He went on to say that many of the Members of Parliament he interacted with spent a minimum of UGX 650 million ($183,009) in the recent elections. He contended that countries that have transformative politics develop faster than countries with transactional politics. Professor Nuwagaba concluded by stating that it is politics based on reason rather than transactional politics that can ignite sustained economic growth and transformation.

Government Chief Whip, Hon. Thomas Tayebwa one of the event panelists acknowledged that whereas money is key in politics, it is also very important to resonate and connect with the voters. On the question of whether Covid19 favored the incumbency, the chief whip denied this stating that the pandemic restrictions affected incumbent politicians even more than the opposition.

He continued to say that, because of how badly voters were affected by the pandemic, in some constituencies, they were even paid UGX 500 ($0.14) in exchange for their vote. The chief whip added that regardless of the laws already in place against vote bribery, they are not implemented. He cited that from the election petitions early this year, only 2 elections were annulled on allegations of voter bribery and suggested that those who are annulled because of bribery should not be allowed to participate in the by-elections.

Hon. Tayebwa re-echoed advice from H.E the president Museveni where he urged politicians not to spend their personal money to implement government programs but instead lobby for government funds.

The Chief whip defended NRM that as opposed to the opposition narrative that they use money to win elections, NRM’s strength was in the party structures they rely on to mobilize voters. Hon. Tayebwa explained that the electorate asks for money because of betrayal by the elected leaders because many have a feeling they will never see them again after the elections.

Interestingly, UPC’s Micheal Osinde, on the issue of public financing as required by the law stated that no sane government in Africa can facilitate their opponent to come and take overpower. “He who controls the wealth controls the politics” he added.  According to Osinde, people in Uganda come to politics to look for money, in other countries, people come into politics to spend money.

Mr. Osinde highlighted the difficulty to raise money while in opposition despite the presence of a legal framework in financing political parties in regard to day-to-day activities and elections, the state is reluctant in following the law for obvious reasons and this could be responsible for the challenges opposition faces in winning some positions.

He revealed that UPC has 9 MPs in Parliament but each MP spent more than UGX 400 million ($111,745) to win and yet they received only UGX 290 million ($81,015) from government which was not even enough for just one candidate.

Gram Matenga, the Thematic Lead for Political Participation and Representation, Africa and West Asia at International IDEA highlighted research findings showing that African politicians’ dependence on private funding is enormous. Voters in Africa are increasingly becoming dependent on politicians for gifts and tokens in exchange for votes he said.

In Africa, 63 percent of the countries have regulations that ban campaign donations from foreign entities. However, only 35 percent of these countries have regulations that ban foreign donations to individual candidates. This means money from foreign entities can use unregulated means to reach these candidates. Matenga concussively stressed the need to strengthen private finance regimes in Africa for political parties and candidates across Africa. 

Sheila Bunwaree, a professor of Sociology and Development Studies at the University of Mauritius pointed out that many political parties remain male-dominated because majority of African countries are still deeply entrenched in patriarchal structures.

According to Sheila, more than ever before, the question of gender representation has become extremely important. She guided that there is need to look at the under-representation of women in key decision-making processes.

If you missed the symposium, you can still watch it here.

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