President Museveni is back in office; what’s new?

Uganda’s very long elections campaign period came to an end on Saturday February 20. Yes, there have been district elections since and a couple more are on the way, but that is an anti-climax. All the meat and heat was with the presidential and parliamentary elections. Congratulations are in order for everyone: the winners, losers and, of course, voters!

The NRM party, that has emerged clear winners on all fronts though their celebrations seem muted so far, has a big job on their hands to reconcile us. Despite taking about 75 per cent of the parliamentary seats (if you include NRM-leaning independents) and the majority of district leadership positions, it seems that we are a divided nation that is firmly polarised along political affiliation.

There was euphoria coming into the elections that showed a yearning for change at the presidential level. Unsurprisingly, Kizza Besigye, the FDC candidate, increased his vote by 50 per cent (more than one million votes) in comparison to his 2011 score. Yoweri Museveni, the NRM candidate, earned 200,000 more votes than in 2011, an increase of about 3.5 per cent. Consequently, the opposition’s disappointment and gloom is understandable. Interestingly, the weight of that loss has hung over the entire nation from when Electoral Commission chairman Badru Kiggundu declared Museveni as the winner.

There have not been any spontaneous celebratory rallies or demonstrations and this is not because NRM fans are the law-abiding people who wait for police permission, because such celebrations have happened in the past.

Both the EC and police have not helped and their actions have led to questioning the credibility of this election. Voting materials were delivered very late to opposition strongholds, particularly Kampala and Wakiso, which are right next to the EC’s offices. There has been no satisfactory explanation for this mishap so far.

At first, the EC seemed reluctant to release details of the election results and only provided results of districts in percentage terms. Some private television stations were keen on covering vote counts, as is done in all democracies, but this was discouraged. Finally, the EC has posted results of each polling station on their website.

However, accessing them is not going to be easy. It is possibly unintended but the document seems bulky such that even the most ICT savvy journalists that I know of are finding it hard to download these results.

Police, on the other hand, have turned Kizza Besigye’s home into a prison, detaining him for crimes he has not yet committed. At the same time, FDC offices have been raided twice and, again, it is claimed, for crimes they were about to commit. Now the police have urged everyone to be law-abiding and to, especially, accept the EC-declared election results.

However, the police must also follow the law and show fairness and justice as well. The elections euphoria has totally dissipated as seen last week when district elections were held. The high turnout of voters witnessed on February18 for presidential and parliamentary positions has not happened and may not be repeated for some time. Whilst it is true that most of the 3.5 million voters who voted for KB have not turned out for subsequent elections, it does not explain everything.

It is possible that there is disillusionment and perhaps even fear creeping into the populace. There has been heavy security deployment all over the country plus utterings from government agents alleging that the opposition is planning against the state. No satisfactory evidence has been presented to substantiate these allegations!

Technically, the vote is the only tool a citizen holds against any who wish to lead. Ironically, government, right from the day of voting, devalued that vote. It is now clear to KB’s 3.5 million voters that they threw away their vote. Their hero is not special and even requires police permission to leave home or to receive guests!

The government also demonstrated its muscle over and above everyone by switching off all mobile telephone money transfer platforms for about four days without notice.

It is common knowledge that we are a cash economy and, therefore, these money transfers are central to our economy. Again, government cited security reasons but no one has bothered to substantiate these claims.

As for the elite in Kampala, they, too, felt the brunt of state power when online communication tools were switched off during the election weekend, which, for some, was a holiday off work. Many elites actually do not bother to vote thinking they can live without government services. They have now felt the state’s power.

Are there any thoughts of reconciliation? It is noticeable that opposition people are now more vitriolic on online platforms but NRM functionaries are also unapologetic! How will this play out?

The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers

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