Uganda has held four national general elections, but from the 2001 general elections, the elections have been characterised by cases of extreme violence, obscene use of money and the results have been contested in the courts of law. The recent highlight being the Amama Mbabazi Vs Museveni and Ors Presidential Petition No 1 of 2016 which ended with electoral reform recommendations that government needed to adopt in an effort to find solutions to the overarching issues in the electoral life of Uganda.
Ahead of the 2021 general elections key highlights need to be made on the heightened insecurity and an increased level of suspicion among Ugandans today. There is an increase in curtailing dissenting voices. Thedown spiral of the safety of Ugandans has heightened the levels of apathy and uncertainty in the democratic processes of Uganda and their role in fostering change for Ugandans.
It begs the question, what is the hope for democratic practises after the 2021 general elections? The 2016 general elections had 37% Ugandans who were first time voters, hopeful in participating in a free and fair election, a large number of Ugandans were left disappointed and skeptic of the ability of the vote to deliver change in governance. The 2016 general elections and by-elections were characterised by heavy military deployment, arbitrary arrests of opposition members and grave violence and death that has planted seeds of fearin the electorate.
The by-elections highlighted grave incidences of violence and deaths as witnessed in the Bugiri, Jinja and Arua by-elections. In view of the continued declined in the safety caps for Ugandans to fall back on within the constitution,with the removal of the term limits in 2005 and the age limit in 2018 it is no wonder that the hope of change through the ballot is illusionary in nature and in thought, I dare say.
The Local Council elections brought a fall back in the forward movement of the electoral system of Uganda with the lining-up methodology of voting, a trend that had been removed in favour of the secret ballot which guarantees one’s safety in choosing their leaders.
Against such a back drop, democracy is on the litmus paper and it is the mandate of every Ugandan to protect the constitution, rule of law and democracy ahead of the 2021 general elections and going forward. We need to strike a balance in offering constructive criticism to the government and state actors without the fear of being witch-hunted, imprisoned or tortured.
It is the mandate of the people to hold their leaders accountable and come to a place of common understanding on how their leadership is fostering change and development within society. Through voting, Ugandans can have a tool that can help them hold their leaders accountable and responsible in pushing for sustainable development within the communities. Therefore, if room for dialogue and criticisms continues to be curtailed, the anger that is building up and the continued lack of faith in the electoral systems and governance structures is going to suffer the democratic practises whose alternatives are not without a call for violence.
The role of civil society organisations and political leaders then, is to actively engage in civic education andprepare the masses ahead of the 2021 general electionsand beyond, to rally the citizens to show up and vote but also to prepare for life after the 2021 general elections.
Civic engagement should also be rallied around the electoral reforms in order to have Ugandans voice their concerns on what the reforms should reflect. Theseshould be the safety caps in offering people measures and remedies for fair electoral systems and processes
Ugandans need to use the availed safe spaces to lobby for reforms that reflect the voice of the people. The Citizen’s Electoral Reform Agenda of 2011 and the Citizen’s Compact are such documents that were crafted after consultations from the citizenry and they are a reflection of the consensus of the people on what remedies would be pertinent for the electoral systems of Uganda.
Tricia Gloria Nabaye
Research Fellow: Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies