Uganda is one of numerous African countries, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, that is yet to see a peaceful transition of power. In her 54-year history, nine heads of state have occupied the nation’s state house, some for as many as 30 years and others as few as 24 hours but never has a sitting president wilfully handed over the keys to another.
Since independence in 1962, Uganda has been involved in a series of coups and counter coups making it almost impossible for elections to seem like a legitimate exercise that can alter the status quo.
In 1980, for example, Milton Obote was voted president but due to widespread allegations of irregularities in that election, Obote was deposed in a military coup to be replaced by Tito Okello Lutwa who also was overthrown after 184 days in another military takeover that delivered Yoweri Museveni, the incumbent president into power.
Though Uganda has had several elections in the past, their legitimacy has been largely contested with some parties adopting a military approach towards resolving the impasse mostly resulting from the organisation of the elections.
After the results of the 1980 elections were rejected as a sham and a coup ensued, Uganda went into another abeyance of elections akin to the one under the Idi Amin Dada.
Although the 1962 Constitution had provided for holding elections after every five years, the political climate did not provide for them. After President Obote usurped the powers of the then president Sir Edward Muteesa 1, the elections scheduled for 1967 were not held because of the effects of the political crisis of 1966, which saw the abolition of kingdoms in Uganda and establishment of a Republic.
The anticipated elections of 1971 were also canceled by Idi Amin when he took power through another military coup. Amin went ahead to abolish the Constitution and from 1971 until 1979, Uganda was ruled by decree.
The 2016 polls, more of the same:
Until Tuesday February, 16 when the campaigns officially closed, money, t-shirts and other promotional materials were still being dished out to the electorate mostly by the Museveni regime.
Even as I write this, the military, army, crime preventers (a state sponsored civilian vigilante) and police have already started patrolling the streets of numerous urban areas in the guise of keeping law and order even when the law only provides for the police’s involvement in the electoral processes. To a foreigner, this would appear as de facto state of emergency but it is a common sight to the Ugandan populace especially during the election period.
It should be noted that in the build up to this election, the opposition and civil society organisations called for numerous electoral reforms if Uganda was to have a free and fair election, most of which reforms were pushed aside by the government.
Key among them was the complete overhaul of the Badru Kiggundu-led Electoral Commission; issuance of a new voters’ register which includes non resident Ugandans; and streamlining the role of security forces during elections. They also called for the establishment of a special tribunal to adjudicate presidential election disputes.
Unfortunately, most if not all the above were ignored. The commission that organised the previous three elections is still intact, the commission further did not undertake a fresh voter registration exercise to clean up the register. Instead the commission rode on an already on going citizens registration exercise meant for the provision of identity cards to citizens to constitute a voter’s register.
In so doing, many eligible voters who missed out on the registration for whatever reason have found themselves disenfranchised. Hundreds who registered are yet to get their identity cards, others have misplaced identities polling stations and a mismatch of particulars, the same irregularities that marred previous voter’s rolls.
“Display of data that will be extracted by the EC cannot cure the serious flaws arising from [the] National ID process,” UPC president Olara Otunnu said in a statement he read on behalf of opposition and civil society activists.
In an act of intuition, Evelyn Namara and Javie Ssozi, who prefer to be referred to concerned citizens recently reported an extra 20, 000 names on the voters register. The duo went to the Electoral Commission website where the entire register was hoisted and summed up the total number of voters registered. To their dismay, the totals went to 15,297,197 voters yet the EC had indicated 15,277,198 voters creating a difference of 20,000 additional ghost voters.
Although Kiggundu has since said that the names have been deleted from the register, to bring total voters for today’s Presidential Elections to 15,277,198 voters and apologised to the public claiming a “human error” problem, most still think it was an intentional move to rig the election.
“We apologise for the error; we are humans,” the embattled EC chairman said on Friday while addressing a press conference at the EC head office in Kampala.
The EC’s apology didn’t seem to tilt the public perception of its management of elections. Several NGOs and CSOs have come up to express their disappointment in the commission’s approach toward such sensitive matters.
The Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU), for example, argues that elections matters are too sensitive to be explained away by statements of a failure to add and subtract. CCEDU said a miscomputation could lead to a wrong tally.
“The EC must appreciate that the future of Uganda right now lies squarely not only on how this election is conducted but also on the amount of confidence the election management body can martial from the public a few days to the poll,” CCEDU said in a February 12 press statement.
The register aside, there have been allegations that the plane carrying ballot papers from South Africa took a brief detour to Rwanda where several ballot boxes were offloaded before it flew to Entebbe International Airport for the official offloading.
The Presidential ballot papers arrived in the country on January 28 following a delay of about 3 hours prompting speculations of suspected collusion.Rwanda’s civil aviation sector regulator has denied any involvement in conspiracies.
“According to the flight data information by the Air Traffic control Unit at Kigali International Airport, in the past four to five days and earlier, no flight of that nature from South Africa made a stopover or landed at Kigali International Airport and the ground handling department doesn’t have recordings of the alleged flight,” Silas Udahemuka, the Director General of Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA) said in a statement on January 31.
With just a few hours to the election, reports emerging from the transportation of ballot material to various districts, specifically Bulisa, indicate that ballot boxes with broken seals have discovered indicating tampering.
The FDC mobiliser Moses Byamugyisha claims that the operation to stuff ballot boxes with pre-ticked ballots was conducted by the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).
Byamugyisha is not alone though in thinking of pre-stuffing the ballot box. In an interesting turn of events, the EC chairman himself claimed that some people intended to print pre–ticked ballot papers for use in tomorrow’s elections.
Kiggundu further noted that the commission had notified security agencies led by Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura and asked them to investigate and arrest the suspects behind the act and forward their cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
It was due to the irregularities noted above that almost half of the over 15 million voters registered for the 2011 elections did not turn up for the polls. In the past four elections, voter turnout has been decreasing from 72 per cent in 1996 to 69.7 per cent in 2001, 69.2 per cent in 2006 before hitting a record low in 2011 with 57.1 per cent, according to figures computed by the Electoral Commission (EC).
Candidate tally centres:
Due to lack of transparency and the low levels of confidence in the Electoral Commission, most presidential candidates and the clergy have opted to have their own tally centres where they will compute their own results as sent in by their agents from the numerous polling stations.
Although the EC allowed the candidates to have private tally centres, it has denied them the right to announce any results as the constitutional mandate is reserved solely by the commission.
It has since been reported that both Kiiza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi imported sophisticated equipment to support their parallel tally centre and have all threatened to release their results before the EC.
According to a Kenyan website, Museveni has since warned opposition leaders against adopting the Kenyan strategy.
Museveni, on Tuesday, February 16, told Forum for Democratic Change presidential candidate Kizza Besigye that he would not be allowed to have his own vote tallying centre.
“Besigye should be advised that Uganda is not Ivory Coast, neither is it Kenya. We will not allow him to hold a parallel tallying centre to the one held by the electoral commission,” said Museveni as quoted by Citizen TV.
Presidential elections in Uganda have seized to be a legitimate exercise through which power exchanges hands but rather a five year ritual that the citizens indulge in simulations of civic duty.
Ugandans are already lining at their respective polling stations ready to choose their president and Members of Parliament. In 48 hours, the commission, whose main tally centre is situated at the Mandela National Stadium, Nambole will declare the victor and some voices have already been heard saying they will not accept results of a rigged election.