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Why electoral reforms have remained elusive in Uganda

It is indisputable fact that the idea of electoral reforms in Uganda is a total and unremediated chimera.

It is as unnatural expectation, an insane delusion, almost a hallucination. It is consequently equally logical and pertinent to query: Has Uganda then become a madman’s bevy? And in which respects? And what….as everyone knows, after a power-hegemony 50 years magnitude virtually, down the road, moreover following regular “free and fair” elections, the patent panegyric is automatically and inevitably meaningful and effectual electoral reforms.

Even a mere child could perceive that those 10 magnitude-plus general elections could not even remotely have been free and fair.

It is a mere question of why electoral reforms have remained elusive in Uganda. And what is the way to go?

Deny the protagonist the opportunity of shifting the goal-posts every now and then to suit his convenience.

Zimbabwe is 1,000 miles plus from Uganda. But it is not too far for Uganda to channel naturally into Zimbabwe’s way, to nosedive, the southern African country-style.

The particulars are alarmingly identical. Cite, firstly, massive land-grabbing and illegal evictions by war veterans; and a septuagenarian and octogenarian: a national figure-head-turned-hero-idol-worship; secondly, repetitive famine (Karamoja) and environmental disasters; thirdly, rampant-almost universal unemployment levels; lastly, growing international isolation and disrespect (cite, mark you, Uganda is currently being globally lambasted for human rights violations, especially torture at the hands of security services such as CMI, UPDF and Police).

When he died at age 86 Robert Mugabe had ruled Zimbabwe since 1978 and his wife had virtually become the unofficial Vice-President.

The coming of Emerson Munangagwa did not make much difference to the balance of power, in Zimbabwe.

People celebrated obliviously in error. Zimbabwe was traditionally economically dependent on exports of tobacco and maize.

The worldwide campaign against tobacco products, and secondly, global warming and climate change may have had the most say on Zimbabwe’s economic woes, but it was all concatenation of events driven by a fearless and iron-fisted autocrat freedom fighter who harboured no second-thoughts on who owns the land on African continent.

The Carter Centre of Emory University is notable for its historical focus on free and fair elections in African countries as the most thoroughgoing and reliable guarantee and insurance against violent conflicts.

The Institute on Conflict Analysis and Resolution of George Mason University, USA which focused on upheavals, agrarian reforms and radicalism and Revolution in Latin American countries of Peru, Panama, Chile, Nicaragua, Colombia and Argentina highlighting lack of power accountability and transparency as the most potent recipe for mayhem and pandemonium of armed conflict and bloodshed.

The political authority in Uganda in the midst of the recent January 2021 general elections suspended the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), a vital peace-building mechanism instituted and munificently funded by European Union.

Though the suspension was eventually lifted no greater testimony of insensitivity and autocratic tendencies need be attested.

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies closely hand-in-hand with Brookings Institution-advocacy Think Tanks placing on political leaders responsibility not merely for day-to-day business-as-usual issues but duty to exercise foresight as to how best progress and stability can be nurtured in the long-term by constructive peace-building initiatives.

Free and fair elections are a vital peace-building mechanism and to have free, fair and credible elections in Uganda it is a sine-qua-non that thoroughgoing and meaningful electoral reforms be instituted and effectually implemented.

The political authority which sidelines and downplays the centrality of free and fair elections in the national dispensation in favour of its own perpetuity is automatically a pariah and evidence of a fatal malaise: a wasting public spirit, personalisation of the state and its institutions is a serious evidence of the disintegration of the state whereby governmental mechanisms and institutions are used to foment and advance personal interests of power hegemony.

 The state is run as a cooperative for personal profits and super ordinance by a select group of freedom fighters and national entrepreneurs.

Then why, have electoral reforms remained elusive?

An independent electoral body is a must. An Electoral Commission assembled, appointed and commandeered by any incumbent President cannot resist the commands to compile and announce a rigged election result.

Voter intimidation, ballot-box stuffing, voter bribery and electoral result rigging are automatically the course of action to an incumbent government with absolute powers to supervise the campaign process, the balloting itself and the final compilation of thee result.

Many observers have deplored the lack of a level playing field for all the opposition parties challenging the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.

The NRM party in multivariate ways directly and indirectly enjoys state funding and logistical support while the opposition parties are deplorably underfunded and in shambles.

State apparatus such as the army, the police and security agencies are massively deployed in favour of ruling party candidates while other candidates are harassed, grossly impeded and discriminated.

Many pundits have zeroed down to state funding to all political parties but the calculations are made on the basis of a particular party’s representation in parliament.

This automatically gives the lion’s share to the NRM ruling party. Thirdly, opposition party candidates are often denied airtime on local FM radios, and their access to the local grassroot voter is sharply hampered by logistical constraints.

Opposition parties without exception are in shambles, rarely going to the grassroots level and the rules governing delegates’ conferences, their own internal elections and funding, and the status of defectors and “Independents” are unclear and weak.

All in all, elections are a total and unholy shambles in Uganda. It is fundamentally a charade, an empty show staged for the benefit of the outside world.

And the question is why there is little will to refine this state of affairs. Firstly, there is a distinctive lack of political will to countenance a process of political transition: peaceful handover of power to alternative players.

In the minds of many, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) and National Unity Platform (NUP) are parties dominated by radicals and upstarts.

And the old traditional parties-Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), Democratic Party (DP), and Conservative Party (CP), are deeply at the throats of each other, and were too discredited by their past history of fascism, disloyalty and incompetency to be allowed in power.

Indeed, there is no credible opposition and top personalisation in the top most hierarchies of opposition parties are constantly accused of being stooges of the ruling NRM party.

No right thinking Ugandan would imagine the return to power of the UPC after the upheaval, mayhem, retrogression and impoverishment of their years in power between 1980 to 1985.

The core raison-d’entre of the NRM hold on power was to free Ugandans of this exact misgovernance and incompetency.

The leading doyens of constitutional law including the media, for some obscure reason have signaled silent connivance with the prevailing dispensation, despite all the awkward constitutional tinkering and gimmicks.

The age-limit device in 1995 promulgated Uganda constitution was a very powerful tool to counter infinity-power control, but even this was done away with.

And with such gibberish Uganda stands no prospect in apart from a life-President stink for Gen. Yoweri Museveni Tibuhaburwa. We are headed for East African Federation under one rotating President.

No one can confidently point a finger at the sources of Uganda’s woes and inexplicable historical troubles with cut-and dried autocrats.

Uganda is stuck with military leaders and 1940s-style freedom fighters. And I say the rest is just history: we are simply unlucky. Without sincere and effectual electoral reforms, there can never be free and fair elections. Our dear fellow Ugandans…we are on our own. But this does not stop right thinking Ugandans from civically engaging until they reach the promised land.

The Writer is a Journalist

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