The February 2011 Ugandan Presidential elections can be characterised as nothing more than an attempt to satisfy the international community who believe that holding elections are proof of democracy. Like the previous multiparty elections held in Uganda in 2006, vote rigging, bribing of electoral officials and intimidation of political opponents have summarised the election of President Museveni to an unprecedented fourth term as President of Uganda.(2) This discussion paper will explore why the world community has remained silent on this issue, especially in a time where authoritarian regimes throughout North Africa and the Middle East are being toppled.
Elections in Uganda
Uganda is home to an estimated 30 million persons and has Africa’s highest birth rate. Unemployment is high at 40% and a twenty-year civil war has raged on in the northern regions of the country. Yoweri Museveni, who seized power in January 1986, held the first elections in 1996. In 2006, Uganda held its first multiparty elections. In the 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011 elections, Museveni has garnered over 60% of the vote on all occasions. The 2006 Ugandan elections involved political parties being unbanned a year earlier, the judiciary releasing enemies of the states labelled as ‘terrorists’ only for them to be re-arrested in the court room after the verdict by a new security force and the arrest of several prominent journalists on trumped-up sedition charges. Dr Kizza Besigye, the main opposition leader was arrested on trumped-up charges of rape and treason for funding a rebel group. Instead of being allowed to campaign effectively, Besigye was facing court rooms and a partisan judiciary. The Overseas Development Institute, a project funded by Irish Aid named five areas that help promote democracy. These are elections and the electoral process, political parties, judicial reform, civil society and the media.(3) If one correlates the five areas that promote democracy in relation to the Ugandan election scenario, the discrepancies speak for themselves.
The 2011 elections ran smoothly in that multiple candidates were allowed to run under little threat of violence, yet millions of dollars where reportedly paid out to electoral officials to assure another Museveni term. Some reports suggest that the ruling party has bankrupted its coffers in paying out bribes to ensure their re-election. Other reports reveal that Uganda’s state budget for 2010/2011 was exhausted in December 2010. Voter irregularities such as mass disorganisation at polling stations and the absence of registered voter names on voter rolls further characterised the election. According to the Africa Union (AU), armed military personnel are not allowed within 200 yards of a polling station, yet Museveni’s heavily armed troops surrounded polling stations. Olara Otunu, Presidential Candidate for the United People’s Congress (UPC) could not vote because his name was missing at the location where he was registered to vote.(4)
Others are questioning the ‘inflation’ of the results. The Electoral Commission (EC) figures reveal that approximately 9 million people cast votes. If one takes into consideration that half of Uganda’s population is under 15 years of age, this means that roughly 14 million people were eligible to vote.(5) Minus Uganda’s elderly (65+) population of 1 million citizens and a combination of persons who do not vote or cannot vote (by means of either conflict or inaccessibility) of 1 million, this means that 70% of Uganda’s population who are eligible to vote have voted. This figure also means that voter turnout must be 100%. As such, one may concur with Besigye’s description of the elections as a ‘sham’.(6)
The United States (US) Government sent a congratulatory message to Museveni on 24 February 2011, acknowledging his tenure that will make him one of Africa’s longest ‘serving’ dictators. A congratulatory message from the US Government is usually the acknowledgement that the election is legitimate. The AU is yet to release a statement on the elections and it is in their interest not to do so.
The next 5 years
The Ugandan police issued a warning the same day that the electoral results were released. The police stated that any ‘unlawful protests’ will be met with the strictest response. As the days have passed, Museveni continues to cement his iron grip on power, leading to questions on what the next step for the country will be? The opposition is needed in Uganda in order to keep checks and balances and for Museveni to portray to the world that Uganda is a healthy democracy. Accountability in the form of checks and balances are part and parcel of an effort to build stronger democratic institutions on the continent and perhaps this is the only job for opposition parties in Africa?
The 2005 Zimbabwean elections were ‘free and fair’ in that Mugabe lost the vote, yet he did win over 40% of the vote. Africans are conservatives and do not readily accept change. Museveni, like Mugabe, garnered their votes from the rural areas, where the majority of Africans reside. City life introduces people to their inequality and they resent the ruling party for this. Ugandan society is poor and fractionalised and it can be argued that if not Museveni to lead Uganda, then who?
Another consideration is that Museveni has been successful in bringing relative stability to the country, both in political and economic terms. Under his leadership, the economy has grown and foreign direct investment (FDI) has increased. Furthermore, he has cultivated important business relations, particularly with Western countries, who could assist in the development of the country. For many Ugandans, economic opportunity and social development are vital to their own empowerment and a chance to better their lives and they see Museveni as the one who has delivered this chance to them. As such, Museveni continues to have a support base in the country amongst the common people.
According to Paul Adogamhe, ‘The real challenges to democratic rule and good governance in Africa include the lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the African ruling elites, political repression of opposition, lack of respect for the rule of law, and other corrupt Government practices in many African states’.(7) A major problem in Africa is that no one cares. Selfishness is the order of the day and is evident in the nepotism, corruption, fraud and greed of the people in power. Because the wealthy gain legitimate political power and are accepted as members of an international society, there is little incentive for them to pay attention to the poor.(8) Gwede Mantashe of the South African Communist Party stated “too many comrades regard election to public office as simply a chance to get rich.”(9)
This paper has theorised that Museveni is needed for Uganda to prosper on one hand and on the other, his corruption and authoritarian regime has reached the point where he can be labelled as a ‘sultan.’ It is a catch-22 situation as the positive and negative aspects of his rule are almost balanced. What this paper suggests though, is that the international community must produce a more vocal response to blatant election manipulation in a time where the world community is supporting people against dictatorships.
Due to the high level of ethno-linguistic fractionalisation in Uganda, it is nearly impossible at the moment for an opposition coalition to form against the Museveni dictatorship. Ugandans will not risk their lives in protests as rogue militants often use protests as a way to loot and this in turn justifies the use of live ammunition by security forces. The next five years will be a test for the opposition and Museveni. During every election, Ugandans promise revolution and civil war, yet Uganda’s military is a force to reckon with. The future of Uganda will be determined in Museveni’s current term, especially if popular discontentment continues to increase and the waves of rebellion begin to rise up.
(1) Contact Anton M. Pillay through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Africa Watch Unit (email@example.com).
(2) Mercy Nalugo and Philipa Croome, ‘Besigye gives self 47% of votes cast,’ Monitor Online, 2 March 2011, http://mobile.monitor.co.ug.
(3) Rakner, Lise, Menocal, A.R. and Fritz, V, ‘Assessing international democracy assistance and lessons learned: how can donor’s better support democratic processes?’ Overseas Development Institute, 2008, http://www.odi.org.uk.
(4) Gerald Rulekere, ‘Museveni’s Win in the 2011 Elections: What Does it Mean for Uganda’s Politics?’ 1 March 2011, Ugpulse, http://www.ugpulse.com.
(5) ‘IFES Election Guide: Election Profile for Uganda.’ 2011, http://www.electionguide.org.
(6) ‘Uganda Election: Besigye calls of peaceful protests’, BBC News, 1 March 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk.
(7) Paul Adogamhe, Pan-Africanism revisited: Vision and reality of African Unity and development’, African Review of Integration 2(2), African Union, 2008, http://www.africa-union.org.
(8) McGowan, Patrick J, Cornelissen, S., and Nel, P, ‘Power Wealth & Global Equity’, University of Cape Town Press, 2007.
(9) Zwelinzima Vavi, ‘Vavi on Corruption’, Centre for Law and Social Justice, 2010, http://writingrights.org.
Written by Anton M. Pillay (1)