Photo by NTVUganda

Which way Uganda?

On Thursday 18, many Ugandans woke up enthusiastic, ready to put months of campaigns behind them and choose a new president and a parliament. The voting was scheduled to begin at 7:00 am and end at 4:00 pm. So at dawn, many set out to line up and cast their vote in an election recent opinion polls had projected to be the closest since President Yoweri Museveni took over power in 1986.

But before the poll opening hour, most of Uganda was locked out of Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp in a move the government regulatory body and the Ugandan Army Spokesperson came to defend as a response to ‘security threat.’ Over 7 million people use Internet daily in Uganda and WhatsApp is the fastest way of sharing information, cheaply around the country. Cutting these channels off sparked alarms on the intentions of state security and the Electoral Commission. Also Mobile Money services were taken down, leaving some Ugandans stranded as this is the quickest way many Ugandans send and receive money from relatives.

At the polling stations there was either no sight of election officials or election materials hadn’t arrived. Few polling stations in Uganda started on the stipulated time of 7:00 am. The capital Kampala and nearby Wasiko district, seen as an opposition stronghold, were the most affected areas by the delays. The resilience with which many stayed at these stations, some as late as 3:00 PM

As many areas in the city experienced delays in opening of the poll, this frustration turned into violence as the police tried to come in to disperse voters who were dissatisfied with the Electoral Commission handling of the polling. Violence was reported in the Kampala suburbs of Buziga, Nansana, Kyebando, Kabalagala and Rubaga North. Cases of pre-ticked ballots for the incumbent Museveni were reported.

The country was tense; people only participated in this election largely because of the competitiveness of the campaign, not the faith in a fair process. Many Ugandans went into this vote with apprehension because of the partisan statements that Head of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura and Electoral Commission Chair Dr. Badru Kiggundu.

The two institutions that a country is supposed to look to as they go into elections had already decided which side of the campaign they were on. They scolded opposition leader Kizza Besigye for campaigning past the legal time but have been silent on any incidents involving the ruling NRM.

But nonetheless they were out to cast their votes and they were still optimistic this vote would count. Voting is still ongoing in Kampala and Wakiso, meaning that these results will be some of the last to come through to the tally center.

Today when the country woke up to the first update on tallied results from the electoral commission, that gave President Museveni an early lead. Dr. Kiggundu stood before the country and under the gaze of the international community and announced results that put president Museveni in a comfortable lead at 61 % and main rival at 33% without availing any details of which polling stations and districts of Uganda these results had come from. He preferred ambiguity on the number of polling stations, ignoring calls from journalists and observers who queried for more detailed. By mid-day many Ugandans as seen online were questioning the electoral commission results.

The Forum for Democratic Change, Besigye’s party has its own tally centre and is releasing results from various polling stations on Twitter.

Away from the provisional results, Ugandans in Kampala witnessed movement of heavy military – mambas driven in various suburbs of Kampala- a move seen as a sign of intimidating citizens. Kampala city is ghostly as most people stayed indoors or travelled to their rural homes to vote but also deliberately ‘stay safe’.

The police, backed by military stormed the opposition party FDC headquarters arrested Besigye, FDC party president Mugisha Muntu, Chair, Wasswa Biriggwa and Party secretary Ingrid Turinawe. The police used teargas and fired in the air to disperse supporters from the headquarters. This is the third time they are arresting Besigye in last four days. For the first time we had a police helicopter hovering over Kampala skies overseeing the arrest of FDC officials. In another town of Iganga we have seen the military shooting directly into crowds of people and in Kasese, the police and military stormed a district tallying centre and in Rukungiri people demanded release of district results.

Meanwhile over 18 ministers have lost their parliamentary seats, which is a show of a country being anti establishment. Many of these ministers have been in power same time as President Museveni. Outgoing Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah was announced winner in the northern district of Gulu without any reference to various polling station results that showed him trailing. What is being done at micro level is a symptom of a large national problem with these elections.

Ugandan Uganda Teddy Ruge captures the emotion:

I am so heart broken this morning. On Friday night, at several polling stations, I witnessed true grassroots democracy in action. I saw youth participating peacefully in the democratic process. They got up early to line up, stayed until their vote was cast, and waited late into the night to hear their vote get counted. The results being announced don’t match the enthusiasm I witnessed and the fervent wish for change through the democratic process.There are winds of change blowing through this young country. They will continue to bend justice in the right direction.

And Ugandans from all walks of life are brokenhearted because elections have indeed made a mockery of people’s will. Many analysts say what Uganda is going through right now is a selection not an election. Yes Ugandans went out in record numbers to vote but whether their votes count depends on many other factors beyond their control. Our little claim to democracy has fallen short. The open intimidation of Ugandans amidst rising fears of vote rigging shows that the establishment is not leaving anything to chance. They will use whatever they can to deter Ugandans from expressing themselves. And this an indictment on President Museveni, a man that fought a five year guerrilla war to come to power because of a rigged election in 1980.

Whatever the final Electoral Commission pronouncement is these elections too far from being free and fair and we are holding our breath because it is not clear how the nation will it.