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.
Uganda is set hold presidential and general elections on February 18. Eight candidates are vying for the seat but the campaign is more of a three-horse race between incumbent President Museveni, leading opposition figure and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Kizza Besigye and former Prime minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. The last four elections conducted during President Yoweri Museveni’s 30 years in power have all been marred with irregularities and violent incidents.
Less than a month to the vote, an increasing climate of fear hovers over the country. The Uganda Police has recruited about 11 million crime preventers whom critics say are more or less a standby government militia to be used in case things don’t go well for the regime. Besigye’s party FDC says it has 10 persons per village ready to guard their vote and he continues a message of defiance that is not fully explained. Amama Mbabazi at rallies has emphasized that his go-forward team is ready to defend the vote.
As the news of a final confirmation of a life presidency in Zimbabwe trickles in, I am reading from a great Zimbabwean blogger and friend Delta.
Increasingly Ugandans are waking up to the realisation that we are on the path towards Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
Both regimes have a tainted history of massacres that were generally ignored because the narrative at the time was that of liberation- at all costs. But slowly our liberators Mugabe and Museveni worked hard to entrench themselves in power, make their rule unquestionable and blatantly disregard any semblance of rule of law.
They use history to claim their entitlements with no mention of future. Everything in these countries’s regimes is in past tense except when they are talking about the next election.
The hardships people face in these countries are either because of colonialists, bad past leaders or opposition and media -which are ‘western stooges.’ Nothing points to the saints in power in these two governments as far as they are concerned.
In Uganda, Museveni is using every unconstitutional means to remain in our face and tells himself he is still relevant. And slowly books are blocked from publication and no more than three people can meet without government permission.
All in all I love Deltas touch on role of youth in shaping our non-existing democracy. Her conclusion is so powerful and it should be told to these leaders.
“You liberated yourselves and not us – so don’t speak the language of liberation to those whose lives have been shattered by your political tyranny.”
President Museveni shocked Ugandans by renewing the term of the Electoral Commission chairman Badru Kiggundu and four other commissioners. I have read Gaaki Kigambo’s analysis in The Independent and found interesting. One of the new commissioners is Justin Ahabwe Mugabi, a teacher who has no idea of how the commission works.
And issues of competence of the current commission have been raised in the Ugandan media for quite a long time (since 2006.) Many have said that Museveni is preparing to rig again come 2011. I think backgrounds of these commissioners need to be checked properly. When they appointed Sr Margaret Magoba many saw it as a ploy by Museveni to convince Catholics that he was with them and that he could choose a nun to be part of the organisation of elections. This could have been a good cover but I have got friends who went to Immaculate Heart Girl’s school where Sr Magoba was a headteacher for a good time. My friends were just 14 years in senior two when Uganda saw the first presidential elections under Museveni in 1996. My friend remained at school and the school was actually a polling station. She was actually forced to vote by Sr Magoba. No you can’t call it voting. My friend was called to the polling center which was in one of the rooms at school and they asked about her age and they gave her a ticked ballot, the only thing she did was drop it in the box.
The other friend a lady I have much respect for told me she was excited by the whole freedom to vote even when she was fifteen. She indeed ticked President Museveni under the watchful eye of Magoba. More than ten years after that she feels so bad about having to help a regime rig elections when she was only 15. So when out of nowhere she was appointed to the commission everyone new almost nothing about her and her part played in the past elections. It’s known that elections are not rigged at polling stations but at district levels so I think the opposition should not only concentrate on the EC but should move for reforms like mechanised polling process. Some Ugandans in South Africa have written in the past to the EC to ask if the can help procure the voting machines but the EC and government have turned a blind eye.
So if Kiggundu really stays he must be pressed to adopt changes so that the rigging is prevented. So events of having 15 year-olds voting in a little room at a school should not be repeated or having multiple voting which is done mostly in military barracks and other areas where government has deployed their vigilantes in the past.