I have wanted to write this post the whole week, but have been wondering how to explain the deep conflict I feel within myself. This conflict is about the mountain cliff we are at as we head to wards the next elections.
Uganda goes to the polls in 2016, and in preparation for that process, the Electoral Commission (EC) announced a voter update and registration exercise which started on 7th April and will end on 30th April 2015. The EC is constitutionally mandated to compile, maintain, revise and update the voters register – or so I thought. It is with this knowledge that on Saturday April 18th, I went to a parish near home, to check whether my name was on the roll. When I got there, I was told that my name was not on the roll because I had not applied for a National Identity Card. That was a shocker to me because my assumption was that in updating the voters register, the EC would collapse both it’s own data, generated at the last elections (which data collection was paid for handsomely by the tax payer), with that of the ID registration process. Instead, the EC discarded it’s own data and is now using the data from the National ID process. By doing this, the EC has clearly absconded its constitutional duty to compile the register. If the EC cannot independently compile it’s own voters register, how will it manage the actual vote? How does it rely only on data produced by another process, which was not undertaken for the purpose of compiling data for a vote?
The other issue is that since the last election in 2011, civil society and political actors have continuously pressed for electoral reforms drawing lessons from former elections where reforms were presented too late into the election process, to be implemented. Fast forward to 2015, the Government is still playing hide and seek, as far as presenting meaningful electoral reforms is concerned,. The Rt. Hon. Speaker and various Members of Parliament, are on record for repeatedly demanding that the Government responds to these reforms as a matter of urgency. Government keeps promising to present them, but has not yet done so to date.
This makes me wonder whether there is political will here. When our Government wants a certain law passed, it goes all out in ensuring speedy presentation and debate on the said matter. But on the issue of electoral reforms, Government has dragged it’s feet, to the point that presenting electoral reforms now, it too little, too late. Moreover, I have heard from reliable sources, that beyond changing the name of the Electoral Commission to the Independent Electoral Commission, there is not much else that Government will propose in terms of reforms. Changing the name of the EC does not go to the heart of the matter of why we repeatedly have sham elections in Uganda. Really, of all the proposals that were put forward, that’s the ‘ka’ one they pick?! Really?!
Conflicted between Government’s lackluster position on electoral reforms and my duty as a citizen to participate in the governance of my country through, among other things, taking part in elections – do I go ahead to participate in a process that is blatantly flawed and that is clearly in breach of the Constitution, even though it may be clothed in garments of legality? (What I learned in law school is that what is legal is not always lawful.)
As one young person aptly puts it “The question that is before us is: when you are faced with an election whose process you know is rigged before it begins, what do you do? Do you take part in the hope that your vote may somehow curb the rigging, or do you do something that will prevent the rigging? Preventive action or curative action – which is the more prudent? A health professional would most likely say the former. Voting is the heart of a democratic society and dedicated voters make a strong republic – they are its immune system. However, going to church or the mosque does not make a saint of the sinner any more than an election makes a democracy of a dictatorship. What we have in Uganda today is not an environment for free and fair elections. It is a ring in which goats have been matched with leopards.”
And we know that leopards are not vegetarians!