Uganda Election 2011: t-18 hours

It is the final day before Uganda’s 2011 national presidential and parliamentary elections. Yesterday, amidst the final rallies of the presidential candidates, Kampala remained eerily calm. It is as if people are preparing for a natural disaster, a hurricane. Some have packed up and left town, others have stocked up on water and foodstuffs. Most people in town are hoping for just one thing, a peaceful election. The memory of the 2007 Kenyan election is still fresh, and the revolutionary spirit across North Africa and the Middle East is enough to make you second guess your perceptions of

The Independent has just put the election issue online. Our cover story is up here, and you can read Andrew’s final pre-election analysis here. He concludes:

It is now clear to me that what Uganda needs to change is not just a political party fighting for power in Kampala. Our country needs a social movement whose organisation begins from the village. This movement has to avoid the false dichotomy of NRM versus FDC or UPC. It has to embrace Ugandans of all creed against the ills that bedevil our public sector. We need to reconstruct our politics from private greed to public service. That is our challenge.

On the campaign trail: Mbarara Taxi Park

In this video for the Independent, Andrew began interviewing taxi drivers and conductors in the Mbarara taxi park. After a short time the owner of the park told us to pack up and go elsewhere. We were later told that one of the men we interviewed was fired for talking to us. As in Masaka, there were many young men who expressed discontent with Museveni and announced they would support Besigye.

On the campaign trail: Masaka, Uganda

I traveled through central and western Uganda with Andrew Mwenda last week/weekend. Some video I took from the trip is posted on the Independent website under the video tab (right side of the page) but I will also be embedding them here. The first, below, is Andrew’s analysis after attending Museveni’s rally in Masaka.

Uganda Election 2011: 8 days to go

I’m in Masaka today, a small town 2 hours southwest of Kampala,  following President Museveni’s campaign. This is a small and quiet town, but from the hotel in town I can hear a lot of hooting and shouting — it’s possible Museveni’s convoy has just arrived. He has won this central region district in past elections, winning about 64% of the vote in 2001 and 59% in 2006. The urban areas, namely Masaka Municipality, tend to vote for Kizza Besigye, the main opposition candidate for the past three elections. But the rural areas are pro-Museveni.

In all likelihood Museveni will win again here, and win big.

More soon….

campaign fever

Campaign season has already begun in Uganda for next year’s general elections, and the race is HOT. This is the first election in which the NRM will hold primaries where candidates are elected by the general public (party members anyway) instead of having NRM candidates chosen by the party leadership alone. This means the race for parliament is heating up way ahead of schedule, and the candidates are out in droves. In Arua, there are at least 15 candidates contesting for the municipality parliamentary seat.

Campaign posters in Arua, Uganda.

Democracy has no shortage of benefits, but elections have not infrequently turned violent in Uganda, Kenya, and elsewhere. The Independent asks whether elections breed violence rather than democracy. Well, at least campaign slogans are reassuring.

free and fair elections…or else?

“Uganda’s past elections have been marred by reports of fraud, intimidation, and politically motivated prosecutions of opposition candidates. If these upcoming elections follow that same pattern or worse, it will put the United States and our relationship with Kampala in a very difficult position. We might have to consider restrictions to our assistance and limiting our engagement with Uganda’s security forces.”

That is U.S. Senator Russ Feingold writing in today’s Daily Monitor. While the political process is by no means completely free or fair, and while journalists regularly report to the Orwellian titled Media Crimes Department of CID (Criminal Investigations Department), I find Mr. Feingold’s op-ed pretentious.

“Divisions and upheaval surrounding February’s elections could undermine the country’s unity and potentially its stability. It could also weaken the government’s international reputation and partnerships. Therefore, it is critical that the government take steps now to build public trust in the election process and the country’s democratic institutions. As a true friend to Uganda, [USA] should press them to take these steps and provide support as appropriate. The stakes are too high to ignore these issues.”

I think many Ugandans are quite aware of the high stakes. Living through decades of political upheaval and violence, which occasionally still rears its ugly head, leaves memories and losses that are not easily forgotten. In any case, people certainly do not need a U.S. senator to tell them how high the stakes are in their own country. Feingold’s thinly veiled threat to pull back U.S. military support of the UPDF is more likely to annoy the country’s leaders than send them running for political reforms. I do not disagree with the substantive points he raises, but his words come across as those of a parent warning his rebellious teenager that bad behavior will result in an a reduction of pocket money. And that’s annoying.

Goodluck on Friday the 13th

It seems Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has some good luck on this Friday the 13th — he will be allowed to contest in the January 2011 presidential elections. BBC reports that he has not yet announced whether he will indeed run for president, but I for one would be shocked if he did not. After all, wouldn’t you if you had just bought 3 new jets? I somehow can’t shake my skepticism of leaders who wear the same head attire everyday. From Mobutu to Museveni to Goodluck, why can’t these guys part with their headgear?