Sunday, February 20, 2011

The people have spoken…well, perhaps

So, the official results are finally out and our predictions were right.  Museveni has won the election with 68% of the votes while the opposition parties trailed well behind, with Besigye getting just 26%.  IPC (Inter-party Cooperation) has rejected the result, while the Uganda People’s Congress and Democratic Party have accepted defeat.  About 60% of those registered actually voted.  As we said in a previous blog, there are a number of reasons why many did not register in the first place.

As you would expect, a post-mortem is underway and international observers are beginning to comment on the fairness or otherwise of the election process.  The well-worn expression used across news programmes and papers is that ‘the elections have been largely peaceful’, certainly compared to previous elections, particularly those in 2006.  Scrutiny of websites following the election does not make it appear to have been all that peaceful in some parts of the country, but then that is inevitable: a nationwide broad-brush view is always going differ to some extent from the detailed picture on the ground.  Commentators also refer to alleged bribery of voters and the redirection of government funds into political campaigning by the ruling party.  It has certainly been said that 40% of all government funds for 2011 have been re-assigned in this way.  EU observers have called this phenomenon ‘monetisation’ of the election.  ‘Ugandans vote in most expensive election ever’ was the headline in this week’s East African Business Week. 

The following incidents and situations, and many others like them, have been reported publicly by the BBC, or are on the web or in the press.  We, of course, were not there and have no view as to their authenticity.   However, they will give you some idea of what has been reported from across the country.

  • It apparently took up to four hours for polling stations in Kampala and elsewhere to open.  Given that both election date and required arrangements were hardly unexpected, it is not clear what the reasons were for delay.  One polling officer interviewed by the BBC just said, ‘This is Africa.’
  • Whether these delays had anything to do with the quantities of pre-ticked ballot papers which are said to have appeared in various parts of the country, we don’t know.  Some of these papers were held up before cameras by Besigye while others are said to have been found in the NRM chairman’s house in Sironko district and elsewhere.  There may be credible explanations.
  • Similarly, there may be reasons for armed supporters of a government minister to target the opposition candidate’s car in Masilele, or so it is alleged in a verified report on Ugandawatch2011.  They shot a journalist instead and about 30 people were injured.  The opposition politician was elected.
  • Ballot boxes from Mbale are reported as having been removed to a secret undisclosed location for 7 hours en route to being counted, what should have been a five hour journey taking 12 hours.  However, there may be nothing untoward about this.
  • People across the country, from Kampala to Acholi and Lango in the north, have complained that they were not allowed to vote as their names did not appear on electoral registers at the polling station, despite having checked the registers and been given voters’ cards.  Some had travelled from polling station to polling station in an attempt to find their names and exercise their right to vote.  In Mackindye, 200 people were missing from the register and, despite having registration receipts, were not allowed to vote.  One of the Presidential candidates himself could not find his name on the register, though he was allowed to vote after all.  It is certainly unfortunate that quite so many educated and articulate people from across the country apparently made mistakes with the registration process.
  • The President has announced publicly that the authorities ‘know the homesteads of all those who did not vote NRM’, a statement which we are sure he did not mean to sound intimidating.
  • In Jinja, Masaka, Gulu, Iganga, Mbarara, Kabarole , Mukono, Agago, Bukedea, Bundibugyo, Nkotoro, Kampala and many other places, the NRM are accused of bribing voters with salt, sugar, soap or money, sometimes with the help of police and soldiers.  It is possible that witnesses may have misinterpreted the situation, similarly with the reports of people voting more than once, including one woman who apparently voted nine times and had to be rescued from a mob.  In a verified report, students from a named hostel in Kampala are said to have been transported to polling stations and voted six times.  However, again, we have no direct evidence of this event ourselves.
  • There have been many complaints about the intimidating effect the widespread and heavy deployment of armed soldiers and police have had on the voting public.
  • Before the election, the European-funded DEMgroup report asserted that the electoral register contained the names of 140,000 dead voters, 418,623 registered voters who are foreigners and not entitled to vote, more than 5,000 registered voters at least 110 years old and  4,629 registered voters with the same name and date of birth as others registered at the same polling station.  Apparently, 7.7% registered voters have the same name combination, more than a million share the same names and 'close' birth dates and 225,115 have the same name combination and actual date of birth.
The Sunday Monitor summarised the situation in its leader, ‘…reports of violent clashes…., ballot stuffing, missing names from the voters’ register, presence of ghost polling stations while some gazetted polling stations were shifted to unknown locations and heavy military deployment…’  It concludes ‘We have a choice; we can choose to go the Kenyan way or the Ivory Coast way but we can only choose to go our own way which would be to stay calm and peaceful.’

Such anomalies and influences before, during and after the election process are not new to Uganda.  The results of the previous three elections have been challenged in court for similar reasons, though with more evidence of accompanying violence.  Voters know this, just as they know that when they are offered money or salt, they are expected to vote in a particular way.  It is quite probable that even taking into account incidents such as the ones described above, President Museveni would still have been re-elected.  There are many reasons why. 

One of these reasons is expressed in the common assertion that Museveni has given Uganda ‘peace’.  The origins of this statement relate to events thirty years ago, before many voters were in school or even born, particularly given the demography of Uganda.  And it hasn’t been that peaceful for many of them.  The conflict in the north and east only came to an end about four years ago, and Museveni has been criticised by many in the north for a lack of will in resolving the situation.  Still, the perception of most people in the centre and west of Uganda is that, overall, they have had peace.

Perhaps more relevant to people’s voting patterns than past conflicts is the fear of new conflict.  Timing is all.  Although the protests in Tunisia and Egypt encouraged some people to feel that such change was also possible in Uganda, the sight of huge numbers of armed police and soldiers and armoured vehicles mounted with guns and tear gas in the streets of Kampala and other major towns, together with the loud sound of helicopters circling overhead would make most people nervous.  The outbreak of violence in Libya and Bahrain just as the Ugandan elections started would particularly worry them, as they still have painful memories of the deadly violence after the Kenyan elections.  Although Besigye has stated that he will not challenge the election results in court, principally because it did not work the last three times, he has suggested that he will call people out on the streets.  Whether the Ugandan people will have the stomach for this when city streets are bristling with military weapons, we do not know.  Certainly, Museveni has said that he will arrest and send to jail anyone who protests.  In preparation, Uganda Communications Commission has told service providers to block all SMS messages which contain the words Tunisia, Egypt, Ben Ali, Mubarak, dictator, teargas, army, police, UPDF, people power, gun, bullet among others.

There are many other reasons for people to vote for the NRM and Museveni.  Firstly, a large proportion of the middle-class population is employed by the public sector.  Among the influences which may be brought to bear on job appointments at both national and local government level, are party sympathies and patronage.  Private business deals may also depend on links with the ruling party.  Job security is important and people may be unwilling to risk unemployment.  An uncorroborated report on UgandaWatch2011 alleged that teachers who attended a Besigye rally in a particular place had been photographed and told that their names would be deleted from the pay roll.  We have no idea if this is true.

Furthermore, the opposition was fragmented, with seven opposition candidates standing for President.  Even though the candidates came to an agreement, voters would not have seen them as a united opposition or particularly strong.  Given the age of most of the opposition candidates, they are inevitably associated with NRM and the bush war.  There was only one party, the NRM, during their political development, and hence they appear as ‘breakaway’ NRM members rather than as having ideological standpoints of their own.  Some may only appeal to one section of the Ugandan population, for example, Beti Kamya with her openly pro-Buganda sympathies which may hold little attraction for members of other tribal groups.

However, the decision as to whether or not to accept the results of the poll is none of our business.  It is up to the Ugandan people themselves.  What is our business as British citizens or citizens of other western countries is the use of money from international donors for a purpose for which it was not intended, if that is in fact proven to be the case.  If the figure of 40% of the national budget being diverted is true, then we have to consider the fact that the west provides about 40% of that budget.  40% of 40% is a lot of money and may now no longer be used to contribute to the education, health and other public services for which it was intended.   This is an issue about which British, American, Dutch and Irish taxpayers may have a view.  The economy is quite unstable in some western countries, and people are losing their jobs.  For how much longer will western donors be prepared to fund a national government which does not appear to look after its own people?  As someone who marched for Make Poverty History and has signed many petitions about increasing international aid, it is not easy for me or for others like me, to start questioning the appropriateness or wisdom of such aid continuing, certainly to its current extent, in Uganda.

Secondly, we need to consider quite carefully the role of NGOs and charities in countries like Uganda, where they may simply be used to apply Elastoplast to wounds which are far too deep and may, in fact, be self-inflicted.  All of us working for NGOs go through a process during which we question the ultimate purpose and impact of our work; that is only natural.  In many respects, Stuart and I feel that our most direct impact has actually been in the little school Royal Pride which is not, in fact, part of our ‘official’ work.  In Royal Pride we can make a difference to real children. 

In our everyday work, however, it is difficult to know what impact we are having.  We have come to the conclusion that perhaps our legacy will be the influence we have on the way our colleagues think about learners and learning, about education and about inspection in particular.  When we worked for HMIE we had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the inspectorate was completely incorruptible.  Every single HMI knew deep in his or her heart that although the work was immensely challenging, they were all doing it in order to make schools better places for children to learn.  At the heart of inspection is a high moral purpose.  Perhaps that sense of purpose will be what we leave behind. 

What we really do not want to do is to provide temporary patches to a public service which is being affected unnecessarily by short-term political decisions.

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