Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Time to batten down the hatches….

So here we are in the flat, not allowed out until at least Tuesday, after the election results have been announced, and possibly for another day or two after that.  We can withstand a siege, having stocked up at the supermarket, unlike the average Kampalan who only eats what he or she has earned that day.  Let’s hope they can leave their houses to work.

It’s certainly been a very noisy day.  The ruling NRM has hired just about every boda boda driver in the city to drive up and down the streets wearing bright yellow T shirts and sounding their horns.  Although it has all been quite good humoured, it is quite intimidating to be confronted by 20 or 30 motorbikes sweeping down the street towards you.  In contrast, we have seen only two vehicles with IPC supporters, though apparently there was a huge mass rally up at Makerere University.

We ourselves are perfectly safe.  Our compound has high walls, big metal gates which are firmly padlocked at night and razor wire across the top of both.  We have a night watchman, admittedly not armed - unlike most of them.  We used to have an armed guard.  The first one, who, I am pretty certain, was a Pygmy, actually arrived with bow and arrows, these weapons later to be replaced by an antiquated rifle salvaged from the First World War trenches.  However, armed guards cost more, so we are back to our amiable watchman.  We live on the outskirts, in a very pleasant residential area a long way away from the centre to which trouble, if there is any, is likely to be restricted.

Stuart and I are behaving according to character, proving we are completely mismatched, as if we didn’t know already.  I am following VSO advice to the letter.  I have built up our stock of water. I have purchased three thousand cans of food.  I have bought extra airtime.  I have forced Stuart at knife point to fill the petrol tank.  I have insisted we go to the local police station to get telephone numbers.  I am now about to begin the process of persuading my husband to pack a small bag with essentials, as VSO instructs, in case we are evacuated – rather like a pregnant first-time mother.  However, I know only too well that Stuart’s definition of ‘essentials’ involves only his golf clubs - not, I think, what the High Commission has in mind.  He is currently preparing for the next five days by drinking a beer on the balcony (and he has 18 bottles at the ready, so not entirely unprepared).

And what is it really going to be like, this election?

Well, firstly, like virtually every aspect of Ugandan life, it will be dominated by ‘ghosts’.  We have ghost schools, ghost pupils, ghost teachers, ghost health centres, ghost nurses, ghost doctors, ghost roads, ghost soldiers and ghost policemen.  All these ghosts require salaries, per capita allocations and fees for work uncompleted.  Fortunately for the ghosts, there are plenty of flesh and blood people prepared to accept these payments on their behalf. 

Well, we now have ghost voters. 

Uganda officially has about 32 million people.  Interestingly, it has 13.9 million registered voters.  Now, let’s have a look at the arithmetic.  60% of the population is under the voting age of eighteen.  That leaves 40% able to register – 12.8 million people.   Of course, some of these potential voters live up mountains or deep in the forests without transport to go and register.  Some are ill, some are in prison, some are old and dying and unable to register.  And some, of course, will have made a free choice not to register.  

In fact, a lot of people have not registered.  One story in the papers was that 50% of young people between 18 and 24 have not registered.  They have only ever known one President and cannot believe that it is possible to have a different one, even though they have seven other candidates to choose from, and even though the incumbent’s majority has fallen election on election - this despite the fact that last time his chief rival was unable to campaign as he was in jail and was let out only just before the election.  Young people's confidence about the future is not helped by journalists and toadies who talk about the President’s 'next twenty years'.  

We ourselves know people who have not registered – educated, intelligent, professional people.  The reason?   They do not believe that their vote will make a difference.  They say things like, ‘the elections are always rigged, what’s the point?’.  They do not believe that change is possible and they certainly do not believe that they can make it happen.  Whereas in the UK, people do not vote because they are apathetic, in Uganda people do not vote because they are fatalistic.

And what do the professional organisations say?   

The Democracy Monitoring Group (DEMgroup), an NGO funded by Europe, has challenged the Electoral Commission (EC) on the registration figures.  The EC has refused to budge.  However, its own findings indicate that the electoral register has at least half a million multiple entries of the same voters.  It is claimed that under-aged young people have been registered as well as foreigners.  Uganda is a country where in most rural areas, registering births is not standard practice, where nobody has a postal address and where many members of the population share the same ethnic origin, facial characteristics and language as Tanzanians, Kenyans and Sudanese, all of whom live in Uganda in quite large numbers.  Consequently, ensuring that the voters’ register is ‘clean’ is a very challenging job.  Hence, the ghosts.

Any other potential issues?  Here’s a selection, some more and some less worrying.

  • Kampala’s streets are crowded with armed policemen, armed soldiers and armed and uniformed security guards, far more than we have ever seen before.  Of course, the place always bristles with weapons, but even more so just now.  There are armoured vehicles mounted with guns.  There are transporters crowded with ‘military’ personnel.  However, the mood is reasonably relaxed and we have never felt any need to be concerned…… so far.
  • A man has been arrested in Mbale (eastern Uganda) in possession of 100 bows and 200 arrows.
  • In the 2006 election a number of ballot boxes arrived in the north with the ballot papers already filled in.  Also in 2006, a number of ballot boxes complete with contents were found in the fields after the votes were counted.  In some towns, 110% of people on the electoral register cast their votes.
  • A man has been arrested for flashing a ‘V’ sign (associated with the FDC) at Janet Museveni, the President’s wife.  The district criminal investigation officer is quoted as saying, ‘He looked suspicious given that he had a mask and was abnormally tall.’  Clearly, only midgets have democratic intentions.
  • A DEMgroup survey has come out with the conclusion that more than 5 million voters in the Buganda and Busoga regions will only cast their vote for the party which bribes them.
  • The director of the Ugandan Communications Commission has said that if it is found (through surveillance, presumably) that cell phones are being used to send ‘certain text messages’ (as in Tunisia and Egypt?) the mobile and internet companies will be closed down.  However, the director reassured them that ‘we are not threatening anybody’.
  • President Museveni, on being asked if there was likely to be mass protest as in Egypt laughed and said of course not,'Ugandans are freedom fighters, not office workers like the Egyptians'.  I am still trying to puzzle that one out.

And who do we think will win?  Museveni, of course.

So, in the meantime, Stuart and I will sit back, drink the contents of our drinks cabinet and contemplate the back garden.  I will spend my time blogging, because I am now addicted, and try desperately to post my missives before all communications are cut off.  Stuart will just drink beer.


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