Friday, 12 February 2016

Building up to the National Election

Well, it’s election time once again! Now, I’m not talking about the upcoming US election that appears to be capturing much of the worlds attention – no I'm talking about the fast-approaching Ugandan National election! And, while the excitement of pre-election anticipation is in the air, it’s certainly not the same as what I’ve become accustomed to. For starters, let me give a little background information.

Uganda became independent of British rule on October 9, 1962. The presidency was held the following year, and has had a series of presidents since. Most notably is Idi Amin, who held office from 1971 until 1979. Anyone who follows history knows that didn’t go so well… And then another group of presidents took office, until January 1986 – thirty years ago – when current president Yoweri Museveni took lead of the country. Museveni is associated with the National Resistance Movement, or NRM.

President Museveni
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Now, I know what you’re thinking, that’s a long time to be in power – and you’d be right. He’s been in power longer than most of my friends and co-workers have been alive*. But he’s not necessarily been in office that long because of his excellent policies and ability to lead... Depending on who you talk to there is a myriad of tales riddled with corruption and fixed election results. I mean, after all there is supposed to be a two-term maximum in office, which would equal no more than ten years**.

You will undoubtedly be unsurprised to learn that Museveni is, once again, running in this election. But there are a number of other candidates vying for this top spot, as well. These include (but are not limited to***):
  • Kizza Besigye from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party – Besigye has been a presidential candidate since the 2001 election campaign. According to Wikipedia, he challenged the outcome of the 2006 results, but was ruled in favour of Museveni’s win. He was also arrested in 2001 for allegedly committing an act of treason. Besigye and Museveni have been the main contenders for the last 15 years.
Presidential candidate, Besigye
Photo Credit: the Observer (Uganda)
  • Amama Mbabazi from the newly formed Go Forward party – Now, Mbabazi is an interesting case, for he worked – for many years – as one of Museveni’s top advisors. There has been much speculation that he was responsible for many of the acts of corruption within Museveni’s group. This makes his candidacy especially intriguing, because despite these allegations, he appears to be the real contender against Museveni. In contrast, however, there is also much speculation that the two are actually working in cahoots with one another – despite the very public quarrel between them.
Presidential candidate Mbabazi
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Now that I’ve outlined the main contenders, let’s talk about the election itself. Speaking with many of my Ugandan friends, my co-workers, boda drivers, and random people I meet along my adventures, there’s a lot of resistance to the idea of voting. For those unwilling or unsure of whether or not they will be casting their vote on February 18th, it’s not because they don’t want to have their voice heard – it’s because they are certain regardless of who they vote for, it will be meaningless.

Many of you have endured conversations and rants – including in a previous post – about my sentiments of not casting a vote when you have been granted the right, but in this instance, I understand, fully, the reluctance to do so. I’ve heard a wide range of rationalizations as to why some I have spoken with have decided not to bother participating in the coming election. Most of these include some derivative of the fact that many believe, no matter who the people vote for the outcome of the election has already been determined. Some have also stated they fear the initial outcome if Museveni were to loose (which will be discussed momentarily). And in one interesting conversation, the individual outlined a concern for what could be if they vote for a new regime. This individual used the example of past president Amin, and even used examples of some of the alleged acts initiated under the current presidency. Bottom line, there is a real fear and validated concern for the unknown. Even for those who do not like Museveni, they still would prefer to see him continue on, than the potential for someone far worse.

So, what’s it like ‘on the ground’? Exciting, for one. But, there’s also an element of caution and awareness that things are a bit tense and could get messy. I don’t feel as though there is anything for you lovely folks at home to be worried about, but it is, of course a reality.

I’ve been told that regardless of whether Museveni is re-elected or not, people will likely take to the streets. Museveni, himself, has threatened military action if he loses****. People are also claiming they will protest if he wins. Either way, my co-workers, friends and even the Canadian Consulate here in Kampala have advised to stay inside for the days following the election – including the day of. And, of course, I’m taking these recommendations seriously. The Consulate has instructed us***** to stock up on food, maintain airtime, and to ensure we have plenty of electricity, cooking gas, and that our phones are fully charged.

I’ll be honest with – I appreciate so much more my privilege of being Canadian. Even with Harper in power for the past 10 years, the concerns expressed by many I have chatted with don’t even come close. The Robocall scandal, while unacceptable, is nothing compared to the vote-grabbing tactics alleged here******.  The fact that I can line up, without fear, to cast my vote, or knowing that if an unfavorable outcome is reached people may show their dissatisfaction, but the threat of violence or military action is not something any of us would ever ponder, let alone realize. Even just to be able to discuss, openly, an election without fear. I’ve had no say over where I was born, but I’m so thankful for the rights I have been afforded by something so arbitrary and out of my control. It’s shameful to me, that given these freedoms, so many Canadians choose not to exercise their right to vote – even if they don’t have an individual they identify with or desire to vote for. Spoil your vote – show up, but don’t select a candidate. I mean, we’d see a major difference if all who chose to be voiceless were heard… ESPECIALLY the younger folk!

Anyway, there is definitely a certain nervousness for what’s to follow in the days after the results are revealed, but that is also met with a lot of excitement. It’s an exciting time to be in Uganda! There are many possibilities for the results, even though it seems likely that the status quo will remain. But there’s hope. Hope for change and hope for a better, stronger Uganda.

-the Orange Canadian

*When I first grasped this fact, I realized – in partial disbelief – that in this same span, I have lived under the “leadership” of 6 Prime Ministers, 3 (4?) of which were in the last 10 years of my life or my entire adult life/since I was eligible to vote! Paul Martin’s winning election was my very first time voting.
**Each term is 5 years.
***Throw back to the good ‘ol days of Mr. Bullock’s GBJH!
****Which is unlikely that he will lose, so please don’t worry! But also, even the head of the military says he won’t allow that to happen - regardless of who is causing havoc.

*****We’ve also been told to keep our passports handy… just in case we need to move – a precaution highly unlikely to be required.
******There have been reports of buses of people from Rwanda and South Sudan arriving in the country to vote, even though they are not Ugandan citizens. 

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