Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Whose Win Is It Anyway? A recap of Uganda's National Election

Well, the votes have been tallied, and no one is surprised at the outcome. This isn't to suggest that the people of Uganda are thrilled by this result, but that it's exactly what they expected. If you've read either of my pre-election posts you'll know a bit about the background to the election and the build up to the big day. You'll also likely be unsurprised to learn that President Museveni has once again found himself in the position of Head of State. What does this mean? Allow me to give you my opinion...

A friend of mine inquired about this exact question. She asked if the win was good. I replied with a two answer response. It's not that I think the outcome is great, but on the short-term, where my personal wellbeing is concerned, I'm okay with this outcome. It means that Museveni didn't* take military action against his people, and so far, it's seen relatively little protest by the people here - at least as far as physical protests are concerned. But, on the long term, it's bad. Really bad.

As I've stated previously, even if Museveni were the greatest leader that ever lived - which we can't deny that he's done some good for the country - no leader should be in power for 30+ years. So, with this win not only will he continue to make personal gains the basis of the vast majority of his decisions, he is also hurting Uganda. He's destroying the country's leading tourism destination**, he's making it more and more difficult for farmers to move beyond subsistence farming, and these are only a few of the issues that a good majority of Ugandans were hoping to address with the actual  results of last week's election. He's also heavily invested in the country... as in, he and his family own a lot of the industrial sector. Win or lose, he's a disaster for the long term wellbeing of Uganda. And sadly, I think this has played a factor in many of his votes - the fear that worse will come from change.

But I don't want to focus solely on this aspect of the election. I'd actually like to address the questions, concerns and comments I've been receiving over the last week. First, let me just say that I have appreciated all the messages I've received inquiring about my safety. By the fact that I am now posting this, I am happy to report that I am safe, unharmed, and overall felt very secure throughout the whole experience. Second, I'm going to tackle the post-election recap by touching on the events of election day, results day, and post-results. I'll finish by tackling an apparent theme in some of the commentary about this outcome. Some of you may not so much appreciate the latter part, but I'm not going to sit back and let these comments go unnoticed.

So, here goes...

Election day felt relatively regular in the morning. I went about my regular weekend routine, since we were housebound. The atmosphere appeared to be more engulfed in excitement and hope than fear or the potential threat of violence. In fact, there were record numbers of voters that cast their ballots. But there were also a number of polling stations that didn't open until later in the day (especially in areas where members of the opposition were thought to be the leading vote!). The reason for these delays was reported as not having yet received ballot papers. This left voters waiting in the intense heat for hours, just to have their say. But three really interesting events happened aside from that:
  1. Museveni called for the immediate shut down of all social media sites, which lasted until Monday morning. No Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc throughout election day and post-election weekend. This, he suggested, was to prevent violence and to stop the spread of lies. But, Ugandans also downloaded VPNs which allowed them to access these sites. The internet was also shut down for the better part of Thursday (election day) and sporadically throughout the weekend. Conveniently it came back online just moments before I had a scheduled Skype chat which had been planned for some time!
  2. Reports of pre-marked Museveni ballots were confiscated. Mind you, the linked article is from the Ugandan equivalent of the National Enquirer, so not really sure how serious to take this claim.
  3. Presidential candidate Dr. Kizza Besigye was detained by police. Suspicious? Yep. Why? Well, of course he was arrested when he found a home that he and a group of citizens believed to house a vote tampering operation. Reports from police insisted, however, that he was not "detained" but merely taken in for his own safety and protection! Regardless, he was later released.
In the evening, Aaron and I decided to order in. We figured this would be easier than venturing out, since we'd forgotten to thaw meat for dinner. Our first choice had a pop-up which stated that they couldn't deliver due to political unrest. And that was really the only indication that there were issues taking place. Well, that and the fact that our street was now being patrolled regularly by police.

The following day (brace yourself) Besigye was arrested... again. This time for wanting to hold a press conference where we was slated to suggest that the results of the election were not legitimate. He was later released, but was basically under house arrest, where no one was allowed to enter his home, and he was not allowed to leave. This speaks enormously to the legitimacy of the election process and Museveni's inability to accept defeat.

Saturday is what I have affectionately named Results Day! This was pretty much like any other day, except that there were plenty of military guys on the streets. It also included a delightful and unwelcome 5:30AM helicopter wake up call. This continued throughout the day, although I'm not certain of what they were doing. My understanding is that there was a mix of transporting officials and surveillance. Either way, it was pretty low key. Results were announced at 4PM, and to no one's surprise - and as the beginning of this posted already indicated - Museveni won... and by a whopping 60.75% of the votes! Now, obviously there is some speculation that this is not reflective of the actual votes cast, but, for now these are the results. Besigye had initially stated he would not contest them (as he's done with previous elections), but a recent article is suggesting he's changed his mind. However, as I said, it's still early days - anything is possible!

The day following the announcement of the election results, it rained. This was the first time I'd seen actual rain in a couple of months**. And, if I didn't know better, I'd say god was crying over the outcome of the weeks events. However, there was a distinct moment where I was actually uncertain of whether I was hearing thunder in the distance or an explosion of some sort... It turned out to just be thunder, thankfully.

You can't really tell... but it's raining.
There also appeared to not be a lot of news or any foolishness related to the results announced the day before, other than a pretty displeased statement from the US Embassy, making it a (thankfully) fairly uneventful post-election weekend. Lots of articles were posted, and in an attempt to not make this the most depressing post ever, I'd like to share with you a screen shot of my favourite election-related article.

To read the associated article click this here
Photo credit: Daily Monitor
Now on Monday, we were permitted to return to work, but cautioned to avoid large crowds and such. Oh! and Besigye was arrested once again. I know - you're probably just as shocked as I am. This time he has been detained whilst finally being allowed to leave the premises of his home. Where was he going, you ask? Well, of course to the Electoral Commission to request a copy of the results!

And finally, I apologize if the following rant upsets you, but it needs to be said. And actually, I'm not sure I do apologize... particularly given the topic matter. If I've misinterpreted comments, then I do apologize for that, or if I misquote something here, then please, by all means let me know so I can correct it. But, for those of you who have commented on the "disorganization and lack of common sense" depicted in some of the media reports, I'd like to say this: People are fighting here - not because they seek violence and mischief but because they want a future that is in their favour, that is peaceful, and that is free. They are fighting for freedoms that many of you reading this are given, without thought, just because we happen to be born in a particular area of the world. Ugandans came out in droves, and depending on which results you look at, the final tally has not been reflected. The "disorganization" referenced is a reflection of the current, and sadly, continuing government, that has created the chaos being reported through Western news outlets. And this "lack of common sense" is also a complete fabrication. I spoke with MANY Ugandans prior to the election, and the vast majority stated they were voting for representatives which do not reflect the outcome of last week's election. The people here know what's going on. This apparent lack of common sense is being perpetuated through a government that isn't willing to step down, and has taken extreme measures to ensure it will not have to.

Africa, on a whole, has in fact seen some pretty horrific and unjust events, but perhaps we need a little self-reflection on this matter. Africans are not inherently violent, stupid, or insert any number of the inaccurate and unfair adjectives that have been labelled on the people of this continent. This is a myth that has been exasperated and perpetuated by the legacies of the very people who have created these falsehoods in the first place. And let's take a step back for a second - has anyone been watching the current US election? Donald Trump**** winning primaries?! Or, perhaps a more Canadian example, anyone remember the massive riots that occurred after Vancouver lost the Stanley Cup a few years back?! Common sense can be found both functioning and lacking in any area of the world - it is not exclusively found in one particular spot and to think so is nothing short of racist.

So, with that, I'm going to take a breath. I promise to post any updates should anything arise. But hopefully, all will be calm, and that the true results come to light, followed by nothing less than peace.

-the Orange Canadian

So, it appears as though our friend, President Museveni is up to his old tricks... or should I say, continues to be. Dr. Besigye has been arrested AGAIN! Making it a total of 4 times in just over a week. Ugh. BUT this just in: Museveni has declared tomorrow a public holiday. For what, you ask? Well, there are mayoral elections taking place and he is trying to show his encouragement of the democratic process... The next few days should be interesting. People are becoming more and more outraged with the continuous arrests of Besiyge. So, it appears this won't be my last post on the National Election. 

*It's still early days, so there is still a possibility for things to go sideways.
**To get involved or to learn more check out the Save Adventure Tourism in Uganda website or Facebook page
***Rainy season ended in December.
****Who recently stated that Ugandans were cowards... and who is actually in agreement with most of the garbage that spews from his mouth?!

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