The discussion of Free and Fair Elections that started as regional consultative meetings has culminated into a National Consultation on Free and Fair Elections.
On 12th November 2014, at Hotel Africana the conveners of the process addressed a huge media presence in which the National Consultation on Free and Fair Elections was unveiled to the people of Uganda. According Crispy Kaheru, of Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, the Coordinator of the National Consultation, the regional forums have been conducted for two months during which over 3,000 leaders from across the political, religious, and professional divide among other affiliations united as Ugandans to facilitate a discussion about the future of Uganda.
During these regional meetings, it was evident that men, women, youth and children did set aside their differences in favor of putting Uganda first. For instance in Kigezi, I noted the people’s resilience which was manifested through a school choir that recited a poem and sang a song that left many of them emotional about the Uganda they want for all.
The National Consultation is expected to be graced by over 1,000 delegates representing all political parties, labour movements, trade unions, academia, women, youth, religious affiliations, the business community and civil society organizations across the country. The three day event which scheduled to take place from the 24th to 26th November 2014 at Hotel Africana is expected to be opened by the President of the Republic of Uganda, His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
Top on the agenda of the National Consultation is deliberation on a wide range of constitutional and electoral reforms whose need cannot be over emphasized owing to the recurrence of this discussion in many different meetings without logical conclusion. According to Father Batanyenda Gaetano, “This is a very important process for our country, things have been done for us, and this is the time for us to do things by ourselves.”
The Conveners of the National Consultation believe that this event will generate consensus among the citizens to fortify a logical way forward for free and fair elections in Uganda.
It is imperative to note that the National Consultation comes at a very opportune moment, at the epitome of the launch of the Citizens’ Manifesto, the roll out of the Free and Fair Elections Campaign, the interparty Political Organization dialogue and now the cabinet matrix on the electoral and constitutional reforms. In essence, this national consultation offers another stage for Uganda to sit down and create a meaningful discussion that might usher in a new dawn in the history of Uganda.
The story of the controversial 1980 general elections has been told for long enough. Even after the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution, the general elections held since then have been contentious with others resulting into rigorous court battles. Several reports have qualified our general elections to have fallen short of being free and fair. However, instead of Ugandans learning from their mistakes and resolving not to repeat them, the irregularities have been swept under the carpet and life has moved on.
By and large, the National Consultation is a major success to all Ugandans that generated this idea and how other players will embrace it is a debate for another day. Even as Uganda’s history has been characterized by political and constitutional instability, a new page has been opened to facilitate a discussion about our future. A peaceful transition is possible if it is managed by competent systems some of which will be realized through constitutional and electoral reforms.
The concept of internal democracy within our political parties has been admired but has not been practiced. Analysts have observed that if our political parties still lack internal democracy then their party flaws will affect the nation. A case in point is the recent storm within the National Resistance Movement Organization which many attribute to lack of internal democracy. If party members cannot agree on their flag bearers for different leadership positions, how then will they conform to democratic governance principles when it comes to general elections? This is one of the reasons for which the National Consultation will address political party internal democracy as a cardinal element for the democratization of Uganda as a nation.
In order for efficient management of elections and better performance of constitutional commissions, Ugandans want a competitive recruitment process that emphasizes meritocracy and impartiality in building our country. Many Ugandans lost faith in Electoral Commission steered by the Eng. Dr. Badru Kiggundu and they believe that should change. It is my humble belief that even if Eng. Dr. Kiggundu was removed today and the same electoral rules were maintained, a new Chairperson of the Electoral Commission would still make the same mistakes.
Uganda deserves a new competent and independent electoral management system to restore faith in the Electoral process and to allow the people of Uganda to freely exercise the power to choose who to govern them and how they should be governed. Our 1995 Constitution provides the avenue for exercising that power and that is through regular free and fair elections. In our current electoral system, it is not even criminal to disfranchise a citizen through deletion from the national voter register. It should be our concern that every 18 year old is given an opportunity to be registered as a voter and once registered, only death should be the basis for striking off a voter from the register. In that regard, the citizens are demanding for an accurate Voters’ Register that is permanently displayed and available to all stakeholders.
Similarly, the appointment of election management staff should be streamlined and made transparent since these are at the forefront of managing the exercise of our power to choose leaders.
I have said it on many occasions that a country without an independent legislature and judiciary is not a government, but only a regime that is impersonating the role of a legitimate government. Without independence of these arms of government there is no governance. The National Consultation has a whole set of reforms that citizens want and among these is the need to ensure effective redistribution of power among the agencies of state and building a strong system of checks, balances and accountability.
Not long ago the spokesperson of our national army called upon media houses to desist from involving the army in partisan matters. But I have asked myself what is the army doing in a partisan parliament, are they guiding the elected MPs on how to conduct business or they are engaging in partisan debate? Many Ugandans want the role of the military in our politics redefined. Personally I believe that our army has no space in partisan discussion.
In recent times, our politics has been described as the ‘Tuli Mu Kintu’ (We are in the system) and now it has been elevated to the ‘Pilao’ politics. Service delivery has been transformed into service diversionary. When citizens are deprived of their rights to service delivery, they resort to being beggars in their own country while the leaders qualify themselves as the providers or givers. This trend has monetized our politics and made politics a lucrative business at the expense of service delivery. The monetization of politics also saw Uganda’s economy come to its knees after the 2011 general elections that were followed by catastrophic inflation. Inflationary pressures resulted in high commodity prices and interest rates and it is basically the common man who could not afford some basic commodities. Therefore there is a need to adopt rules that prevent the misuse and/or misappropriation of (public) funds in our elections and other important political processes.
The three day national consultation is set to address electoral and constitutional reforms. According to its conveners; the main outcome of the National Consultation will be the Citizens’ Compact on Free and Fair Elections, which will contain the citizens’ agreement on the way forward. The Compact will be presented to the Parliament of Uganda for enactment into legislation. During Parliament’s Plenary session on 11/11/2014, the Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Hon. Kahinda Otafiire said that the 21st November 2014 is the deadline for all reforms to be presented to Parliament and whether the citizens’ proposals will not be late Father Batanyenda said that this process of the National Consultation is too important to be excluded from the proposed constitutional amendments otherwise who will they be doing the amendments for?
Every citizen becomes proud once they are given a favorable environment to do their work and develop their nation. Lao Tzu said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and the National Consultation on Free and Fair elections is one step towards creating favorable environment for peace, sustainable development and democratic governance in Uganda.