He says the time for election activities after the COVID-19 interruption is too short arguing that in the original roadmap, party candidate identification exercises were meant to last for at least four months but they have now been compressed to fit in about a month.
Kaheru says the EC needed to have involved stakeholders like political parties, civil society or even the aspirants in recasting this roadmap, like it has previously done.
“Elections are like a football match. If a game is going to be reduced from 90 minutes to 60 minutes, then players should be consulted because this reduction in time, the shortening of the game will inevitably place emotional and psychological pressure on players to re-adjust to the new timelines.”
Kaheru says if the process does not look consultative, if it does not seem participatory, if it does not come off as transparent, then certainly the outcome will not stand the test of credibility. He says consultations are more important than ever before because, these elections are going to dramatically change after the onset of COVID-19.
Kaheru says in countries like Guinea, Cameroon, Mali and Benin, voter participation has been very low because of the dramatic changes in the way elections have been conducted under the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even in Burundi, where recent elections had a semblance of normalcy, voter participation was comparatively low.
“It is not a matter of drafting SoPs or guidelines for election management. These must be backed by the law,” Kaheru says, “So, the EC should be planning on how to get the SoPs marinated in the election’s legal framework or else they will be contested and will further injure the integrity of the election.”
But Byabakama, who was a justice of the Court of Appeal, told journalists at the EC offices on June 19 that “whatever we are doing is grounded in the legal framework of the country.”
He cited sections of the electoral law and the powers of the Electoral Commission to determine the manner and period in which to conduct the elections.
He added: “In a country where inter and intraparty dynamics are such that generating consensus is a challenge, consulting with 29 political parties would have opened the floodgates of one-step forward and two steps backward.”
“We did not want to put ourselves in the arena of derailment and delay. Delay is not part of the vocabulary in the revised roadmap. It was not necessary to consult the other stakeholders. Matters of elections are purely grounded in law.”
On June 23, Ephraim Kamuntu, the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs had a rough time explaining to legislators in Parliament why the EC had adopted the new roadmap.
Kamuntu said the EC wants to preserve the health of the citizens but also give them their constitutional and democratic right to elect leaders of their choice as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Judith Nabakooba, the minister of ICT and National Guidance said in a statement released on June 22 that under the current circumstances of COVID-19, ‘scientific’ campaigns would be “the safest and most effective option that is available to us.” She said ‘scientific’ campaigns should work because Uganda is one of the most connected countries in Africa.
“We currently have about 309 radio stations and 36 television stations. Currently, about 90% of the country’s population has access to radio and 70% have access to television.”
Nabakooba added that Uganda has a unique blend of community radio stations that are providing customized information services to the different villages and parishes throughout the country.
“We have a vibrant network of telecommunication services led by different mobile telephone service providers such as airtel – available in 114 districts, MTN available in 79 districts, UTL available in 75 districts, africel available in 73 districts.”
Nabakooba said political parties should see this as an opportunity and learn and understand how to use the current media landscape to achieve the desired political goals. She said the political parties should also put in place smart media and communication task teams to guide their campaigning and communication objectives.
Byabakama and Nabakooba say they will ensure there is fairness when it comes to giving airtime to all candidates.
But Joseph Kabuleta, a former journalist-turned Pentecostal pastor who is also a government critic says the EC has no capacity to enforce what they are saying.
Under Uganda’s electoral laws, voters are entitled to equal treatment, freedom of expression and access to information of candidates, while every public officer and public authority and public institution is required to give equal treatment to all candidates and their agents. In reality, the opposite often happens because most media platforms are controlled by the government, its agents, or its supporters.
A 2011 study by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), a Kampala-based independent non-profit that is committed to excellence in journalism and mass communication in Africa, showed how this impacts political speech.
The study covered the period before the February 18, 2011 general election in which opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye was blocked from campaigning on radio and TV.
Some of the radios were owned by Mike Mukula the NRM vice chairman for eastern Uganda. He owns Voice of Teso in Soroti town in the northeast and Voice of Busoga in Jinja town in eastern Uganda. Mukula admitted that his stations had refused to air Besigye adverts.
“The owner of any business is at liberty to decide whom to do business with,” he said.
Not surprisingly, the opposition and some civil society players view enforcement institutions such as the police, the Electoral Commission, and the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) as biased and in favour of the incumbent president and his ruling party—the National Resistance Movement.
Patricia Munabi Babiiha, the executive director of the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE) said recently that broadcast and online campaigns will alienate a majority of potential women leaders due to limited access to internet by most Ugandans, the unequal distribution of airtime on broadcast media and the very high cost for purchasing broadcast media airtime. She says the Electoral Commission should consider offline activities to allow aspiring candidates hold consultations.