Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | As the presidential and parliamentary campaigns close, candidates have taken advantage of the gap in voter education and misinformation to increase their visibility ahead of the Thursday polls. Several candidates have produced short video and audio messages to guide the electorate on what to do once at the polling station.
However, more emphasis is being placed on how to cast a valid vote given the high number of invalids in the past election cycles. On top of the usual campaign posters, candidates have printed more materials demonstrating how voters can choose their preferred candidate. Some of the candidates have also stepped drives in their constituencies reminding the voters on the dates among other important things.
Muhammad Ssegiringya, one of the candidates for the Kawempe North parliamentary seat is one of the candidates who have almost filled his electoral area with different posters demonstrating how people should vote.
Ssegirinya who claims to have invested more than Shillings 10 million in the process notes that although there are very many first-time voters, Electoral Commission has not done enough to educate them. He says that he decided to take on the mantle fearing that voter ignorance may cost him votes and deny him victory.
Besides Ssegirinya, many other candidates and their agents including the campaign teams of President Yoweri Museveni and Robert Kyagulanyi have also embarked on the door-to-door campaigns to educate voters on what to do. Wilberforce Kyambadde, the FDC Nakawa West parliamentary candidate and his team have been using the door to door campaign to seek support and educate voters how to conduct themselves at polling stations and how to vote.
“Voter education is critical. If the Electoral Commission failed to conduct it, we can do it ourselves. We cannot risk losing votes just like that. You know in an election each vote counts,” said Kyambadde. However, as candidates intensify their voter education campaign, several misleading messages are also making rounds on several social media platforms.
In several suburbs of Kampala, people are taking the misinformation as gospel truth. For instance, Isa Mulumba and Rashid Kityo, both residents of Kampala central division made claims that EC has imported pens whose ink will disappear which is incorrect.
Some of the propagandists are deliberately giving contradicting polling dates to voters indicating the presidential candidates will be voted on different days. Charity Ahimbisibwe, the Executive Director the Citizen’s Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), says the low levels of voter education and the ever increasing misinformation will certainly have a big impact on voter behavior on the polling day.
Ahimbisibwe says that they have asked EC to allow them to continue with the voter education even during the voting days so as they raise awareness among voters.
Peter Bogere is the Civic Education Project coordinator at Uganda Project Implementation and Management Centre (UPIMAC), an organization that has been designing voter education modules ahead of different electoral cycles. Bogere says the absence of modules has been one of the missing links in the previous election cycles.
In their judgment on the 2016 presidential election petition, Supreme Court Judges ordered the electoral commission to kick start voter education as soon as the electoral road map is realized. Although the Commission contracted several companies to undertake the task, little or nothing has been done to date. Electoral experts note that voter education impacts the voter turn up, proper casting of votes and thus reduce invalid votes, which have been a snowballing problem for more than two decades.