The Independent Team
As a donor country, the American taxpayer needs to know the dollars being sent to this country are being wisely spent
You have held discussions with several people. What impression do you have about Uganda’s 2011 presidential elections?
These are important elections. It’s important for this country to get it right, to restore credibility for government, with their constituencies as well as the outside world.
That challenge is not unique to Uganda. Every country has its problems: of apathetic voters, cynical voters, disengaged voters who think it doesn’t make sense to participate and for governments and democracies to succeed they have to have credibility and that is what is at stake here.
What has struck you most about the preparations?
It’s not moving faster. A lot of people are saying we are not going to be ready and the election is months away. I don’t know why it takes months to have some kind of proper arrangements. First of all election reform is an unending task. Look at the US; we have enormous state laws, federal laws and every state had to go through and revamp its electoral laws. So the fact that Uganda is having problems should not be discouraging. You always have to work at improving it. And everything has to be geared towards: my vote counts. It shouldn’t be about the election is going to be stolen. And the process has to be transparent and people have to see it. The Electoral Commission has to ensure that people know what happens. Once that happens people are going to be interested in politics, get engaged. Why should people vote if their vote doesn’t count? Why should candidates’ run if they think something is weird. I think what emerging democracies need to do is to restore credibility.
What needs to be done in Uganda to have a perfect election?
You will never have a perfect election. You’re always going to be working to make it work. I think you can have voter registration within two weeks to the election. There is talk about the biometric system. That is an interesting idea. We are talking about using that in the US with the immigration problem. I think specifically voter registration has to continue so that people have a chance to be registered and properly listed.
There is a directive by The US Congress to Secretary Hillary Clinton to make periodic reports about the period leading to elections. Do you think it matters?
I think the United States has to set an example here. We want to have honest elections here and elections of integrity and we are working on doing that. Civic engagement is important in a society. Americans spend a lot of money and sacrificed blood to help other countries to try to take a shot at democracy. As a donor country, the American taxpayer needs to know the dollars being sent to this country are being wisely spent or are they going to a corrupt government? If there is a question, then there will be unwillingness to send those dollars.
Do you think the forces of change in any country must come from within or without?
Both. You need to have people from within agitating for change and outside groups coming to help.
How about in a society that seems to have given up?
Outside democracies help emerging democracies. My country’s democracy was born with help from the French. The British would probably have won a number of battles if it had not been for the French navies. American people understand that we have to help one another. In 2000 America had an embarrassing experience in the world. And a lot people were saying should America be doing this. And we were embarrassed by that and it didn’t look right and the elections didn’t look right and there were questions about our integrity.
Do you election monitors matter in elections?
I think it’s useful for the country to know that the rest of the world is watching. I think President Carter has done a lot of good things around the world. It sends a signal. Be transparent people are watching what you are doing. Listen to other countries’ suggestions and come up with ideas. We learn from each other and monitors help us do that.
But in Uganda’s case they have only played a rubber stamp role to what the Electoral Commission has declared about the elections.
That is a sham. They have to go to places unannounced. They need to have access to computer data.
What is your view about the composition of the Electoral Commission?
All parties, factions and interest groups have to be represented. They have to have time to do their work not a just come a night before and set up shop. They need to have a proper place where citizens can go if they have problems. There is need for laws for guaranteeing the security of the elections. People have to see their government providing services not as a place for enriching themselves. Corruption is everywhere; it’s not just unique to Uganda. I come from a state that has just sacked a governor for trying to sell Barack Obama’s senate seat. I come from a state where over 2000 officials since 1970 have been implicated in corruption related scandals.
What do you expect of an election that is organised by a commission fully elected by one of the contestants?
That will not have credibility. If people are going to do that they are better off doing nothing.