Crispin Kaheru is the Coordinator of the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) which recently wrote an open letter to President Museveni on electoral reforms. He spoke to Ian Katusiime about the issues raised.
In your open letter to the President, you talk about monetisation of elections but this sounds futile given that it is the preferred method of the President when he is campaigning.
It is true there have been allegations that the President thrives on the use of money and we have also seen his actions point in that direction. But it’s a wrong thing, you can’t depend on money to win an election or to bribe voters. And there is a foul effect of money in elections, the reason we are appealing to the President to take steps to back up his words with actions. He has gone on record denouncing the use of money to win elections and we want to believe his words. We are asking him to support the Campaign Finance Bill 2018 then we will know he is genuine. If not we will continue to doubt him. Campaign spending must be regulated.
You talk about the Campaign Finance Bill 2018 as a solution. But we know how laws are disregarded in this country.
That is a first level solution. If you would like to secure institutional backing to fight illicit use of money in elections then you need a legal framework and presently it doesn’t exist. If we have a law to regulate campaign spending, that is a first step. For example if you go to the Electoral Commission (EC) and report to them a complaint about one of the candidates in a given constituency using lots of money to campaign, the first question would be: is there a law that prohibits enormous amounts of money in an election? The answer is it doesn’t exist.
Are there ways the national register can be improved to avoid the usual ghost voters?
It is possible. First we have made a fundamental move from a manual to an automatic voters’ register that is derived from the national ID registry. That, we have done perfectly well; especially with the coming into effect of the Registration of Persons Act. What needs to happen is for us to clean the national ID register as the main master document so that by the time the EC extracts from the national voters register, it is doing so from a clean mother document.
Ugandans are very keen on registering to obtain a national ID because it is required at a bank, at work, hospital but the same Ugandans are not keen on registering deaths. Because of that laxity, we find so many ghosts on the national ID register and on the voters’ register. For us to be able to clean that up, we need to run a sustained campaign to tell Ugandans that it is important for Ugandans to register family and friends who have passed on. If you don’t, the ghosts will stay on the register. I think if we run that campaign in collaboration with National Identification Registration Authority (NIRA), EC, the citizens of this country, then we are actually closer to getting a clean national voters’ register. It is also important to file reports of Ugandans who have forfeited their citizenship.
In spite of all this energy you have to get people to register for National IDs, there is still apathy to vote in elections. As CCEDU, how do you work around this?
The main area of interest for CCEDU is to get more and more people to exercise their franchise. What we do is we run different citizen and voter mobilisation campaigns. If you recall, in 2011 when opposition political parties were going to boycott the election, our remedy was that people can pronounce themselves on governance issues by participating rather than by staying away. So we came up with the ‘honour your vote’ campaign in 2011. In 2015 when EC and government kicked off the mass enrollment for national ID, we supported the process through the votability campaign. And over 95% of Ugandans that were supposed to register went and registered. In 2016 we had the ‘Topowa’ campaign where we mobilised people despite the logistical challenges that affected the election. I think 68% was a substantial figure based on the 57% that turned up in 2011. So those are the campaigns that we run.
Now that government is launching an effort at sub- county level to register people for National IDs, we as CCEDU are also planning to launch a massive nation-wide campaign to support the process. Get your national ID because it is your gateway to exercising your voting right and we will launch that in February.