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Internet shutdown: Consumers can sue telecom firms for breach of contracts during the elections

Charity Ahimbisibwe, the National Coordinator at the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)

Kampala, Uganda |  THE INDEPENDENT |  Isaac Khisa  Uganda has concluded the 2021 General Election with the voting of the president, MPs and the Local Councils. Charity Ahimbisibwe, the National Coordinator at the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) spoke to The Independent’s Isaac Khisa in an exclusive interview about the electoral process, voter education and the initiatives that that need to be implemented a head of the 2026 General Elections.

What do you make of the just concluded presidential, MPs and the Local council elections in relation to voter education?

The recently held Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council elections indicates that that voter education was very low. We had a high number of spoilt ballots and more than seven million voters didn’t turn up to vote. 

Now that is no ordinary figure to ignore because it speaks to the fact that either they didn’t get enough information to empower them to go and vote or they thought that all the candidates that were there did not embrace them. Had they been given a chance to know what each of the candidates had in their manifestos, then, probably they would have understood and turned up to vote. Relatedly, it also indicates that the voter education did not empower them enough to understand the worth of their vote – that they had the vote but did not make a connection between the worth of their vote and the service delivery. 

And this says a lot about the elections that we normally hold. That as a country we normally have ideological and emotional elections as compared to rational or sociological election models. Rational election models means that a voter is rationally able to say that the manifesto of for instance, John Katumba, has the following issues which matter to me at household, national, regional or global level. Sociological election model is where the voter connects with the social issues in their societies or as an individual and the person vying for leadership. 

How can that be changed?

It is through voter education such that people begin to have open discussions on issues of character, willingness, and agendas, and how to prioritise them to be able to deliver to the citizens. A voter therefore need to be empowered to understand the connection between his/her vote and the issues he/she faces on a daily basis to be able to vote the best candidate. 

For many years, women and youth have been seen as marginalized in the electoral process. What is your assessment of the level of participation of women and youth in this year’s electoral process?

Women did not show up very much in this electoral process because majority of the 7.7million voters who didn’t vote were women. Yet the voters register has more than 9million women. That means that there’s something we need to interrogate, and it is only through voter education sessions. Some countries especially in Europe carry out election audits so that their electoral bodies are able to improve voter’s participation in the subsequent elections.  

What are some of the lessons that learnt in this year’s election?

We have learnt that we can use the internet, WhatsApp, posters, flyers, reflector jackets and ordinary door-to-door to get our campaign messages across voters without necessarily having big rallies. We have also learnt that the campaign period is very crucial for both the candidate and voters because this is the time that the information trickles down to the electorates.

What is your message to those who won or lost the elections?

The message to those who won is congratulation. But now that that you are in that position, please keep in touch with the citizenry, identify their needs and if need be, deliver at least one of the promises. Let them (voters) be able to relate that one particular service or policy that improved their livelihood. That is a win-win for all.

 The winners should also know that they have ceased to carry agendas of their political parties alone but taken up a nationalistic role as well. 

I believe that every leader who has won will be able to deal with issues that confronts them from the perspective of nationalism and not from the perspective of their political parties. For those who lost, it has never been easy to lose and that is not the end of the world. 

You lost this time round but you could find yourself back after the next five years. You can also capitalize on the benefits you gained from contesting to position yourself for the next election. For instance, Joyce Bagala lost to Judith Nabakooba, the current State Minister for ICT in the previous election. She stood again and has beaten the same person in this recent election. Therefore, keep in touch with the people you presented your agenda.

This election has created divisions among the citizens –those who won and those who lost – especially of the top seat, presidency. How can this be addressed?

The ideological/emotive election model actually emphasizes three things and it is not only unique to Uganda. These are ethnicity, tribe and religion. This is the model of our elective politics that we chose and thus brought us to where we are now. 

We now need a fundamental shift in the model of our elections and politics. We also better not use these divisions to divide us but enable us have a dialogue on how we can build cohesion. The solution now is that we need to shift our model of election from the current ideological to either rational or sociological election models such that we do not see elections in the perspective of ethnicity, tribe or religion. 

How can the Electoral Commission ensure that there’s inclusivity of all people in the electoral process?

The entire electoral process had very low publicity, and therefore limited inclusion. For instance, looking at the elders’ elections, the elders themselves didn’t know that the elections were taking place right from the grass root and that they were in the Electoral College. 

Similarly, how many people knew or participated in the Workers Election? For purposes of elections, the EC and other stakeholders were supposed to tell both the unionist and the non-unionist workers through emails, offices, newspapers, radios and TVs of the day and venue of voting their representatives such that all people in that facet and who are supposed to participate in the electoral process, can do so. 

 Looking at those who usually go to parliament from the category of People With Disabilities (PWDs), it is usually those with physical disabilities. 

The blind and the dumb are usually sidelined. There are always no brail to enable them to vote, and same to the sign language tutors who are supposed to be at each polling stations to help those with hearing impairment. In fact, if it is about the nation first, we could actually get rid of these classes and instead consider only PWD because they are only 5 million in Uganda. However, youth’s elections have become so popular because many of them went around trying to situate themselves and therefore landed on the information. 

Nevertheless, in the next five years, we can have projects around these special interest groups – targeting workers, youths, and elders and educate them on what actually happens during this kind of elections.

Your last word?

Elections are very tense processes and there’s a tendency for some of us never to trust anything that comes out of it, but the longer one stays with the anger, hatred or frustration, it is not good for them as person, leader, political party and a nation. 

The quicker thing to do at this point is to find a solution within the problem. (For instance) when there was internet shut down, I asked the citizenry not to complain but take these telecom companies – MTN, Airtel and Africell –  to court because we as consumers have a contract with them and the deal they had with the government was their own. We were not supposed to be affected. The best thing was therefore to sue them so that they know that next time they get into graft things with the government, they will lose money.

 

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