By Onghwens Kisangala
All elections in Uganda since independence have been marred by rigging and other malpractices perpetuated mostly by state agencies such as the Electoral Commission and security organs. However, for the first time, civil society has joined the fight against election malpractices and misinformation under their platform Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU). The Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Livingstone Sewanyana, explained the effort to The Independent’s Onghwens Kisangala. Below are excerpts:
How did CCEDU come into being?
In the run-up to 2011 elections and beyond, one of the key questions in everyone’s mind is the legitimacy of the electoral process. In view of the 2001 and 2006 general elections and what became of them, the 2011 elections bring a mixture of fear and hope. This is partly because there are a lot of electoral reforms that are needed to be undertaken to ensure a level playing field. But at the same time, the developments that Ugandans are witnessing now point to a worrying trend. This is against the background of political intolerance, police brutality, media clampdown. It is increasingly becoming difficult to convince Ugandans that the 2011 elections will be free and fair. The idea behind CCEDU is to contribute towards ensuring that a level playing field is achieved all impediments to electoral reforms are addressed and that civil society has a voice in the electoral process.
How do you intend to do this?
There are a lot of concerns that civic education has never been efficiently carried out. This is not a technical issue. It is basically about mobilising the population, educating them about the right to vote helping them understand the modalities on how they can protect their votes and how they can have a say in case anything goes wrong. That is what we are out to do.
You say the mention of 2011 sparks both fear and hope yet the state would like to portray a feeling of sustained growth and greater hope. The government may accuse you ‘” the civil society- of trying to cause undue anxiety among the people.
The recent riots in Kampala, radio bimezas on which people have expressed misgivings, and the state’s own admission that corruption is on the increase, show a general consensus that all is not well. So how do you create optimism against that background? It’s not that we are trying to cause excitement among the people. On the contrary, it is a contribution to a general effort to make sure voter apathy does not occur in elections. Indeed the voter appreciates that unless the different actors like the Electoral Commission, Parliament, the Attorney General and other groups are engaged, there is nothing to be happy about.
Keeping security is a prime responsibility of the state. Unfortunately in any dictatorship where the state feels their power is threatened, they clamp down everyone in the name of keeping security. Are you prepared for this?
That is a legitimate observation and concern. Many times popular actions can easily be misconstrued and undermined. And many times the state is found to be the leading actor in this. We cannot assume that that will not happen. We cannot even assume that everyone would want the whole country to be sensitised. But we also need to appreciate that democracy is not given on a silver platter. Where democracy has been achieved, it has taken the courage and sacrifice of individuals for it to prevail.
You are speaking like a politician
No, one doesn’t have to be a politician to state a fact. This idea has come out of consultations with state stakeholders. They have blessed it and have been involved all throughout . So if at some point they think it is going to be a threat, then it is important for them to know it is in their interest that Ugandans have free and fair elections; that the progress of high GDP and stability we keep talking about can only be assured after a free and fair poll. You can never stop an idea whose time has come. If the time for electoral democracy has come, the best thing for the state to do is to join the cause.
You may have consulted the state stakeholders, but President Museveni has got a long record of drawing red lines on matters that he feels are pertinent for power sustenance. Did you consult the president too?
Of course the president was not consulted. The president always acts through his agents such as the EC, parliament and others. In our view those are the agents of government. The constitution says ‘power belongs to the people.’ So it is the people we consult because it is a people’s initiative. If the president thinks this is not in his interest, he has to speak out clearly.
To participate in an electoral malpractice, the electorate is always induced by bribes which make differences in their lives. Are you prepared to put something on to the voter’s plate to stop him from this habit?
The coalition will develop very clear massages to different categories of our population such as the middle class who hardly vote because they think the whole process does not matter to them. The message will be that the outcome of elections will be reflective of either the involvement or the lack of it of everybody. The bottom line should be to minimise such bribes because you cannot eradicate them.
So are you planning workshops across the country
Actually it is not about workshops. We are envisaging mass air events, door-to-door, reaching out to opinion leaders. We are carrying out consultations with local council chairpersons, local government authority associations and we are trying to reach out to resident district commissioners and others. It is very difficult to have a public procession or a mass air event if those authorities have not okayed the idea.