Elections displeasure… where will this bug go next?

28Feb 2016
Anne Kiruku
Guardian On Sunday
Ea Wowen in Perspective
Elections displeasure… where will this bug go next?

“Africa must be recolonized.” That statement by United States Republican presidential candidate David Trump, however distasteful, is one that forces us to ask questions about issues of governance on the continent.

Trump’s statement raised uproar in social media. His thesis is that Africans are still under slavery from tyrannical leaders who change constitutions so as to effectively become presidents for life.

It is no secret, indeed, that most African presidents are greedy despots who do not care about the common person. Their sole interest is to unashamedly amass wealth for themselves and the small cliques around them, to the detriment of economies of these poor countries.

The most recent example of an outright violation of the rights of citizens was witnessed in Uganda, where a sham election denied citizens their right to participate in a fair and credible process. Although many media reports ran headlines of “Ugandans Decide,” it was not Ugandans but the incumbent president who decided.

It is unfortunate that EAC countries are fast gaining notoriety for having the most undemocratic elections the world over. Just last year, Burundi held its general election, one that was marred by massive irregularities.

The Arusha Accords, which brought peace to the country after a long-drawn civil war, were cast to the dogs as President Pierre Nkurunziza fought to have his way into a much-maligned third term.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has engineered a change in the country’s constitution, too, to allow himself a third term in office. In Tanzania, elections in Zanzibar were cancelled and have not been repeated several months down the line.

The strong showing by the opposition in Zanzibar must no doubt be a nightmare to the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi, especially due to the former’s unceasing demands for an end to the union with the mainland.

In Kenya, the 2007 elections were marred by serious irregularities, leading to the post-election violence which left more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

In the recent polls in Uganda, it is unfortunate that most international observer missions, including the EAC, have rubberstamped the voting and tallying of results. The European Union did, however, acknowledge that there were serious malpractices.

One fails to understand how observer missions could declare such an election free and fair.

As the Election Commission (EC) chairperson was announcing the preliminary results of the presidential polls, and political parties were still following the tallying and collecting data from their agents in the field, police stormed the opposition FDC party headquarters using teargas and arrested its flag bearer, Kizza Besigye, and the party’s leadership.

This act alone severely violated freedom of expression among opponents.It was crystal clear that the EC lacked independence, transparency and the trust of stakeholders.

The body interpreted its mandate narrowly, limiting itself to the organisation of the technical aspects of the elections. It also lacked transparency in its decisions and failed to inform the public and aspirants on key elements of the electoral process in a timely and more detailed manner.

It is a shame that in some voting stations, materials arrived as late as 4pm; almost certainly by design, those stations happened to be opposition strongholds. This is an old and outdated practice that ruling parties use to ensure the opposition loses even in its key support areas.

But delays in the delivery of voting materials were not the only problem with the Ugandan polls. There were reports of ballot stuffing and vote buying, blockage of social media sites, and excessive use of force by the police.

The elections were inconsistent with international standards and expectations of any democratic process.
Ugandans deserve better. With all its shortcomings, it is impossible to conclude that the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections were credible, free and fair.

Up until the time African leaders genuinely embrace democracy and constitutionalism, the continent will continue to be mocked and ridiculed by the rest of the world. We will never be accorded equal status in the global scene.

Uganda must now work toward reforming its constitution and creating strong institutions. Freedom of expression, obedience to the rule of law and fair play need to be promoted and upheld.

Without constitutional reforms and strong independent institutions, Ugandans will never reap the fruits of democracy.

Civil society organisations and the media in Uganda must stand up to be counted. Their silence is palpable, but buckling to fear will only drive the country into deeper problems.

They must fight for the protection of basic human rights – including the right of all Ugandans to participate in fair, credible and violent-free elections.
East African News Agency