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The 2016 Uganda election bogey

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Dr Besigye
Dr Besigye

Uganda is in the unenviable place of being among few countries in the world where no leader has ever peacefully handed the reins of power peacefully to another leader!

During the 29-year Museveni/NRM rule, four general elections have been held and a fifth one is supposed to be only months away. Understandably, there is already a lot of jostling in the ruling NRM junta and in the “opposition” political formations.

While most of the jostling seems to be over selection of candidates for the election, the real elephant in the room is the lack of credibility of the anticipated 2016 elections and the realistic options available to citizens.


The Supreme Court of Uganda, in spite of severe interference by the Executive, made a categorical and unanimous ruling in 2006, that the presidential election was not free or fair. The story of why it wasn’t cancelled is, of as much interest for intellectuals, as it is for criminal investigators.

In 2011, all presidential candidates, save for the incumbent, rejected and denounced the outcome of the elections. Any recourse to the courts of law (through an election petition) was considered to be a futile exercise. It was resolved that the “Court of Public Opinion” would be resorted to instead.

Many parliamentary election petitions were lodged in courts and, indeed, many election results were overturned and by-elections held or a different winner simply declared. At least one petition is still undetermined in courts of law, more than 4 years after the previous election!

In 2013, political parties and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) launched a national campaign, whose main thrust was to generate a consensus on the electoral reforms that would engender free and fair elections.

The broadest representation of community formations in each of 15 regions of the country participated in deep and intense discussions on the essential electoral reforms. These included representatives of the ruling NRM junta at various levels.

Eventually, a National Consultation was held in Kampala in November 2014 (at Hotel Africana) to crystallise the national demand for electoral reforms. In spite of an attempt by the ruling NRM junta to stop its leaders from participating in this crucial meeting, many NRM leaders from the regions and the national level participated fully.

Seventeen points were crystallised as forming the essential reforms, without which, the elections of 2016 cannot be free or fair. The resulting document was appropriately named a Uganda Citizens’ Compact on Free and Fair Elections.

This was promptly delivered to the Speaker of parliament and other relevant offices of the Executive, including the President’s Office.

During the year-long campaign for free and fair elections and, especially, during the National Consultation meeting, it was anticipated that the NRM junta would not be receptive to the demand for fundamental electoral reforms. There were good reasons for the scepticism.

In 2009, the Inter-party Cooperation (IPC) presented to government a comprehensive proposal of electoral reforms, including proposed bills for amending the Constitution and the various electoral laws.

These were shelved until some months to the 2011 elections when the junta presented its bills for amending the electoral laws. Some of the minor amendments in the IPC proposals that did not go to the heart of the election management system were adopted.

It was argued then that the far-reaching proposals could not be considered because, among other things, there wasn’t enough time to implement such changes ahead of the scheduled 2011 elections.

Election observer reports on 2006 elections, notably, by Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), Commonwealth, and EU, pointed out the need to have electoral laws emended well ahead of elections. The Electoral Commission itself had strenuously demanded for electoral reforms well ahead of the next elections, to no avail. This had also been the case in the 2001 elections!

The pattern of aversion to free and fair election on the part of the NRM junta is crystal clear and understandable- it’s for self-preservation! This was the reason why the l8th and last Article of the Citizens’ Compact was reserved for the steps to be taken to ensure the implementation of Compact.

A Citizen’s Task Force was set up; and, the Coordinating Team (CT) of the Campaign for Free and Fair elections, together with the Convener’s of the National Consultation, were tasked to establish a mechanism that will ensure the full implementation of the Compact.

The main thrust of the mechanism that will ensure implementation of the compact envisages citizens’ mobilisation, organisation and actions challenging the current system of election management.


It’s now a maximum of 11 months to the next polling day and a maximum of 7 months to the nomination day (according to the Constitution) for the next general elections. Yet, up to now, no electoral reform proposals have been presented to parliament for debate!

In the meantime, the controversial Electoral Commission has published another “roadmap” for the next election! Update of the National Register begins 7th April and ends 30th April 2015; nomination of candidates for Village Youth, PWDs and Elder persons is slated for 5th-16th June 2015; display of National Register 2nd-22nd June 2015; nomination of presidential candidates 5th and 6th October 2015 etc.

This is clearly a desperate attempt by the controversial EC to undertake the election processes in the absence of relevant electoral laws!


Unfortunately, it increasingly appears that some political leaders in the campaign for free and fair elections are either unsure or uncommitted to the primacy of the full implementing the Citizens’ compact ahead of the next election.

Some have even suggested that those insisting on full implementation of the Compact are, in effect, calling for a boycott of the 2016 elections! The published EC “roadmap” seems to have spurred many political actors into focussing on getting candidates and campaigning for the next election, regardless of its credibility!

It’s also increasingly purveyed that as long as there is a single opposition candidate, the opposition will win the next election (entirely organised by the Junta itself) and that the Junta will bow out of government!

This is the situation that the NRM junta would be hoping for: another round of sham elections- organised, controlled and delivered on the Junta’s terms!

This is no time for confusion on the part of political actors. It’s a very critical time in the history of our beleaguered country: to make a break from the vicious cycle of rigged elections and violence to peaceful change of government, through free and fair election.


It’s a time to offer citizens the leadership they need to ensure the full implementation of the Compact on Free and Fair elections. As pointed out earlier, this entails three processes:

  1. Citizens’ empowerment, through providing relevant information and knowledge.
  2. Citizens’ mobilisation and organisation to ensure maximum coordination in the demand for justice in general and free and fair elections, in particular.
  3. Citizens’ actions challenging the current attempt at holding another sham election. It’s these actions that will put the Junta under pressure and eventually achieve the changes that are essential for free and fair elections.

It has been suggested by some political leaders that there are two separate but complementary tracts: On the one hand, preparing political parties for the elections; while on the other, is the struggle for electoral reforms. How do you prepare for an election whose credibility you don’t seek to influence?

Preparations for the next elections cannot be separated from the struggle for credible free and fair elections, unless one cares less for the outcome! It’s one indivisible struggle.


As pointed out above, the lateness in considering and implementing electoral reforms is deliberate and self-serving on the part of the NRM Junta. According to the Constitution, polling day must take place before 12th March 2016.

It’s a given that even if Parliament considered and approved the essential electoral reforms now, there would simply be no time to restructure the affected institutions and electoral processes to bring them in line with the new order ahead of the next election.

The NRM Junta and its “sympathisers” would then argue, as they did before, that only limited reforms, which won’t interfere with the election “roadmap” and timetable be considered.

This is another test for the pro-democracy organisations and activists. Again, such ploys should not create an opening for confusion on our part. The objective of ensuring the implementation of the Citizens’ Compact on Free and Fair elections must be maintained. The struggle for that objective must be unrelenting.

If credible, free and fair elections cannot be realistically held before 12th March 2016 as expected under the Constitution, then the cure lies in the management of the politics.

The rational and equitable way out would be to negotiate for a transitional government that would manage the processes after the NRM Junta lapses on 12th May 2016. After all, the Junta has demonstrated beyond any doubt that it’s the main obstacle to free and fair elections!


Regardless of how the NRM Junta is succeeded, it will be necessary to undertake transition programs that will restructure the State to make it’s institutions independent and competent. The NRM Junta integrated itself into all State institutions, such that, there’s no NRM outside the State. The lowest State institutions, Local Councils I &II, are still a direct vestige of the, so called, Movement System!

The critical tasks for the transitional administration would be three:

  1. Constitutional review- especially dealing with outstanding contentious issues.
  2. Restructuring and re-building State institutions according to the reviewed Constitutional order.
  3. Organising credible, free and fair elections.


Let’s not be vague, it’s EITHER A CREDIBLE, FREE AND FAIR ELECTION or NO ELECTION! Achieving either will take considerable commitment and effort on the part of all pro-democracy activists.

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