The East African Region is awash with presidential and parliamentary elections. Uganda is soon opening campaigns, Burundi has just concluded her controversial polls, Rwanda and Tanzania are all set for similar exercises.

In the past, these elections have caused death, permanent injuries and displacements to thousands of citizens. Still fresh in our minds is the fact that the recent Burundi polls set an ugly example that many of her citizens are now refugees in the neighbouring countries.

These elections should not be times when tension is high but time when the people exercise their right to elect a leader of their choice without intimidation or coercion.

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In Uganda, it is now clear the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni will be contesting against other candidates Rtd Col. Dr Kizza Besigye, his former Prime Minister JP Amama Mbabazi and others who may come up. Previous campaigns have been punctuated and laced with scenes of violence by the contesting camps against their rivals.

The Uganda Police Force and to an extent the military have been complacent in this as previous human rights reports have labeled them worst state agencies in rights observance. It’s a trying time for the two agencies to come clean during the “political storm.”

Already the image of the UPF is in the spotlight for going hard on the opposition supporters and ‘favouring’ those who support the regime.

The 2016 polls must be clean, free and fair. The media and the citizens must not be persecuted for accurate reporting and supporting a candidate of their choice, respectively. The media should give equal space to all candidates and report real issues. The campaign manifestoes should be made clear as a basis for the citizens to take an informed decision.

What the Ugandans want is how the new government will address and fix the economy, the ailing healthcare system, the poor education standards especially under the Universal Education and poverty across the country.

It’s also important that unlike in the previous elections, where politicians have been riding on petty gifts like soap, salt, money and sugar to elect a leader, the voters should look at how a candidate promises to turn Uganda into a better nation free of poverty, disease and illiteracy.

The writer is a Lecturer at IUIU – Kampala Campus