The Time For Change is Nigh

OPINION – I checked into The Pacific Hotel in downtown Kampala on Wednesday after an overnight journey by bus from Nairobi. My flight from Lusaka was delayed in Gaborone, so I missed the connecting flight at Jomo Kenyatta Airport. I boarded the overnight coach from Nairobi to Kampala.

Pacific Hotel is located in a noisy market or business district. If you want gossip updates, information of any sort, even black market deals, this is the location to settle.

My host, Elizabeth, the manageress of the hotel, picked me from the bus stage (renkini) and booked me into the hotel. We linked up on Facebook before meeting this morning. After a warm shower and change of under pants, I had a delicious meal of matoke (boiled plantains/bananas) with some chapatti and nyama choma (barbeque). We strolled in the not so clean city. This country has a history not too distant from that of Zimbabwe and this is why I came this far.

On February18, Uganda goes to the polls to vote for a new president and members of parliament. I will focus on the presidential campaigns and elections. Of the total eight contestants, the three leading candidates are the incumbent President Yoweri Musevini of the National Resistance Movement (NRM). President Museveni has been in power since 1986 and is again running for a five year term (if he wins). Dr. Kizza Besigye of the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) is the main challenger to Museveni. In third place is Norbert Mao (note the Chinese name, he is African) who represents the Democratic Party (DP). DP has the advantage of being multi-ethnic and Mao himself is an effective communicator. One not so main significant contender in the race but worth mentioning is the only female presidential candidate, Betti Kamya.

Having this list of the top three, it is imperative that we analyze the political climate in Uganda at the moment. Where necessary, it is assumed the reader will do a comparative analysis with his/her own country. Kenyans, Ivoirians and Zimbabweans would be most interested in the facts in Uganda, so will the African Union. Dr. Besigye, however strongly believes that "Dictators cannot be removed by free and fair elections." Unfortunately, such a fear traps the electorate into thinking that Museveni is destined to win. Participating in such an election would be considered a waste of time.

Because of the prejudices over the electoral system, three opposition presidential candidates doubt that the February 18 general elections will not be held in a free and fair atmosphere. Dr Kizza Besigye, Mr Olara Otunnu of Uganda Peoples Congress and Norbert Mao held a short but intense meeting at the US embassy with US deputy Secretary, James Steinberg and Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson. They expressed several concerns ranging from the voters’ roll, fears for rigging, intimidation of voters, bribery and an unlevel campaign field. They based their fears on the discrepancies given in a report by the Democracy Monitory Group (DEMGroup), a consortium of civil society organizations.

DEMGroup conducted field surveys between January 6 and February 8 and found out at least half a million of the registered voters are foreigners. The Voters Register to be used for the presidential and parliamentary elections contains 139,541 dead persons, more than half a million "unknown people" and 1.9 million voters who have since changed location. More than 5,000 of the registered voters were established to be 110-years-old or plus while a good number is below 18 years, the threshold to qualify to vote as an adult. The final voters register uploaded on the Electoral Commission’s website shows that, of the 13, 954, 129 registered voters, 4, 629 of them have the same name, same date of birth and same polling station. Zimbabwe’s Registrar General, Tobaiwa Mudede is smarter than this.

Dr. Besigye thinks the situation in Uganda is ripe for anything. The statement ‘dictators cannot be removed by free and fair elections’ stands true in Africa. The burden is on the AU which has three major failures in the last five years. First was Kenya with the post election violence after an election was stolen. AU’s mediator, Kofi Annan opted for a unity government between Mwai Kibaki (the loser) and Raila Odinga (the victor). Another election was stolen in Zimbabwe in 2008, with results not being announced for a record one month. AU through Thabo Mbeki settled for an inclusive government between Robert Mugabe (obviously the loser) and Morgan Tsvangirai (the winner). Another election was stolen in Ivory Coast last November. Laurant Gbagbo (the loser) refused to let go and swore himself president. Quattara, the internationally acclaimed winner is holed in a hotel. The country has defacto two presidents! AU would have wanted to settle for negotiations and a unity government, but their mediator, Raila Odinga of Kenya, (whose victory was stolen) would not entertain that idea. Definitely AU regrets their choice of mediator.

The events in Uganda provide a litmus test not only to AU, but to the presidential candidates and most importantly to presidents who have long since over-stayed their welcome. If the people’s democratic right to choose leaders is denied, then, I buy Busigye’s assertion that dictators are not removed by free and fair elections, but the pace set by Tunisia and Egypt remains the only avenue. Zimbabwe’s guerillas are scared and better they be! Change will take time, but I am confident the time is nigh.

Capulet B. Chakupeta

City of Kampala, Uganda