Elections in Uganda

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The elections and the possibility of riots were not only worrying for expatriates but also many Ugandans. Most of my expatriate-friends left the country for holidays to nearby destinations such as Zanzibar or Kenya, or even left for their home countries. Their houses were firmly locked, security was increased and away they went. Many offices decided to close for a period of two weeks during the elections and Ugandans who could escape from Kampala went to their villages to stay with their friends and families.

However, we decided to stay in Kampala and one our main responsibilities is administering the keys to the houses of our friends.

The politically interested reader has surely already pursued in the press that Museveni has “won” again with a large majority of votes. Over 70% of voters cast their vote for the President of the last 25 years. However, percentages only are published. I have been unable to find anywhere how many people actually turned out to vote: 10,000; 100,000; 1,000,000?

There are an estimated 35 million inhabitants in Uganda and more than 50% are under 15 years of age (the largest disparity between adults and children anywhere in the world). I don’t have any statistical numbers for the 15 to 18 years’ group but they probably tally 10% of the population, I would guess. This means that of the 35 million Ugandans there cannot be more than 40% of voting age, thus my rough estimate would be 14 million adults capable of voting.

Some months ago, when the vote registration was in full running, the newspapers published the fact that the Electoral Commission had received over 17 million registrations, meaning more people registered to vote than possible according to the population figures. I have no doubt that in Europe each adult is counted as a potential voter with all the reporting offices and documents of identification. In Uganda however, the majority of the population lives in the countryside where births are not registered, and many have probably never possessed any identification documents…??

Personally I don’t know more than 10 Ugandans who had registered themselves to vote, despite being friends with hundreds.

However, this is all speculations and I really don’t know anything for sure, and this is probably the best way. I don’t have any reliable numbers and I don’t know how many Ugandans finally went to the elections and how many voted for which candidate.

Although there were articles in the press that the turn-out on Election Day was high, many people (including many known opposition voters) arrived to find their names not on the roll, meaning they had to search for the polling station where their names had really been listed. This happened to the President’s main opponent himself, Kizza Besigye, who was told his name was listed at a different station to the one he was originally attached to. A press release later stated that the confusion was down to the laxness of these voters who hadn’t bothered to check which polling station they were listed at.

There was also an announcement that opposition candidates had to stop their campaign tours and speeches seven days before the actual elections, but this did not seem to apply to the President. On Election Day, we received an SMS on our mobile phones with many greetings from the ruling party and a reminder who was the main candidate in these elections and who to vote for to ensure continued peace and prosperity. The day before yesterday, after the ‘victory’, there was again an SMS from “the man with a hat” saying a big thank you for voting NRM.

Curiously enough just before the elections started, for the first time in the 2 years that we have been here, works had actually begun to repair some of the worst roads in town, almost as a statement, ‘look, this is what your government is doing for you’.

Despite all the fear, there were no riots and little unrest, although one man was shot, described by the Daily Monitor as a journalist who refused to stop taking pictures of one of the opposition candidates. According to the newspaper he was shot in the leg. On the BBC web site, the same incident was described as one of the candidate’s entourage failing to get out of a car when instructed to do so by police. He was shot in the ribs and is still in a coma in hospital.

There still is a huge police and military presence everywhere in town and it is said that all have been ordered to shoot anyone to prevent riots. It has been made very clear by the President that any form of disorder will be quashed immediately.

Last Saturday and the following Tuesday, we went to town but despite the temptation, did not dare to take photographs of the street forces. For a change, the roads were pleasantly jam-free.

For the last ten days, we have been experiencing power supply problems and the power is switched off on a daily basis for several hours (2 or 3 power-cuts per day), so as I write this article, I am keeping an eye on the battery of my laptop. Allegedly there are problems with the power station in Lubowa and this is the explanation for these regular disconnections which sometimes last 10 to 12 hours. The power then comes back for very short time, sometimes just for 10 minutes, but which is enough to charge the mobile phones, until the next disconnection comes. We don’t have a generator and therefore we have been reading a lot recently and after 7pm when the daylight goes we have a lot of time to entertain each other with stories from our childhood.

Whether the current power problems are connected to the elections or not I have no idea and it is probably just coincidence that there are country-wide power supply problems at this moment.

So, Uganda ‘democratically’ elected its new president without any riots or interruptions (although we were told when we arrived in Uganda 2-years ago who would win this election). Today there is a big party announced in town, but the embassy has issued warnings to avoid the town centre. Some of the NRM party ministers have resigned in protest that the government’s campaign has used every dollar in its coffers and the finance minister officially announced to the press that the government was ‘broke’ before resigning his position. It will surely be a tough time for Uganda to recover from these expenses. On the other hand, the many donor organisations will surely help to top-up the money reserves as soon as the expatriates come back from their world-wide holiday destinations…