Saturday, July 8, 2023

Seven parliamentary and two district chairperson by-elections characterized by violence and malpractices, where the National Resistance Movement (NRM) has won six, but lost the just concluded Oyam North parliamentary seat to Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) threatens to cast democracy down a slippery slope. UPC, now a shell, has gone down a dark-silent grave not entirely underserved. In its heydays 1962-71 and 1981-July 1986 it demonstrated unrestrained ruthlessness. 

The first by-election after 2021 general elections was in Omoro county following the sudden death of then parliament speaker Jacob Oulanyah L’Okori in March last year. Oulanyah was subsequently replaced by his son Andrew Ojok in election characterized by counter-accusations of electoral malpractices, physical violence, voter intimidation, bribery, fraud, pre-ticked ballots, ballot-stuffing, abuse of state resources, and swapping votes cast. It’s a sad pattern from 2021 of a presidential candidate on nomination day put in caged police van and another without shoes in a tattered coat, showing bad politics.

These accusations were made in Bukimbiri (Kisoro), Gogonyo, Busongora South, Soroti City East, Serere, and Bukedea by-election concluded last month. These aren’t good signs especially when most of the dirty fingers are being pointed at NRM, yet NRM should represent enlightenment, popular empowerment and clean politics. Often, some senior NRM and government officials have been seen and caught on camera openly distributing money either on campaign trail or poling day. Others have been sighted aggressively hounding inquisitive eyes.  

It has now taken President Yoweri Museveni’s written directive to get these intriguing incidences investigated, and a few culprits apprehended. The arrest of Bukedea RDC and DPC over the chaos could help known opposition mischief-makers re-write their CV and go scot-free with unbridled bellicosity yet some have habitually raided polling stations, assaulted officials and scattered voting materials. 

Hopefully the arrests don’t turn out like the Karamoja mabati scandal where the public is sneering that perhaps they fought for lost causes as the passage of time is giving a breather to each of the accused to quietly recover favour from the canker. And since many of them profess Christianity, they could truly believe that like Jesus Christ had His John, they too have theirs.

Elections are steadily being turned into violent war zones threatening to turn off voters and civic empowerment, but Ugandans shouldn’t surrender to rogue elements in our politics because to do so would be to nullify the very reasons the NRA/M waged the five-year protracted peoples’ war between 1981 and January 1986, wrote the new national constitution and all endevours that have accompanied the last thirty-seven years. For sure the NRM leadership part of whom witnessed or experienced wanton political state abuse of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s wouldn’t like to provoke a repetition of old grievances which impelled them into armed struggles. NRM must rebuke and banish the growing psyche of some of its leaders seeking tribal or regional kingmaker portifolio to impose their will even when it’s hard for them to deliver a clean and acceptable electoral victory, otherwise it may collide with history. 

Some NRM leaders who have risen from political penury to be Dukes and Duchess often by scandalous appetites, like they came, so they will shift with a very change of wind that blows if they calculate that it will favour them in the immediate. Many in the public are beginning to doubt that NRM is grooming the right leaders for the tough task of tomorrow. One would expect that the ample examples of UPC, and KANU in Kenya which illustrate that their fall was due to internal greed and malaise than external causes, should sufficiently guide the NRM but alas, the hangers-on who use intrigue to procure good-will in the corridors of power appear determined to execute a devil’s bargain.

But again as the history of Christianity in Europe shows that in the 1620s under King James when impeachment was revived for the first time since Henry VI’s reign there were these cries “was not Protestantism martyred in Bohemia, wounded in France, and scattered in Germany”. With the mercenary-like political troops NRM is accused of using during elections many Ugandans may only see the sad facts. These groups must be dismantled and NRM’s appetite to stay in power shouldn’t drive to sink to a lustful animal. NRM cadres, leaders and members must surely have a higher sense of purpose than just winning elections. Better a sinner who repenteth.

And speaking of democracy, many had long ago proposed that village and parish leadership elections be community-based that doesn’t require supervision by the national Electoral Commission. Now the government treasury is finding it hard to finance new polls. Village LCI and II leadership have expired and could brew legal and legitimacy complications. Without undermining popular and participatory democracy, and legitimacy, many still think that parliament should amend the Local Government Act to make village leadership election a community-based affair to avoid spending colossal sums, and direct nomination by a party which held the seat prior to a vacancy falling due could replace by-elections.