Welcome South Sudan! With 98% of the Sudanese voting ‘yes’ to partition of the country, I look forward to a new stamp on my passport.
There are nine days to go to the presidential elections here in Uganda. The walls, lampposts and Palm trees are plastered with election posters. This nascent democracy (I’m being generous) has had to give some very basic guidelines to both candidates and the excitable electorate with notices like it’s illegal to cover your number plate with a candidate’s election poster or to create an effigy of a candidate.
The high profile Electoral Commission (funded by external donors) is doing its best to educate voters, (although it hasn’t been above criticism). There’s a large poster by the side of the road showing people how to vote properly e.g. showing a tick or fingerprint.
I read in Saturday’s Monitor newspaper how the opposition is proposing a delay in the election day. One of the unconstitutional aspects they are complaining about is that there appear to be 400,000 more people on the register than there are of voting age.
There are some interesting election strategies at work. There are some good debates by some very intelligent people but there are some ridiculous shenanigans too. Many uneducated people are being bought off: I hear a vote can be as cheap as 500 shillings (15 pence), a bar of soap or a bag of sugar. One of the complaints to the Electoral Commission is the way the ballot papers have apparently been designed with President Museveni’s name at the bottom of every ballot paper, rather than placed alphabetically, according to the different candidate names in each district. Read into that what you will. This weekend we read the rumours about the wife of the leader of the opposition wanting a divorce. “Where do you want me to go if I leave such a handsome man?” she asked. The NRM are jealous, she said, and are just trying to cause arguments and detract from the issues at hand.
It seems a certainty that President Museveni will remain in power for another term. The Monitor says: “The joke in the street is that you know that an election is around the corner when the sales of helmets, bulletproof vests, pain killers and liniment skyrocket. The reason for that is that candidates running against President Yoweri Museveni need to prepare themselves to be beaten, shot, and arrested.” Read more here Inside the mind of President Museveni
There’s been a noticeable show of strength. In the last two weeks we’ve seen a lot more police and military police on the streets. Yesterday a military helicopter flew over the house. It’s not intimidating, they’re not doing anything but they’re there. Crossing Jinja Road during rush-hour yesterday several trucks full of police moved past us. Up country, people are wondering whether the influx of troops will be used to cast additional votes. Rumour and counter-rumour, the muzungu’s not sure who to believe.
In the light of what’s been happening in the Arab world, particularly Egypt, you have to wonder whether that excitement might spread to Uganda. People think it unlikely “but you never can tell” said my friend who works for the US Defence Department. Any kind of rioting would be very quickly put down.
Museveni’s election slogan is “prosperity for all.” People say that the majority of prosperous people here are related to Museveni and his NRM supporters and they don’t want to let go of power. This was clearly evidenced by the 70 MPs who are due to be kicked out of Parliament. The MPs were voted in on the NRM party ticket, have now declared themselves independents and still expect to be able to hang onto their seats!
Oil will only make this country worse. As one expat friend said “oil has been a disaster for every country in Africa that’s discovered it – why should Uganda be any different?” A Global Witness report highlighted the fact that the security of the oilfields is in the hands of the president’s brother and his son. Once the oil starts flowing (Uganda’s GDP will double for 25 years or more), what need will the President have to listen to anyone else?
The poster in a taxi window summed it all up for me: “Don’t vote for sugar. Vote for issues.”