A Dream Deferred: Uganda’s Presidential Election

The following blog post originally appeared on the Kiva Fellows blog on February 23, 2011. It was removed from the blog because of concerns over the controversial topic I wrote about. Uganda remains a country in which there is only a fasad of free speech and free press, and as a result I was advised to not openly criticize the current regime in a public forum. I’ve decided to repost this blog post on my personal blog because my hope is for more people to take an interest in Uganda’s leadership and for Ugandans to unite and hold their politicians accountable. Since the post was written, there were several reports that Yoweri Museveni, despite stealing votes, was still democratically elected into office by a majority of Ugandans. Whether those votes were fairly gathered is absolutely debatable. Although written in February, the post still captures my sentiments.

***

A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
 like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

On February 22 at 3:45pm Norbert Mao, one of Uganda’s former presidential candidates for the 2011 general election began his speech by reciting A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes. Considering the results of the latest elections in Uganda, a lot has been deferred, including the dream of a free and fair election.

The Presidency, stolen

Friday the 18th, the day of the Ugandan presidential election, was a national holiday. Millions of people across the country hoped that the date would mark the day that a new president was elected into power. They hoped that Yoweri Museveni would finally leave the office after a continuous twenty five years in office. On the morning of the election, several hundred international civilian observers were dispatched to polling stations all over the country. However, right under the noses of Ugandan citizens, as well as the international community, the election was rigged and the office of president was stolen, once again.

In the days leading up to the election, many of my friends left town in case there was civil unrest and rioting following the announcement of the election results. At my house, we stocked up on gas, water, and food. A Ugandan colleague of mine told me that Museveni has been falling out of favor since he took the presidency for a third time in 1996. He is now going to start his sixth term as president of Uganda. It goes without saying that there is deep dissatisfaction and anger festering within the people of Uganda.

Uganda’s Political Climate

The question that comes to mind, especially considering the winds of political change blowing in from North Africa and the Middle East, is why Ugandans are tolerating Museveni’s monopoly on power. I believe that the answer to that question partly lies in Uganda’s history. Yoweri Museveni rose to power in 1986 following the end of Milton Obote’s second regime, who had himself returned to power following the collapse of Idi Amin’s dictatorship. Museveni was lauded by western governments as representing a new era of peace and development in East African politics.

His first ten years in office did see a return of stability and investment to Uganda (with the notable exception of the conflicts involving the LRA in the North). Uganda has also risen to become the trade and commerce hub of East Africa. Museveni and his party (the NRM) announce proudly that Uganda’s GDP growth rate was 7.2% in 2009 and 5.8% in 2010.* Unfortunately, those figures mostly reflect the growth in business around the Kampala urban area, which is dominated by a select few. Inequality in income has risen considerably since 1996 (the Gini index in 1996 was 37.4, and in 2002 was 45.7*), and nepotism is rampant. Sadly, oppression, murder, and fear are still vivid in the memories of many older Ugandans who lived through the Obote and Amin regimes, and it seems, at least presently, that the average citizen accepts the status quo, whatever the cost might be.

An Unfair Election
The list of grievances from this election is long.

To fund his campaign for the presidency, Museveni has used 160 billion Ugandan shillings from the State treasury, in addition to printing and releasing billions of new shilling notes into circulation (which has sent inflation skyrocketing). There are reports from all over the country of bribery, misconduct, ballot stuffing, and out-right fudging of the vote count. To add, Museveni has also deployed thousands of troops throughout the country to intimidate any would-be rioters. As I was riding to work yesterday in Kampala, a tank was following just behind and someone fired a gun shot into the air. The following excerpts from Norbert Mao’s speech go into more detail:

“President Museveni decided to re-appoint the same discredited Electoral Commission which messed up the 2006 elections.”

“…in Parliament, President Museveni was given a blank cheque to spend State resources for his campaigns. The instrument of a supplementary budget was abused to give State House and President Museveni a total of 160 billion shillings yet our main hospitals get less than half of that amount.”

“The Electoral Commission deleted voters’ names from the register and in other cases transferred voters to other Polling stations without notifying them and without their consent. Consequently, on Election Day millions of voters were disenfranchised and denied the right to vote through willful incompetence and a malicious intention to frustrate them. In addition there was widespread vote buying by NRM operatives. In many cases, these vote buyers were being escorted by armed soldiers.”

“In Kiruhuura, results from four polling stations were cancelled because the number of votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters. In Omiyanyima Subcounty of Kitgum it was first declared that 11,000 people had voted for President Museveni only to have the announcement annulled because the Sub County has not more than 7000 registered voters!”

“DemGroup… argued that given how young Uganda’s population is, it is statistically impossible to have almost 14 million voters out of a population of about 33 million.”

“Our sources indicate that over 150 billion [Ugandan shillings] was spent to buy voters.”

“The NRM and President Museveni know that they have achieved a hollow victory. Otherwise why should someone who has garnered almost 70 percent of votes have to deploy thousands of armed troops around the country and impose a virtual curfew?”

As more and more issues come to light, a heated discourse has been taking place on Uganda’s airwaves and street corners, and in offices and homes. People are talking, and time will tell where this discussion takes the country.

*Economic statistics are taken from the CIA World Fact Book.

Note: Due to a lack of well-rounded and informative coverage of the election results I had a limited number of sources to draw from when researching for this blog post. Norbert Mao’s speech has been the only open condemnation of the election that listed real statistics.

Nila is a roaming Kiva Fellow in Kampala, Uganda. She is passionate about East Africa and looks forward to working with several Kiva partner microfinance institutions throughout the next few months in Uganda and Kenya.

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