Which Way for Democracy in Uganda this Month 2021?
BY MWAKERA MWAJEFA
Democracy is on trial in Uganda after being castrated in US on November 3, 2020 by the first unorthodox billionaire-cum-Republican President Donald Trump!
In fact, as we speak, intimidation, harassment, assault, teargas, arbitrary arrests, detentions beyond 48 hours, torture, rubber bullets, live bullets and other violation have become a daily menu.
That’s democracy at its best and we should wait to see what it gives us on January 14, 2021. But caught up in this bitter web is the militarisation of election, insecurity and unregulated militia groups.
The counter is the emergence of pressure groups such as ‘People Power’ and increased activities by civil societies promoting awareness and defending civil rights that have increased levels of political participation.
But with vigilante groups, unregulated individual and group militias have also set up to use force and other non-peaceful means to compel voters and defend their political candidates at whatever cost!
Again, you don’t speak about elections without focusing on the media. During electioneering, journalists become the most vulnerable as direct targets of state agents (police/military), politicians and individuals pursuing partisan interests.
With impunity, these state actors inflict on journalists: pain, torture and fear through intimidation, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions and tramped-up charges. This is done with the aim at blocking justice and blocking the public from receiving and knowing what transpires during electioneering on the ground.
But on the other hand, communication authorities throw concerns over the nature of content aired on radio or television stations especially during ‘live’ broadcasts, breaking news and prime news bulletins with claims of contravening laid down regulations and rules.
This has caused journalists and media houses to operate in an element of fear while covering political or election related events. Thus, self-censorship and biased reporting has become the norm testing free reporting and editorial independence – a pillar of free press – to the limit!
What is the end result? Misrepresenting information, views, facts and events in a manner likely to mislead or cause alarm to the public based on their political, religious, cultural and tribal affiliations that can end up creating public insecurity or violence.
So, the ideals envisaged in Uganda’s 1995 Constitution or Kenya’s 2010 Constitution is but written articles to guarantee the rights and freedoms of assembly, association and expression without pragmatic outcomes!
In fact, the most injured is the freedom of association that is remote controlled to force compartmentalised communities or tribes to form and join associations, unions or parties engineered by unscrupulous traders-cum-politicians.
Just like in Kenya, their Ugandan counterparts’ tools of trade are simply carrot, stick and statute to iron cage their political prey to elect them to different elective seats without two palliatives of ideology and integrity.
For the elites’ strategies to influence operations for dominance, they pursue both ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ approaches through legal and administrative manoeuvres and a ramping up of violent coercion, and through attempts to build support among urban youth and infiltrate organisations in the urban informal transport sector respectively.
The elites are masters of deceit, propaganda and conmanship when dealing with lower income, less educated voiceless people but at a loss when dealing with educated masses that have the ability to criticise and control them.
Thus, for democracy to thrive there’s urgent need for social education advocacy to raise the intellectual level of the masses so that they are abled within the limits of possibilities to control and counteract the oligarchic tendencies of the leading-elite movement.
However, with the booming and increasing numbers of ‘free borns’, now 34 years, from the post-1986 struggle era is less interested in the Kaguta Museveni’s exploits to build a legitimacy amongst this generation.
Kenya has its own share of this savvy generation, aged 30, of post-second liberation of 1990 that is also lest interested in who suffered what during the 24-year rule of the late President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi.
These Museveni and second liberation ‘babies’ want employment and assured public services rather than distant stories about how the regimes brought an end to war or one-party rule in their countries respectively.
Patronage dynamics like Museveni regime’s attempts to create employment and improve public services just like Kenya’s Hustler Nation’ wheelbarrow project might attract a few with a caveat that the means justify the end with the side of the majority stopping to pause and reflect.
These groups of Museveni’s babies will play a pivotal role on the January 14 general election and this is what is making his regime experience nightmares, quake with rage and chance violent means to tilt the voting balance.
With Ugandan leader’s waning support on the last two years after the 2016 polls, his regime has seen a series of ad-hoc policy measures aimed at controlling opposition political activities online with social media playing the important role in the mobilisation of street protests.
Currently, Bobi Wine’s fearless and bold approach to politics and his growing popularity has not only stunned Museveni’s regime but left many a Ugandans in loud silence as to what next in the country’s political landscape.
Worser still, Bobi Wine has been able to win the hearts of youth, many of whom are employed and constitute a huge percentage of the electorate.
But a fundamental question begs: will Bobi Wine’s stature boosted by the state’s imprisonment and immensely contributing to his political weight and appeal attract the required numbers to win the day of January 14, 2021?
And before Uganda welcomes eminent Africa’s former leaders as election observers in its general election – is it time we revisit the democracy’s construction? For instance, which country in Africa is ready to open up the political space to allow opponents to compete for political power without using government machinery for the incumbents?
Without the use of arrests and prosecutions, blocking social media and hate speech, can incumbents defend their seats on free and fair playing ground? President Museveni has been on the helm of power for the past 34 years, why is a toddler, Bobi Wine, creating such a fuss in this general election?
As we start 2021, Africa must rethink its strongman/strongwoman mentality of leadership and instead create legal caveats to stop any individual from surpassing a two-term presidency irrespective of the immediate popularity or achievements.
Museveni seized power in 1986 following a five-year protracted guerrilla war in Uganda and in his first decade of power stated his commitment to democracy through a ‘no-party’ movement system in which anyone could stand for office without restrictions. This attracted international admiration.
However, in his last ten years of rule since 2016, the President, among the longest serving rulers in Africa, is facing an acid test with the emergence of Robert Kyagulani (aka Bobi Wine) who enjoys urban support voting bloc.
So, is he the threat to elite dominance in Uganda’s political and economic support base? Let’s wait for the next 14 days to get the right answer.