How To Prevent Gen. Museveni From Stealing Uganda's 2016 Elections

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Gen. Museveni wants to extend his 28 years autocratic rule

[Commentary: Uganda]

Under Uganda laws, Presidential and Parliamentary elections are held every five years. The next elections are due in 2016.

Ugandans, the International Community or Development Partners as they're sometimes referred to agree that the Electoral Commission (EC) and Uganda’s Electoral Laws (UEL) need  extensive reforms.

The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) government also agree on the need for reforms. However, the Yoweri Museveni regime views the extension of the life of Parliament from 2016 to 2021 as its salvation. The Museveni regime hopes that by extending the life of Parliament, the current leadership crisis and power struggle within the NRM will disappear into thin air.

Acting for the NRM government, the Uganda Law Reform Commission (ULRC) proposed a review of the UEL. The ULRC suggested the public take part in the review. (New Vision, March 11, 2014). However, to beguile the population, the ULRC recommendation limits the numbers of Ugandans who are to participate in the review process to a mere 8,205, in a population of more than 35 million.

The ULRC further limits the review process to 45 out of the 112 districts of Uganda. Limiting participation to few individuals and districts manipulates the results of the exercise. It is also significant that the ULRC is deliberately silent on the criteria to be used in the selection of individuals and districts to participate in the review exercise.

The incompetent and discredited Electoral Commission handpicked by Gen. Museveni produced a document titled “The Strategic Plan 2013-2017 of the Electoral Commission, Uganda.” The document is silent on reforms. It discusses its proposed budget. The Strategic Plan did not accept or acknowledge past bias, incompetence and failure to conduct credible elections.

The major Political Parties (Opposition) that have, since 1996 contested elections against the NRM proposed that the incompetent EC be disbanded and the UEL amended to provide for a more transparent, free and fair electoral process. Jotham Taremwa, spokesman for the EC, summarily rejected the Opposition proposal describing it as "misguided," notwithstanding that the proposal was addressed to the NRM government and not the EC. (New Vision, February 15, 2014).

The NRM government ignored the reform proposals yet the Opposition still, perhaps naively, continues to believe that a genuine reform is possible.

Previously, NGOs have also made proposal for reform. One such NGO is Human Rights Network Uganda (HURIENT-(U)). In a 22-page document titled “Towards Peaceful, Free, Fair and Democratic 2011 Elections in Uganda”, HURIENT-(U) suggested a number of recommendations.

It noted for example how the ruling party used national state resources to fund its campaign. The recommendations  were all ignored by the NRM government and the EC as the government went on to rig the 2011 elections.

In anticipation of the 2016 vote, another NGO, the Citizen’s Coalition of Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) submitted a 25-page document titled “Towards Reforming Uganda’s Electoral Commission; Critical areas and reform options-2013”. The proposal has also ignored by the NRM government.

The rejection by the NRM government of reform proposals submitted by the Opposition and NGOs suggest that the government is acting in bad faith notwithstanding that the reform proposals are superficial and do not address core problems relating to roles of state institutions in election rigging and other malpractices by government officials and NRM functionaries under the cover of state institutions.

Overall, the proposals lack a holistic approach and err in viewing the EC and the UEL as only part of the problem while the other part of the same problem is the conflation of the Uganda State on the one hand, and the NRM party and its government, on the other. Both organs work jointly and severally to rig elections.

For a meaningful reform, it is necessary to examine the broader aspects of the roles played by state institutions in the manipulation of elections.

This must include: reforming the control of public funds in financing elections; barring use of public vehicles and property by the government and ruling party; halting the blatantly open bribing of voters through "donation" of public funds, primarily by the President; rules for the printing and distribution of electoral materials; and effective supervision of vote tallying and announcement of results. 

The role of the Uganda Police Force (UPF) and that of the  army, Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) in election rigging must be reviewed.

Current legal framework does not adequately address these gaps and mischief. The following state institutions, for example, bear the greatest responsibility in organizing flawed elections in Uganda.

First, The Uganda Police Force: The negative roles played by the UPF since the Museveni regime came to power must be halted, particularly the militarization of the UPF.

The Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, a serving army officer, an NRM cadre, and unapologetic supporter of President Museveni should have never been appointed to head the UPF in the first place. He is an embarrassment to the UPF and the people of Uganda.

In his now infamous 47 minutes and 17 seconds taped recording (Observer, April 9, 2014), Gen. Kayihura confesses that he draws his power from President Museveni and not from the Laws of Uganda.

In the leaked recording he's heard issuing instructions to underlings on how to conduct themselves in the power struggle between Gen. Museveni and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. He is a partisan enforcer, rather than a national police commander.

He pleaded with the NRM Youth to stick with Museveni and promised to give them money, in other words bribes. In short order, he is unfit to be the head of any independent police force. He has militarized the police and converted the national police force into an NRM organ.

The Police force needs to be overhauled if Uganda is to have transparent, free and fair elections in 2016. Gen. Kayihura recognizes the incompetence and bias of the UPF hence his attempts to rebrand the UPF, change its name and uniform.

Such changes shall be symbolic and not substantive. The UPF, in its present form and composition, cannot be trusted to be neutral in maintaining law and order during electoral process or at any time prior to and after elections.

Second, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, under which the UPF falls, is another partial institution. Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, former Commander of the Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF), and a serving army general, receives orders from President Museveni in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief and Chairman of the Army Council.  Gen. Nyakairima’s role as a serving army general and a senior politician, a.k.a Minister for Internal Affairs, creates serious conflict of interests and a violation of the law as army officers and men are not to engage in partisan politics.

Gen. Nyakairima and Gen. Kayihura, both receive orders from and report to Gen. Museveni. The two have conspired to transfer serving military officers and men from the UPDF to the UPF by simply dressing them up in police uniforms. It is these army men and women in police uniform that continue to harass, arrest, beat and torture civilians. It is important that the UPDF whose primarily responsibility is to defend the country from external aggression not take part in internal politics, whether local or national.

Third, Uganda’s Civil Service, under the NRM government, is no longer a neutral body. Civil servants, against their will and in violation of Civil Service Regulations, are compelled to attend mandatory NRM political indoctrination courses at its political school at Kyankwanzi. The NRM indoctrination program includes the training of Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) who are members of the NRM and owe their allegiance to President Museveni, the appointing authority. The NRM Local Council (LC) from LC I to LC V also attend mandatory courses on indoctrination at Kyankwazi. These are the same partial NRM cadres who supervise elections throughout the country.

Fourth, the Judiciary is the final arbiter of electoral disputes. It is headed by the Chief Justice who is also the President of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice has the responsibility of, among other things, assigning cases to the other Judges and taking overall supervisory responsibility of the Judiciary. For more than a year now, Uganda has had no substantive Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice. The current Acting Chief Justice and Acting Deputy Chief Justice is Justice Steven Kavuma. He is one of the original petitioners for the registration of the NRM organization as a political party. Justice Kavuma also served as Minster of State for Defense during a period when the NRA/UPDF committed mass murders, rape and sexual violence in the northern part of Uganda. As a loyal NRM cadre, Justice Kavuma has never resigned from the NRM and is still an active member. There are several NRM cadres on the Bench in the mould of Justice Kavuma. There are, however, a handful of judges who are credible, objective and impartial. More of such judges must be appointed on the Bench.

The current standoff between President Museveni and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on the re-appointment of retired Justice Benjamin Odoki, a judge who, like Justice Kavuma, has regularly ruled in favourfavore NRM, and has passed the constitutionally mandated retirement age, is evidence that President Museveni  is determined to ensure that the Judiciary toe the NRM "correct" line.

Overall, it is irresponsible for the Opposition to participate in the 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary elections in the absence of structural reform.

The elections are already rigged. The alternative is PEOPLE POWER.


Obote Odora is Consultant in International Criminal Law and Policy

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