Prominent Ugandan Economist, Kashambuzi, Urges Election Boycott -- Recommends Transition Government Now

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Kashambuzi at the United Nations

The presidential vote in Uganda scheduled for February 2016 is a waste of time, resources, and potentially lives from election-related violence and will only legitimize Gen. Yoweri Museveni's dictatorship, says a Ugandan economist who's advocating an unlikely boycott.

New York-based Eric Kashambuzi says Ugandans would be better off immediately creating a government of national unity whose members would come from the existing political parties, including disaffected members of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) as well as pressure groups and civil society organizations.

Voting without electoral reforms including an independent election commission--already rejected by Gen. Museveni who's been in power for 30 years now--would just solidify the regime's hold for another five years, Kashambuzi says. "It is unlikely that the opposition presidential candidate will win the 2016 elections unless the electoral commission is reformed to serve the interests of all contestants," he says.

"Do you really think Museveni, with his own personal hand-picked election commission will allow himself not to be declared the winner? This is fantasy," Kashambuzi, interviewed near the United Nations, adds.

"He will win it. And he will say he campaigned and won," he says, referring to Gen. Museveni's election-rigging machinery which includes the police force and intelligence services.

Gen. Museveni's hand-picked election commission is headed by Badru Kiggundu.

In recent years political repression and electronic surveillance of Ugandans have escalated as a recent BBC documentary shows. Additionally, the Museveni regime pushed through a Stalinist law called the Public Order Management which bars any public meeting of three or more Ugandans without prior written approval from the national police chief, Gen. Kale Kayihura.

Kashambuzi says now that The Democratic Alliance  (TDA), an umbrella organization, failed to unify all the political parties behind a single candidate against Gen. Museveni, it should reconstitute itself or another organization should emerge to create a transitional government of national unity. "If a transitional government of national unity was created it would immediately have more legitimacy than the Museveni regime," Kashambuzi says. "Instead the opposition are hoping to gain legitimacy through sham elections."

Kashambuzi believes Gen. Museveni has so polarized the country along religious, ethnic, and political-affiliation lines that not only will violence accompany the election but that the divisions will become even more pronounced in the coming years. He argues for a unity government whose leadership would reflect regional balance to rule the country for three years under a transitional charter not the 1995 constitution.

Uganda doesn't have a history and tradition of credible elections Kashambuzi says, hence the imperative for national unity first. "All the elections, of 1961, 1962, 1980, 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011 were fraudulent and in the case of the 1980 elections led to a five year guerrilla war that caused the death of some 50% of the people in the Luwero Triangle in the kingdom of Buganda," he says, referring to the hereditary monarchy, Buganda, within Uganda. "People in other parts of Uganda also lost their lives and properties."

The transitional government Kashambuzi envisions would be tasked with conducting a national population census that would also focus on economic conditions that vary between the regions; organizing a national convention for all Ugandans regardless of their social class conditions and education to discuss how the country should be governed; and then organizing free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections after electoral reforms that include creation of an independent election commission.

For the post-transitional period elections all candidates for the presidency as well as parliament would be allocated equal resources so that they would all compete based on their ideas and programs they propose, he says.

Rather than one president, the transitional unity government would govern through a presidential council whose four members would come from: the eastern; western; southern; and northern parts of the country. A public service commission, in charge of appointments to public jobs and promotions, would similarly be constituted based on regional balance.

The same formula would apply to the armed services and the police force, Kashambuzi says, with joints chiefs of staff. "Instead of protecting the nation against external aggression, the army has been turned into a tool of settling political disputes, overthrowing governments and abusing the rights and freedoms of the general public," he says.

"In 1966 the army was used to settle a political dispute between the president and prime minister. The former who was also king of Baganda was defeated and fled into exile where he died in mysterious circumstances. After that, parts of Uganda were placed under a brutal state of emergency which was resented and created conditions for Idi Amin and a section of the army to carry out a coup against President Milton Obote and his government in 1971."

When Gen. Museveni first seized power in 1986, he "condemned African leaders that overstay their welcome," he adds. "He categorically stated that he would step down as soon as stability returned to Uganda which was achieved shortly afterwards. He has been in power since 1986 and still counting and sustained by the military that has killed and intimidated Ugandans demanding their political rights."

The parliament elected and sworn in after the post-transition period would then become a constituent assembly and draft a new constitution for the country that would take into consideration the discussions from the national convention. Any new constitution should cement presidential term limits; should take into consideration the aspiration of Ugandans, including whether they preferred a federal system; should introduce requirements for presidential candidates including a minimum of a college degree; character requirements so as to eliminate corrupt individuals and those who have engaged in crimes against humanity; and, it should also ensure that government based on winner-takes all comes to an end, Kashambuzi says. "If one party gets 49% of the vote and another gets 51% why should that party get all the ministerial appointments, and all the permanent secretaries and all the ambassadors?" he says. "Government should be based on proportional representation."

Kashambuzi himself envisions a federal system where local governments handle education --with a uniform national standard--and other issues while the federal government handles matters pertaining to currency, national security, foreign affairs, and the national economy.

Kashambuzi's suggestions come even as two major candidates have now been separately nominated to run against Gen. Museveni and campaigning is in full swing.

One candidate, Amama Mbabazi, who until last year was prime minister in Museveni's government, secured the support of the majority of the parties that participated in the TDA exercise, including the Democratic Party (DP), Uganda People's Congress (UPC),  the Justice Party (Jeema), People's Progressive Party (PPP), and the Federal Alliance. He also insists he's still officially a member of the NRM ruling party, making an appeal to disaffected members to abandon Gen. Museveni.

In recent years the National Resistance Movement ruling party has quickly disintegrated, breaking up into two camps; pro-Museveni and pro-Mbabazi. "How can Mbabazi say he's opposition and insist he's still NRM?" Kashambuzi says.

The other major candidate Dr. Kizza Besigye, Gen. Museveni's former phycisian, has long been the face of opposition politics in Uganda, enduring numerous beatings and arrests by security agents on orders from Gen. Museveni was nominated by his party, the Forum For Democratic Change (FDC) and he's also backed by the Conservative Party (CP). Each candidate drew hundreds of thousands of supporters --Besigye's event having the largest turnout-- into the streets during their nomination exercises earlier this week.

Yet in Kashambuzi's view both Mbabazi and Besigye are engaged in futile campaigns since Gen. Museveni won't allow either of them to be declared victor in the upcoming vote. "Why are we discussing which one candidate should represent the opposition in an election whose outcome has already been determined by Museveni and Kayihura?" he says. "There is no need to have elections now. We must boycott the elections and focus on the transitional government."

Gen. Kayihura, the chief of Uganda's police, has reportedly recruited nearly two million people, including adolescent boys and elderly people into militias called Crime Preventers. Critics and human rights organizations believe the militias will be used to intimidate supporters of the opposition in the period leading up to the elections and afterwards.

Kashambuzi remains highly skeptical of both Mbabazi's and Dr. Besigye's chances. He says when Besigye himself broke with the NRM more than 15 years ago people believed he too had a good chance of beating Gen. Museveni with his party connections and allies in the military. "That didn't happen," he says.

On the other hand Besigye's supporters point out that Gen. Museveni stole the last three elections; in 2011, 2006, and in 2001.

In the 2001 vote Uganda's Supreme Court ruled 5–-0 that there was indeed widespread cheating; it still voted 3–-2 against nullifying the election results. In 2006 Uganda's Supreme Court again ruled that the vote had been marred by intimidation, violence, voter disenfranchisement, intimidation, violence and other irregularities; yet, fearful of the regime the judges voted 4–-3 against nullification.

A former top Museveni aide, Gen. David Sejusa two years ago revealed that he had participated in the rigging of the 2006 elections and that Besigye had actually been the victor.

Kashambuzi believes another reason why the elections should be boycotted is to avoid the loss of human lives. He points to Gen. Kayihura's militia recruitment. Recently, a female leader of the FDC party, Zaina Fatuma Naigaga, was stripped naked while being arrested by Kayihura's police.

Kashambuzi favors a Truth and Reconciliation commission similar to South Africa's, which was chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu,  after a post-transition government comes into office in Uganda. He believes senior military and police officers who ordered crimes against humanity should be punished but recommends pardons for low-level officers who only followed orders. "This is the only way we can end impunity in Uganda," he says.

Kashambuzi worked for several years with the United Nations before becoming a consultant. He focuses on economic development.



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