Uganda Votes (updated)

A reminder of the link to the Uchaguzi “Citizen Election Watch–IT” site. And the “Uganda Watch 2011” site, which is a partnership including Citizen Election Watch–IT with funding from the multi-donor Deepening Democracy and the U.S.’s National Democratic Institute.

Also follow the hashtag #ugandavotes on Twitter.

[Update:  with voting concluded, the internet is alive early evening Uganda time with unverified vote totals being reported on Twitter directly and from SMS from various polling stations.  The dispersion of communication technology is continuing to have an impact–this is well beyond what was available in Kenya in December 2007.  Here is the initial Bloomberg story from Sarah McGregor an hour after polls closed.]

The BBC reports that voting has been proceeding smoothly after delayed poll opening.

Here are a couple of the overview articles from yesterday’s international press.

“Heads I Win, Tails You Lose”, Michael J. Wilkerson in Foreign Policy:

It’s hard to overstate Museveni’s advantage in Friday’s ballot. He has significantly more campaign funds — both legitimate and under the table — than the opposition. He has access to state resources to mobilize his supporters, and the loyalty of the security services. Uganda has seen record economic growth in recent years under his oversight. And Museveni has strong Western backing, winning praise for example for his innovative HIV/AIDS campaign and his commitment to fighting terrorism. (It also helps, of course, that he appointed the electoral commission.)

Sounds easy, right? Yet Museveni and his party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), are leaving nothing to chance. Across Kampala, major billboards usually devoted to expensive advertisements for Coca-Cola, phone companies, or other big spenders have almost all been replaced with NRM campaign items. The party has even hired a helicopter to fly around the city dropping leaflets and blaring Museveni’s campaign song — a remixed version of his attempt to bond with young voters by rapping at a rally. And then there is Museveni’s use of government resources, like the presidential helicopter, to travel around the country and campaign.

Since it’s not officially reported, campaign spending is hard to gauge here. But Andrew Mwenda, editor of the Independent weekly magazine and consistent critic of Museveni’s regime, has an estimate: “Museveni has spent $350 million dollars on this election alone,” he told me.

Meanwhile, the government is effectively bankrupt. In January, parliament passed a supplemental budget increase of $260 million, yet just weeks later, Minister of Finance Syda Bbumba announced that the government was broke and ministries would be examining emergency cost-cutting measures. According to local newspaper reports, government officials confirm that money was diverted to NRM campaigns for the presidency and parliamentary seats, and $1.3 billion, or almost a third of the annual budget was spent in January alone. (Unsurprisingly, the IMF refused last week to sign off on Uganda’s economic policies, diplomatically describing them as “inconsistent” with previous agreements with the fund.)

“Uganda Will Deploy Security at All Polling Stations” by Sarah McGregor, Bloomberg.

Is There Any Cost to Museveni for Refusing to Reconstitute the Electoral Commission?

Certainly the United States, as a major donor, and others, seem to have tried hard to persuade Ugandan President Museveni to relinquish his unilaterally appointed electoral commission.  An independent electoral commission is to me clearly a necessary pre-condition for a fair electoral process–and we know now that allowing the incumbent president running for re-election to control the electoral commission was the fundamental thing that went wrong in Kenya’s election in late 2007.

Today’s Daily Monitor reports on the latest dust up about the suspect voter registration rolls:

A fresh disagreement is creeping between the Electoral Commission and the civil society after the latter said there could be about half a million or more duplicated voters particulars in the national register to be used on Friday. EC officials reportedly first unearthed the ‘ghost’ voters and the Democracy Monitoring Group (Dem-Group) yesterday said the official figure of 13.9 million registered voters is exaggerated.  Dem-Group officials, presenting to the EC team their findings following analysis of the national voter’s register, reported wide disparity between the official voter figures and probable adult population based on the 2002 population census.

Nonetheless, the EU, Commonwealth and COMESA observers are proceeding to observe the final stages leading to voting on Friday.  If Museveni wins without major violence, then it would seem that he will have successfully bested the “international community” which has made possible much of what he gets credit for in his tenure as president through assistance to his government.  One more bad example unless the donors find a will and a way to exact some cost.

See “Uganda goes to the polls in 5 days” at Chris Blattman’s blog, along with “The Africanist” for perspectives on the campaign itself.

Plenty of Reason to be Concerned About Uganda Election

Steinberg and Carson received the Ugandan opposition leaders

LISTENED: Mr Steinberg (L) and Mr Carson received the Ugandan opposition leaders. PHOTO BY EMMANUEL GYEZAHO, Daily Monitor

The front page of Monday’s Daily Monitor:  “Museveni will rig, opposition tell US officials”:

Three opposition presidential candidates on Friday told two US secretaries that they strongly believe that the February 18 general elections will not be held in a free and fair atmosphere. The short but intense meeting was held at the US embassy between the US Deputy Secretary James Steinberg, Ass. Secretary Johnnie Carson, Dr Kizza Besigye of Inter-Party CooperationPC, Mr Olara Otunnu of Uganda Peoples Congress and Democratic Party’s Norbert Mao among other officials.

The meeting was primarily to brief Mr Steinberg and his team on what the opposition has seen as challenges in the coming elections.

The three leaders openly expressed disappointment over, among other things, what they called an organised rigging machinery that has been set in motion.

.  .  .  .

The US mission in Kampala kept the arrival of the two US secretaries a secret. The Public Affairs Officer at the US embassy, Ms Joann Lockard, on Thursday declined to comment on their visit. “I can only say that a very high profile visitor will be coming into the country soon,” Ms Lockard said.

In his message, Dr Besigye asked the army not to dishonour the memory of 300,000 people who died in the liberation war that brought the NRA into power. “Thirty years today, the ideals which huge risks were taken, have been forgotten by the NRM government. Uganda is still be-deviled with the same ills that sparked the actions of Tarehe Sita,” Dr Besigye said.

“Soldiers welfare is almost non-existent and promotions are made without proper guidelines. This is why many soldiers are demoralised,” he said. “Retired generals and politicians are using the UPDF as an outfit for business to enrich themselves at the expense of junior officers and this nation.”

Fear of Upraising
Dr Besigye added that the situation in Uganda was ripe for anything. “Anything can happen in Uganda now. It could be the same situation that took the NRA to the bush or a popular uprising. Trying to stop me from saying it will not solve this problem.” “Dictators cannot be removed by free and fair elections,” Dr Besigye added.

He declared that if the February 18 elections were rigged, they would be the last elections of the kind Uganda will ever see. “The struggle for change is not mine alone. I will not go to the court of law if these elections are rigged. It is useless. I will seek the court of public opinion,” Dr Besigye said.

He said Uganda has never had free and fair elections and that he will move with the will of the people. “I will support a popular protest against an illegitimate decision of the election.” He added that the Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, has never had a day’s training as a police officer “He is just like a militia man. I wish the police well in their preparations. I do not think Kayihura has tools that could prevent a protest like the ones in Tunisia and Egypt.”

.  .  .  .

Relations between Washington and Kampala have been smooth in the recent past. Uganda is a key strategic partner to the US in its role in maintaining regional stability. This relationship suffered a slight setback in 2009 when the US Congress, as part of its foreign appropriations Act, issued a directive to US Secretary of State Clinton to monitor Uganda in its preparation for the 2011 general election, the voting process and the eventual outcome.

Government criticised
In her first report, Ms Clinton heavily criticised the government on its handling of the opposition, the heavy handedness on the media and the continued restriction on journalists, Uganda’s deteriorating human rights record and the restrictions in freedom of expression among other key issues.

It was also highly critical of the independence and the composition of the Electoral Commission of Uganda and the method its commissioners are selected, an issue that has concerned the opposition time and again. Reacting to the report, the government dismissed it saying it was biased, had not been made in good taste, and was not representative of the views of the majority in Uganda. In her response to the Clinton report the NRM party spokesperson Mary Karooro Okurut said the report lack legitimacy.

The second and third reports were expected in August 2010 and January 2011 respectively. “The next report has not been submitted yet,” Ms Lockard told Sunday Monitor on Thursday. “It is due later this month.” She added that a final report will be released 30 days after the elections.
Some members of the opposition are worried that the US was softening its stand on government and may have abandoned its initial efforts to monitor the country’s track record.

“Support for democracy in Uganda remains a top priority for the United States in our bilateral relationship,” Ms Lockard insisted. “We urge Uganda to ensure that the Feb. 18 elections are free, fair, and peaceful.”

The Daily Monitor also features an interview with Graham Elson, the deputy chief of the EU Election Observation Mission which has now set up shop with staff and long term observers. Graham was in the same role in Kenya in 2007 and I found him to be very professional and a pleasure to work with. The EU team provided us at IRI with information on security and other areas of common concern that we were not able to get from our own Embassy. Obviously there was a divergence of opinion between the EU, which called initially for a recount and remedial action on the Kenya vote and the US, which initially congratulated Kibaki, then withdrew it but called for “power sharing” instead of remediation of the election.

The train builds speed–more warning signs for the Uganda election and the choices ahead

News on the Uganda campaign from Reuters this morning:

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, seeking a fourth term in office, will arrest his main opponent Kizza Besigye if he carries out his own vote count and announces the results, the presidency said on Wednesday.
Besigye said in October his party planned to hold a parallel count of the presidential election expected on February 18, to put pressure on the government and the president to speed up electoral reforms.

Besigye, leading an opposition coalition called Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), plans to have agents at every polling station who will send results to a tallying centre.

He reiterated on December 6 while campaigning in eastern Uganda that he would announce his own results shortly after the polls close, local media reported.

The presidency said in a statement that Museveni, speaking to media on Tuesday in Jinja, eastern Uganda, had warned Besigye not to declare his own election results.

"The president said Besigye should not think this is Ivory Coast or Kenya. He warned that Besigye will be taking a short-cut to Luzira (maximum security prison). Museveni said even he himself cannot declare his own election results."

Museveni has said the electoral commission is the only institution authorised to declare presidential election results.

Museveni, in power since 1986, is facing a fierce challenge from Besigye, who has made deep inroads in the rural areas that are the president’s traditional support base.

Besigye says he was cheated of victory in the last two elections, in 2001 and 2006, citing rulings by the supreme court that both polls had been marred by massive rigging and intimidation of voters by the army.
. . . .

This presents a very challenging environment for everyone involved in the election. Museveni has "toughed out" calls from the United States (through the State Department) and others to open the Electoral Commission which he unilaterally appointed–and which has been deficient in the past as noted. Now he is threatening the election day operation of the largest grouping of opposition parties.

With the passage of time Museveni seems almost to court more controversy both domestically and internationally. Yet many knowledgeable observers see an opposition that is divided among so many candidates as not to have a real chance to defeat him at the polls this time even as his popularity seems to diminish. It would seem that Raila Odinga’s trip to campaign with Museveni on December 15 when the "Ocampo six" were named may reflect a desire on the part of both these politicians to show to the outside world that they can accept each other and do business on the basis of "realism" in spite of the past.

From the U.S. viewpoint, Museveni continues to receive military and security training and support associated with the AMISOM mission in Somalia, the regional role of Uganda and its military otherwise, and now perhaps in the context of renewed focus on addressing the LRA. Likewise, it is now clear that the Abeyei situation will remain outside the January referendum in Sudan, no matter how well that process may go. The situation in the DRC seems to deteriorate. So in totality what is the policy of the United States, the UK and EU toward the February election?

Are diplomats going to be willing to call the conduct of Uganda’s election as they see it? And if so, publicly or only privately? What about people providing technical assistance? What about the observation missions–diplomacy or assistance? In light of the new QDDR is it the policy of the U.S. administration that it is all diplomacy anyway? See also, “Democracy and Competing Objectives: ‘We need you to back us up.'”

Open Society Report–Uganda Not Prepared for Free Election; U.S. options?

From AFP in the Daily Nation:

Uganda’s election panel has failed to establish conditions required to hold a free and fair vote less than five months before a scheduled general election, according to report seen by AFP Wednesday.

Intimidation of the opposition and media censorship both remain pervasive and the ruling party uses government structures for political purposes, says the report commissioned by Open Society Initiative for eastern Africa, a pro-democracy group linked to American billionaire George Soros.

OSIEA hired as lead author the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, though the document is not a UN report.

“The electoral commission’s failure to address constant harassment, arrests and intimidation which political groups… are subjected to by police and Kiboko (stick wielding) squads has severely undermined its credibility,” the report says.

“The commission must also address the denial of freedom of expression and speech, especially the domination of broadcast media by the government and ruling party.”

The report states it is too late for Uganda to establish ground work for a free vote, which will likely be held in late February.

This obviously presents a difficult situation for U.S. policy makers. We are training Somali soldiers in Uganda in an environment of heightened tension following the World Cup bombings in Kampala, as well as training the Ugandan military and supporting their deployment in Somalia in the AMISOM mission.

If we know that the election is simply not going to be fully legitimate up front, what are our options? We could, for instance, support Museveni in the run up to the election on the theory that since he is going to stay in power anyway, it is better to help him make it look good to promote stability. And if violence breaks out, we can support nominal power sharing of some type to placate the opposition elites. We could bring open pressure now and try to broker some type of pre-election agreement to change the environment at least to some extent–or do something similar quietly. We could stay neutral and support the process as best we can without a specific agenda and maximize our position to contribute to problem-solving in the aftermath as honest brokers. Interesting choices.

Development Challenges: Ugandan Elections and Hunger in NE Kenya

Uganda ElectionsHere is an interesting report regarding the various NGO efforts to the potential violence that is a growing concern in relation to Uganda’s upcoming February 2011 elections. Concerns expressed include questions about excessively expensive or wasteful projects, the need to distinguish between important and effective groups and those “which are just parasitic”, and the degree to which donors should dictate the use of funds and the extent to which this may influence the political process.

One project singled out for scrutiny is a soccer tournament “to reconcile the warring political parties” organized by the Global Peace Festival Foundation, an organization launched by Prof. Apollo Nsibambi, the prime minister, on August 30.

In total, the two football competitions will cost GPFF Shs 610 million–enough money for a strong opposition party to run a successful compaign. Moreover, experts say that the majority of NGO funds are spent on workshops, furnished offices, and workers’ remuneration, leaving very little for the real projects.

According to the NGO registration board, there are over 8500 civil society organizations in Uganda and of these over 1000 are aimed at preventing violence or promoting election integrity.

Northeastern Kenya–high levels of child malnutrition continue to exist in spite of better rains recently according the the World Food Program. The previous drought reduced herds, so pastoralists continue to lack meat, milk and blood. Likewise, general underdevelopment from lack of health care facitlities, lack of roads and transportation, and lack of education (mothers’ illiteracy contributes to lack of knowledge about proper nutrition for children). A report today on IRIN entitled “Instability Without Borders” explains that the spillover effects from instability and al-Shabaab control of bordering areas of Somalia has driven some aid organizations out and greatly driven up costs for others, reducing the ability for service delivery to address these problems. While the border is porous to the flow of small arms and raids, it appears from the report that Kenya’s police high police presence has helped prevent major escalations on the Kenyan side of the border, the threat from previous cross-border kidnappings and raids, along with the general insecurity and prevalence of arms has resulted in a daily 12-hour curfew and a standard requirement that all travel include armed escort and has led many organizations to park their own vehicles and only travel in hired transport.

The President’s Electoral Commission–is Uganda travelling the road Kenya took to violence in 2007?

“Electoral Commissions, Africa’s New Kingmakers” from The Independent in Kampala.

During the immediate weeks of violence and uncertainty in Kenya following the December 2007 election I had lunch with a politician from the western part of the country. This person had been in parliament but both lost out for re-election as a PNU candidate and was personally impacted by the violence. The story of the election as related from the perspective of this person for whom I have great respect was that as soon as President Kibaki acted unilaterally to appoint his own choices to fill the seats on the Electoral Commission of Kenya in the fall of 2007, the opposition figures in the area represented by this MP felt that it was clear that Kibaki and his team were committed to rigging the elections to stay in power and all bets were off. From that point, this person felt that their own chance for a fair election in an opposition oriented district were also taken away.

An election commission appointed by one candidate, a sitting president running for re-election, is a recipe for serious trouble. In Kenya the mechanism was in place through the 1997 Inter-Party Parliamentary agreement for collaborative appointment of the ECK membership. Unfortunately, the agreement had not been given binding force of law. When Kibaki chose to ignore the prior agreement and acted to fill the ECK with his own people, Western donors in public consoled themselves with the notion that the Kibaki’s last minute reappointment of the ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu, who had acquited himself appropriately in the 2002 election and the 2005 referendum (both landslides) would be enough to save the day. And Kibaki had not technically violated the letter of the law in making unilateral appointments.

Ultimately, we now know, Kivuitu was sidelined to allow the manipulation of the vote tallies, and was successfully pressured to go ahead and declare Kibaki the winner when he admittedly did not know who had won and to facilitate an extraordinary “quickie” swearing in of Kibaki that Sunday evening at State House.

In the case of Uganda, we have the determination of the Ugandan Supreme Court that there were serious problems with the last election in 2006. Althought the Ugandan Electoral Commission has just issued a statement denying incompetence and asserting that past problems have been addressed, this message on behalf of “the government” does not attempt to argue that the Commission is substantively independent from the incumbent administration.

What real excuse has Museveni offered to reject the concerns of donors to reform the Commission to secure a level playing field for 2011?