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.

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.

“That’s what Africa needs – social transformation – not this circus of changing leaders”

A quote from Museveni. The story in the Monitor today, via, is headlined “Museveni Willing to Let Besigye Rule”:

President Museveni, who marks 25 years in power today, will hand over power if he is defeated in next month’s election.

In an interview with the BBC World Service, Mr Museveni, the incumbent, said he would retire if he lost in a democratic process but said he expected to win with a big majority.

President Museveni, who is fighting a fourth election and the third against main challenger and former ally, Dr Kizza Besigye, has previously said he would not hand over power to his rival.

I will accord at least some significance to Museveni saying this. I thought it was conspicuous at the time in the run up to Kenya’s 2007 presidential election that Kibaki, so far as I was aware, never made such a statement. Raila Odinga stated publicly that he would accept a Kibaki win, but only the Foreign Minister, Raphael Tuju, made a reciprocal statement for the Kibaki administration. Did this mean that the message was for foreign diplomats rather than Kenyans?

On Monday, a group of opposition leaders called for a delay in the election date to allow the issuance of voter cards and a clarified register:

There are 13.9 million voters according to the provisional register released by the EC which figure the opposition and other stakeholders have questioned for a country where 56 per cent of its 32 million people are recorded as being younger than 18, the threshold of adult voting age.

. . . .

The opposition leaders say absence of voters’ cards, proliferation of ghost polling stations, a bloated voters register, multiple registration, and with foreigners and under age voters preparing to participate, the elections won’t be free and fair.

Calls for a postponement come weeks after the FDC sued the electoral body, seeking a declaration compelling it to issue cards to newly-registered voters.

EC Secretary Sam Rwakoojo has contended that Section 35(3) of the amended Presidential Elections Act, 2010, provides for voting without the voters cards as long as one is able to prove to the polling officer or assistant that his or her name and photograph appear in the register. Hearing of the case continues.

In the meantime, FDC leader Kizza Besigye, and his compatriots in the opposition vow they will announce their own version of the results. The opposition, whose repeated demands for broad electoral reforms were ignored by government, is adamant that the EC is not impartial in the matter and cannot be trusted to return an impeccable result.

Dr Besigye has unsuccessfully contested the last two elections which the Supreme Court found were not conducted in accordance with the law, were marred by irregularities, including rigging, but that the rigging was insufficient to have a substantial effect on the final result.

Of course an inflated voter role was a key issue in the failure of that 2007 election in Kenya as reported by the Kreigler Commission.

Interesting to note this week that Museveni has now come out in dissent from the “international consensus” that Gbagbo lost the election in Ivory Coast, saying that a full investigation is needed.

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department issued its Travel Alert for the election period:

The State Department alerts U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Uganda to the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections on February 18, 2011. U.S. citizens in Uganda during this period are urged to exercise caution and remain abreast of the security situation throughout the election period. This Travel Alert expires on April 18, 2011.

Uganda’s 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections generally were orderly and peaceful, and there are no indications that the 2011 elections will be any different. Nevertheless, the State Department recommends that U.S. citizens monitor the local news for changing security developments throughout the elections. Instances of localized unrest related to the elections are possible, and U.S. citizens should be aware that even peaceful gatherings and demonstrations can turn violent. U.S. citizens should maintain a high level of security awareness at all times and avoid political rallies, demonstrations, and crowds of any kind.

.  .  .  .

For an anthropology take on the campaign, see “DJ M7” from The Africanist keyed off the Afrobarometer poll discussed here.

And, the Uchugazi platform is up with the website for Citizens Election Watch IT, and on the blogroll.