By K. David Mafabi
Uganda held Presidential and Parliamentary Elections on 14th January 2020. With 58.64% of the votes cast, President Yoweri K. Museveni decisively and emphatically defeated possibly the most reactionary array of forces in any election since April 1962 - and this, in the middle of a raging COVID-19 pandemic! Warmest congratulations, Comrade President - Leader and General of the African Resistance! Congratulations to the Movement membership, and to all the people of Uganda!
Let us touch base with three or four of the general issues that have arisen around the election results.
First, we must delve into the essence of the voting pattern as reflected in the results - this is being discussed widely, and shall take a bit of our time and space.
Some of my friends have attributed the voting pattern - where the East, North and West of the country have tended to vote President Museveni and the Movement, while the Central Region (Buganda) has tended to vote Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi - to socio-economic factors and the challenges of urbanization.
This would, for example, appear to be supported by a World Bank mid-2020 Economic Overview: “Uganda has achieved remarkable results in reducing poverty over the past decades, mainly driven by the agriculture sector. From 1992 to 2013, the percentage of Ugandan households living in poverty was halved …”
The World Bank position about the trend in overall poverty reduction over the last decade is also supported by the 2016/17 Uganda National Household Survey conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.
The World Bank points out though, “… but vulnerability to external shocks remains high; for every three Ugandans who get out of poverty, two fall back in.
All Uganda’s regions registered an increase in the number of poor people with the notable exception of the Northern region, which is the poorest, and where poverty decreased from 44% to 33%”.
The problem is, while the positive and sustained general trend in poverty reduction over the last decade would explain, at least in part, why West Nile, Acholi, etc. - would vote Yoweri Museveni - it would not explain why the Central Region would not vote Yoweri Museveni, and nor why it would support Hon. Kyagulanyi. For, the Central Region has the lowest figures for: the chronically poor; those who have fallen back into poverty, etc. The Central Region also has the highest formal employment figures, self-employment figures, etc. It has the best performance indicators for Education and Health, etc.
The “poverty argument or map” therefore, would throw our voting pattern into complete disarray! The reader should look at the following 2018/19 poverty prevalence levels figures for Districts from the Uganda National Panel Survey conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics: Nabilatuk 71.8; Kotido 69.7%; Amudat 64.4%; Napak 64.1%; Moroto 61.9%; Kaabong 61.7%; Nakapiripirit 60%. Etc.
Compare the figures immediately foregoing with: Kampala 2.1; Wakiso 4.4%; Masaka 7.8%; Kalangala 8.2%; Etc. These areas came out strongly for Hon. Kyagulanyi.
Now, the afore-quoted World Bank overview also notes: “Uganda’s economy has experienced a slowdown in growth due to the severe impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic crisis, a locust invasion and flooding caused by heavy rains. Uganda’s real gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 is projected to be between 0.4 and 1.7% compared to 5.6% in 2019. Exports, tourism, remittances, foreign direct investment and portfolio flows shrunk during the second half of FY20 due to international trade disruptions and restrictions of movement of people”.
Without going into the accuracy of the immediately foregoing conclusion, the evidence of a positive growth trajectory and an inexorable general trend towards poverty reduction is overwhelming and cannot be denied - short to medium term disruptions and shocks notwithstanding. Shortcomings and flaws in service delivery mechanisms, further, have not subtracted from the general trend. Service delivery issues of, and by, themselves do not explain the voting pattern.
So, what explains the voting pattern? This question obviously requires more and deeper examination. In the meantime, it brings eerie pictures into my mind - including that of the National Assembly of Uganda in April 1962. All the 21 Members from Buganda were nominated by the Buganda Lukiiko - all were from one “party”: Kabaka Yekka (KY), a narrow-nationalist formation …
It takes us back to the raison d’etre of the National Unity Platform - the political organization that dominated the Central Region, in last week’s election … This is stated plainly in paragraphs 1 and 2 of its Manifesto “… spearhead … a transition from the 35-year dictatorial rule …” What was in the minds of the narrow-nationalist elements and clergy who openly campaigned for the group - whose leader spoke publicly and on record during the campaign about “removing Government before election day”? How would this have been achieved without an insurrection of some kind?
Yesterday as I concluded typing this piece, I received a video clip of the Buganda Katikiro Peter Mayiga congratulating Hon. Medard Ssegona on his electoral victory. Most intriguing, Mr. Mayiga added in Luganda, “I advised the people to vote for candidates who understand the Kabaka …” - my translation.
Over the last few days, I had ignored a “tweet” that came out on Wednesday last week. I initially actually doubted its authenticity. The “tweet” was attributed to Mengo, and was to the effect that Mengo was rallying “voters to cast the ballot for a presidential candidate that respects the Kabaka, visits the administrative seat of the kingdom and understands the culture and customs of Buganda”. Given what the Katikiro has now said, it is just possible that the “tweet” may have been authentic after all!
Obviously, the trivialization of the substance of the goings on to a “Muganda voting a Muganda” or “Munyankore voting a Munyankore”, is diversionary. The real challenge is that of the possibility of the deliberate destabilization and distortion of the strategic compromise regarding traditional or cultural leaders embedded in the 1995 Constitution. The other night, I heard a leader speaking flippantly about “giving Buganda federo if they want it”! Never mind that “federo” is not the same thing as “federal Government” … Never mind that anybody seriously interested in “federal Government” should have worked hard to contribute to the operationalization of Regional Government already provided for in the Constitution - as a critical nodal point in their quest. Incidentally, we should not lose sight of the fact that the virtually single-handed author of the strategic compromise mentioned above, was Yoweri K. Museveni - at the Gulu NRA High Command Meeting of 1989.
A troublesome dimension to these matters is that some of our elite close to our Royal Houses are yet to accept that our history over the last 150 years firmly closed the door to Princes and Princess who GOVERN or exercise the executive power of any kind. The constitutional, legal and political space is open only to Princes and Princesses who REIGN - and do so within the provisions of our Law.
The second issue is that of voter turnout. I have heard some commentators speak of a “very low voter turnout” - and go on to say this impacted negatively on the “legitimacy” of the election! Incredible!
To deal with this knowledge gap, we need only to look very briefly at various aspects of election results in Uganda from 1962 to 2021 - focusing on voter turnout.
The Uganda General Elections in 1961, 1962 and 1980 were Parliamentary Elections only, that is, without direct Presidential elections. Direct Presidential Elections are a creature of the 1995 Constitution.
Our figures are culled from different sources - for example, the Independent Electoral Commission and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. Some are estimates, projections. This, therefore, is to acknowledge the possibility of inaccuracy. That said, the data is accurate in overall terms.
A few comments, therefore, on voter turnout data:
a). Voter turnout as a percentage of registered voters who voted has always been high in all Uganda elections during the period under review - well above 55%: 2021 - 57.22%; 2016 - 67.61%; 2011 - 59.29%; 2006 - 68.00%; 2001 - 70.31%; 1996 - 59.30%; 1980 - 85.30%; 1962 - 67.76%. This underlines strong citizen participation in the electoral process - which electoral process lies at the heart of democratic governance.
b). Voter turnout as a percentage of the voting-age population has been high in all the elections during the period under review, oscillating between 55% and 74% - save for an all-time low in 1962, at 31%.
This strong showing in citizen participation compares very favorably with relevant statistics from the United Kingdom, an older democracy. In the elections held in the UK in the selected years of 2015, 2010 and 2005, voter turnout as a percentage of the voting-age population in the said years, was respectively 66.1%, 65.1%, and 61.4%.
c). A comparison with the United States here - looking at the popular vote for President as a percentage of the total population - is also in order. Between 1796 and 1820, it held under 5%. From 1820 to 1916, it grew steadily - but never going beyond 20%. After a surge, it has held between 33% and 43% from 1948 to date.
In the recent US Presidential election, voter turnout as a percentage of eligible voters was a record high 66.8%. As a percentage of the total US population, it was 47.87%.
Monitoring the US voter turnout as a percentage of its total population is an important tool in tracing the journey of granting voting rights to people of color, women, etc.
d). Back home, the Voting Age Population Turnout (VAP) i.e. the percentage of the voting-age population which actually votes, has been progressively dropping since 2001. This could very well be a reflection of two factors: the surge in the population of 12. 5 million people in the decade 2001 - 2011, and the change in the demographic structure towards an increasingly young population with 80% below age 30. How do we prepare this young population to shoulder their civic duty and patriotic responsibilities? The answer to this question clearly points us in the direction of quality and focused civic and voter education. But does not subtract from the clear overall trajectory delineating strong citizen participation in, and ownership of, the electoral process.
The third issue and dimension to the elections, has been heavy external subversion - from within the region, and from outside Africa. The national leadership has dealt most calmly, decisively, firmly, and ably - with this challenge. At an appropriate time, I have no doubt that the national leadership shall update the country in detail.
Finally, related to this electoral process, there are issues that are internal to the Movement and its Government. The people of Uganda have once again overwhelmingly endorsed the national development trajectory mapped out by the Movement leadership. It is now for the national leadership to consolidate the mass line in the Movement and Government - and build the necessary ideological, political and organizational strength and unity.
K. David Mafabi
Senior Presidential Advisor/Special Duties