The American congress has directed Obama’s administration to tightly watch Uganda’s preparations for the 2011 elections.
The unprecedented directive, requiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to appraise the lawmakers on the hue of electoral groundwork beginning in March, details a closer scrutiny of candidates’ security during campaigns.
Independence of the Electoral Commission – a disputed matter locally, creating an accurate and verifiable voter registry; media freedom and citizens right to political assembly as well as timely announcement and posting of election results, are some of the salient issues the Congress wants sorted.
“The conferees direct the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act and every 120 days thereafter until 30 days after the elections, detailing actions taken by the Government of Uganda to address these concerns,” reads the directive.
The US mission in Kampala said yesterday that it is prepared to implement the legislative directive “because it is what we are doing already.”
“We will follow the directive of Congress and prepare the reports they want,” said Ms Joann Lockard, the public affairs officer, at the American embassy.
News of the legislative directive was broken by Voice of America during the Straight Talk Africa show on Wednesday, hosted by Ugandan-born American journalist, Shaka Ssali.
Daily Monitor has learnt that the directive comes alongside a Congress approval of $70.6 million (Shs134b) to Uganda in development assistance.
State International Affairs Minister Oryem Okello welcomed the directive because “our government is transparent and have nothing to hide”.
“We are confident we will fulfill the expectations not only of the US but more importantly Ugandans that will be participating in the elections,” he said.
Uganda will hold presidential and general elections early next year but emotions are running high over possibility of vote stealing as has happened in previous polls. The ruling NRM and opposition parties are in a political gridlock over composition of the Badru Kiggundu-led Electoral Commission.
The US intervention therefore strikes at the heart of local squabbling on how to organise a credible, fair and free poll.
Mr Olara Otunnu, who is vying to be Uganda People’s Congress presidential flag bearer, while appearing on Shaka Ssali’s show described the directive as a “milestone because for the first time the Museveni regime is being held to the same electoral standards as other governments”.
He said: “Up until now, the regime has enjoyed scandalous exceptionalism, particularly concerning democracy, human rights and corruption. This is the beginning of the end of that impunity.”
The ramification of non-compliance remained unclear but some diplomats said the Congress, which appropriates federal spending, including foreign aid, could freeze assistance to Uganda.
To coordinate international action, the American lawmakers want the Department of State to carry out the electoral audit together with the European Union, Canada and other development partners.
Mr Obama, in a key African foreign policy speech delivered in Ghana last year, identified promotion of democracy as one of the four key pillars of Washington’s renewed engagement with the continent, warning that his administration will work with leaders on the “right side of history” and isolate dictators.
“This is about more than just holding elections. It’s also about what happens between elections,” he said, “Repression can take many forms, even those nations that have elections, are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty…That is not democracy; that is tyranny.”
Full text of Congress directive
"The conference agreement provides $70,650,000 for assistance for Uganda. The conferees direct the Secretary of State to closely monitor preparations for the 2011 elections in Uganda, and to actively promote, in coordination with the European Union, Canada and other nations, the independence of the election commission; the need for an accurate .and verifiable voter registry; the announcement and posting of results at the polling stations; the freedom of movement and assembly and a process free of intimidation; freedom of the media; and the security and protection of candidates. The conferees direct the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act and every 120 days thereafter until 30 days after the elections, detailing actions taken by the Government of Uganda to address these concerns."