Tuesday February 2 2010

US audits Uganda’s preparations for 2011 polls

By Tabu Butagira


The US has started a high-level audit of Uganda’s preparations for the 2011 ballot with a top Obama aide telling government officials in Kampala to fix organisational lapses and run a “better managed” voting.

Daily Monitor has learnt that Maria Otero, the US under-secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, on Friday put bureaucrats here on notice to ensure respect of human rights and rule of law as pre-conditions for clean political competition.

“[Ms Otero] was here on a fact-finding visit; to look at issues of democracy, rule of law and water under the Nile Basin Initiative,” Joann Lockard, the public affairs officer at the American Embassy in Kampala, said on Monday.

It has emerged that the diplomat on Friday held a series of meetings with representatives of non-governmental organisation and government officials including Oryem-Okello, the state minister for International Affairs, pressing for an “organised electoral process”.

“Ms Maria Otero reiterated the need for building a strong democratic country and commended the efforts of Ugandan government in fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency and hoped that the country now focuses on developmental programmes,” the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

Minister Oryem-Okello reportedly gave assurances that the forthcoming elections will be credible, free and fair. The under-secretary’s visit, the first of her appearance in Kampala, comes a fortnight after the US Congress issued an unprecedented directive, compelling the Department of State to closely scrutinise the nature of ongoing electoral groundwork here.

The legislators in their January 13 directive highlighted on their watch list the independence of the Electoral Commission – a disputed matter locally, creating an accurate and verifiable voter register; media freedom, security of candidates and citizen’s right to political assembly and prompt announcement/posting of election results.

“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,” the directive read in part.

Ms Lockard said last week’s visit by Ms Otero may not be directly linked to the Congress directive but her snapshot findings will feed into the general appraisal required by Capitol Hill. “[That is why] she had the opportunity to meet with government officials and discuss these issues,” she said.

Under-secretary Otero after the Kampala trip headed to the Ethiopian capital - Addis Ababa, where she together with US top diplomat for Africa, Johnie Carson, met President Museveni on the sidelines of the African Union summit and repeated Washington’s concerns about the upcoming vote.