In 2005, I was advising a South African businessman who was opening up a business in this country. He sought a legal review of his company’s proposed standard documents and was shocked to learn that the provision for the customer’s national identification number was redundant because we do not have a national ID.
“What,” he exclaimed in his thick South African accent, “then how do you hold elections?” I paused for a moment to think of a patriotic answer to give in defence of my motherland and said “Just like that!” The conversation quickly reverted to business but the point had been made.
Without a comprehensive and authoritative list of citizens and proof of age and citizenship in the form of a national identification card, we have never had the basis of what can pass for a truly free and fair election for the last 30 years.
The courts of Uganda have found in countless election petitions, that elections have been marred by rigging.
Nothing has been said or done about this and the expensive charade that passes for elections has continued. The courts have also identified the riggers of elections. But none have been subjected to the law for having engaged in election malpractices. Instead, vote riggers continue to enjoy prosperous political careers.
Previously, complaints about shambolic and unfair electoral processes have invited accusations of being “oppositionist” or a bad loser.
Indeed complaints about the flawed nature of electoral processes in this country have come from members of civil society and the Opposition, perhaps because they have been at the sharp end of these practices more than those in the ruling National Resistance Movement.
But the by-election for the Luweero Woman MP last week might, in the future, be seen as the watershed on the issue of electoral fairness because following the loss by the NRM’s candidate, President Museveni officially joined the chorus of people complaining about flawed electoral processes.
I will not take a glass half-empty approach to point out what the President omitted or allegedly misrepresented in his 14 page article about election rigging from 1961 to present.
Rather, I will take the article at face value and contend that it represents a great political opportunity for this country that should not be wasted in partisan bickering and finger-pointing.
The ruling party, the Opposition and civil society are now in agreement over something fundamental. They should agree on meaningful reforms to make electoral processes free, fair and truly representative of the people.
But talk is cheap. We must see sweeping non-partisan action, to give effect to the President’s words - “However, the law will punish those who have made it a habit to usurp the sovereignty of the people of Uganda by rigging.”