Sunday January 31 2016

News of Africa: Rigging, polygamy and virginity

By Bernard Tabaire

Rigging the election. Every one of the three leading presidential candidates is hyperventilating over the question of rigging. Challengers Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi say they will “die” protecting their votes, denying the NRM chance to rig.

President Museveni has responded, speaking instead of the Opposition’s schemes to rig, and then assuring Ugandans that there will be no funny manipulations because of new technologies that the Electoral Commission will use.

He has defended NRM against rigging accusations in the past, and said it is the Opposition that has all the expertise in rigging.

What we learn from the back and forth is this: rigging is integral to the election process in Uganda. All these big people would not be going on about it if it didn’t exist. They should know. Dr Besigye and Mr Mbabazi have all served in President Museveni’s government at very senior levels. And they all have run for elective office before.

Which makes me ask Gen Kale Kayihura to take time off crime preventers to put a few questions to the candidates with a view to preventing a serious crime from occurring. Of course, I am giving the police chief the benefit of the doubt.

I know, the Opposition will say it’s only the ruling party (read government/President Museveni) with the means and stronger motivation to get its way fraudulently.

The courts have also said their bit in past elections. Even then, it appears every camp is preparing to do some rigging of its own, but is shouting now as a way to deflect future suspicion, to present itself as the victim. Politicians have a way of playing with the rest of us.

At least in Eritrea there is no pretence. They just don’t hold elections. Finished. For 23 years now, President Isaias Afewerki has not bothered with ballots.

Okay, Uganda should not turn into an Eritrea, but there is some brutal honesty in the little brutal state.

The other day Kenya’s crazy news site named Crazy Monday used humour to skewer the Eritrean government. (I am hoping the writer actually had a larger purpose.) Because of a shortage of men, the site reported, the Asmara government was requiring Eritrean men to marry more than one wife or go to prison with hard labour.

I have heard a serious joke that the choices that face young men in Eritrea are: indefinite national service i.e. forced labour, jail, exile, or death. Grim. The BBC has reported that the UN estimates the number of Eritreans leaving the country every year at 4,000 – quite an exodus. (I need to ask my Eritrean neighbours, one of whom has a large framed picture of President Afewerki hanging off his sitting room wall, what their story is.)

It was, therefore, ingenious for the Kenyans to skewer Eritrea by coming up with a fantastically absurd story that caught the attention of many Africans (read men) across the continent.

The import of the hoax was that only a far-out dictatorship like that in charge of Eritrea can come up with something as outlandish. The Asmara government was ticked off, denouncing “dark forces”, and proving the point. Leaders have no sense of humour over there.

Seriously ridiculous things also came out of South Africa. That country has a female mayor named Dudu Mazibuko.

The madam wants to give scholarships to virgins who will keep eligibility by not losing their precious sexual status. She is fighting the spread of HIV. Good. But thinking that virginity should be a key measure for a scholarship more than poverty, for example, is crazy. And assuming that these girls will remain virgins for years and therefore not catch HIV and possibly spread it is even crazier. There is simply no guarantee.

Which reminds me of a certain first lady and some pastors in Kampala who had popularised, about a decade ago, the idea in the name of fighting the said HIV.

They also talked “chastity scholarships”. I may be missing the story, but it has been years since I heard of this virginity talk in Uganda. This means it either succeeded or failed spectacularly that there is therefore no point going on about it anymore.

Mr Tabaire is the co-founder and director of programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala.