Elections

Looking back at election day in 1980

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Ernest Oloya recounting his tale. Photo by Alex Esagala 

By Flora Aduk

Posted  Wednesday, February 17  2016 at  02:00

In Summary

The 1980 election was a seminal event in the political history of Uganda. Meant as a return to democratic civilian rule, the election was marred by widespread irregularities. Two voters share their experiences of the infamous polls and their views of the subsequent general elections in the country.

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Ernest Oloya, a retired civil servant, looks back at his experience as a voter over the years with optimism.
“I was a teenager, about 13 or 14, when elections were first held in Uganda, in 1961.
I recall there were two main parties, DP (Democratic Party) and UPC (Uganda Peoples Congress) and it was a parliamentary election. I did not vote, but one of the major issues we kept hearing about was the issue of election rigging. So one can say this claim of election rigging has not just started, it is ingrained in our society and history.
I was particularly able to witness the events in the Acholi sub-region where I lived. For example, there was rivalry between two men, Banya and Alex Ojera. The claim was Banya had rigged the election and there are songs to that effect, that is how young people like us then would know the events.

In 1962, there were also claims of rigging, but there were no hard or quantifiable facts that those making the accusation would base their claim on. In fact, no one came up with request for vote recounting, it was simply hard.
Maybe they based on the alliance between Milton Apollo Obote and Kabaka Mutesa II when 21 Members of Parliament from Buganda were loaned to UPC, which made it win the elections.
The planned election that was to take place in 1970/71 was to be held under a one party system-UPC. But there were big divisions in the party; there were different factions in different places.
You would find a faction in Kitgum East supporting a faction in Moyo District. There was a sign that there was going to be a lot of chaos.

For the election that was cut short by Idi Amin’s coup, there were funny arrangements, where someone standing in a constituency in Kitgum had to have another piece of constituency in another area say in Kabale which set tone for rigging.
People were generally charged as they wanted to see political parties back and politicians wanted to capture power. Negative aspects were captured, people being beaten and arrested; however, this happened mostly in the western parts of the country and not in the north.
Elections were postponed until 1980 despite an attempt to have them in 1970/71.

1980 election
In the 1980 election, I voted at East Kololo Primary School. I was a civil servant, so this limited my power to show my interest in any of the parties.
Nonetheless, I was excited; I had colleagues and village mates who were running up and down in campaigns in Kampala.

During this time, the newspapers were really political and affiliated to political parties. Munno was for DP, Peoples newspaper for UPC. Munansi was also hard hitting. They would report positively about their favourite parties and write very bad and scandalous articles about the Opposition parties. Like in the current elections, communities also performed songs and plays praising their candidate and in some cases, scandalising the opponents.
The election day, however, was peaceful. Those who wanted to vote did so. Commonwealth observers reported that the elections were peaceful and fair under the circumstances. People were really eager to vote.

There was a lot of competition between DP and UPC as the main parties and also UPM, but with no tangible effect or following. I tried to attend the UPM campaigns at Kololo Airstrip (Kololo Independence Grounds), but I saw people like Akena P’ Ojok who was suspected to be a prominent member staying for only a short time.
Just as it is today, the government then was warning Opposition from trying to declare their own results. In 1980, DP started declaring the results from their headquarters that were located around where Pioneer Mall is, before the Electoral Commission declaration.
This caused panic for people like Paulo Muwanga who decided to stop the declaration until it was sanctioned by him. That move was enough to prompt rigging claims.

Nonetheless, UPC was declared winner. I got so excited. My village mates called me to go and march in a procession. I recall we marched through upper Kololo to Impala Avenue to Obote’s residence. So many youth were marching and converging there. While I had a son Brian, born in Nsambya Hospital, I was diverted from attending to them and went to join the marching of winners.

I can say election rigging has been Uganda’s biggest moral issue. It makes us look awkward. Today, the claim of rigging is by one group, tomorrow another group. Even those who were comrades at one time in accusing the winning opponent have been falling apart and accusing their former allies of rigging.

The problem
Even in 1996 when Museveni and Ssemogerere stood against each other, there were claims of rigging.
These are the same people who were comrades in claiming elections were rigged against them in 1980.
The same thing has gone on with all the other elections, in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Right now, already there are claims and opinions expressed. I think Ugandans have the mentality of not accepting results; we will wait and see if this one will be accepted as free and fair.
In the 1996 election, people were not as excited as today. They were not tuned for elections as they were just coming out of a period of political turmoil, although the politicians were very eager to win power.

Ugandans were just enjoying the peace and stability that they were starting to experience. And there was insurgency in the north and east.
But the political interest started building up again and by 2001 and 2006, it had increased.
In 2011, the political climate was fully charged with different parties to get power. Now it’s at the peak.

Today, almost everyone is excited, whether they go for campaigns or not, people have interest, they watch TV and read newspapers and discuss in markets and bars.
For the 1996, 2001, 2011 elections, I voted at East African Development flats (apartments).
There were no problems registered there unlike in other areas where there were claims of people’s details missing on the voter’s register.

Views on today’s election period

The election will depend on the sincerity of the Electoral Commission; if they want free and fair elections they have the means to do so at their disposal.
As new technology advances, those who want to commit crime also advance their methods. I haven’t gone to the rallies but what is interesting is all the major candidates have crowds, but the questions is whether they belong to the particular parties or it is the same crowd attending all the rallies.

Every move in development of society is something that becomes its history. While there are claims of vote rigging today I can say there is a high degree of maturity in politics, especially in the population compared to the past.
If you look at the eight candidates, five of them are from western Uganda. But while there are clashes among the different groups during rallies, there is no tribalism. In the past if anyone opposed an individual in power, that opposition would be translated into tribal hatred.

For instance, the Bakiga would be very annoyed with the Banyankole because they have fielded a candidate against their “son” and vice versa.
I believe that politicians should advocate for policies that are geared towards development and positioning the country locally and internationally. As politicians, they should be able to come together for development work despite their different political affiliations.

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