A debate between the presidential candidates in the 2016 general election is scheduled for next week. All the candidates have confirmed they will take part in it except for one.
The exception is candidate Yoweri Museveni of the NRM party. He claimed he was too busy with State affairs to take part in the debate. Those who know this candidate are not surprised.
He absented himself from the previous debates. He has had a phobia for debate ever since his days as a student at Ntare School where he was a member of the debating club. He had the enthusiasm for debating.
The only problem was that he had a stammering problem, so while trying to deliver his argument he would be booed by the audience and sometimes he would storm off the stage in anger.
Ever since then, if he can help it he will avoid having to debate. Now that he is a head of State and enjoys 30 years of power, he feels even less need to participate in debates.
Candidate Museveni should be left to concentrate on his State affairs and leave the debate go on peacefully.
If it is handled well, the debate should do something important: it will show that Uganda can get on without Museveni.
I hope the other presidential candidates resist the urge to discuss Museveni beyond what is necessary. They should concentrate on their own campaign platforms and policy proposals, with as little reference to Museveni as possible.
The very absence of candidate Museveni should be used to show Ugandans that the country can go on without him and will go on, to a large extent happily, without him.
Having said that, to the debate itself. One of our problems in Africa is our habit of copying each and everything from the West, down to the form like TV when we all know that radio is listened to by many more people across the country than TV.
The Americans from whom the world has copied the presidential election debate format can afford to posture as part of their campaign gimmicks. They have a large, well-educated, highly-skilled workforce that conducts the day-to-day research and bureaucratic matters of state and government.
In Uganda where the majority of the population is illiterate and most of the literate are functionally illiterate and of those who are functionally literate most are incompetent, no matter how attractive the campaign manifestos each candidate comes up with, it will be difficult to implement them because of this shortage of skilled manpower at almost every level in the society.
That is why I am not looking forward to the debate because I want to hear what each candidate has to offer Uganda but, as stated, just to see the debate show candidate Museveni that the society can go on without him. He is not as indispensable as he imagines or as many Ugandans imagine.
Turning to the campaign itself, after a 2011 general election campaign that was relatively peaceful, the 2015-2016 campaign has so far shown the kind of violence we saw in 2001. It has really gotten ugly.
There has also been a blatant one-sidedness by the police and to a degree, the Electoral Commission. I still do not know why the Opposition and independent candidates do not boycott the election.
Since they clearly can see that the process is now so compromised that it should be abandoned but they insist on taking part, they should not start to complain when the final results are announced.
If I can assess the campaign so far, it has been ordinary and quite boring in most respects, as boring as previous presidential elections.
The campaign song recorded by several of Uganda’s leading music stars in support of candidate Museveni has faded from the radio and TV airwaves. It was not particularly appealing as a song.
Candidate Besigye is fortunate in that he seems to have a magical way with the public, who believe in him regardless of what he does or how many times he runs for president. In terms of message, though, his campaign so far has been a rather ordinary repeat of the same campaign themes he delivered in 2006 and 2011.
Candidate Mbabazi started off his presidential campaign in June 2015 with the most interesting prospects. He launched a message via the international video-sharing website YouTube, something nobody had ever done before.
The general messaging seemed, in the view of many analysts, to be the most sophisticated of any candidate. However, over the last few weeks the further he has gone into the campaign and the further he has travelled into the countryside, the more the earlier image of sophistication has worn off and he has been reduced to the plain and populist campaigning style of candidates like Museveni and Besigye.
Candidates Joseph Mabirizi, Abed Bwanika, Venansius Baryamureeba, Benon Biraaro, Maureen Kyalya too have run the plain, standard, ordinary campaigns that are typically Ugandan, just like Mbabazi, Besigye and Museveni.
This was the first general election in Uganda in which the new medium of crowd-communication called social media was supposed to play a significant role. If what I see so far is what a social media election campaign is like in Uganda, then it is a rather disappointing role.
The updates from the presidential camps have been the usual Facebook and Twitter updates, with the same “unserious” grammar and punctuation we have come to expect of social media.
Poor quality photos and equally poor quality and unsophisticated videos from some camps are posted online. The radio and TV messages by all the camps, for those that have issued them, have been equally rudimentary and boring.
Even in terms of campaign stunts, not one of the presidential candidates has pulled off a move that has gotten the public excited and talking. Crowds or no crowds, not a single candidate has proposed a policy or action that has really got some of us thinking.
Unfortunately, among the unappealing messages this campaign season has been the best-known one by a civic education group CCEDU. The votability message by CCEDU in 2015 featured good photography in their billboards, but toward the end of 2015, the radio adverts left a lot to be desired.
Overall, I give the 2016 Ugandan presidential and parliamentary election campaigns a score of E on a scale of A to F.
We need a better way than this lacklustre political campaigning and messaging.
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