‘Quality of our elections is dipping’

Sunday October 13 2019

Resigned. Outgoing national coordinator of

Resigned. Outgoing national coordinator of CCEDU, Mr Crispin. FILE PHOTOS  

By Thembo Kahungu

The news of your departure was rather abrupt. Why exactly do you have to leave at a time when the temperatures for the 2021 election are starting to rise?
It was never as abrupt as the public perceived it. On assuming the role of coordinator of CCEDU in 2010, I made a personal commitment to serve in this position for a maximum of nine years. A man is as good as his word! I didn’t think there was any compelling reason for me to compromise my personal pledge whatsoever. And in any case, my service was never contingent to just a general election.
On a different note, it is also time for CCEDU to inject fresh blood at leadership level. I became coordinator at 26. I want to imagine I was a lot more vibrant, active, energetic and with more zeal to adventure with new ideas than (maybe) I am now. I am now older and wiser! I am convinced there are people with fresh ideas, fresh energy to carry-on the mantle of leading one of the largest citizen-based coalitions in eastern and southern Africa.

There has been speculation that CCEDU has problems with funders, among other things. Are you running away from these?
Unlike many typical NGOs in many parts of the world, CCEDU’s main source of funding is its members. It is its hundreds of thousands of members that have provided significant resourcing to enable CCEDU do its work – and do it well. CCEDU has no ‘problems with funders’ whatsoever. And in any case, I would never run away from my own baby because of ‘problems’.
CCEDU’s mandate consists of three things: 1) election observation; 2) electoral reform advocacy; 3) voter mobilisation. Over the last 10 years of CCEDU’s existence, we have never failed to deliver on those three things. Recently, in August, CCEDU successfully convened its annual membership platform with representation of members from all districts of Uganda. We had more than 564 attendees, including ministers, heads of faith-based institutions, MPs, leaders of cultural institutions, heads of political parties, development partners etc. This is a very resource-intensive activity that we’ve held every single year. How would we have convened it without funding?

It seems to be a difficult time for civil society in Uganda given the tumult we have heard of in the industry recently. What is your take on this?
I have also heard of views to that effect. I can’t confirm nor deny them. I am not quite sure if they are perceptions, peddled narratives or realities.

You as CCEDU have often been accused by the party in government and the Election Commission of being a partisan observer, which recently prompted the Electoral Commission to suspend the organisation’s election observation activities. What do you say to this?
CCEDU has since inception remained an impartial and non-partisan observation outfit. That is why sometimes the coalition is accused of siding with the Opposition and sometimes with the party in government. That is actually not strange, especially for highly independent and professional entities such as CCEDU that work on elections – globally. When we ran our first major nationwide multi-media voter mobilisation campaign called, ‘Vote Issues, Not Wolokoso’ in 2011, the Opposition accused CCEDU of scoring for the ruling NRM. Yet on the other hand, government, through its then minister for Information (Kabakumba Masiko) was accusing CCEDU for making a pass in favour of the Opposition. Even the Electoral Commission too is suspicious, occasionally. I know that CCEDU’s mandate is different from the EC’s mandate. Although the two institutions are enjoined to partner, they are also supposed to retain their exclusive independence. As CCEDU, we have striven to maintain our independence.

There was a backlash to the CCEDU report on the recently concluded by-election in Hoima, with the Opposition side accusing you of failing to capture key issues in the election
CCEDU published two statements with regard to Hoima. There was a preliminary statement that was generated during polling and counting of results, and a post-election statement that was published after the Electoral Commission announced the final results.
We noted that the general public took a lot more interest in the polling and counting statement which basically gave an over view of the technical realities that characterised the Hoima by-election, and did not pay as much attention to our post polling statement.
I noted the issues raised by members of the public and we made a clarification to invite people to read both statements in context. As I reflected on the feedback on our preliminary statement from the Hoima by-election, I realised how much of a polarised country Uganda has become. And probably we must work to address that polarisation if our politics is to be anything to write home about in the future.

Looking back to the decade you have observed elections in Uganda, what would you say is the trajectory of things?
The civic consciousness of Ugandans is surely going up. People are beginning to hold their leaders accountable. In fact, people are also starting to question government excesses – where they occur. The citizens have become more and more interested in the way they elect their leaders today, than it was probably 10 years ago.
I think we’ve also placed a lot of emphasis on quantitative side of elections rather than the qualitative aspects. We have more people running for elective offices today than in the past. We have more elective positions today than in the past. However, the quality of our elections is dipping.
Therefore, we need to fix the quality of our elections. We must strive to continue with issues of credibility, integrity and transparency that seem to be terribly affecting the elections we are holding.