In a survey of 74 constituencies on campaign expenses by Alliance for Financial Monitoring (ACFIM), it was discovered that political parties, and their flag bearers as well as the independent candidates had spent Shs77 billion by February 2016 in the campaigns. It also shows that NRM accounted for 76 per cent of the total expenditure followed by independent candidates at 17 per cent and FDC at 2 per cent. Other political parties accounted for 2 per cent.
According to the Political Parties Act (as amended) 2005, political parties are supposed to submit annual financial returns and audited reports to the Electoral Commission (EC). It is evident political parties are not in compliance with provisions and that the EC is reluctant to sanction them.
Prominent Kenyan jurist, Prof Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba held a land mark discussion during a National Symposium on commercialisation of electoral politics in Africa at Speke Resort and Conference Centre, Munyonyo on Thursday themed Commercialised Electoral Processes as a Barrier to Democratic Dispensation in Africa. The symposium was organised under the umbrella of three non- governmental organisations: Alliance for Financial Monitoring (ACFIM), ActionAid International Uganda and The Alternative.
Henry Muguzi, the executive director of ACFIM, said the cardinal objective of Prof. Lumumba’s coming was to galvanise advocacy for campaign finance legislation as part of broader electoral reforms and seek to urge government to ratify the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance.
“The debate on money in electoral politics has come at a time when many Ugandans think money is an impediment, especially to the youth and women to join leadership. Though the legal frame work puts in place affirmative action for these and other interest groups, it is observed that the majority of the stake holders in these groups keep away from leadership because they lack access to fund for election campaigns,” Muguzi said.
Electoral politics is increasingly perceived as a business. Political parties and candidates have been observed to stake huge sums of money into election campaigns to get elected into political office, raising questions. Conversely, citizens perceive of election campaigns as a window of opportunity to extract as much money as possible from political parties and candidates. By so doing, they have become complicity in entrenching the vice of commercialised politics.
Prof Lumumba traces the commercialisation of politics from the time African countries acquired their independence. He says those politicians with genuine intentions to liberate their African countries like former prime minister, late Patrice Lumumba of DRC were removed from power with the help of Western powers who saw him as threat to their interests in Africa.
He adds that independence leaders like Milton Obote, Jomo Kenyatta and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere rooted for one party system to unite people.
“Their argument was that there were multiple ethnic groups and the only way to unity was to have one party states. However, western powers discouraged such states saying that wasn’t democracy subsequently leading to multi-party politics. The idea of democracy in Africa was conceived in Paris, London and the Washington. The structural adjustments in early 1990’s saw multi-party politics forced upon many African countries with conditions from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF),” he said.
He added that despite leaders like President Museveni, and other African leaders rooting for a single party system; multi-party politics has been forced down their throats by the Western powers and that’s where commercialisation of politics begins.
He says Mwalimu Julius Nyerere predicted this, “He used to question politicians who had entered politics with money. In fact, whenever politicians in Tanzania went out with more money than they could legitimately explain to the electorates, they were branded thieves and were not elected. But he regretted in 1995, at a major political gathering that the major qualification was how much a politician had in the pocket,the more money you had, the more you were to the voters. And the trend has continued to date.”
He blames African leaders who prefer seeing their citizens as poor so that they can be viewed as demi gods during campaigns.
“The cancer of money in politics reared its ugly head at the advent of multi-party politics. Money is now comfortably sitting in the sitting rooms and bedrooms of our political parties. The safety of the leader demands that citizens be kept in poverty. And that’s what happens in Africa. During campaigns, candidates move around distributing rice and maize, appearing to be nice. In other words, the typical African leader impoverishes the people in order to be attractive to them.
You must appear to have money. And that’s why political leaders have an insatiable appetite for accumulation of material wealth which is the rule in most African countries. In Africa, it is about looting and theft on an industrial scale,” he noted.
However, he also blames the citizens for their love to ‘eat’, “The electorate is also to blame. They have an insatiable appetite for things they have not worked for and no longer listen to ideas. When you approach the electorates, your beautiful ideas must come for something. They will tell you in the intervening period that they must eat. No matter how beautiful your ideas are, if you don’t have money; it is likely you will lose.”
Norbert Mao, president of DP concurred with Prof Lumumba saying, “I agree money is distorting electoral results. You cast your ballot thinking you have the agenda unaware that there’s someone with deep pockets who will influence the outcomes. At the end of the day, your agenda is ignored. Politicians are asked for money because they cannot deliver and it is better for the electorate to eat in advance. It is cash on delivery.”
Winnie Kiiza, Kasese Woman MP said there is need to investigate the presidential pledges and donations since it very hard to differentiate the intentions, “Usually, towards elections, there are many supplementary budgets that come up casting doubt on whether money ends up in the right channels.”
Betty Aol Achan said the problem is not just wide but also deep rooted in schools and universities. “Elections in universities and schools indicate a bigger and deeper problem. Even a primary school child must bribe his class mate for a prefectorial position. Guild elections have been commercialised. It is deeply rooted in the electoral process and society,” she mentioned.
However, Prof Kihura Nkuba and Dr Tanga Odoi, NRM Electoral Commission chairman, argued that there’s no problem with money in politics.
Prof Nkuba said, “Our people need wealth, I have no sympathy for politicians if they are asked for money. Why shouldn’t they ask for money? In fact, for any politician vying for public office, it is better to give out money to electorates instead of spending it on posters to advertise yourself. Give electorates items such as iron sheets, and cement.” He argues the same money goes back to the electorates.
“This money is spent on our economy whether it is stolen or not. Are they going to see you after the elections? What makes Africans is the ability of an MP contributing towards burial expenses or anything tangible that benefits the community. That’s the African way. You are a child of that constituency and therefore it is an obligation that you share the money from Parliament with the rest of the people. There’s no crisis in commercialisation of politics.”
Dr Tanga Odoi said, “When we entered multi-party democracy, we actually didn’t know we were entering the money circle. So you cannot blame the NRM for using money. We entered a system of where and how money should be used. The excess of it is what can be curtailed. If you don’t have money, then don’t join politics. People have come to politics because it is a business.”
Prof Lumumba said, “When politics is commercialised, it undermines democracy and the country cannot grow. We are in bad space where politics is a cut throat competition where throats are actually cut and the loser can never congratulate the winner. Elections in Africa are either stolen or rigged. There’s no losing or winning.”
Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu argues that our moral values have degenerated, “We have to pay attention to the issue of values. If someone has been stealing as headmaster, do you expect them to change when given a budget of Shs500m at sub-county level? Are these people going to represent what we want? The people in Rukungiri, Arua and Bugiri stood up in by-elections and voted for the ideas despite the regime putting in a lot of money.”
It is no longer a competition of ideas but rather to occupy a lucrative casino.
Kiiza said this has resulted into discrimination of youth who cannot afford Shs3m to vie for Member of Parliament.
In September 2015, MPs passed into law the Presidential Elections (Ammendment) Act 2015 and Parliamentary Elections (Ammendment) Act into law that saw the presidential candidate nomination fee increased to Shs20m from original Shs8m while nomination fees for MPs increased from Shs200,000 to Shs3m. However, the then LoP, Wafula Oguttu cautioned Parliament saying it will appear that it is making laws to serve their interests, “It is better to be on an equal level in the campaigns otherwise, it de-campaigns democracy. That’s why most MPs first eat in their first year of parliament,” Mityana municipality MP Francis Zaake said.
He added that the challenge is the parliamentary commission which works on remunerations is mainly comprised of NRM, “It puts us at a disadvantage. It is not right to vote for a person who has more money because to him it’s an investment. The opponents we fight are well facilitated and powerful. Transportation of voters should be discouraged since it puts other candidates at a disadvantage. What of those candidates who cannot do the same?” he said.
“The Constitution of Uganda should be translated into four main languages. But this has not happened and people are in the dark. We should elect people with ideas not money. We should task government to review our electoral laws. Nobody is above the law. And when a child asks for money for sweets or posters, it shouldn’t be allowed,” said Achan.
Mao said we should embrace that the citizens must take responsibility. He added there’s need to empower people to take back their countries. And there’s new hope that people are rising up. It is possible for people to change the game.
Prof Lumumba concluded, “We must eliminate commercialised politics by limiting electoral expenditure. That is by asking leaders how much they spent in the elections and sensitising the people. There’s a sense in Africa that we, electorates are a bunch of nincompoops where we are viewed in great contempt by leaders. It is time for us to wake up as those in Algeria and Sudan people have risen up against their leaders.” he said.
“Things are becoming more serious. We must inject hygiene in our politics. One thing is to make politics a competition of ideas which is common in the western democracies. In countries such as Netherlands, the prime minister drives to work while the African minister has a convoy. In churches, they saunter for front seats. We must demystify political leadership. Young Africans are beginning to ask searching questions and are rising up,” he added.