Active boycott is imperative when elections become an empty ritual

Sunday November 10 2019



Norbert Mao

Norbert Mao 

By Norbert Mao

I have received a lot of feedback after declaring that President Museveni is doing everything to insure himself against the possibility of losing the presidential election and, therefore, Ugandans should seriously consider boycotting the presidential ballot. The purpose of the boycott would be to leave him to run alone, probably accompanied by some Mickey Mouse candidates manufactured for that purpose. A boycott is a desperate and extraordinary measure of last resort. It means the situation is dire. Desperate times demand desperate measures.

Imagine a soccer match where two teams face each other. One team is the reigning champion. The other team is the challenger that the trophy has eluded for decades. The reigning champion is captained by a player who is also the referee. He runs around with a whistle in his mouth. When he is in possession of the ball he blows the whistle to stop the match to frustrate challengers who seek to tackle him and dispossess him of the ball.
He also clutches a red card in one hand. He brandishes the yellow card threateningly at any challenger. Any challenger who dares tackle him is shown the red card and sent off the field. His boots have nails under the soles. He has no scruples about injuring anyone who comes too close to the ball.

Or look at it another way. Imagine a game of cards. In this case there is also a defending champion who has reigned for decades. This champion has arrogated to himself the absolute right to determine which cards his challengers get. The incumbent champion gives himself the best cards - all the Masters, all the 2s, all the 3s, the Jokers, the 8s, the Js, and even the Seven of Hearts that can terminate the game. He gives you the worst of the cards including the Ks and Qs. He then tells you to sit and play!

Would you play? I think most people would boycott the games. What is a boycott? In general terms, a boycott is “an act of voluntary and intentional abstention from dealing with a person, organisation, or country as an expression of protest, usually for moral, social, political, or other reasons. The purpose of a boycott is to inflict some economic loss on the target, or to indicate a moral outrage, to try to compel the target to alter an objectionable behaviour.” A boycott is a form of activism aimed at exposing the moral bankruptcy of the person, organisation, activity or country.

During the apartheid era, sanctions were imposed on South Africa. International sports bodies banned South Africa from participating in international competitions. Many countries imposed trade sanctions. In the case of Uganda all passports barred travel to South Africa!
I recall a time when I was at Yale University and went to buy groceries at Walgreens - a chain store in the city of New Haven. The items I intended to buy were worth about $200. When I reached the counter to pay, the cashier looked at the bill and then glanced at me.
“This is a lot of money. How do you intend to pay?” she asked me. I pulled out a gold Visa card and presented it to her. She glanced at me again. “I need a photo ID before I can process your payment,” she told me. I gave her my university ID. She returned it to me saying she needs an ID issued by the government, either a passport or a driving permit.

The questioning was beginning to irritate me so I asked what the problem could be. I had my passport plus the US state ID but refused to show them. The cashier told me that I could be having a stolen Visa card. That was the last straw. I dumped the groceries and left.
Back on campus I sent a mass email to students and copied to the office of the mayor and the state governor. The threat of a boycott forced the management to send me a letter of apology for what was clearly discriminatory treatment based on racial bias!

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