Critical reflections on opinion polls conducted in Uganda

Sunday September 6 2015

By Harold Acemah

In an interesting opinion published in the Sunday Monitor of August 16, columnist Timothy Kalyegira expressed dismay about Ugandan opinion polls and argued that Ugandans should find a new approach to conduct polls in the country. He lamented, inter alia, that:
“It is about time that the Ugandan political class, media and research firms sat down and once for all found a remedy to this problem of opinion polls. We need opinion polls and market research, but these have to be credible enough not to allow the controversy to drown the message.”

While I share many of Kalyegira’s concerns, I don’t think the problem is fundamentally the methodology used by or credibility of professional pollsters such as Dr Patrick Wakida, but Uganda’s hostile political environment which has produced and nourished people who have been conditioned to do anything, including telling blatant lies and cutting corners in order to survive or save their necks.
Opinion polls, by their nature, always have an inbuilt margin of error.

They are not an accurate prediction of future events. It should, therefore, not be surprising that opinion polls conducted in Uganda are full of contradictions.

According to a story published by The East African of August 15-21 titled “Poll shows Museveni is still the most popular leader for 2016,” Mr Museveni would win by 55 per cent, Dr Kizza Besigye would get 17 per cent and Mr Amama Mbabazi would come third with 13 per cent.

The poll was conducted between July 13 and 26.

The same poll, released on August 15, indicated that 61 per cent of Ugandans believe that Mr Museveni will not hand over power peacefully if the Electoral Commission were to declare in February 2016 that he had lost elections which may explain why 55 per cent of Ugandans would rather vote for him because they do not want to suffer another Bush War again!

It is a sort of safety net for many Ugandans who wrongly believe that they can only sleep peacefully in their little huts if Sabalwanyi sleeps comfortably in the luxury of State House!

Only 19 per cent of Ugandans believe the incumbent would relinquish power peacefully and 14 per cent did not know or more likely do not care a damn! The above startling statistics reveal the extent to which fear of the leadership of the NRM regime rules Uganda!

I believe the findings of the poll are not necessarily wrong, but they confirm the long-held belief and position of Ugandan Opposition political parties that it is impossible to hold genuinely free, fair and credible elections in Uganda under the NRM regime; secondly that the Badru Kiggundu-led Electoral Commission, which appears not to be independent of the regime, cannot deliver free and fair elections.

If the polls are correct, why should a majority of Ugandans go out and literally vote against their own personal and national interests?

Let me attempt to answer this critical question using the living word of God because “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every of good deed.” (Timothy 3:16) GNB
In His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-14), Jesus Christ taught his disciples to enter through the narrow gate because “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only few find it.”

Jesus also taught his disciples to beware of false prophets and judge men by their actions, not their words!

For a predominantly Christian country, it is amazing and disappointing that a large majority of Ugandans cannot or do not wish to read the writing on the wall and appear to have closed their ears to the message about a regime which has misruled them for almost three decades.

The equivalent of the biblical broad road is a yellow brick road paved with gold, diamonds, timber, coltan, etc, from DR Congo and Uganda.

That road is teeming with obese men and women eating, drinking, cheating, stealing and generally merry-making all day long, some wearing dry banana leaves, locally known as ekisanja!

It is a scenario which could provide a fantastic script for a sequel to the movie, Apocalypse Now!

The way forward
First, Ugandans must free themselves of fear of the regime which has survived by intimidation. In this regard, I agree with what Ms Sheila Kawamara wrote in her viewpoint published in The Observer of August 14, titled “Overcome the fear and say it out loud.”

She concluded as follows: “As a country, we are not going to have peace until the majority of Ugandans are able to face up their fear.”

The truth of the matter is that the secret of liberty is courage which is the missing ingredient or link in the just and patriotic struggle of Ugandans for freedom and human dignity.

Second, Ugandans must eradicate tribalism which is the curse of Africa and a major obstacle in our efforts to forge a united, peaceful and prosperous nation out of the 40 or so tribes which the British brought together in the 19th and 20th centuries to create the Uganda Protectorate.

Instead of forging unity in diversity, Ugandan politicians, many of whom are graduates of prestigious universities such as Makerere, Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Yale, shamelessly promote and practise tribalism and think such is politics.

Tribalism is now tearing South Sudan apart! Here in Uganda, practitioners of tribalism are having a field day and despite all the empty noise one hears from some people who constantly denounce sectarianism, tribalism is alive and stinks all over the place like the “dung of the devil.”

The political party I belong to, namely UPC, has thus far failed to rise and shine because of tribalism! It is shameful and unacceptable!

Eradication of tribalism is a primary and urgent challenge for Africa’s political class and elite and we must rise to the challenge!

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat. [email protected]