That Uganda’s electoral democracy is a fallacy that produces an outcome which is an antipathy of the people’s wishes and aspirations is not in doubt. For more than two and half decades since President Museveni and the NRM seized power, elections have been tried in futility, as a vehicle for promoting democracy and bringing about political change.
Lest we forget, Mr Museveni and the NRA launched the Bush War purportedly because of a rigged vote. They subsequently pronounced restoration of democracy as the raison d’être for the five-year war. Thus, on seizing power, the NRA/M regime was expected to hold regular, free, fair and credible elections. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
Uganda’s elections have been characterised by malpractices, commercialisation of campaigns and massive violence orchestrated by regime apparatchiks. Several election observer reports and court judgments have corroborated these malaises. Consequently, Uganda’s elections have always fallen short of the universal tenets of electoral democracy. They have merely been rituals that are performed to sustain the NRM regime in power.
So, if elections under the current circumstances are not the vehicle that will deliver democracy and political change in Uganda, what then, should be the alternative? Uganda is a sovereign State. Uganda has its own history. Therefore, Ugandans know better what to do to solve their problems. They should have the opportunity and liberty to determine their own destiny. The answer to that question thus lies with the sovereign people of Uganda.
Permit me, however, as an actor, to make some suggestions. Causing political change and democratic governance in Uganda will require an objective appreciation and diagnosis of Uganda’s current political problems. This will lay a foundation for prescribing correct and lasting solutions for the country’s governance malaise. These should be based on practical and applicable home grown solutions. We should avoid costly and inconsequential approaches such as elections, civil disobedience, insurrection, etc.
We need, therefore, to have an all-inclusive and honest national dialogue. This dialogue should bring on board people from all sectors of the Ugandan society. Politicians, the clergy, traditional leaders, CSOs, professional associations, youth and women leaders, traders, workers’ unions, Ugandans in the Diaspora, etc. The primary focus of the dialogue should be about crafting a new and better future for the people of Uganda as opposed to pointing accusing fingers for past mistakes.
The new future should give birth to a new political dispensation. The new dispensation should in a holistic fashion, revisit and reconfigure the country’s laws and institutions.
The question will arise. How can we ensure that a meaningful dialogue is convened and held? I do believe that it is possible to convene and hold a meaningful national dialogue. We only need to be serious as a people about our collective future. We must subjugate our selfish individual interests to those of the nation. Then, we should mobilise and organise Ugandans to embrace dialogue as the vehicle that will deliver democracy and political change.
Thus far, we need to salute and support the effort of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, The Elders’ Forum, the National Consultative Forum and the Women’s Situation Room. In the same way, we should mobilise and organise the other social forces to contribute to this effort. For instance, youth and women leaders should be organised to participate in and shape this process.
These social forces should engage (mount pressure on) the NRM government, political parties and other actors to espouse dialogue as the most viable alternative that will ensure that we have democratic governance and political change. Timing is critical here. A meaningful and efficacious dialogue cannot be held after an election. It doesn’t matter how shambolic those elections could have been. The ‘winning’ (NRM) party will be delusively feeling invincible. Dialogue won’t make sense to them. Dialogue should, therefore, be convened and held before elections. Elections should be a consequence of an honest, meaningful dialogue.
The writer is a member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) national executive committee.