Once again, a by-election that started with promise for the Opposition - going by the huge lively campaign rallies - has ended in frustration. The contest for the Hoima Women representative in Parliament saw most of the leaders of the Opposition parties and pressure groups (FDC, DP, ANT, and People Power) campaign for the joint single candidate, FDC’s Asinansi Nyakato.
The argument that the Opposition loses elections because they split their vote by fielding several candidates, was put to test. Going by the crowds at the rallies and the initial results that trickled in on polling day, it seemed like this election was for the Opposition to lose. Then the Electoral Commission (EC) announced the NRM candidate Harriet Businge Mugenyi as the duly elected MP. The Opposition led by the popular Kyadondo East MP, Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, cried fraud. On the face of it, you would not blame them. The usual election problems were rife and well recorded in this election. Pre-ticked ballots were available; security agents batting for the NRM candidate were in abundance and acting with gusto. Reportedly, there was money and other goodies to influence and sway opinion.
As for the EC, it was the hub of many jokes going by the way it was accused of slanted conduct in this election. The one that gave me quite a chuckle was from a fellow who claimed that if the by-election was a game of football, the EC would without contest, have walked away with the man of the match (MOMA) award. MOMA is given to any member of the opposing teams who stands out in ensuring the team overpowers the other. But however glaringly outrageous the malpractices were, all this is not news anymore, especially for anyone who has casually followed elections in Uganda for the last 23 years.
What is news is that those opposed to NRM seem to be locked in a one trick, one track mindset. Something that ensures that they act like they learn nothing and forget nothing from subsequent elections. You get the feeling that within the Opposition there is a misguided sense of entitlement that supports the notion that once you are popular, you automatically win an election. You notice this in the way they approach the election. It all begins with strong worded pronouncements about not accepting the result in case of rigging. They talk of measures that they have put in place ‘this time round’ that will ensure that their victory is not stolen. They put the authorities, especially the EC, security agents, etc, on notice that this time, they are in for it if they get out of line.
Trouble begins when they hold rallies and huge crowds gather to show support as we witnessed in many of the rallies in Hoima. The guard is let down and most of the focus shifts to making headlines. Many of the politicians prefer being on the platform making earth shattering statements as they are cheered, and quoted and receive considerable coverage in the media. They start polishing their shoes and preparing their victory speeches. They forget that the most important part of a Ugandan election is the detail that is far away from the naked eye and the cameras.
That involves having solid plans for the women and men on the ground whose permanent presence around the polling centre, rain or shine, will be so intimidating that anyone with plans to gerrymander will give up.
It means proper selection of party-leaning boda boda cyclists, who will follow the ballot boxes to the tally centre even in the night and alert the party officials in case there is a plan to stop on the way and swap or stuff the boxes. Also that the ones who sign the Declaration of Result (DR) forms will ensure that they do so only when the correct results are properly filled and keep the copy and deliver it to a party official in a central place. Doing ‘it properly’ means facilitating and motivating these supporters with reasonable amount of money that will ensure that they are dedicated and faithful to the cause. Many Opposition politicians make a wrong assumption that people are so angry with the regime, that they are ready and willing to sacrifice anything to vote it out.
Far from it. Amilicar Cabral said in The Theory of National Liberation Struggle, ‘remember always that people do not fight for ideas; for things that only exist in the heads of individuals, The people fight and accept the necessary sacrifices in order to gain material benefits, to live better and in peace, to experience progress and to guarantee the future of their children.’ Like the MP is going to Parliament to fight for the people and collect a huge salary for their personal progress, so should the man on the ground also gain in this struggle.
A lot of money is spent on huge posters placed in urban areas where the vote is more or less assured. Then more on radio and television appearances, which may not be accessible to people in rural areas. That money needs to be ‘shared out’ by the boots on the ground to ensure their dedication and also to change their lives in whatever small way.
NRM is accused of voter bribery and the Opposition encourages the people to eat that money and instead vote for the Opposition. The trouble with this strategy is that many of those who receive such money might remain loyal because the one giving has set a precedent of doing so unlike the one promising to give ‘when things change for the better.’ Politics is back breaking work.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org.