Six out of every 10 Ugandans are worried about violence during the ongoing electioneering exercise, according to views expressed by voters in a survey by a non-profit American organisation.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, reports that youth and political party members are at a higher risk.
Other likely victims of electoral violence in Uganda include civil society activists, minorities, women, journalists and persons with disabilities.
IFES is funded by the United States government and agencies of other developed countries and works with “civil society, public institutions and the private sector to build resilient democracies that deliver for everyone,” according to information on its website.
The organisation did not appear to have asked interviewees about the basis of their fears, and never indicated the reasons in the findings of the research conducted between October 28 and November 6, 2020.
However, the first month of campaigns for the presidential elections scheduled for January 14, 2021, has been marked by clashes between security forces and Opposition candidates and their supporters.
The violence snowballed on November 18 and 19, and police said 54 people were killed, when security forces cracked down on citizens protesting over the arrest and incarceration of National Unity Platform party presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name Bobi Wine.
Police have on multiple occasions also teargassed and dispersed campaign rallies of Bobi Wine and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party flag bearer Patrick Oboi Amuriat.
It remains unclear why the two appear to be most on security radar and squeeze out of the 11 contenders for president.
Bobi Wine on December 1 abandoned campaigns and held an emergency meeting with Electoral Commission (EC) officials in Kampala after he alleged a plot to snuff him out while canvassing for votes in eastern Uganda.
On the fateful day, the music star-turned-politician said he narrowly survived a bullet in an altercation with police who later fired shots to deflate the tyres of his car during a routing standoff.
Fragments from a nearby explosive struck the head of Bobi’s chief police guard and tore the lower jaw of the candidate’s aide.
When Bobi Wine resumed campaign yesterday, he switched from suits to a red overall and strapped himself up in a body armour, explaining later in Namutumba District, where police again welcomed him with teargas, that he bullet-proofed himself because his life was in imminent danger.
Separately, the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U) has documented 30 cases of security personnel attacking journalists in the line of duty since nomination of presidential candidates at the start of last month.
Asked, how concerned are you about violence around the 2021 elections? Fifty nine per cent of respondents said they were concerned while 18 per cent said they were “somewhat concerned”.
Sixty-four per cent of voters, who told pollsters that they planned to vote, were more worried about electoral violence while four in every 10 respondents cared less.
The pollsters said they interviewed 1,000 respondents, aged 18 years and above, through mobile phones Short Text Messages (SMS) on Airtel, MTN, Smart, and Africell mobile telephone networks.
Equal numbers of men and women were interviewed and the sample was representative across Uganda’s four geographical regions, according to IFES.
The report spotlights significant findings, including the possibility of lower voter turn-up in northern Uganda, low voter education, voters’ dissatisfaction about the credibility of the EC and the forthcoming ballot.
In a rejoinder last evening, EC acting spokesman Paul Bukenya said they had not read the report and did not know how the research was conducted. “We shall not be doing justice to ourselves [by] responding to a report which we have not seen,” he said, “because we need to see how they did the research so that we make informed response.”
According to the report, majority Ugandans lack information about measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at polling stations, how to change polling stations or verify registration status, how to mark and cast the ballot, vote counting and how winners are determined. Inadequate voter information has been a serious problem, leading to 29,005 invalid votes in 2016.
The survey reports mixed attitude towards the ability of the Election Commission to provide unbiased information, with 26 per cent saying they are very confident in the ability of the EC to provide unbiased information, while 25 per cent are somewhat confident, and 19 per cent are not confident at all.
Three of every 10 respondents said they “don’t know,” which, the pollsters reported, may suggest a lack of familiarity with either the EC or the commission’s messaging campaigns.
More Ugandans said they were confident in their ability to identify false news and disinformation.
Those with more interest in politics and government were more likely to say they are confident to identify false news and misinformation,” the report concludes.
According to the findings, the main source of information for voters thus far is the radio followed by television while social media and the Internet were fringe sources.
Whereas the report indicates that more women watched television and listened to radio, more men are informed about the elections, suggesting the latter could be obtaining information through other channels such as newspapers which was not reported about in the research.
Overall, 66 per cent of respondents say they are very likely to vote in the 2021 general elections, which compares with the 67.6 per cent voter turn-out for the 2016 elections.
“There is a significant gap in very likely voters in Northern Uganda (56 per cent) compared to other areas, suggesting a need for further voter education work in this region,” the report says.
Pollsters did not offer explanations for the likely low voter turn-out in northern Uganda, which has appeared animated by the campaigns.
According to the survey, respondents highlight mixed attitudes towards the credibility of elections in Uganda, although a majority note there are at least some flaws with how they are conducted.
The report says an almost equal number of respondents say that elections are either completely credible (23 per cent) or are not credible at all (21 per cent) highlighting the differences in attitudes.
“Additionally, 41 per cent say elections are generally credible, although with some flaws, and 15 per cent say there are major flaws with how elections are conducted. Overall, almost four-of-five respondents highlight at least some concerns over the conduct of elections,” according to the survey report.