Let the soldier gun for his father’s job but do this

Author: Musaazi Namiti. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • We have to ensure that his presidential bid is fair and just.   

The soldier who has been throwing birthday parties in what is widely seen as the basic groundwork for his bid for the presidency has the right to lead Uganda. The fact that his father has led Uganda for more than 30 years cannot and does not disqualify him — as long as he meets the constitutional requirements.

But while he has the right to run for president, we have to ensure that his presidential bid is fair and just and, crucially, does not leave death, destruction and injury in its wake. It should not put other presidential candidates at a disadvantage and make them and their supporters angry. How can we achieve this?
I will begin with the Electoral Commission. It should be dismantled and replaced with an electoral body that Ugandans know for sure is independent. 

The existing Electoral Commission is far from independent regardless of what those who manage it say. It was, as all Ugandans know, appointed by the soldier’s father. Even if the soldier wins a free and fair election, his opponents will say the election is rigged.

To avoid this scenario, we should ensure that voters and presidential candidates have absolutely nothing to complain about how the Electoral Commission is constituted and its impartiality. In other words, we should emulate football, where a referee cannot be allowed to referee a match in which his country’s team is playing.

We still have plenty of time to set up a truly independent Electoral Commission, and although we have financial challenges, we have the resources to do the job. Organising presidential and parliamentary elections requires hundreds of billions of shillings, but setting up a new electoral body requires much less.

In 2016, for example, government spent Shs414.5b (the last available figure) on the presidential election while development partners, also called donors, contributed Shs2.97b, according to the Electoral Commission. 

For a new Electoral Commission, we need some money and, more importantly, political will. Do we have the political will to do this? As things stand, I would say that the answer is no.

Another thing we can do to ensure that the playing field is good for every presidential candidate is making sure that all the electoral reforms the Supreme Court recommended after the disputed presidential election of 2016 are implemented. The reforms are key because they deprive election losers of political ammunition.

We can also allow free campaigning for all presidential candidates, with security forces stepping in only to ensure candidates and their supporters do not break laws. There is nothing mentioned here that cannot be done. But that is on the assumption that Ugandans that wield power believe in fair play at the ballot box.

Some readers will say I am naive. They think the regime cannot do what I have proposed. But if it cannot, it should be ready for violence and criticism. When people are led by leaders who simply grab power, they get fed up. Some Ugandans are frustrated that, although the Constitution gives them the right to choose their leaders, they actually do not have that right.

The governing NRM has been in power since 1986 and claims to have a strong record of achievement. If this is true, it means Ugandans are impressed by what the party has done. It also means that the candidate the NRM picks in 2026 or 2031 can easily defeat any Opposition candidate.

If the party thinks this cannot happen and its soldier goes on to win, will that be victory?

Mr Namiti is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected]    @kazbuk