As we commemorate the International Day of Democracy, Ugandan democracy is under threat. Many Ugandans are willing to compromise on democratic principles for partisan goals. Some are even willing to resort to violence to help their side win. Extreme dislike for the other side has grown significantly in recent decades, and may also erode commitments to democratic principles.
There are other issues rising in our society that are threatening the survival of democracy.
The National Unity Party, which is the leading opposition party in parliament, recently refused to join the Inter-Party Organization for Dialogue (IPOD) on grounds of lack of equal partnership for the participating political parties, their narrative is that, there is a lack of autonomy of the institution with more stronghold coming from the ruling party.
The onslaught of killings in the greater Masaka area that are marred in a blame game of political favoritism and patronage. The loss of two and half years in the education cycle for learners in Uganda, with nothing but a promise of an act of God in the future of schools opening from the Minister of Education. And above it all, the mis-management of the Covid-19 relief funds.
All these incidences speak to a struggling democracy. The anti-democratic attitudes, support for partisan violence, and extreme levels of partisan animosity have troubling consequences for democracy. Uganda is struggling with weak democracy, inadequate capacity in many state institutions and lack of respect for human rights.
Democracy is built on inclusion, equal treatment and participation is a fundamental building block for peace, sustainable development and human rights.
True democracy is a two-way street, built on constant dialogue among all stake holders. Civic participation, civic space and social dialogue make up the very foundations of good governance and therefore, should be espoused.
Democracy, good governance and accountability are development priorities clearly stipulated in Uganda’s National Development Plan. These concepts are also core values envisioned in the 1995 constitution and the decentralisation programme.
Nevertheless, realising genuine democracy, good governance and accountability remain stifled by low levels of citizen participation, limited levels of awareness and appreciation of democratic principles by the leaders and citizens.
Meaningful democracy is built around the hallmarks of active citizen engagement, inclusion and equal treatment.
Amidst the rising tide of threats to democracy, it is critical to continuously nurture an environment where citizens have the power to genuinely determine by whom, and how, they are governed. And upholding the truth that democracy flourishes when people feel represented and able to freely substantively participate in the political affairs of their society.
Therefore, as we pursue a collective future for the Uganda we want, through civic engagement and participation beyond elections, more Ugandans will understand the relationship between their participation and strengthening democracy. Our collective efforts should be concerted towards a flourishing multi-party democracy anchored in respect to the tenets of good governance. And that is the mandate of every Uganda for such a time as we find ourselves.
Ms Tricia Gloria Nabaye is a resident research associate, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies.