KAMPALA – The outbreak of the COVID19 Pandemic has given birth to what many are calling the “New Normal”. The ‘New Normal’ denotes what the president is found of calling “Scientific”; Scientific wedding, Scientific burials, Scientific this, Scientific that and it is going to be an election organized and executed under the “Scientific” Phrase. The announcement by the Uganda Electoral Commission that the 2020/2021 General Elections would be mainly be carried out via digital media has created a frenzy among the public about the credibility of the process and the credibility, transparency, free and fairness of the electoral outcome.
One need only ask themselves why a country with 75% of its population being young people and boasting of a 78% literacy rate should experience a hullabaloo and near intellectual pandemonium when it is announced that the digital media will be the main platforms for the execution of the election process. To me, it points to clear growth of political fatigue among the citizenry that is breeding unprecedented levels of voter apathy. This mainly has to do the credibility, transparency, free and fairness of the electoral process and outcome. This has culminated into a perspective that elections are just a cosmetic ritual to sanitize the pseudo democracy in Uganda.
It, therefore, comes as no surprise to me that many Ugandans are up in arms about the practicability of holding an election in the midst of a pandemic using media that a 78% literate population is not ‘familiar’ with. To many, the election is to rubberstamp the holding onto power of the NRM and the ruling elite. Such a feeling if not curtailed, presents the risk of further compounding the problem of voter apathy which creates lower voter turnout and consequently spirals over into legitimacy of the state and the ruling party.
Realistically, the government and the Electoral Commission needs to come out and address the fears of the people that elections are a democratic process not a cosmetic ritual to give a semblance of sanity to the government/incumbent. More important is the need to give hope to Ugandans to come out and exercise their democratic right of voting and standing to be voted for as leaders. Initiatives that have been formed to mobilize citizens to participate in the elections should be encouraged and given a safe space to operate and buttress government efforts in civic and voter education.
Of more paramount importance is the need to bring out the over 9.6 million youth in Uganda en masse to contest and be voted for and also to vote their leaders, hold them accountable and take an active role in running the affairs of the State. The Youth Coalition on Electoral Democracy (YCED) and the Platform for Youth in Politics (PYIP) are doing great work in drafting the National Youth Manifesto (NYM) and coalescing youth around an issue-based agenda. Such efforts should be supported lest the democracy of Uganda is at stake if citizens take a back seat.
Prosper Mubangizi is a Governance and Youth Inclusion Consultant. He sits on the Technical Working Groups of the Youth Coalition on Electoral Democracy (YCED) and the Platform for Youth in Politics (PYIP) which are drafting the National Youth Manifesto.