By Crispy Kaheru

As I wander in Uncle Bob's land of the Dzimbahwe I continue to keep a very close eye on the way things are unraveling back in my much-loved Uganda. The riots have become as common as the potholes; arrests on account of trumped-up charges are as widespread as Boda Bodas on Kampala road; and all this is in a place where freedom of expression (for independent opinions) is as limited as the jobs for Ugandan graduates.

My brothers and sisters, there is no other time that has called for braveness like this time! It is acts of bravery that will define who we are and what we want for today and tomorrow. Recalling the words of famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, "each act contributes to defining us as we are, and at any moment we can begin to act differently and draw a different portrait of ourselves".


By Crispy Kaheru

As I wander in Uncle Bob's land of the Dzimbahwe I continue to keep a very close eye on the way things are unraveling back in my much-loved Uganda. The riots have become as common as the potholes; arrests on account of trumped-up charges are as widespread as Boda Bodas on Kampala road; and all this is in a place where freedom of expression (for independent opinions) is as limited as the jobs for Ugandan graduates.

My brothers and sisters, there is no other time that has called for braveness like this time! It is acts of bravery that will define who we are and what we want for today and tomorrow. Recalling the words of famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, "each act contributes to defining us as we are, and at any moment we can begin to act differently and draw a different portrait of ourselves".

We are fortunate to live in Uganda, a country where it is easy to take the right to vote for granted. Uganda has conducted eight direct general elections at both presidential and parliamentary levels from 1961. Elections conducted between 1961 and 1980 all had a common red thread – perceptions or realities of vote rigging. The perceived or reality of rigging in the December 1980 elections was the key reason for the five year guerilla war fare.

Though relatively calm, the post 1980 elections of 1996; 2001; 2006 and 2011 have all been marred by allegations or realities of military interference, bribery, coercion, manipulation, violence and a host of other electoral malpractices – all of which have subsequently negatively impacted on citizens’ right to freely express themselves through the power of the vote.

Recently, I was travelling on the Tirinyi highway; I was stopped by police officers who later thoroughly searched the car I was in with the hope of finding unreported economic goods. A few metres away was a bus that was undergoing the same experience; a lady was dragged out of the bus to identify the goods that she was carrying in the trunk.

It wasn’t clear whether the goods had been cleared at the Busia boarder or not. She was retained. God knows what her fate was in the hands of officers who appeared ravenous, angry and ready to devour. This experience got me thinking; the enthusiasm and zealousness that taxes on commodities are increased and collected is not the same with which services are provided.

We are very privileged to live at a time when Uganda is experiencing high political turbulence. Even with the increasingly narrowing space for alternative voice in the country, Uganda still carries the title of a ‘good-governed, multi party democratic country.’ As you might realize, democracy has lately become like an ISO certification of quality for states. If one wants to market a product called Uganda, they are compelled to slap a seal of ‘democracy‘ to make the country more appealing to investors, tourists, donors, diplomatic calls, and possibly, hoodwink its very own citizenry about the quality of governance in the country.

Elections today have become too ritualistic, symbolic, periodic events that many times usher in premeditated leaders at the top echelon of the state. While elections must underpin characteristics of competition, surprise, and anxiety over results, here they have become a simply calculated affair for authentication of certain leaders. Those who run for elective office are lately being sieved on the basis of how much money they have rather than what manifestos they carry. Even with such shortfalls, many countries, not only Uganda continue to glorify themselves as democratic citing their practice of carrying out regular elections.

I would to some extent agree with those who say that lately democracy is regressing into a government of the few, by the few and for the few. Take an example of the 2011 elections in Uganda; out of 13,954,129 registered voters, we have a president voted into office by just 5,428,369 people. In practice it means that the five million people decide the destination of the estimated thirty four million Ugandans. Percentage-wise this reflects 16% segment of the entire Ugandan population. Is this the rule of the majority?

When Uganda moved on to multi party politics in 2005, people mainly from the political parties and civil society organizations were excited thinking that the governance jinx had been broken. Little did they know that this would probably be more of a symbolic gesture than a real maneuver. It has since become increasingly hard to divorce the party in leadership from the state structures; subsequent direct and indirect laws to curtail the ability of opposition parties to operate freely have become the order of the day; despite the passing of the Political Parties and Organizations (Amendment) Act, 2010, the government has since failed to operationalise it. Because this Act has not been operationalised, political parties have not yet accessed state funding for their operations.

Multi party politics is not just about a multitude of political parties. In Uganda, there have been unconfirmed allegations about some of the thirty eight political parties being purposefully founded by the ‘intelligence’ or the party in power as a way of duping the public that indeed the country embraces ‘multiparty democracy.’ So, is this the construct of the dispensation that we eagerly envisaged about six years ago?

The rule of law has lately become a very jelly connotation incapable of setting standard benchmarks. In Uganda just like in many other countries, there are bad laws; does this mean that the citizens must heed to these simply because they are ‘laws’? Take for instance the NGO Registration (Amendment) Act 2006 contains provisions that hinder the operations of NGOs in Uganda; many of the media laws restrict press freedom and have often led to self-censorship; the institution of Traditional or Cultural Leaders Act, 2010 makes traditional or cultural leaders personally liable for any civil wrongs or criminal offenses committed by their agents; the proposed Public Order Management Bill, 2009, seeks to grant the police wide discretionary powers to regulate the conduct of public meetings and also regulate the content of the discussion of issues at such meetings; the proposal to scrap bail for certain categories of offenders, among many other laws.

Probably it is time for us to start measuring democracy and good governance through simple values like: happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment, harmony, mutual respect, love, peace rather than complex philosophical terms such as democracy, elections, multi party system, rule of law, transparency, accountability among others. These composite descriptions are lately becoming subjectively mutilated and seem to remain farfetched for the common citizen to associate with.

 

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