The current conflict in South Sudan should not be narrowly defined along ethnic lines (Nuer vs Dinkas) as has been portrayed by many.

It is a conflict orchestrated by disagreements between individuals – President Salva Kiir, former vice president Riek Machar, former SPLM secretary general Pagan Amum Okiech and Rebecca Nyandeng Garang.

Each of these individuals has demonstrated unflinching interest in taking over the headship (chairpersonship) of the ruling party – Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

According to the Constitution of the SPLM, only the chairperson of the party is permitted to run as the party's flag bearer for presidential elections. With South Sudan's next general election less than two years away (2015), the stakes are breeding nothing less than possibilities of confrontation, especially amongst factions of individuals from within SPLM who want to run as presidential candidates.

In the medium run, SPLM will need to undertake intra-party democratic reforms in order to break perceptions or realities of a monolithic party apparatus to a more inclusive, diverse system of collective leadership in which various persons within the party comfortably compete for power, influence and policy sway.

Even after integrating policies and structures that strengthen intra-party democracy, the next challenge will be for SPLM to figure out how to conduct intra-democratic processes in a way that doesn't end up fracturing or side-lining party members. As they think of internal reforms, the key actors within the SPLM need to adopt compromise – which favour respect and a degree of trust for opponents within.

What is happening within the SPLM is not just a South Sudan issue but an altar call to other political parties and organisations in the region to examine their level of intra-party democracy with a view of projecting the potential implications if the concept is undermined.

In the short run, however, there is need to urgently address the current standoff that is escalating at a very fast rate and which has potential of deleterious effects on both South Sudan and neighbouring countries.
To avert the current situation, the following must be considered urgently:
Uganda has a very central role to play to avert the conflict.

As an elder who commands respect in matters of security in the Great Lakes region, Uganda's President Museveni should intervene to bring the four protagonists to make compromises in the interest of the people of South Sudan.
The ongoing talks underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is a positive step forward. Mr Museveni's understanding of the long-standing politics of South Sudan, his personal relations with the key figures within the SPLM, Uganda's geopolitical place in relation to South Sudan all put Museveni in a central place to bring the opposing factions together.

Ultimately, SPLM will have to seriously and urgently consider reforms directed at building intra-party consensus and negotiations; changes around the conduct of internal party elections, as well as improvements aimed at achieving greater political accountability.

I pray that the political figures swiftly recognise and act on opportunities for desirable compromise for the greater good of South Sudan. To the political parties in the region, the time is now to check whether the internal structures provide for space and alternative opinions within the framework of democratic principles.

Kaheru is the coordinator – Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The current conflict in South Sudan should not be narrowly defined along ethnic lines (Nuer vs Dinkas) as has been portrayed by many.

It is a conflict orchestrated by disagreements between individuals – President Salva Kiir, former vice president Riek Machar, former SPLM secretary general Pagan Amum Okiech and Rebecca Nyandeng Garang.

Each of these individuals has demonstrated unflinching interest in taking over the headship (chairpersonship) of the ruling party – Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

According to the Constitution of the SPLM, only the chairperson of the party is permitted to run as the party's flag bearer for presidential elections. With South Sudan's next general election less than two years away (2015), the stakes are breeding nothing less than possibilities of confrontation, especially amongst factions of individuals from within SPLM who want to run as presidential candidates.

In the medium run, SPLM will need to undertake intra-party democratic reforms in order to break perceptions or realities of a monolithic party apparatus to a more inclusive, diverse system of collective leadership in which various persons within the party comfortably compete for power, influence and policy sway.

Even after integrating policies and structures that strengthen intra-party democracy, the next challenge will be for SPLM to figure out how to conduct intra-democratic processes in a way that doesn't end up fracturing or side-lining party members. As they think of internal reforms, the key actors within the SPLM need to adopt compromise – which favour respect and a degree of trust for opponents within.

What is happening within the SPLM is not just a South Sudan issue but an altar call to other political parties and organisations in the region to examine their level of intra-party democracy with a view of projecting the potential implications if the concept is undermined.

In the short run, however, there is need to urgently address the current standoff that is escalating at a very fast rate and which has potential of deleterious effects on both South Sudan and neighbouring countries.
To avert the current situation, the following must be considered urgently:
Uganda has a very central role to play to avert the conflict.

As an elder who commands respect in matters of security in the Great Lakes region, Uganda's President Museveni should intervene to bring the four protagonists to make compromises in the interest of the people of South Sudan.
The ongoing talks underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is a positive step forward. Mr Museveni's understanding of the long-standing politics of South Sudan, his personal relations with the key figures within the SPLM, Uganda's geopolitical place in relation to South Sudan all put Museveni in a central place to bring the opposing factions together.

Ultimately, SPLM will have to seriously and urgently consider reforms directed at building intra-party consensus and negotiations; changes around the conduct of internal party elections, as well as improvements aimed at achieving greater political accountability.

I pray that the political figures swiftly recognise and act on opportunities for desirable compromise for the greater good of South Sudan. To the political parties in the region, the time is now to check whether the internal structures provide for space and alternative opinions within the framework of democratic principles.

Kaheru is the coordinator – Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

At a meeting with human rights defenders this week, the European Union Ambassador to Uganda, Mr Kristian Schmidt, asked that electoral reforms be fast-tracked ahead of the 2016 elections. We are entirely in agreement with him.
To begin with, a coalition of civil society groups have crafted two Bills, the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2013 and the Electoral Commission Bill, 2013, which seek to reform the country's electoral laws. It is also anticipated that the Opposition will table a raft of proposals to amend the electoral laws.

That we do not have a level playing field when it comes to elections is no secret. President Museveni, who has run as an incumbent in the last four elections, obviously has a comfortable head-start in terms of resources and structures ahead of his opponents.

This, coupled with the fact that an incumbent head of state seems to hold too much sway over the election overseers (Electoral Commission), seems to be suffocating the feeling that there can be a genuine political contest in Uganda today.
That is why we agree with Mr Schmidt's proposal that the process of reforming the electoral legal regime be fast-tracked. At the heart of this must be the discussion about the independence and impartiality of the Electoral Commission. The last two presidential petitions at the Supreme Court passed a harsh indictment on the Electoral Commission, its conduct and neutrality—or lack of.

It would, therefore, be important to examine the nature and composition of the Electoral Commission in this discussion.
The debate must also come clean on the place of security agencies/agents in the electoral process, the authenticity of the voters register and declaration of sources and amount of money spent by parties or candidates.
At the back of these discussions, we must be cognisant of the fact that democracy is just not the ability to conduct elections—however flawed. True democracy is about these elections being able to allow the will of the majority to prevail in a free and fair manner. It should also be a process that both victor and vanquished have faith in.

From Daily Monitor

In fields such as research, those inclined to disputing given research findings will always latch on to the 'methodology'. In elections, however, it is overly becoming the question of the integrity of the 'voters register'. Since 1996, the question of how clean and credible the voters register in Uganda is has come to the fore not once or twice but several times – both from voices that take active part in the elections as voters or candidates and those that at times stand and look from a distance – the election observers. Despite the semblance of normalcy in the May 9th 1996 Presidential elections in Uganda,hundreds of voters were turned away from the polling stations across the country on account of their names missing from the voters roll – actually, the real complaint was that their names which had originally been on the 1994 Constituency Assembly (CA) voters register had been omitted from the 1996 'corrected version' of the national voters roll. The grumblings of how this could have affected the election could ostensibly be heard through the sentiments of those who ran as candidates but can also be traced in observer reports of institutions such as the National Organization for Civic Education and Election Monitoring (NOCEM). Humble as he is, the then Chairperson of the Interim Electoral Commission, Stephen Besweri Akabway admitted the glitches in the register at that time.

Come 2001 elections, the suspicion around the spike in numbers of voters on the register did not make it easier especially for the election managers. Whereas the 1996 register carried 8.4 million voters, the 2001, roll had over 10.7 million voters – a relatively sharp increase (despite the statistical fact that Uganda's population growth rate remained the same – 3% in between that electoral cycle). Presidential candidates in the 2001 elections including: Kizza Besigye and Aggrey Awori spoke in various forums of how the manipulation of the register had skewed election results and disenfranchised legal voters in the election that had handed victory to President Museveni. It also goes without saying that in the 2001 election, over 3 million registered voters did not turn up to vote.

Sentiments from the 2006 and 2011 elections have not been any different from those of the 2001 elections. Of course doubts about the national voters register has become a recital in all subsequent elections with little or no adjustments in both its chorus and verses. In 2006 though, out of the 10.4 million registered voters, over 3.2 million voters still did not appear at their respective polling stations to vote, an occurrence that further reiterated some people's claims that the roll had a significant number of 'ghost' voters.

On the heels of the 18th February 2011 elections, both candidates and voters raised questions around the comparatively sudden (yet again) increase in the number of registered voters from 10.4 million in 2006 to 13.9 million in 2011. Over 3.5 million voters had been added on to the register. Political banter all through that period was nothing less than a debate around Uganda's voting population. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) had around the same time (in line with its mandate) informed us that about 52% of Ugandans were 15 years and below. Going by the UBOS statistics, it would therefore mean that the 2011 voters register had 100% or there about (there about in this case means: more or slightly less) of every body above 18 years registered. How far true, practical and possible this could have been remains a hotly debated issue which election administrators have often shoved to the sidelines of the electoral gutters.

The challenges around Uganda's national voters register are (allegedly or realistically) deep and recurrent, extending beyond isolated issues such missing voters' bio-data on the register and flaring up to having 'ghost' voters, multiple entries of a single voter on to the register, underage voting and occasional inaccessibility of the voters register.

This time round, the Electoral Commission has indicated its intentions to leverage from data collected in the on-going citizen registration process to ensure a clean, credible and reliable voters roll ahead of 2016. Whereas Ugandans may welcome the synergy between EC's role in the compilation of a national voters register and that of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the framework establishing a national citizen database, there are mixed concerns of both a legal and structural nature – there are pending questions around the legality of EC drawing the national voters register from a citizen repository developed by Ministry of Internal Affairs (yet it is the mandate of the EC to compile the voters register; but also bearing in mind that registration for voting purposes in Uganda is not compulsory but optional). Alongside the yet unanswered legal questions, there are also structural questions as to whether this long awaited 'national ID project'(as commonly known) will by later this year have gathered enough data from which the EC can 'extract' clean voters data for the 2016 election. The road map of the EC has marked September 2014 as the month in which a nation-wide voter register update exercise begins at parish level – this (in my interpretation) inadvertently means that the national repository should by then have solid data for (all) potentially eligible voters across the country. September is hardly six months away and this leaves more questions than answers as to whether the EC will be in (or on) time to do a good/thorough job with the voters register.

When sections of society speak of their little faith in Ugandan elections, they are not just making cliched dispositions, they are not just seeking to criticize the election managers, and they are probably basing their assertions on real-life experiences that they may have gone through with electoral processes. Without making sweeping assumptions, these are people who may have previously been turned away from a polling station because their names or bio details did not appear (correctly) on the voters roll (yet they registered); or they witnessed underage or multiple voting occurrences; or they were political party folks who couldn't access the voters register in time; or they just didn't get to know about the voter registration and update exercise.

You and I will agree that the register is a key determinant of whether an election is free and fair. It is therefore critical that as Ugandans we (well in time) resolve to support any process geared towards making our register a tool that genuinely safeguards every eligible voter's franchise.

And because history so often seems ready to repeat itself, we (ahead of the 2016 elections) must put our feet down to have a clean and credible voters register that we will all believe in. And since there is a possibility of the 2016 voters register being linked to the on-going national ID process, we therefore must closely follow how the national ID project is progressing but also continue pushing for answers and clarity on the pending legal questions. Every right thinking Ugandan would definitely yearn for a clean, reliable register; it is therefore critical that our election administrators keep us informed on the unveiling processes in regard to achieving this aspiration. It is probably not just enough to pen the process of developing a voters register in documents; it is critical and timely to walk with all Ugandans on this journey of making a credible roll that attracts the confidence of all stakeholders.

In a nutshell, our election administrators have to (this time round) keep re-assuring Ugandans that the 2016 voters register is going to sail above the previous numerous tests. Most importantly, the election administrators must come out and allay the fears of those who are being moved to think that the 2016 voters register could (yet again?) be last-minute patch-work that may deeply slant the electoral terrain of Uganda.

By Crispy Kaheru

Coordinator – Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)

Most times when I compare Uganda with western democracies, I find myself being vilified left and right by critics, who claim that Uganda is a baby democracy and shouldn't be compared to the likes of Britain and America.

Nevertheless, these comparisons can teach us something – for we are not trying to do something that has never been done. Let us take a quick look at the course one of Uganda's estimable friends- America at fifty years after Independence.

In 1826, when the United States of America was marking fifty years of independence, it was celebrating its success in ending the American-Franco war through diplomatic means; it was celebrating the purchase of the Louisiana territory from France for $15 million; it was celebrating the steady expansion in the market economy, trade and business.

By the fiftieth anniversary, America was talking about multi-million dollar accomplishments such as the construction of the Erie Canal that commercially linked the West and the East. Actually, very interestingly and very specifically, at that time, the American economy was already absorbing up to 80 percent of rural women into different kinds of factories.

So, how does 50-year-old Uganda compare?

Fifty years after Independence, Uganda is still grappling with the 80 percent youth unemployment rate. At 50, we are still struggling with creating comprehensive policy frameworks to manage such crisis unemployment levels. It is important to note that unlike Uganda, which fought light wars on the course to independence, the Americans fought large scale liberation wars against British forces.

In Uganda, previous wars have only served to divide the country on the basis of regions. In America the liberation struggles built a very strong sense of national union and identity, which was evident at America's golden jubilee and after. In Uganda, 50 years after independence, our identity is still in question – it is ethnicised, fragmented, narrow and based on people's physical features.

Worse still, there doesn't seem to be any common consensual platform to guide and reinvigorate nationalism. Some of those in charge of our state affairs have often found themselves in a sticky situation of sowing ethnic divisions as opposed to denouncing threats of didunity as avowals of treason.

Today, Uganda is still engrossed in the prominent 'northern concerns versus southern fear syndrome'. This syndrome continues to strike down the nation of Uganda and the cohesion amongst the people of Uganda. It is, however, shocking that with the numerous ethnic and racial diversities in the United States there was not any serious racial and ethnic violence in the run up to the first fifty years of independence.

The law of comparison, of course, necessitates that one highlights similarities and differences. There is quite a bit about the evident differences between Uganda and America at fifty years after Independence. My parting short will entail a trace of similarities between America and Uganda at fifty.

In America, the 1820s constituted a transitional period, intellectually, generationally, and socially. A very interesting point of comparison relates to the Americans' attitude toward the Constitution of the United States in the period leading up to the fifty years of independence.

During the years of 1825 and 1826, several proposed constitutional amendments sought to redefine American democracy by imposing term limits and eliminating the Electoral College. Similarly, at the dawn of the golden jubilee, Ugandans seem to be determined to restore confidence in their 1995 Constitution by, first of all, calling for the restoration of the presidential term limits.

Could fifty be the magic number for leadership term limits?

Yes, today, Uganda has all the potential and the compulsion to be like America at fifty. What we need are those leaders that inspire the nation to think and act as a nation. For us as citizens, our responsibility should be to dream, make and act on plans that make Uganda better. Our future is in the making and only we are responsible for making it happen.

Crispy Kaheru is project coordinator, Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU).