Ugandans have held scientific weddings, then scientific funerals, then more scientific weddings. Now they face the possibility of holding scientific elections. But how will a scientific election look like? Our special correspondent Joachim Buwembo has witnessed all Uganda’s post-independence elections, starting with the 1980 one (which he covered for a student’s noticeboard, ‘published’ on manila paper) that plunged the country into a five-year bush war, upto the 2016 election where voting materials for some polling stations in Kampala arrived in the evening after voting time. Below, he briefly envisages what scientific voting would involve.
An election only ends on election day, paving way for petitions and swearing in “solomonly”. But the election process starts much earlier, some say as soon as the last election ends. There is demarcation and gazetting of electoral areas, updating of electoral laws, procurement of voting materials, registration of voters, updating of the voter’s register, nomination of candidates, voter education, the campaigns, recruitment of polling assistants, accreditation of candidates’ agents, security arrangements, voting, counting the votes, announcing the results.
The Secretary General of the ruling National Resistance Movement party, Justine Kasule Lumumba has hinted at the possibility of holding the 2021 polls in scientific format. Since the country has been under lockdown for close to three months now, we cannot say there has been no voter engagement by political aspirants. But any such engagement can only be done scientifically or else the aspirant can face dire consequences – ask one Zziwa if you don’t get the point.
For the top job, there have been murmurs that NRM’s President Yoweri Museveni is already gaining ground by constantly interfacing with voters during his periodic Covid-19 addresses, 15 of them so far. President Museveni has had the opportunity to respond to this accusation and called it ‘rubbish’ in an interview with NBS’ Canary Mugume. Before the lockdown, People Power’s Robert Kyagulanyi had sought and obtained clearance to go and start voter consultations. But coronavirus struck and his consultations were ‘overtaken by events’. There was also Gen Henry Tumukunde who declared his interest in the presidency and was supposed to go consulting, then some treason thing came up and he was tossed into some cell people aren’t even asking if he was released or not. That is the power of Covid.
We are now entering June. In two week’s time, the finance minister will be reading the 2020-21 budget, a brief distraction. Quite brief, because Ugandans rarely care about economic matters. Matia Kasaija won’t have any hard time explaining the trillions that he intends to borrow from outside without a plan of how they will be paid back. He intends to blow the $12.5billion foreign debt up to $15.1 billion in the coming months. But he we won’t even bother defending this without first exaggerating the $27 – $30billion GDP figure. The foreign debt alone will surpass half of the GDP and when you add the growing domestic debt, then national debt will soon equal GDP, but how many Ugandans care? The opposition will not ask about this, they will cry about not being able to use UBC -the national broadcaster, to attack government. And that will be about it.
The opposition should already have been busy on social media giving clear headed alternative proposals to the voters. But no, for them social media is for abusing Museveni. Yet abusing Museveni has become repetitive and boring. So the channel for scientific campaigning is there, but those who need it are not using it. The bazzukulu will use it to follow the Nameere – Nakazibwe catfights and to speculate about the father of Juliana’s baby.
And what will be happening at the Electoral Commission? Th mid 1990s, the EC was the first government agency to go digital under the stewardship of Stephen Bethwel Akabway – he who presided over the Constituent Assembly polls and 1996 elections and put the entire voters’ roll on computer. By then Uganda’s voters numbered less than ten million but it was such a feat, a digital first in the entire region. (Is it a coincidence that when Akabway returned to Uganda Revenue Authority, computerization at URA gathered momentum?) The EC should by now be blowing the dust off their ICT capabilities, doing their digital pushups, now boosted by the presence of NIRA, NITA and UCC, to deliver a scientific election 2021.
The coronavirus threat will not go away this year, not next year nor the year after. So the 2021 poll will most likely be held scientifically. A limited number of voters, probably ten, will be allowed to access the polling centre at a time. The polling officials will have to practice social distancing of at least two metres, meaning that the polling station will be quite wide. The presidential candidates will be allowed one agent each. There will be complaints that agents will not be able to see what the polling officials are doing. Polling will certainly take longer than usual, inviting more complaints.
But besides the usual polling station personnel, this time the health officials or agents will be the most important persons at the station. They will determine who is healthy enough to access the polling centre and who isn’t. EC will have to recruit some 70,000 personnel to handle the temperature gun at each polling centre. Expect yet another ‘unexpected’ supplementary budget to buy temperature guns (thermometers) for the polling exercise. It may not be wise to assign the temperature gun role to the policeman on duty at the polling centre because he has to handle his own (AK47) gun. So the 70,000 temperature-taking assistants will have to be hired. I can already see Hon Bahati passionately explaining to parliament the need to have the extra temperature takers on voting day and that the extra billions for high quality, reliable thermometers is a small price to pay to secure our democracy which was won by the blood of our heroes etc.. etc…
The temperature machines will be the source of most post-election petitions. Why? Because of disqualified voters and even worse, agents. Recently, security man and former RDC Charles Rwomushana scared the daylights out of his listeners when he said the temperature machines could be used to disqualify some candidates’ agents from being present at the polling station – by sending them to quarantine for 14 days!
Let us pray Rwomushana was wrong!