06.03.2021 Feature Article

Voting Isn’t Really So Important In Uganda

Voting Isn’t Really So Important In Uganda
06.03.2021 LISTEN

There is a world of difference between "have to do something" and "must do something." Right now, there's nothing that actually requires Ugandans to do everything possible to vote in presidential elections. Interestingly, NUP's Patricia Ssewungu paid for a plane ticket from the UK to go and vote in Uganda in this year's elections, and I sheepishly thought, ' what a waste '!

Voting exacts a cost-- in time, effort, lost productivity-- with no discernible payoff except perhaps some vague sense of having done your " civic duty". As the economist Patricia Funk contends," a rational individual should abstain from voting."

If it came to a choice of using election funds to build hospitals, as opposed to holding elections, I would happily skip voting, especially in elections organised by Museveni's Electoral Commission. The odds that your vote will actually affect the outcome of a given election are very slim.

I could not vote in 1996 because I wasn't of voting age, but it was exciting to follow rallies, in the same way we used to follow " Abagishu" dances. 2001 elections found me already out of Uganda, but I don’t think i have missed anything by not voting. I just figure they are going to do what they are going to do. Then after that, I will know what the end result is. Doubtful there is anything I could have done to change the outcome of any of Uganda's earlier elections-- so not going to stress over it.

However, people do continue to vote in elections for several reasons. Perhaps, most of us are just dumb and therefore wrongly believe that our votes will affect the outcome. For instance, after the 2011 elections, Besigye said that elections would never remove Museveni from power, and he urged Ugandans to go for defiance means. He demonstrated how defiance works by participating in the " walk to work " protests in the same year. He made it clear that he would only stand again in elections to advance his defiance cause, because, even if, Ugandans vote him in big numbers, Museveni would never relinquish power. Indeed, Besigye stood in the 2016 elections, people voted him in millions, but again, Museveni was declared the winner.

Come 2017, Bobi Wine joined politics-- his message was clear, " we are removing cowboy Museveni from that chair using elections.....". Suddenly, Ugandans shifted from Besigye’s defiance to hope in elections again. Bobi made quite a dent in the defiance message, especially in the central. " Babikwase Kyagulanyi " became a common mantra on social media. Besigye and FDC were being blackmailed, and in the end, Besigye decided not to stand for presidency in the 20- 21 elections.

Ever seen those movies where two cars drive at each at full speed and the first one to avoid a collision is the "loser". They know one or the other has to avoid the collision but wait until the last possible moment. FDC couldn't make Bobi’s supporters see things differently, and the vice versa was true. NUP and FDC cars drove at each other throughout the campaigns. In the end, the defiance struggle went into comma up to now. Besigye’s message of," we are all captives " fell on deaf ears. Scary thing is that many " defiance " activists have been damaged by NUP's propaganda.

The FDC had the best manifesto in the 2021 elections-- it was a professionally researched 70- page document, but the rotten thing is that if the opposition get into government, they often implement something close to what the previous government wanted to do and pat themselves on the back. Several times people vote for change, but things tend to remain the same.

I predicted a lower voter turnout for the 2021 elections. I believe It’s going to get worse in 2026 unless the govt brings in some incentives to vote. For example, in the old days political parties in USA regularly paid voters $5 or $10, or a keg of whiskey to cast the proper ballot. In the case of an 1890 New Hampshire Congressional race, voters were given live pigs.


*Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba*

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"Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive." - Henry Steele Commager 1902-98

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