It is sometimes frustrating when some people start comparing the US elections to African elections. There isn't a very big difference between these two countries. It is just that the Americans do things in a more sophisticated way that cannot be seen by a lay man.
Voters in both countries are not motivated to vote. In Uganda out of a population of 33 millions, not more than 9 million people voted in the 2006 presidential elections and less than 14 million voted in 2011 elections. Most of those who voted for Museveni were already placed in terms of structures operated under the NRM system. There are less people in both countries indentifying themselves with political parties and politicians.
A half of the United States does not feel motivated to vote till when Obama came to the scene which attracted the youth into elections. Before the animosity of the 2004 election prompted more Americans back to vote, there had been a steady trend of declining voter participation. The 2000 election highlighted a pervasive and widespread apathy and antipathy towards politics. Voter turnout in presidential elections sank to around 50% during the 1990s, and was even lower during mid-term elections.
Registration is not a big thing in both countries. In Uganda it is the government which does less to encourage people to register while in the USA, it is the people who aren't bothered despite government exposure. Americans are highly mobile people, who move states frequently, requiring them to re-register as voters. The unprecedented closeness of the 2000 presidential election between Bush and Gore proved that every vote counts and encouraged the higher participation in 2004. However, the problem runs far deeper than this and will not be easily resolved.
In Uganda and USA, government failures and scandals usualy don't undermine faith in politicians. For instance, Americans still voted for Bill Clinton despite the raise of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In Uganda, on the other hand, Museveni has been involved in a lot of scandals of that magnitude and Ugandans would know them but it has not stop them giving him their votes. Former VP,Gilbert Bukenya, was reported to have done 'dig-dig' with the wife of one of his drivers to the extent of renting her a house in Fortportral(Bunyoro) but still the people of Kakiiri voted for him.
That is why I sometimes wonder how a man who legitimately married an ex-girlfriend of President Museveni would be treated as a villain for this particular action by both the government and some opposition supporters. Some even go out of their way to use it as a basis of denying him a chance to stand for presidency yet Besigye has never been accused of sleeping around with other women. Whenever he is”starving”, we read him in newspapers making trips to New York to see his lovely wife who works for UN offices there.
USA just like Uganda has got people whose intentions are to undermine democracy and create confusion where it is unnecessary. In Uganda, we have got people who intentionally use state money when campaigning especially the incumbent. Up to now, NRMO has not declared to the Electoral Commission its source of funds yet it is well known that they have been 'buying' the elections since 2001. There are also groups such as Kalangala Action Plan whose goals and objectives have been to undermine democracy in the country.
On the other hand, there are associations in the USA which are also there to frustrate things. For example, the National Rifle Association has successfully prevented any reform of the gun control laws, despite the fact that the majority of the population wants them to be more stringent. The issue of campaign and lobbying rumbles on. The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) aimed to curb “soft money”, but candidates soon found loopholes and ways to circumvent the controls. However, more stringent lobbying reforms were passed by Congress in August 2007 and have tightened up this area of campaign finance significantly but still presidential candidates spend considerable amounts of money during their campaigns. Obama has already started fundraising for his campaigns and he is expected to look for money anywhere he can get it, but it may be hard for him this time compared to the previous elections.
USA just like Uganda, the guy with a lot of money tends to win the election. The 2004 election between Bush and Kerry did nothing to dispel the appearance that only individuals and groups able to raise huge sums of money stand a chance of victory. Reforms to campaign finance were nimbly side-stepped by the Democrats and Republicans alike. According to Global Insight, after accepting their parties' nominations, Bush and Kerry were restricted to US$74.6 million each in government funding, but during the preceding primaries there were no such limits. Both decided to opt out of the programme that would see federal funds match those raised privately, which would have imposed a total cap on spending. In the end it is estimated that Bush managed to raise some US$367 million in total, ahead of John Kerry's US$326 million (according to www.opensecrets.org). The total for all candidates was a staggering US$881 million, well ahead of the US$529 million raise in 2000 and the US$425.7 million in 1996.
That's why the opposition in Uganda need to match Museveni's state funding by starting to look for funds in advance before any presidential elections, if they are to stand any chance of winning any election. Politicians who are middle class with no big network behind them are not ideal presidential candidates in the present Uganda. Politicians whose faces have not been exposed to the voters in advance will increase the advertising costs yet the opposition has got no money.
The only major difference I see between Uganda and US elections is mainly the respect and value of manifestos. In Uganda politicians are voted for anything less than their policies. FDC's Besigye had a better manifesto in 2001 and actually the government had to implement some of his policies after the election, like abolishing graduated tax. However, Ugandans in the rural areas went for a guy who was threatening them with a gun if they don't vote for him. In the USA, parties that have got better approaches of tackling the country's most important problems—the budget deficit, income inequality, racial tension, crime and the health and welfare systems, tend to be voted by majority. That's why Obama may struggle to win his second term despite killing Osama Bin Laden and seeing off more terrorists and dictators around the world than any other American president. The US economy is in a bad shape and it may cost him the presidency.
The USA has also got a better Electoral Commission (EC) and judicial system which can deliver what is expected in case of any disagreement between the opposition and the government. In Uganda, the EC is appointed by president Museveni and can get rid of them any time he wants. That is why elections have become more or less useless. There is a lot of violence in elections in Uganda and the political opponents are looked as enemies of the state by both the police and army.
Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba