Uganda Citizen’s compact on free and fair elections

I have read the 13 page document adopted at the National Consultation on Free and Fair Elections. The consultation took place in Kampala on 24-26 November 2014. The mobilization work covered Toro, Bukedi, Teso, Kigezi, Busoga, Sebei, Ankole, Bugisu, Buganda, Karamoja, Bunyoro, Acholi and West Nile for the conference. Here are my preliminary comments on the compact:

1. What criteria were used in this selection of areas that were visited? It would be helpful in the interest of transparency to have the names of the people that were involved in the mobilization exercise; who selected them; who funded their work and how long it took to complete the task.

2. The notion of “birth” is included in the compact. What does it relate to – to the parents’ birth; to the place of birth or status of birth? This needs to be explained clearly so that there are no ambiguities.

3. The compact also contains the phrase “other status”. What does it mean?

4. Under the paragraph beginning with “Having considered” mention is made of organizations that participated in the formulation of proposals. At the end of that paragraph it is mentioned “and other concerned Ugandans”. It would be helpful in the interest of transparency to have these organizations and other concerned Ugandans mentioned in full. Were Ugandans in the Diaspora represented? If so who were they, which organizations did they represent and who chose them.

5. Who is going to undertake all that detailed work under the New Electoral Commission?

6. How do we determine an “eligible Ugandan?” One with a new identity card, a birth certificate, a naturalized one, anyone with a Uganda passport, or anyone born in Uganda regardless of the nationality of the parents etc?

7. Under II (ii) there is mention of “with full participation of stakeholders particularly political parties, civil society organizations and ‘the public’”. How shall we distinguish ‘the public’ from political parties and civil society organizations?

8. Under II (viii) there is mention of “Membership in UPDF High Command should not be personal to holder”. This needs to be explained to be understood unambiguously.

9. Paragraph IV talks inter alia about removing campaign finance irregularities. This problem could be resolved largely by agreeing on standardizing campaign finance for candidates at various levels. For instance let all vetted presidential candidates be given the same amount of money from public resources. What causes malpractices is the drive to have more money than the other candidate and buy more voters than the opponent. This matter of standardizing campaign finance at least at the presidential and parliamentary levels should be given serious consideration to minimize corrupting the electoral process.

10. Under VII (iii) there is mention of “demarcation of constituencies”. This should be done in such a manner that each constituency has the same number of voters. This is not the case right now. Some constituencies have fewer voters than others. This could be deliberate so that instead of having two constituencies in an area dominated by the opposition you have one. On the other hand in areas dominated by the ruling party you could have two constituencies whose voters are the same as one constituency dominated by the opposition party. By having same number of voters in every constituency the problem will be resolved.

11. Under XV (i) there is mention of representation of interest groups. We should consider the inclusion of representatives of Ugandans in the Diaspora because while residing outside they play an important role in Uganda’s political economy. They have invested in Uganda and pay taxes including on their properties. They should therefore be represented in parliament and cabinet.

12. The reason given for removing workers from special interest groups because their interests can be represented by all MPs sounds discriminatory. Other special interests can equally be represented by all elected MPs. This section needs to be recast.

13. Paragraph XVIII: Implementation of the compact is very troubling because of what it omits and the constraints against it. Who will present a copy of the compact to parliament and who will follow-up with parliament as it debates electoral reforms? And who will appoint them if they haven’t been appointed or elected already? Who are the members of the Eminent Persons Group of Conveners and the convening Civil Society Organizations? Were they elected at the conference? If not how are they going to be elected? Will Ugandans in the Diaspora be included since they are very active in Uganda politics and have a right to participate as Uganda citizens? There is mention of the Coordinating Team. Who are the members and were they elected at the conference? Are Ugandans in the Diaspora members on that team? In the preparations for the conference Ugandans in the Diaspora were consulted. For Example Bishop Zac Niringiye visited Europe and USA twice after The Hague Conference of November 2013 and we indicated interest in full participation. There might be a need to circulate the draft mechanism of implementation to ensure nothing is left out. This will also be in line with the principles of transparency, participation and accountability. Certainly Ugandans in the Diaspora would like to make a contribution to this very impart exercise. All citizens including those in the Diaspora should participate in the popularization of this compact. There will need to be a coordinating committee between Ugandans at home and abroad to harmonize their message so as to avoid contradictions or duplication and focal points will be an advantage. It appears the compact was mostly designed by and for Ugandans at home.

14. Three major points were omitted. (i) The electoral reform should consider proportional representation because the winner-take-all or zero-sum game such as in forming the cabinet is exclusive. Since the compact talks of inclusivity in all aspects: political, economic and social, a proportional representation must be an integral part of the reform process. (ii) An independent vetting commission to clear presidential and parliamentary candidates based on established criteria by the independent electoral commission should be established. (iii) Standardizing campaign finance needs to be undertaken to create a level playing field at least at the presidential and parliamentary levels. This will likely eliminate buying voters.

There are two virtually insurmountable constraints to the implementation of the compact:

1. The President and NRM in general are not interested in the compact. So how will it be cleared and implemented by Parliament? Was this possibility taken into account? If yes what Plan B is available?

2. Assuming that the next elections will take place in early 2016, there simply won’t be enough time to complete all the processes called for by the compact even if NRM were agreeable.

The inescapable, if sad, conclusion is that this is an effort that won’t produce the desired results under the prevailing political circumstances and time limitations.

Eric Kashambuzi

December 1, 2014