People all over the world have struggled to reclaim their birth right to vote, some losing their lives in the process. Uganda’s independence restored our right to elect representatives in parliament, district councils and lower houses. The purpose of electing representatives in these institutions is to promote and protect interests of all the people in the constituencies they represent. In ancient Greece all eligible citizens met regularly to discuss matters that affected them. As such they didn’t have representatives. This arrangement worked when numbers were small and distances short. When they are large over a wide area it becomes impossible, hence election of representatives.
During campaign in Uganda politics, candidates from different parties should specify what they have done in their respective constituencies and what they intend to do for all the people if elected. Voters should examine the overall record (including what they have done for the communities) and character of candidates and elect the best based on this record and promises. In the interest of national security, candidates’ history and connections must be ascertained. Candidates that emerge suddenly however wealthy or well connected they may be should be treated with a grain of salt. Uganda has had a bitter experience of leaders who took on politics to solve personal challenges, as witnessed in connection with Obote, Amin and Museveni. We have also witnessed the difference in economic and social performance between civilian Obote and military Amin and Museveni. Ugandans therefore need to be extremely careful how the next batch of leaders and representatives is selected. Uganda’s unhappy performance under Museveni’s leadership is disturbing particularly in terms of human capital formation and environmental protection. That economic growth has fallen below population growth should be taken seriously because of the implication in terms of falling standard of living that was already very low.
In Uganda candidates that have outspent others have generally defeated those with limited funds who probably had better ideas and a better history record and character. You need to realize that when a candidate buys your vote then there is no further transaction until the next elections five years later. It is like buying a shirt or skirt from a shop. Once that transaction is successfully completed there is no further relationship until you go back to buy something else. That is why many MPs never connect with their constituencies after elections. Meanwhile they collect tons of money to buy voters at the next elections. This is a bitter lesson we have learned and it explains in large part why NRM keeps winning even when it has immiserized the majority of Ugandans and is very unpopular.
Since we are not likely to match NRM’s purse, we need to embark in a bigger way on civic education of opposition supporters, independents and progressive NRM supporters that they should not trade their future for immediate handouts of salt, soap or local brew. If they elected committed representatives they would gain more in the medium and long term in terms of development projects that have a lasting impact. My experience is that when you explain the difference between short and longer term benefits of making right choices, voters tend to tilt towards long term benefits and therefore likely to vote for a candidate with less money but good heart and good development ideas. The recent defeat of NRM in by-elections clearly indicates that voters are beginning to use a different yardstick and we need to build on that.
We, in UDU should also work more closely and as appropriate field one candidate to improve chances of getting the candidate elected instead of fielding more than one, split opposition votes and lose to the NRM candidate. In any human experience, when people are split, chances are they will lose the contest. As they say, United we stand, divided we fall.
As readers may have noticed, UDU through the National Recovery Plan, press statements and diplomatic networking, we are moving towards realization of human rights (NRM can no longer treat Ugandans in any way it likes with impunity because UDU leadership and our allies won’t allow it), true democracy that empowers people and checks bad governance (corruption, sectarianism, cronyism and mismanagement of public funds). To succeed we shall need the support and active involvement of all Ugandans that want to bring about change for the benefit of all Ugandans on a win-win basis. No Ugandan in any profession will be excluded purely for supporting NRM. That is why we have introduced the concept of proportional representation. That is why we support decentralization or regionalism and empowerment of all Ugandans so that you can develop your talents to the maximum extent possible. We ask you to give UDU a chance based on what you have seen so far and further guidance to do even better.