Elias Blondeau, Staff Writer
March 4, 2016
A democratic system’s intent is to put a person in power based on the votes of a populace. In theory, it allows everyone’s voice to be heard.
But a democracy only works when the establishment plays by the rules, which is why in Uganda, citizens are feeling as if their collective voice is falling on deaf ears.
“They are denying us our constitutional right,” 27-year-old Ugandan teacher Elias Bukenya told Al Jazeera.
His state is one of many crying foul at the recent re-election of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 30 years. Museveni’s reign is not a testament to his popularity among the people of Uganda, however. Many suspect that it is, in fact, a consequence of a multi-decade reign of rigged votes and unfair arrests.
Kizza Besigye and Moses Kasibante, opponents of Museveni, were arrested the day prior to the election. Both reportedly discovered declaration forms completely filled out by electoral officials and polling agents, indicating that Museveni’s election was already sealed prior to voting.
Besigye was arrested for trying to spread the word about these documents, then let go later in the day with no charges.
“At 1 p.m. they had signed the forms, blank as they appear,” Kasibante told NTV Uganda. “So we are very suspicious of what could be happening.”
Kasibante’s suspicions reflect other African countries’ responses to the situation. Following the election, Botswana Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issued a damning statement directed at Museveni. This statement completely rejected the president’s reelection, and refused to acknowledge him as the victor.
“The Government of Botswana has observed that … the elections were characterized by, amongst others: lack of transparency, reported instances of intimidation and harassment, social media restrictions, as well as continuous arrests and detention of a prominent leader of the opposition,” the statement read.
Indeed, the process of the elections themselves could be called questionable at the very least. Reporter Stephen Harris, who was present for the elections, recounted what he witnessed in an article for The Huffington Post.
“The government has issued threats to the media for releasing information and impending results before official numbers are released to the public,” Harris wrote. “Provisional Results has been the most common expression used today, as all news anchors are afraid of the information they are sharing.” He also recalled instances of voting materials arriving late, citizens being prevented from voting due to large lines, poor management and riots springing up as a result of the questionable methods being employed.
Harris even mused that this is “the sad reality of a dictator state.”
This is a harsh sentiment but not a far-fetched one and something not unique to Uganda.
With the upcoming elections in the United States, situations like the one in Uganda give observers and voters pause. In past election cycles, several instances, such as the infamous “recount” in the 2000 presidential race or recent Iowa caucus coin toss, highlight the fragility of democracy in the U.S. Remaining vigilant and holding the system accountable, whether at home or abroad, is the first step to maintaining a functioning democracy.