BY PATRICK JARAMOGI
WAKISO, Uganda|SHIFTMEDIA| “You can’t win an election when you are poor, that is a dream, but we are not talking about bribery. But campaign spending,” Dr Livingstone Sewanyana, the Executive Director, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) has disclosed.
Sewanyana’s remarks comes at a time when allegations of voter bribery marred by violence and vote-rigging has been reported in the just concluded National Resistance Movement Party Primaries.
Sewanyana who comes from an NGO that is against voter bribery however explained the circumstances under which ‘cash’ is necessary for one to win an election.
“The questions of resources is critical during campaigns, you need money to make posters, pay for your campaign agents and move around,” he told Youth election observers drawn from Kampala and Wakiso districts.
The over 30 youths are attending a three-day training on “Human Rights of the Youth during the electoral process 2020/21” organised by OHCHR in cooperation with Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) and Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) ongoing at Kigo Serena Hotel in Wakiso.
Sewanyana observed that issues such as the incumbency is another factor that favours those already in politics. “They have all the resources at hand to outshine their opponents. The Covid 19 pandemic has made it even worse because it calls for buying of air space for talk shows on TV and or radio stations and this greatly favours the incumbents,” he said.
Issues at hand
Explaining to the youth the dynamics of election monitoring, Dr Sewanyana said they (observers) should be on the lookout for what he described as “Rented crowd” – (where people ferry voters from elsewhere to create a perception that they have the popular support), this he said works against free fair and inclusive elections.
“Access to the media is another very important ingredient in elections, and those who have more access to the public are likely to influence the outcome of the elections because, with the media, there is an element of money, element or persuading the electorate.” “The choice of media is also very important. You may have access to few, but vibrant media and still make it compared to wasting time on many ‘small’ media houses.”
He told the youth observers that each of these elements have a human rights element, but emphasizing on “Right to speak and right to shut up. Those who can’t convince are the ones who end up with acts of bribery, intimidation and harassment. But at the end of the day, ideas become better than the money used, ultimately,” said Sewanyana.
Commenting to the recent NRM elections of lining up, Sewanyana said such types of elections compared to the secret ballot are a recipe for disharmony among families. “Just consider a couple supporting different candidates, or a parish priest in the area or a shop keeper, it puts them in a tricky situation,” he said.
“If the President and NRM chairperson said lining up is a better way of avoiding vote-rigging, why is all this hullabaloo about rigging. Then what about the issue of COVID19, see how NRM voters were lining up behind each other, with no social distancing. I feel with the secret ballot, voters would come and tick their candidate and go home thus making them less prone to Covid19.”
Earlier while opening the training session, Mr. Robert Kotchani (Below), Country Representative of the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda thanked FHRI and Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) for the collaboration.
He noted that for over six months now, the world has been confronted with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly changed the way of life. “This training was planned for the first semester of 2020 but had to be deferred until today,” he said at the training held at the Kigo Serena Hotel in Wakiso.
“Today, we are confronted with two facts that need no emphasis. First, the role of CSO in ensuring the protection and promotion of human rights in Uganda. Second, Uganda is already in the electoral period 2020 and 2021, with Local Governments, Presidential, Parliamentary to be conducted. Experience shows that it’s during these periods that human rights violations get aggravated. That is precisely why you are drawn from some of the districts that have in the past, experienced election-related violence,” said the UN resident chief.
Adding: “This training focuses on honing your skills in detecting, documenting and reporting human rights violations, especially those affecting the youth, as you go about with your observation of elections so that necessary preventive and corrective measures can be taken by relevant bodies at the national, regional and international levels,” he said
He said the project is jointly implemented by the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, UNDP, UNFPA and OHCHR, and it recognises the central role of the youth and women in sustaining peace and in the prevention of conflict.
CCEDU Executive Director M’s Charity Ahimbisibwe Kaleebo urged the observers to look out for the abuse, the rights holders, and those who engage in Human Rights Abuse and violations.
“Elections are judged basing on legal tenets and framework. Such as the Presidential Elections Act, Parliamentary Elections Act, UCC Act, the Media Statute,” said Ahimbisibwe.
She said UCC was issuing orders to have all bloggers register with them, then the parent ministry (ICT) comes out and rubbishes the UCC directives. “These directives make the already difficult situation worse. Why should the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issue directive without the knowledge of the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance where it falls? She asked.
The observers will be awarded certificates after the three-day training ahead of the General Elections due in 2021.