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Ugandans decide: Issues dominate the presidential campaign

17 February 2011

Uganda goes to the polls this weekend with the incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni, widely expected to be voted back into office for a third term, capping a 25-year reign as head of state.

Unlike the three previous general elections in 1996, 2001 and 2006, this election has been relatively peaceful. All candidates have largely been on-message, articulating issues affecting people. This explains why some political commentators have dubbed it a “no-drama”, or the most dull and boring election in the history of Uganda’s competitive democracy.

Several independent opinion polls indicate that, aside from the usual concerns like money, food items, slogans, empty promises, party attachment and tribal sentiments, voters this time around are likely to vote for candidates that they feel relate to their plight and have the will to address issues. Given this anticipated change in voting patterns, the ruling National Resistance Movement Party, accused of failing to address crucial issues affecting the electorate for over two decades, is projected to face a shrinking majority of under 60%, compared to 2001 when it won with over 70% of the vote. This is despite the Electoral Commission recording a 16% increase in voter registration. Details from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, contained in a document entitled Projections of Demographic Trends in Uganda 2007-2017, indicate that, as of 2010, eligible voters aged 18-25 years total 6.4 million, compared with the other age categories: 25-30 years (2.4 million), 30-35 years (1.9 million), 35-40 years (1.4 million), 40-45 years (1.1 million), and 45+ years (2.8 million). Thus, a very high percentage of voters are under the age of 30 years.

Top on the next government’s to-do list is improving public service delivery with particular focus on health, education, infrastructure and water. Voters, according to the polls, also want the government to show commitment to fighting endemic corruption, addressing poverty, creating jobs for the youth, and equitably distributing revenues and natural resources in all regions of Uganda.

Although subtle, this election also carries with it ethnic undertones, especially after the Buganda kingdom, representing the largest ethnic group, fell out with the central government over its failure to grant federal status to the kingdom. This long standing bickering between the government and the kingdom culminated in the ethnically motivated riots of November 2009 in Kampala, during which several youths lost their lives and property worth millions was destroyed; they resulted in the closure by the government of the kingdom’s radio station.
Another ethnic issue during the election campaign has been the Bunyoro kingdom’s demands that the government should establish the kingdom’s share of the oil wells discovered in the Albertine region. Bunyoro kingdom borders DRC and covers the districts of Hoima, Masindi, Kibale and Buliisa. With over 250,000 households, the majority (90%) of Bunyoro kingdom’s ethnic Bagungu and Banyoro are poor, illiterate and earn less than the Ugandan national average.

On the eve of the election, there is heavy deployment of police and other security personnel on the streets. Several civil society organisations have warned of a likelihood of violence should there be incidences of vote-rigging.