Wednesday, February 16, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

16 February 2011

Tunisia is behind us now. The Egyptian revolution has come and gone. Both dictators in the two North African counties have been thrown out of power and are now languishing in foreign lands somewhere in the Middle East. And as I write this article, a major dispute following an election in Ivory Coast is still unresolved despite several high level interventions from the ECOWAS, the African Union and even the United Nations Union.

If we look at the election disputes in Africa in the last ten years, it is very clear that whenever they occur, the real victims that suffer as a consequence are the citizens of such countries. All that international organizations, major economic blocks and super powers can do is to condemn irregularities for a few days then later on retract their statements and start urging dialogue among disputing parties.

In 2007, President Olusegun Obasanjo openly used state machinery and rigged the Nigerian Elections in favour of his successor and despite protests from Nigerians and the losing opposition, such protests came to nothing. Four years later, the world behaves as if there were no elections disputes four years ago in that country.

When Kenya burst into an orgy of violence following elections rigging in 2007 culmination in three weeks of mayhem in many parts of the country, the entire international community descended on Nairobi. And if one looked at the nature of the peace process that the international community sought for, it was to persuade the warring parties to lay down their arms and negotiate power sharing. They were not interested in finding out who rigged the elections for punishment. It is for the same reason why the real culprits of the election violence such as the Electoral Commission of Kenya commissioners have never been arrested and tried for abuse of office.

When Zimbabwe repeated the same pattern Kenya had gone through just months later, again the international community urged that Robert Mugabe speak to his opponent and if possible share power to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans.

This election mischief that is gaining currency in the continent has continued to prove that the African Union has become a toothless bulldog and at times cannot be relied upon to safeguard the basic human rights of many Africans on this continent. The AU has failed in Darfur just much as it has failed in Ivory Coast, the Gambia and Guinea.

Closer home, the AU has failed to bring peace in Somalia and despite sending a skeleton peace keeping army in that country, there is nothing to show for it save for occupying a few streets in the city of Mogadishu. The rest of Somalia is largely controlled by Al Shabaabs and other marauding militia factions.

Under the circumstances, Ugandans must follow in the footsteps of Southern Sudan and Kenya that recently conducted peaceful referenda to avoid unnecessary loss of human life and property because as the old adage says; when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.

I say this because if chaos follow the Ugandan elections as night follows day, all of us will suffer irreparably as East Africans. There will be economic losses as well as influx of refugees left and right. In a nutshell, it will be chaos for all of us in the region all the way to the DRC and Shinyanga.

By and large, this year’s Ugandan political campaigns have gone on peacefully in the last several months and for the first time in decades many opposition candidates have not been harassed by state security as before. We have seen candidates Bessigye, Mao, Otunnu and others crisscrossing the country wooing voters without any incidents; which is as it should be. And to give credit to where it is due, Yoweri Museveni, though the incumbent has not sat in his laurels. He has campaigned like all his life depended on this election to the extent that even if he loses tomorrow Saturday morning; it will not be because he never gave it his all.

Yes, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts against their governments have been romantic and appealing but let us not go to the streets because our northern brothers did. We have to study our circumstances carefully to see if they are the same as our Egyptian bothers to warrant our protest. Let us remember that Tunisians and Egyptians never went to the streets following rigged elections. They did so to bring to an end three decades of repression, state of emergency and economic hardships.

Because of the foregoing, let us remind our presidential candidates that speculating mayhem and election rigging ahead of time may put the whole country on edge unnecessarily. Let us wait to see if indeed there will be election rigging on Election Day since we have many observers both local and international that will give us their verdict. This is the moment when we must see the difference between statesmen and war mongers. Let us learn to be good losers even as we work hard to be winners in an election contest.