Wednesday, March 2, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

March 2, 2011

I didn’t expect to be talking about Uganda’s elections two weeks later. I thought it would be dead news by now so that I could turn my energies on Libya and Kenya’s ever fertile ground for political scandals and wrangles. Yet, here I am revisiting Uganda, thanks to Dr. Kizza Bessigye the loser that won’t just go away.

For some of us who saw Bessigye’s ranting before the elections, we were not surprised when he announced his own set of results almost two weeks later after the Electoral Commission of Uganda had made the presidential results known. Coupled with his recent interview that appeared in the Daily Monitor of Uganda, one can only assume that Bessigye is courting something larger and uglier for Ugandans instead of simply fading into the political dustbin.

In a way, the announcement of his set of results two weeks later is a puzzle with no tangible benefits in sight other than to polarize Ugandans at this point in time whether Dr. Bessigye has a point or not.

Reading in between the lines, Bessigye implies that he didn’t lose the elections to Museveni and in fact beat his challenger by two percentage points in a contest where there was no outright winner. In other words, Bessigye is spoiling for a rematch with Museveni in a two-horse race rerun of the elections.

Let me share with Ugandans our experience when we set out to guard against election rigging in 2002 when we didn’t have the technology to instantly announce the results from every polling station so that ordinary radio and TV stations could tally them. In that year, independent radio and TV broadcasters took the liberty to defy the government and sided with the aspirations of Kenyans. Once they announced the results as read out by returning officers in every poll station, every party recorded their results instantly. At the end of the day, a more emboldened ECK sided with Kenyans and announced the correct results. That was how the opposition overturned KANU’s rule of 40 years.

However, five years later, when two former partners in the NARC government parted ways and competed against one another; with the new Electoral Commission reconstituted in favour of the incumbent, election rigging reached new heights on both sides of the leading contenders. In the end, when no clear winner could be decided, the country erupted in an unprecedented orgy of violence.

Ten subsequent by-elections and one national referendum since the 2007 fiasco have been a lesson in best practices. With the reconstitution of the interim electoral commission came electronic tallying of voters to the extent that even the counting of the votes for the national referendum ended up three hours after the voting stopped. It was unbelievable to see results rolling in on TV screens so that by the time Kenyans went to bed at midnight, they already knew the results.

What must be of concern to Kenyans and Ugandans in particular is this: why didn’t Uganda adopt the Kenyan electronic voting system to avoid the kind of theatrics that Bessigye is now subjecting them to? If Kenyans could quickly develop software to manage their elections after the chaos of 2007, why didn’t Ugandans borrow from it?

Dr. Bessigye may have a point; however, the odds are very much against him. First, he needs to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that his own figures are not fiddled with, especially now they are coming two weeks later. He will have the challenge to produce proof that election observers both local and international witnessed his tallying and authenticated them.

Coming after the United States, the European Union and the AU have recognized the results; it will be an uphill task getting any international organization or government to listen to Bessigye apart from a few NGOs and Civil Society groups for obvious reasons.

With the backing of the EAC, the AU, the EU and the United States of America, the NRM government will have no problem seeing Bessigye as an enemy of the people of Uganda and hence deal with him according to the law.

However, Bessigye’s biggest challenge will be what to do with his results. He cannot force Museveni to go back to the polls unless the Electoral Commission supports him. And in the event that he calls for mass action to throw the NRM out of power, how many Ugandans will actually come out on the streets in his support? Haven’t Ugandans lost interest in the elections two weeks since they voted in their new government? And even if they came out on the streets, will the Bessigye team sustain the street protests until they get what they want? In other words, are Ugandans ready for a popular or armed struggle against the present regime?

When Bessigye and Museveni were bosom pals in the bush in the early 1980s, they were in their 40s. Does Bessigye have enough fire left a quarter century later to wage another bush war against a fellow bush fighter? Does he have the influence, resources and charisma to attract a critical following?

These are the questions Bessigye needs to answer before he makes his next move!