By Ofwono Opondo
While the Ugandan political opposition, and specifically, perennial presidential loser, Col (rtd) Dr Kizza Besigye, has for long derided Uganda’s Electoral Commission (EC) especially the out-going one, led by Eng. Dr. Hajji Badru Kiggundu for his losses, many should pay tribute to the ‘Kiggundu’ commission for a job well done over the fourteen year tenure. And for the record, Besigye has perennially castigated every commission since 2001 when he first stood for elective office.
Dr Kiggundu, his deputy Joseph Biribonwa, and Commissioners Jenny Okello, Tom Buriku, Stephen Ongaria, Justine Ahabwe Mugabi, and their Secretary Sam Rwakoojo deserve pats of their backs for standing under rain, hailstones, and sun-shine to deliver a national referendum, three general elections, and hundreds of by-elections since first appointed on September 20, 2002.
It is worth noting that Kiggundu’s team was appointed on the backdrop of the disbandment of the late Azziz Kasujja commission that was disgraced by incompetence, negligence, and corruption where one of the commissioners was even arrested and prosecuted. Equally, Kiggundu’s Commission whose second non-renewal term is due to expire in November, 2016, has outlasted four similar Commissions in Ghana, Zambia, and two in Kenya. So, as Kiggundu and his team retire, they should know that regardless of the criticisms lobbied against them, they have done Uganda proud.
In all the three countries mentioned above, on the mis-advise from the often all knowing civil society organisations, and their surrogate funders from Western Europe, Electoral Commissions were initially constituted representing the respective political parties in those countries. As it turned out in all of them, EC boardrooms were quickly turned into rival party delegates conferences during which each party pitched for its immediate partisan interests and electoral victory. The result, they were all quickly disbanded.
Again in each of those countries, EC’s have been reconstituted using open public sourcing, and yet, elections haven’t always gone as smoothly as the critics in Uganda would want many to believe, often disputes have emerged running into their courts. In each case, there have been incidences of post-election violence, including bloodshed and externalisation of refugees as happened in Kenya, 2007.
In Kenya, the much hyped constitutional reforms of 2011 created an “Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IBEC),” whose ‘independence’ and competence has been disputed, and is being disbanded before next year’s general elections. There, the distinguished commissioners led by their chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan who holds “Leadership Award for Visionary Leadership,” have agreed to vacate office before expiry of their term on conditions they are granted immunity from prosecution for whatever went wrong during their tenure. By seeking immunity, which they have obtained, it is reasonable to believe that IEBC was neither independent as many were made to believe nor was it devoid of malpractices and deliberate abuse. Remember that Issack’s predecessor Samuel Kivuiti’s commission too was disbanded after he said he didn’t know who won the 2007 presidential elections.
The Kenya IEBC has further asked that the technical staff should be retained because it isn’t possible to constitute a new commission with capacity to efficiently run a general election that is just around the corner. Again, by recommending that technical staff be retained, it means that actually contrary to the false thinking in Uganda the Kiggundu and the Commissioner are the EC, it is more complex and elaborate. So, those in Uganda, who are truly genuine and interested in having a diligent, competent, efficient and effective EC, must look beyond the personalities who comprise its top leadership. Apart from the national constitution and other laws being robust and flexible and in place in good time, all the stakeholders especially the government and competing political parties must adequately play their roles. The government, in addition to providing the necessary laws and adequate funding in time, must facilitate its other institutions like the security, education and local governments that reinforce EC’s efficiency in delivering good electoral outcomes.
Although Besigye and his ilk would like to cry foul against the state machinery and EC for foiling their purported victories, it is prudent they come to reality that as they are today, opposition parties don’t have effective and viable organisations and policy platforms, and most voters will continue to shun them. Norbert Mao, for instance cannot blame the EC for his own failure update his record as a registered voter. Equally, the opposition parties shouldn’t continue to use the EC as scapegoat for their collective failures to raise sufficient numbers of candidates at all levels. And the ‘Kiggundu’ commission isn’t responsible for the mess in the respective party internal politics, including that in FDC where bitter wrangles have refused to heal between party president Mugisha Muntu and Secretary General Nandala Mafabi.
And obviously, the NRM should not blame anybody else except itself for failure to have a genuine members and its voters’ register, verification of academic qualifications and possible criminal records of those seeking to hold its flag as is currently being discovered in courts of law. The NRM must certainly do a better job in internal organisation, remove soft money, and petty and unprincipled frictions that has caused mayhem during the past primaries.