Uganda elections: Whoever wins in February will face a huge bill

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From left, Amama Mbabazi, Yoweri Museveni and, Kizza Besigye. PHOTOS | DAILY MONITOR 

By Gabrielle Lynch

Posted  Saturday, January 2   2016 at  20:07

In Summary

  • Options facing next year’s president-elect will be largely dependent on the margin of their victory, the peacefulness of any transfer of power, the extent to which the election is perceived to be free and fair, and the support that the country continues to receive from the donor community and its neighbours. The legacies of the electoral campaigns will thus be felt long after the results are announced.

Elections can be transformative, but they can also be costly. Costs include the vast amounts of money that candidates spend on their campaigns, as well as the promises made and expectations raised.

Evidence suggests that Uganda’s presidential election in February could be particularly costly, ensuring that whoever wins faces a number of significant challenges.

Uganda’s last presidential election in 2011 was characterised by less violence and intimidation than the previous one in 2006, but by a significant increase in the use of money.

As a consequence, after the election, inflationary pressures exacerbated popular frustration with socio-economic problems such as underemployment and corruption, while depleted state coffers constrained the government’s capacity to respond. This culminated in months of popular protest and clashes between “Walk to Work” campaigners and state security services.

Unfortunately, the commercialisation of politics that accelerated in 2011 continues unabated, as many voters demand direct assistance from presidential and parliamentary candidates, and as the National Resistance Movement tries to fight both the official opposition and internal divisions through the use of extensive patronage.

Such excessive spending — together with the fact that the Ugandan government is already deeply indebted — means that, whoever wins, will find little money left to spend over the rest of the financial year. They will also find that election-related spending has pushed up prices and eroded the real earnings of ordinary citizens.

Significantly, opposition activists have tried to turn such a commercialisation of politics on its head. As, instead of giving out money and other goodies at Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) rallies, Kizza Besigye’s supporters increasingly give gifts to their leader.

However, in practice, this new development rests on more continuity than change, as the popular understanding is that Besigye will provide assistance once elected.
As a result, whoever wins will face a limited budget and inflationary pressure. They will also face high expectations and popular pressure to make good on the extensive promises that they made in their electoral manifestos.

In the case of a Museveni victory, this combination of factors to likely fuel popular protests — as it did in 2011. In addition, it will contribute to schisms within the NRM as politicians try and position themselves for a post-Museveni era — with many feeling that this is the last time that Museveni will stand.

Similarly, if Besigye and the FDC or Amama Mbabazi and the “Go Forward” movement emerge victorious, a tight fiscal situation will severely test their capacity to make good on the extensive reforms that they have promised.

Indeed, as with many opposition politicians around the world, Besigye’s manifesto appears to be overly ambitious. Particularly costly to implement will be the promised hikes to teachers’ salaries and the creation of thousands of jobs, and the introduction of federo (or federalism).

However, a tight fiscal situation and high expectations are not the only challenges that the president-elect will face. He will also be left with a legacy of political intimidation and violence, and high levels of popular political scepticism.

The 2016 election campaigns have already been marked by the return of significant intimidation and violence. A recent Amnesty International report recorded how the police have arbitrarily arrested a number of political opposition leaders and used excessive force to disperse peaceful political gatherings.

More specifically, the report detailed how opposition candidates have repeatedly been placed under “preventive arrest” while police have indiscriminately fired teargas and rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators.

Particularly worrying has been the recruitment and training of thousands of Crime preventers — the timing of which fostered suspicions that they would be used to intimidate opposition supporters and to mobilise support for the NRM.

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