Uganda’s runaway vote price inflation has economists baffled

Monday February 28 2011



As the Uganda shilling continues to depreciate against the world’s major currencies, the Ugandan vote is appreciating at a very encouraging rate.

The average price of a vote has climbed steadily from ten US cents 15 years ago to over $30 today.

In 1996, one MP in eastern Uganda decided not to seek re-election in protest against his constituents who had been selling their vote for two hundred shillings in the presidential election.

That was the time when the presidential election was held well ahead of the parliamentary ones.

The man said he could not continue representing people who held themselves in such low esteem, and threw in the towel.

That was then. Today the market price of the Ugandan vote seems to be in favour of the voter.

Things are much better than during the 2001 and 2006 general elections.

In 2001, instead of paying heavily for votes, you could reduce the votes of your candidate’s opponent by killing off some of his voters.

The more subtle methods used could include driving an army truck through a crowd of his supporters.

In 2006, things could get a bit more direct and you could fire a sub-machinegun into a crowd of the supporters of your candidate’s rival in broad daylight in the capital city.

But come 2011, things have become more humane and it is market forces that are determining the direction of flow of votes.

Some claim it is a foreign power that has put pressure on the key players to use any means to acquire votes apart from violence.

It is claimed that the foreign power does not want a key ally that is policing Somalia to be faced with an Egypt or Tunisia situation. So the commercial demand for votes became acute.

The supply of the votes is elastic within limits. As Ugandans went to the polls last week, the Electoral Commission maintained there were 13.9 million voters on the register.

But any sane analysis of statistics from Uganda Bureau of Statistics shows that there cannot be more than 10.4 million Ugandans aged 18 and above.

So the elasticity of the votes supply means 3.5million extra units, or ghosts to be more accurate, can come onto the market if the price is right.

It is that limited elasticity that had been driving up the price of the vote.

Because we have an elaborate voting procedure where the ballot is cast in the open, and the ballot box having been inspected by candidates’ agents before voting, ballot stuffing is difficult and only possible in polling centres located in extremely partisan places. So if you want votes, you have to pay the market price.

Many allege that one political camp procured $300 million in January for vote buying.

This means they put $30 to chase each of the 10 million real votes in the market.

In many cases, people were being five dollars each just to attend a rally, real gold compared with the 10 cents offered for a full vote in 1996.

It is a pity votes are not traded the whole year round, otherwise it would have made good sense to store your wealth in votes and watch it appreciating while the shilling depreciates.

Joachim Buwembo is a Knight International fellow for development journalism; jbuwembo