Lately, my colleague and Political analyst, Gwada Ogot has engaged me in serious discussions on the degenerating trust and confidence in public institutions representative of democracy not only in Uganda but in many of the post 1950 new states. In Uganda specifically, the past and current political developments undertone citizen’ dissatisfaction with, and lack of confidence in, the functioning of most government institutions. Prior to the 2011 general elections, sections of society rejected the composition of the Electoral Commission (EC). These sections of the public branded the Commission as an incompetent, partisan institution and highlighted it as incapable of presiding over a credible and fair election hence passing a vote of no confidence in it as an electoral institution.
At the peak echelon of political activity, the opposition’s indifference on the election results of the February 18th, Presidential elections and the subsequent move by the Inter Party Cooperation (IPC) not to petition court challenging the outcome of the poll despite their rejection of these results, was a statement of loss of trust in the Ugandan court or possibly the entire judicial system. This is also observable in the general lethargy of the public towards reporting cases or crime to government institutions which also implies that people have lost hope and trust that those institutions they report to, will handle the reported cases objectively and conclusively. Most times these fears have been created by the precedence that has been set. For instance, when Parliament usurps the powers of the judiciary to exonerate key political figures implicated in the CHOGM corruption scandal, should the public trust that Parliament is well aware of its core mandate and delivers on it? Or what should the ordinary person think when Parliamentarians seek to overwhelmingly increase their emoluments amidst biting economic downturn that is taking a toll on the ordinary citizen whose salary or income has remained the same or even gone lower? Public’s increased faith in ‘private’ schools and health facilities, are also be telling about citizens’ diminishing trust in the quality and effectiveness of some of these government aided facilities and services.
The recent walk-to-work campaign was a demonstration of lack of confidence in the country’s dialogue mechanisms. Actually one would say that the walk-to-work campaign was also a mark of skepticism in the executive’s capacity to respond to the prevailing economic quagmire. Consequently, the dotted army presence on the streets of Kampala to manage public order could also be looked at as a vote of no confidence in the Police Force which should essentially be managing public order.
Would someone be right to think that the increased muffling of the media against reporting on government’s actions especially in response to public demonstrations means that the government itself has lost confidence in its very actions?
Those who should be working to restore public confidence in government institutions and systems sometimes end up exacerbating the problem by either their personal actions or inactions. This is easily seen through key political figures opting to receive medical attention from foreign hospitals; sending their children to foreign or international schools; or even running offshore bank accounts.
Truth be told, a situation of widespread, basic discontent and political alienation exists in Uganda today. The few examples above reveal a strong trend of increasing political cynicism from the general population.
An erosion of confidence in the major institutions of society is a far more serious threat to democracy than a loss of trust in individual politicians. We thus need to pay a great deal of attention to it and act immediately.
The challenge that we therefore need to collectively confront is that of building stronger, impersonal, and broadly based institutions. My personal fear is individuals with low confidence in institutions turn out to be more apathetic towards participation in political processes and could easily fall prey to the use of violent means to realize their political goals, economic and social affluence.