We are very privileged to live at a time when Uganda is experiencing high political turbulence. Even with the increasingly narrowing space for alternative voice in the country, Uganda still carries the title of a ‘good-governed, multiparty democratic country’. As you might realize, democracy has lately become like an ISO certification of quality for states. If one wants to market a product called Uganda, they are compelled to slap a seal of ‘democracy’ to make the country more appealing to investors, tourists, donors, diplomatic calls, and possibly, hoodwink its very own citizenry about the quality of governance in the country.
Elections today have become too ritualistic, symbolic, periodic events that many times usher in premeditated leaders at the top echelon of the state. While elections must underpin characteristics of competition, surprise, and anxiety over results, here they have become a simply calculated affair for authentication of certain leaders. Those who run for elective office are lately being sieved on the basis of how much money they have rather than what manifestos they carry. Even with such shortfalls, many countries, not only Uganda continue to glorify themselves as democratic citing their practice of carrying out regular elections.
I would to some extent agree with those who say that lately democracy is regressing into a government of the few, by the few and for the few. Take an example of the 2011 elections in Uganda; out of 13,954,129 registered voters, we have a president voted into office by just 5,428,369 people. In practice it means that the five million people decide the destination of the estimated thirty four million Ugandans. Percentage-wise this reflects 16% segment of the entire Ugandan population. Is this the rule of the majority?
When Uganda moved on to multiparty politics in 2005, people mainly from the political parties and civil society organizations were excited thinking that the governance jinx had been broken. Little did they know that this would probably be more of a symbolic gesture than a real maneuver. It has since become increasingly hard to divorce the party in leadership from the state structures; subsequent direct and indirect laws to curtail the ability of opposition parties to operate freely have become the order of the day; despite the passing of the Political Parties and Organizations (Amendment) Act, 2010, the government has since failed to operationalise it. Because this Act has not been operationalised, political parties have not yet accessed state funding for their operations.
Multiparty politics is not just about a multitude of political parties. In Uganda, there have been unconfirmed allegations about some of the thirty eight political parties being purposefully founded by the ‘intelligence’ or the party in power as a way of duping the public that indeed the country embraces ‘multiparty democracy’. So, is this the construct of the dispensation that we eagerly envisaged about six years ago?
The rule of law has lately become a very jelly connotation incapable of setting standard benchmarks. In Uganda just like in many other countries, there are bad laws; does this mean that the citizens must heed to these simply because they are ‘laws’? Take for instance the NGO Registration (Amendment) Act 2006 contains provisions that hinder the operations of NGOs in Uganda; many of the media laws restrict press freedom and have often led to self-censorship; the institution of Traditional or Cultural Leaders Act, 2010 makes traditional or cultural leaders personally liable for any civil wrongs or criminal offenses committed by their agents; the proposed Public Order Management Bill, 2009, seeks to grant the police wide discretionary powers to regulate the conduct of public meetings and also regulate the content of the discussion of issues at such meetings; the proposal to scrap bail for certain categories of offenders, among many other laws.
Probably it is time for us to start measuring democracy and good governance through simple values like: happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment, harmony, mutual respect, love, peace rather than complex philosophical terms such as democracy, elections, multiparty system, rule of law, transparency, accountability among others. These composite descriptions are lately becoming subjectively mutilated and seem to remain farfetched for the common citizen to associate with.