The 2015/2016 general elections are probably going to be the most crucial elections that Uganda has seen in its post independence era. Besides coming hot on the heels of an already tensed up electoral terrain, these are going to be the first elections in which most (if not all) of the eligible voters aged 18 years and above will be on the voters’ register and capable of voting. Thanks to the Electoral Commission’s decision to extract eligible voters’ particulars from the National Identification Register! If well managed, the 2016 voters' register will be the first, most inclusive register, carrying all eligible Ugandans on the voters’ roll.
Now, you may wonder how this will change the political contours of Uganda. Unlike in the past elections where we have had large numbers of voters missing out on the actual voting because they weren’t listed on the register, 2016 is going to be an election where all eligible voters will actually be on the voters' register and capable of voting.
In 2011 for instance, it is estimated that over a million eligible voters did not register themselves for purposes of voting. In an election where the winning presidential candidate got 5.4 million votes and the runner-up 2 million votes, the 1 million unregistered potential voters (then) had the capability of making the election more competitive, volatile and much more exciting than what we witnessed.
Come 2016, a significant percentage of registered voters will be Ugandans aged between 18 and 35 years. Evidence from past elections indicates that it is this category that fills the open grounds when political rallies are called; it is this category that is under many instances harnessed to fill the party/candidates’ youth brigades or para-militias (Kikankane, Blue Cobra, Red Brigade, Black Mamba, Bamboo Youth Brigade, Kibooko Squad, 3K Brigade, Mwoyo Gwagwanga, Black Brigade etc); it is this category that works to produce campaign songs, comedies; and it is these young people who run candidates’ (social media) campaigns. But interestingly, this is the same category that never turns up to vote simply because they are never on the voters’ register. The participation (noise) of this category in pre-election activities is normally in vain because it does not translate into actual votes in the ballot simply because this category rarely secures its voting status.
It is also interesting how 2016 will play out amidst the formation of various “issue-based” informal associations like: “abatasooma”, the “poor youth”, “jobless brotherhood”, the “unemployed youth”, the “national association of the unemployed community” etc. This might be a point of specific interest considering that members of these informal groupings could demographically form the biggest block, which could influence the 2016 vote. Could this also mean that this could turn out to be one of those unfamiliar elections where we might see voting blocks becoming more prominent features in Uganda’s elections?
This election is going to be unconventional in the sense that, with an inclusive voters register that carries almost all eligible persons, a majority of which are young people, the 2016 election is purely going to be at the call of those young and middle aged people. And with the amount of governance and policy issues that young people are increasingly bringing to the fore through formalised and/or informal societies, this election is a “must watch”.
For our beloved politicians who want to take a shot at 2016, a word of caution for you: this is not just like any other previous election that Uganda has had. This is a different ball game altogether that needs to be carefully analysed and planned for. This could be an election that may excavate policy driven campaign manifestos from the hearts and lips of those planning to run for political offices soon.