By Steven Masiga
There are barely 300 days left towards 2016 party primaries and Ugandans will once again exercise their democratic rights. One of the best oracles on this discipline the Greek philosopher Plato had stated rather overtly that “the greatest weakness of democracy was its reliance on numbers and not ability.
In Uganda and elsewhere in Africa during campaign periods if a candidate stormed apolitical rally barehanded he would be described by the audience as not being a patriotic candidate and not having his people’s interests at heart, the crowd may even usurp the powers of electoral commission and declare him/her an early loser.
Yet the practice of salt and alcohol giving is not in tandem with any democratic principle to say the least, giving of any campaign gift should be given in appreciation after winning, you can officially thank your people.
If voter education programs are not initiated early to sensitize Ugandans on the vice of exchanging votes for alcohol, salt etc will escalate.
As an African I am cognizant of the fact that sharing the little you have is part and parcel of the African culture, though my concern is the manipulation in the sharing and the timing of the handouts. In the Elgon region, I have noted with a lot of suspicion every time a candidate finishes addressing rallies you suddenly notice long queues forming majorly to receive cash and other necessaries of life.
However if this vice is not checked those who lobbied for and brought hospitals, schools, safe water and roads may be relegated a side as those appearing with packets of salt, sugar & even soap may snatch the victory away, law enforcers why not criminalize this, or that is we win elections in Africa.
Well directed legislation can check on those that Plato blames for the travesty of democracy.
Truly 2016 is just around the corner and political stress is bound to set in for the political actors, all those charged with this mandate should be seen to do their best, particularly the national electoral commission must initiate early voter education related programmes, others like party commissions should also agree on a modus operand on how they are to deal with the issue of educating Ugandan citizens on matters of electing their leaders such that previous mistakes do not reoccur.
Though sometimes it is difficult to fathom what voters really want, many researchers analyzing voter behaviour in this field have painted a very scary picture as most people voted for leaders for reasons like being related to them, routine burial attendance and provision of alcohol among others and surprisingly nothing to do with service delivery. What a blunder on the part of voters!
Voter education, once well administered, will create awareness on the roles of all participants in this process. For this to have a desired impact there should be localization of the content so that majority of citizens get the information.
Voter education should start with the incumbents; incumbencies have a time frame once the Electoral Commission has notified Ugandans that there is a vacant political post in a county or a constituency do not say so and so wants to contest against you.
I was fascinated by the story of one person in Manafwa district who had won primaries for NRM and forced the incumbent to hand over office equipment, even when the Electoral Commission had not nominated him to contest officially.
Sustained voter education will kill the appetite for sugar, salt, alcohol, and realign voters to priority programs as opposed to individual voter needs.
The writer is a coordinator at Makerere Mbale Centre