The just concluded Rwanda presidential elections could be seen as a pace-setter for the rest of the East African Community and Africa at large.
The Rwanda Electoral Commission and government deserve kudos for allowing their nationals in the Diaspora to exercise their fundamental rights to vote.
In March this year, I made proposals to the Uganda Parliament and Electoral Commission (EC) to make provisions for Ugandans in the Diaspora to exercise their constitutional right to cast their votes from their respective locations as absentee voters: â€œGive Ugandans abroad absentee voting statusâ€, New Vision, March 18.
My suggested criteria to EC to do this were a very simple and fraud-proof: Only Ugandans with valid Ugandan passports and those who have naturalised into the citizenry of the adopted country of residents should be allowed to vote. The second suggestion was to set up a Uganda Diaspora Electoral desk in Kampala.
But with the Eng Badru Kiggundu led EC apparently mired in chasing its own credibility shadows, it looks like Diaspora Ugandans may never blip the EC radar.
Even though Rwandaâ€™s democracy is the youngest in the region, what Chryslogue Karangwa, the chairman of Rwanda National Electoral Commission and the government did by allowing Rwandese nationals in the Diaspora to vote has set a benchmark by which other East African Community countries will be gauged.
A number of hypotheses may explain ECâ€™s silence on Diaspora Ugandans voting. First of all, since the NRM party has the majority in Parliament, the onus of passing a Bill to affect this solely rests on the ruling party.
As separate opinion polls by The Daily Monitor and New Vision newspaper put NRM ahead of opposition parties if votes were cast today, this may give the ruling party the impression that they can win the 2011 elections without the Diaspora votes.
Secondly, there is a general perception among ruling party leaders that Diaspora Ugandans are unpatriotic and agents of opposition parties.
This misconception may have evolved from a number of anti NRM/Museveni demonstrations by Ugandan nationals in European and US cities in recent past during some of President Museveniâ€™s foreign trips.
Since most Ugandan political leaders are â€œuncomfortableâ€ with public demonstrations and take them to be a sign of opposition, instead of citizens having the right to express their constitutionally mandated opinion, the possibility of branding majority of Diaspora Ugandans as â€œopposition elementsâ€ cannot be ruled out.
The ability to vote or not should never be pegged to desired expectations of a particular political group or individual. I am inclined to believe that this is not the case with Diaspora Ugandans on 2011 polls because it is their fundamental right. I am still hopeful that within the remaining time political diligence will prevail for Uganda to emulate Rwanda in recognising the rights and importance of her Diaspora citizens.
The writer is a medical information technologist, San Diego, California, US
Like Rwanda let Ugandans in the Diaspora vote