It is important the right to vote as a civil and political right for citizens to express a political thought including the Diaspora be advanced
By Florence Kiremerwa
The Diaspora or Ugandans living and working abroad have continued to remit lots of dollars each year, immensely contributing to the social-economic growth and development of our country.
Their remittances have boosted various businesses of individuals they have supported, organizations or companies that invested in key developmental sectors e.g. (in the real estate sector, where they have built mansions and apartments, in either place they hail from or on inherited land and property or on land purchased in the countrysides; tourism and hospitality industry; and an input in the engagement in agricultural value chain addition businesses).
While the contribution from the Diasporas has had an impact on many lives in various communities from village to the national level, their participation in the development agenda, in particular, their right to vote to exclude them till now in 2019, after we have held five national elections. The types of Diaspora include migrant workers; refugees; individuals in certain professional groups; others living abroad temporarily or permanently.
All these have been disenfranchised and have had no opportunity to vote in any election or referendum so far conducted during the last 32 years of the NRM leadership. The numerous elections at various administrative units, village-district to national level held, the Diaspora hasn't been included at all. Neither has efforts been initiated to have a Diaspora Voters' Register (DNVR) as pre-requisite towards including them in subsequent national elections.
In the meantime, efforts by for instance Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFAs), crafting the Diaspora Policy, it doesn't either highlight prospects for including the Diaspora in elections by embracing appropriate mechanisms to engage them in any leadership elections processes e.g. MOIA Diaspora Board member, NIRA Board Member and Ministry of Trade Diaspora Board member and UTB Diaspora Board member etc. We should be mindful for the Diaspora too to have their rights recognized and implemented so as to take part in elections though they are living abroad. "The right to vote is an absolute right that should be exercised without conditionality''. Uganda has experienced counterparts from Kenya; Nigeria and superpowers like the USA living here, participating in their elections, an action our responsible authorities can benchmark on ways and measures the same can be exemplified as we embrace plans in our road maps and not disenfranchise this category of citizens.
Whereas other government departments like MOIAs has designed initiatives, which have seen a number of the Diasporians granted Dual Citizenship and their bio-data included on the National citizenship mechanism as well as issued with IDs by NIRA. However, it is crucial the responsible government organ-legislature need to enact laws to guide the Diaspora and their inclusion in the voting exercise as a right. The inclusion of the Diaspora in elections shall require more funding.
Nonetheless, we should appreciate and relent to the remittances from the Diaspora and contribution to our revenues, to devise measures for including them participate in elections not only as essential but also as their right. The government planners should start thoughtfully analyze on how they shall integrate the cost of including the Diaspora in the electoral budget. They should also take into account the numbers of citizens within a particular region; the feasibility of such an exercise, the legal framework and the bilateral relations between the host and the home country, including the right parse as an urgent matter.
It is therefore important the right to vote as a civil and political right for citizens to express a political thought including the Diaspora be advanced, as a reflection of civic duty. The negation of this right suggests persons concerned that they do not form part of society, whereas these individuals are part of the country, they contribute to the country's revenue and if they are of the opinion that that country is theirs, this negation will likely trigger them into political action. Rights do not cease the rights simply because they have not yet been confirmed by legal processes. So why should a Ugandan Diaspora be denied a right to vote, against their surely universal right?
The inclusion of the diaspora in elective politics, by enacting the necessary legal framework; institution of procedures to be followed as guided by the responsible authority- Independent Electoral Commission, is a key component of nation-building. Such imitative such enhance legitimacy of the regime and its democratic image as well. This segment should not be disenfranchised simply because they live abroad.
As the person in charge of advancing the Diaspora issues in the Office of the President, I suggest that Uganda we should emulate other African countries that have embraced voting either by personal voting; postal voting; the proxy vote; and or through Electronic e-voting.
The writer is a special presidential assistant on diaspora issues