Uganda’s 2021 election is rapidly coming into view and so are the players that will determine how it plays out. It is already clear that this is going to be a unique one in many ways.
GOVERNANCE DEVELOPMENT POLITICS
By Crispin Kaheru
KAMPALA - There's probably nothing new to expect. Incumbents in Africa rarely lose elections. They simply don't organize elections to lose them. That and a lot more was the mood in Nigeria when opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari was pitted against incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.
The corporate Lagosians expected no magic to the contrary. Of course, they knew their country's history better than anyone else. Political analysts could swear by their lives, that the election result would only be announced if it were in favour of incumbent Goodluck.
Pollsters complemented the tenor by pointing to a loss for Buhari or at best a tie between the two frontrunners. Civil society organizations went out halfheartedly. They too thought it was a done deal; no amount of election monitoring or voter education would alter anything.
Predispositions about that election seamlessly reverberated across the local and international scene. Part of the international community, in fact, remained reluctant getting involved with Nigeria's 2015 election. Generally speaking, fate and human tongues had finished conspiring against that election.
Nigeria's Borno state was under siege by the Boko Haram fighters and pockets of violence could be traced across the country. The biometric system that the country had procured to somewhat secure the election failed to function, and so did the website of the election management body. Hackers took control and shutdown INEC's web portal during the electoral season.
Amidst all these, not many people were willing to help because it was fait accompli. Even those who profit from all manner of ‘big business' contracts stood by, watching, as the country descended into what was expected to be the ‘worst election'. It was only one simple realization for the Nigerians; when push comes to shove, they are just by themselves - and themselves alone.
Contrary to the cynicism, Nigeria's 2015 election turned out to be a positively historic milestone. A relatively peaceful election day! The mood didn't change even after the announcement of the election results. Nigerians were later treated to a peaceful transfer of power - from incumbent Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari from the opposition. And life moved on. I remember texting an expat friend who was then based in Abuja, congratulating her for a good election despite the challenges. And she only had this to reply: "thanks, but many of us missed the opportunity to be part of this historic election". It was only later after we spoke that she told me how she was one of those that had called the election just after the presidential nominations.
Uganda's 2021 election is rapidly coming into view and so are the players that will determine how it plays out. It is already clear that this is going to be a unique one in many ways. First, millennials will account for the highest number of eligible voters there has ever been in the country's history. Just imagine; 70% of the projected 19.4 million voters will be aged between 18 and 35.
A cluster that has lived under one political regime. A Google search about characteristics of ‘millennials' has this to reveal: ‘millennials are confident, ambitious, and achievement-oriented.
They also have high expectations of their employers, tend to seek new challenges at work, and aren't afraid to question authority'. Millennials are not homogeneous; but, yes, that's going to be the largest generation of eligible voters come 2021. These demographic changes need to be carefully watched as they unfold. However, how these patterns factor into the election can only depend on who turns-out to vote and the role that other players play.
Let's not be cheated with cynicism - this time around. We've let our distinct identity of civic activism sleep for far too long. And we've at times missed opportunities because of our passivity. Opportunists both from within and without have fully exploited our indifference towards our own governance and development processes. And that is why we all must be alert and vigilant - as we approach 2021. The freebooters are already at it. We should beware of them.
It is we, Ugandans who know our history, our present and the future we want. Let's name our problems, but most importantly, get involved in fixing them. We have the nascent capability and ability to do so. As Ugandans, we ought to be proud of our power to intervene or participate actively in political decision-making processes (and we must use that power). The success of our intervention can only depend on our preparedness and readiness. The next election is potentially an opportunity to test citizens' readiness (only if the election can be framed as part of a "process", not as an "event" or "end"). To contribute meaningfully to 2021, we (the nationals) have to be involved, informed and engaged.
The responsibility of transforming Uganda rests squarely on the shoulders of its citizens, first and foremost. It is we, the citizens that must have the last word on our destiny.
The writer is the Coordinator of the Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)