Uganda’s politics of alcohol, soap, salt and sugar?

This article has been reproduced from the Socialist Standard (October 2001), the monthly journal of The Socialist Party of Great Britain

At last, like the presidential elections, the parliamentary elections are over. This was a month of violence, harassment, intimidation and torture on one side and merrymaking (in a form of “gifts”—alcohol, salt pieces of soap, sugar and cash in exchange for votes) on the other hand. The campaigns attracted many people, especially the rallies of those candidates who were well and easy on their pockets. Here, like anywhere else, the standard by which men and women are judged is their material possessions. Even if you have ideas or initiative, if you are broke you must go without. Those without money dwell in the darkness of inescapable poverty (despite being in the midst of potential plenty), ever wrestling with the torment of survival in a world dominated by the fast buck. So it would have appeared a miracle for a poor but reasonable person to sail through and make it to parliament.

On the other hand, there was controversy when the president turned out and started campaigning in favour of some candidate and campaigning against some others on grounds that the favoured ones were “pro-movement”. In some parts of the country the electoral process was militarised. This was mostly in places where supporters of multiparty politics were contesting along with the historicals of president’s movement system and/or his personal friends. This resulted in violence where some people lost their lives.

Most contestants bribed voters to the extend of buying the poor needy voters, blankets, mattresses, bicycles and hoes, in the expectation that out of which excitement the poor voters would eventually not resist voting for such candidates even if it was clear that the candidate was a non-performer. This is not surprising given that recently Transparency International ranked Uganda as the third most corrupt country in the world. In fact some candidates went as far as spending over U shs 900 millions (£360,000).

Most manifestos centred on poverty, as if the contestants had a formula to eliminate it or as if they had just realised that they were living with poor people. Their opportunity was to capitalise on this biting poverty in most Uganda’s homes. Their elaboration of how poverty could be eliminated was insincere on the candidates’ part, given that poverty cannot be eliminated under capitalism and especially in a country like Uganda where a majority don’t have enough and the right education and civilisation.

There was talk about health programmes, education, security and peace yet in some places these rallies could not take place because of insecurity – due to rebel activities. The candidates came with programmes for bringing health to all yet since about twenty years ago the Ministry of Health has been running an advert in the name of “Health for all by the year 2000”. This is 2001 and most people here in Uganda are still dying of curable diseases such as typhoid, dysentery and malaria.

So their manifestos seem to be disabled ones.

Then we come to voting day. Most of the candidates and their supporters saw this as a day determining between life and death. They became aggressive so as to win the election. Winning indeed would be the only way by which they could recover the money used in bribing voters. Once elected they could get access to public funds and embezzle it. They could, as well, get high salaries and allowances. On polling day voters who supported poor candidates and those candidates who were not favoured by the president were harassed and intimidated. Some were even refused voting but the supporters of the favoured and rich candidates were allowed to vote more than once, to vote in other people’s names – the dead and the absent.

Uganda is a country that has been infested with wars before and after the so-called independence. It seems here the needs of democracy are planted on unfertile grounds. Most folk here don’t have a proper understanding and education of the world we live in, capitalistic society based on profit and competition, and the next stage of society—socialism that will depend on contribution to society by individuals based on individuals’ ability and where individuals take from society according to their self-determined needs. No ruler and no ruled, then and only then would be true democracy, a proper voting process and would there be value of the vote.

Weijagye Justus

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