One of the pick up trucks that formed part of my convoy throughout the constituency during the campaign. It carried a Public Address System, and campaign posters to distribute.
This document is an account of what I saw when I contested for Parliament in Kisoro District in South Western Uganda in 2011. I simply described every event in detail, documenting the absurdity of poverty, desperation, and their intersection with voter bribery and consequently with the state of electoral democracy in rural Uganda in particular, and in the whole country (and probably in most of the Third World) in general. I compiled this 5 years a go after the race, from the notes I had taken during the campaign. I believe my experience is a microcosm of what elections in Uganda have come to represent, and speaks to the wider governance problems we have, and why we are not yet about to outgrow them unless we have a seismic change in attitudes of all stakeholders in the governance ecosystem.
Here is an excerpt: (A full document can be downloaded after the jump)
Mr. Smart Lawrence
“…On December 17, I met a gentleman named Smart Lawrence (as strange as that might sound, it was [is] his real name) a 23 year old from Sooko parish in Muramba sub-county. He found me at Mirembe guest house in Kisoro town, after frantically trying to reach me by phone for days. Lawrence claimed that he had a drama and acting group, comprising of 90 members.
He said they were all my supporters but they had one problem. They didn’t have drums to complete their music equipment set. They apparently had pooled sh30,000 from each member but they were still falling short. That’s why he was meeting me. “We are behind you 100%”, he kept saying repeatedly. We do not disappoint those we support. We don’t abandon them. We are reliable and we stick with one candidate throughout, he said. “Uwo turiiriye niw’uwo”, he concluded, meaning in Rufumbira; ‘whosoever’s money we eat, that’s the one we stick with).
It was one of the most difficult 30 minutes I had had so far. Yet Lawrence kept on his charm offensive. The whole group had wanted to come to see me, he said, but he dissuaded them. He informed me that the following day, the group would be competing in Murora sub-county, in the “Inter sub-county cultural dance competitions” which were apparently sponsored by the brewer of Senator Beer (had not heard of such an event, a strange thing given that I was tuned in to all the happenings in my constituency).
Smart said he had advice for me, given that among my opponents I had the least amount of money; “You should simply give people whatever little you have and they will appreciate and give you the votes. They know you are poor. If you fight on our behalf by supporting us, there is no way we can’t do the same for you”, he counselled. I don’t remember what I told Smart to get him off my back, but what I remember well is that I gave him no money.
For the next few weeks until the election, Smart harangued me, asking for contributions to his ‘group’. I was later told that that’s the same thing he did with the other campaigns. In fact One of my agents from another sub-county told me Smart’s ragtag group of dancers were the official entertainers of one of my rivals and that they open each of his events with their performances!”
What Smart was trying to do; get money from a politician for himself was all too familiar. ‘Projects’ such as fundraising for schools, churches, Saving groups, Arts groups, etc, spring up during campaign periods all over Uganda. It’s one of voters’ ploys to squeeze money from politicians. Is it absurd? Of course! Did it surprise me? No! Politics in Uganda is a give and take endeavor. Some politicians call rural voters stupid and poor. I agree they are poor but they are not stupid. They know these local politicians, after getting elected can’t do anything in terms of bringing them public services. They try to get their cut from them before these fellas are elected never to come back. The politicians recoup their money after they get elected, by awarding themselves huge salaries, vehicles and getting bribes. That’s how the game is played. Everyone, including the ‘stupid’ voters knows this.
Full account here https://ugandanenglish.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/look-after-me-uglish.pdf
Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @BernardSabiti