Uganda: Covering the election’s final stretch

We are coming to the final stretch.

After nearly three months of campaigns Ugandans will go to the polls in about a week’s time to elect the next president and members of parliament.

What can journalists and the media do in these remaining days to help voters make informed decisions?

By now it is unlikely that many candidates can say anything they have not already said on the stump. Therefore, excessive attention to candidate promises would not be doing a big service to the voters.

At this point journalists should be paying more attention to the big picture. They should be providing the kind of information that can help put the events unfolding in context—the sort of context that helps voters gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics at play, projections, and trends.

Here are some possibilities:

Who is leading and why?

Here the media have mostly relied on opinion polls. The opposition has trashed the most recent poll, by Afrobarometer, that shows President Museveni leading in the field. The NRM, naturally, has welcomed the result. The opposition, however, has welcomed the finding that suggests that the NRM is leader in paying people so that they can cove for its candidates. The NRM has dismissed that part of the poll. This cherry-picking of results from one poll is clear deception by both sides. It would be great, however, if the media could enrich the poll results with their own original reporting.

For instance,

  • Does what is on the ground show Museveni has made the kind of inroads the polls suggest in eastern and northern Uganda?
  • What explains Museveni/NRM gains at a time when voters are mad at corruption in government, the poor state of health and education, as well as roads?
  • what explains FDC leader Kizza Besigye’s and the opposition’s poor show, going by the poll findings?
  • The media could also tell voters what the opinion poll results were like in 2006. Did they turn out to be accurate?

Who are the candidates, especially those who want to be president?

What kind of family life do they lead? What businesses and charity work are they engaged in? What has shaped their views? What are their religious backgrounds, hobbies, previous leadership experience, encounter with the law, among other elements? All these things could still be mined to provide voters with thorough profiles of the candidates.

What issues have defined these elections? 

How have the different candidates and the parties positioned themselves around those issues? What role has foreign policy played this election? Has the end of the norther war changed the electoral map? How?

How have voters reacted to the different campaigns?

  • Are the engaged and participating or despondent and alienated?
  • What is the project turnout? How does it compare to previous elections?
  • What do turn-out patterns, from 1980 to 2011, after 30 years of elections, tell us about the growth or decline of voting culture?
  • Are the crowds that we see in the newspapers of genuine and active supporters or are they simply of people who are bussed from rally to rally, or better still people who have come to get some crumbs from the politicians?
  • What vote-getting strategies have the different parties/candidates employed? In Kampala, we have seen a lot of billboard advertising for instance. Is this the same upcountry? What about radio and television advertising and kakuyege (door-to-door campaigns)?
  • What has been the role of money in the campaign? Who is spending what? Where is the money coming from?

Whatever happened to Suubi?

How has the fight for the Buganda vote shaped up? Why did Museveni and the NRM pick a fight with Mengo over the law regulating the conduct of traditional leaders at election time?

How is the Electoral Commission fairing?

The EC is very central to the conduct of free and fair elections. It would, therefore, be nice for the public to know every single thing – to the extent that is possible – going on there in relation to the administration of the elections. How prepared is the EC to-date? Compared to the same point in time in 2006, is the electoral body doing better or worse? Has it followed its own work plan, surpassed it, or fallen behind? And why?

Additional  possibilities:

  • How fair and credible has the process been thus far? How does the situation compare to previous Ugandans elections, elections in other African countries, and international best practice?
  • How informed are the voters about the election (both the technicalities and the issues)? Have efforts at civic education by both the EC and civil society worked?
  • Will the youth vote be a factor in this election? More than 60 percent of eligible voters are young people below 30. How is their participation? Will they vote? What is driving them? Who are they likely to vote for?
  • What is the distribution of voters like? What are the figures for the different regions? To whose advantage do additions to the voter lists work?
  • What are the “battlegrounds” in this election? How have these areas voted in the past? What is likely to change, if at all, this time? Why?
  • What does the reception and performance of Beti Kamya tell us about Uganda’s readiness to have a female president?
  • Compared to previous elections, we have not seen much electoral violence this time. Why? Will the current atmosphere be maintained? Or is this the proverbial calm before the storm?
  • The erosion of the value of shilling continues. Compared to previous elections, which had far more drama, this has been exceptional. What explains this? There is word that the government has printed money for the first time in nearly 20 years. Is this true? What is going on?
  • What role has civil society (including religious groups such as the Inter Religious Council of Uganda) played in this election? What tactics has civil society used? How different is the approach this time from 2006?

About Peter G. Mwesige

Dr Mwesige is co-founder and executive director of the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) Email: mwesige@acme-ug.org; Twitter: @pmwesige

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