Uganda is edging towards the eve of an election which unlike any other is getting to be the most anticipated in recent history.
The registered voters, whatever their demographic, are there for the taking – if we have a free and fair election. Many in the Opposition are, however, fretful that without reforms, including the ensuring of a truly independent Electoral Commission and excising the influence of the security forces, the incumbent tenant at State House Entebbe will again enjoy an unfair edge.
Over the last six months, politicians likely to contest for elective political positions during the 2016 general election have been speaking flatteringly of the youth.
On September 16, 2014, Mr Amama Mbabazi, the debonair former prime minister, told some students in Kampala to prepare to take over [political] leadership of the country from the elders.
President Museveni had a fortnight earlier dropped Mr Mbabazi from Cabinet as internal strife threatened to tear the ruling party to bits.
The ‘Mbabazi factor’ continues to ripple through party ranks as Mr Museveni’s backers wonder how to plausibly push through his ‘sole candidature’ as the NRM front man.
More recently, President Museveni and Lord Mayor of Kampala Erias Lukwago have been heard saying the youth have the power to influence Uganda’s politics.
An enigmatic figure, Lukwago is presently toying with the idea of replacing Norbert Mao as president general of the Democratic Party at upcoming party polls – and possibly running for President of Uganda.
First, the youth have been yammering for years that it is their time to lead.
Second, according to Mr Wafula Oguttu, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, President Museveni wants to psyche up Ugandans into warming up to his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, a Brigadier and commanding officer of the Special Forces Command.
“There had been that Muhoozi project, which was a hot potato for him I see something he is trying to do, to prepare our minds to. What will stop his son being among the youth he will hand over power to,” Wafula says.
The so-called ‘Muhoozi Project’ to get the son to succeed the father has been publicly undermined by the 2013 Gen David Sejusa expose and unrelenting criticism which have forced official denials that any such bid exists.
Mr Ofwono Opondo, the deputy spokesperson of the National Resistance Movement, disagrees.
“When President Museveni came from the bush in 1986, he appointed Mugisha Muntu, 29, to be the army commander. Was Muntu his son?” Opondo poses.
Third, Ms Alice Alaso, the secretary general of the Forum for Democratic Change, Uganda’s largest Opposition political party, attributes this interest in the young vote to the 2014 census figures.
“What is hyping it is the recent census. So, people will tell the youth ‘it is your turn, you are the leaders of today’,” Alaso says.
According to the National Population Census 2014 provisional results, there are now 34.8 million Ugandans.
Up to 19 million of these are between one and 18 years of age, thus ineligible to vote.
Those aged 18 – 30 (those described as youth in the Constitution) are 6.4 million, whereas those in the 30 – 60 age bracket are 7.0 million. Ugandans aged 60 and above are 1.4 million, up from 1.1 million in 2002.
In the run–up to the 2011 elections, the Electoral Commission registered 13 million voters, of whom six million were between 18 – 30 years.
Of the 13 million officially declared registered voters, eight million are recorded as having voted. Five million did not vote with many supposedly convinced that it would be a futile exercise since they thought the ruling party had the ballot already rigged.
So, what will influence the youth voters’ preferences in 2016?
Mr Peter Ogwang is the youth Member of Parliament representing eastern Uganda who today sits at the echelons of power as vice chair of NRM Parliamentary Caucus.
He says, “For the youth, there are two issues: unemployment and poverty. These will influence the voting.”
The youth will want to know what the individuals contesting for elective public positions will do to create more jobs and to reduce poverty.
According to the Lost Opportunity: Gaps in Youth Policy and Programming in Uganda report by Action Aid Uganda, Uganda National NGO Forum and Development Research and Training (2012), six in every 10 Ugandan youth are out of work.
If the growing youth unemployment spirals, some fear it could provide fertile ground for another popular revolution. The undercurrent of discontent bubbling under the surface, in those football betting halls right around the country where mainly jobless young people try their hand at the odds, is powder keg.
There are government programmes, such as public works and the youth entrepreneurship scheme that it was hoped would create many jobs.
But the number of job seekers leaving tertiary institutions for the job market annually exponentially outpaces the government’s job creating projects.
In this environment, Mr Opondo says the prevailing peace will influence voters’ preferences.
“The policies that NRM has been implementing impact on the majority of the people therefore, they identify with them. Peace and stability touches everyone.
“The few educated people can complain about unemployment. But the majority of the people will support NRM for other reasons not jobs but for the environment that enables the majority to do what they want to do.”
Up to 80 per cent of Ugandans live in the rural areas even though the pace of rural-urban migration is picking up. The ruling party’s long held position is that masses in the countryside remain blissfully untouched by the message Opposition politicians and civil society activists who have woken up most urban populations to the failures of NRM.
Lost Opportunity says most of the “working age persons in rural areas engage in agriculture and are considered employed”.
According to Money Matters: Financing Illiberal Democracy in Uganda by Julius Kiiza, money will again play an important role in inducing voter behaviour.
Kiiza, a political scientist, attributes this to an obscenely high degree of “financialisation of elections” in a country where poverty remains a daily for more than three quarters of the population. “Those who refuse to give the voters bribes lose precisely because they are perceived to be mean” Kiiza says.
Both the ruling party and the Opposition are culpable in voter bribery, only that the ruling party dishes out more because it has access to State coffers, according to this narrative.
Monetisation of the elections is blamed for the record inflation which hit the economy just before and immediately after the 2011 general elections.
As a result of inflation, people whose wages or salaries had not increased had to dig deeper into their pockets to buy items.
The 2016 elections present the youth with another opportunity to influence the political and legislative agenda.
Both the contestants and the youthful voters are for the taking – and nowhere else more than in the constituency races is the youth vote being courted.
Almost every prospective candidate is saying flowery things about their plans to improve the affairs of young people by creating jobs and fighting poverty.
More than six million votes stand to be heard from this constituency nationwide, a constituency President Museveni sought to excite in 2011 with the ‘Another Rap’ song…
God’s plan that Museveni rules Uganda?
When the cost of living became unbearable, amid rising fuel prices, the Opposition launched the memorable walk-to-work campaign countrywide. Scores were shot dead or injured as a panicked government reacted by unleashing the security forces onto the streets with a ferocity unseen since 2009 Buganda riots.
Many of the people who joined the walk-to-work marches in those chaotic days in April 2011 were youth. The potency of their discontent was a revelation then. Whoever will master their support in 2016 could be onto something.
However, Christopher Twesigye, another political analyst, says there is a limit to the influence money has on voter choices. He cites the Luweero Woman Representative by-election in May 2014 to argue thus.
There, it is claimed the NRM spent more money than the Opposition political parties to seek votes but it still lost the seat to the Democratic Party.
Since 2011, Opposition candidates have won at least eight by-elections for parliamentary seats, including Entebbe Municipality, Kasese Woman, Butambala, Bushenyi Municipality, Bukoto South, Luweero Woman, Jinja Municipality East, Entebbe Municipality and Amuru Woman.
In these contests, the Opposition marshalled forces and waged a joint effort against the NRM money and backing of the State machinery.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor