The African Elections Watch is concerned about the mockery of democratic principles and processes in the General elections underway in Uganda. Our undertaking as a continent is to call for free and fair elections. Democracy has consistently been threatened in East Africa, from what was seen in Burundi, Tanzania and now Uganda. It tells of systemic violations on freedom of expression, association, rights to information and participation in public affairs through the self-determination process of elections.
It is concerning that the Uganda authorities have denied accreditation to most interested parties to observe the election, only allowing a selected group of observers. On 13th January, a day before elections, the U.S cancelled its plans to deploy a diplomatic election observation mission in the election citing the Electoral Commission’s denial of most of its observation missions. While the European Union had committed an election observation delegation, it also pulled out its diplomatic observation mission after the cancellation by the U.S.
Today on the date of the general elections we have received reports from the civil society observers noting the high turnout, an indication of the great interest by Ugandans to determine their country’s destiny. Unfortunately, we have also received information that as late as 9.00 a.m. polling materials were yet to be delivered to several polling stations, e.g. in Kabarole, Kasese and so on. In Gulu, 6 Polling Stations had not received voting materials; in several areas including Gulu and Jinja, polling station faced substantive delays in opening.
Additionally, we are concerned by the poor COVID 19 protocols set out by the Uganda Communication Commission and the government as a whole. The situation is further worsened by the widespread failure of Biometric Voter Verification Kits. We have also received reports of Party Agents being rejected at Polling Stations, and being intimidated in others, e.g. in Ntungamo and Jinja; as a response to the failure if the BVV kits The Uganda Electoral Commission has resorted to manual verification.
We are deeply concerned that the African continental body, the African Union (AU) did not deploy any election observation mission contrary to its mandate of promoting and deepening democracy and democratic elections on the continent, as enshrined in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which entered into force on 15th February 2012, the OAU/AU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa), and the African Union Guidelines for Election Observation and Monitoring Missions.
We have learnt with apprehension, the complete shutdown of the internet which compromises key communication spaces and the right for Ugandans to follow a democratic application of mandate by leaders in Ugandan. It is even more worrying that even mobile money services have been disenabled in a country and a region where most people use mobile money for access to essential goods and services. The African Elections Watch demands an immediate switch on the internet for utility by all Ugandans. Communication channels and the right to information are critical at all times, but the threshold for their open use is more important during people processes like general elections
We take note of the heavy deployment of the military to patrol the streets when Ugandans are keen to participate in this very important process amounts to intimidation and an indication that the process fails the credibility of a free and fair process.
We, therefore, call on the AU to represent the needs of the continent and address issues that are facing people of Uganda, by among other things taking strong measures against democratic recession, human rights violations and dictatorship in line with the African Union African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. The AU must go beyond only nominally committing countries in the continent to electoral democracy. In particular, we call on the AU to:
- To NOT recognise the declared presidential election result;
- To suspend Uganda in terms of the provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG);
- Convene talks to restore democratic governance to Uganda;
- Discuss especially what is the role of the military in civilian policing, and what constraints and accountability should there be;
- Address the growing risk of contagion in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa region. At this rate, there will be no silencing of the guns in our continent and especially in our region!
We urge the East African Community (EAC) Election Observation Mission, as one of the few election observation missions accredited to observe Uganda elections, to address key democratic principles and standards that the Uganda elections must meet in accordance with the Durban Declaration on Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa, and to include human rights monitoring as a key element of your brief.
The EAC has in the past been criticised for not adding much to the credibility of elections and accused of endorsing the legitimacy of highly flawed electoral processes, especially when elections fell short of acceptable standards. This must change.
We call upon the U.S government to address the grave human rights abuses committed by President Yoweri Museveni and his administration. Deployment of the military, before, during and immediately after the elections has immediate consequences on peoples’ rights and freedom, including the violence and other forms of threats and intimidation already documented.
While the U.S has the power, influence, and resources to create positive change for human rights beyond its borders, the U.S continues to send military aid to Uganda despite its despicable human rights record. This is equivalent to funding repression. We appeal to the U.S President-Elect Joe Biden to commit to be consistent in defending human rights in Uganda and address the U.S foreign policy and engagement with Uganda, including re-considering ongoing military aid.
We appeal to all world leaders and Uganda development partners to call upon authorities in Uganda to promote and respect democratic rights and freedoms, especially in the conduct of the 2020 elections and beyond. While we call upon you to speak out explicitly against violence and threats of violence, we also ask you to condemn state-sponsored violence, threats and intimidation of real or perceived critics of President Yoweri Museveni and his administration.
World leaders must look beyond powerful national, political and diplomatic vested interests and call upon Uganda authorities to ensure that the 2020 elections, including vote, tallying and result in announcement meet international human rights standards and that they are held in an environment in which all can exercise their fundamental rights. President Yoweri Museveni must respect the right of all Ugandans to take part in the conduct of public affairs, including the right to vote and to stand for election without threat to state violence.
To all Ugandans – we stand in solidarity with you!
Kenya Human Rights Commission
Pan African Lawyers Association
The Orature Collective
Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI)