OPINION: Money and votes in Uganda’s politics who loses?

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OPINION: Money and votes in Uganda’s politics who loses?


By Namanya Boaz

Not so long ago, a friend teased me of how Ugandans are democratic because they (we) engage in periodic elections but I reminded him that elections held in Uganda are just a shadow of democracy.

Anyway, do we live in a democracy? Yes and No… Democratic regimes and representative institutions are based on free and fair elections. 

True, because elections constitute an important strand in van guarding democracy, but have we ever as a country held any free and fair election? 

Political parties on the other hand play a key role in representative government by nominating candidates for office, running governments when they are the ruling party, or holding governments accountable when they are not. 

Trust in the political system depends on the extent to which officeholders and political parties are responsive to the citizenry between elections.

The just concluded party primary elections are the most expensive and hotly contested elections that have been held since 2015 primary elections though not all and it’s the second time there is a row of stiff competition among the members of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Democratic Party (DP) among other parties and not forgetting the violence that marred the process in various districts. 

(We will talk about the issues of the new kids on the block NUP & ANT later).

So from a critical perspective, more than many billions of shillings has been sunk in this election and much as money can buy votes is more likely where political competition is high, other electorates seemingly applied retrospective voting of more or less “throw the rascals out”. 

One thing that should be noted is that money is all over the place in the country and splashed in Ugandan politics! Election campaigns, political parties, interest groups, nonprofit organizations et al all depend heavily on money, or more broadly speaking on material resources most especially those generated during electioneering. 

Obviously, if voters’ behavior is determined by non-evaluative rationales such as clientelism, then the purpose of self-rule by representative government is defeated and this is because there is likelihood of not only voter apathy but reluctance by a “vote buyer” to first recover what they spent during campaigns.

Besides, it becomes very hard or even impossible for people who sold their vote and conscience to a politician to demand for accountability because one cannot have their cake and eat it too. 

Right from the early times of representative democracy, politicians have struggled to develop ways of financing political competition to enhance the democratic process without putting at risk key values of democracy. The negative effect of money on politics has been denounced by reformers and observers alike. 

At best, money has been looked at as a necessary evil. The ability of money to enhance the democratic process has deserved less attention than it mandates.

The election effect is strongest in low-income areas, with a large fraction of the population below the poverty line and with low levels of education and if one might ask, where are the billions of shillings when (and where) there are no elections? …..Does a political party only exist to nourish it and not the citizenry who put the party in power?

All in all, it takes only courageous politicians to implement the policies we already know we need. The majority of Ugandan politicians, even the well-intentioned ones, are often unable to implement good policies, because bad policies are needed for their political survival. 

The reality of the politics of Uganda is that vote-buying will stay until the citizens realize that the winning politicians will likely not deliver the promised services after buying your vote. 

Yes, very true and this draws me to whether or not we need political education if we were to have useful elections. It is unarguable that many Ugandan voters know nothing or little about politics and governance. 

Maybe they no longer care about anything replica of that because it seems to make no remarkable impact to the status quo.

Bryan Caplan, an American economist wrote in his book titled The Myth of the Rational Voter that “What voters don’t know would fill a university library” and Ugandans can put this to test by selecting ten random voters to the nearest bookshop or library around you.

 Pick at random ten different books on economy, history, political science, government (governance), and you will find out that this American economist was correct about his statement, because it is possible that seven voters of these ten know nothing in those books, if not all the ten voters.

In fact, a lot of Ugandan electorates do not know who controls what aspect in the government, so they often vote based on political parties, the flow of money and candidates’ popularity.

While it is evident that most voters are ignorant, some are still highly informed. Unfortunately, about 40% of the highly informed voters are badly informed. It turns out most highly informed voters process political information in deeply biased and partisan ways. 

Enough of them are politically informed but are being used as agents of political propaganda by cunning and selfish politicians. 

The ones that are not directly used by these cunning politicians, most times, consume news and information in a harmful manner, which makes them averagely informed citizens and this is as a result of the spurious information they receive.

Meanwhile, most Ugandan politicians are neither creative nor intelligent; let me assume that most of them have learnt the art of being cunning and deceitful. 

They know the perfect way to get the ignorant voters, averagely informed voters and those I call the media manipulators dance to their tune.

People ordinarily do not want to think because thinking has become a tough work for a great number of Ugandans. 

Have you ever wondered why political propaganda sells so fast? Well, it is because; there is no critical thinking to puncture it.

We dull down our thinking and accept empty promises.

The Writer is the Public Relations Coordinator & News Editor at 90.0 Peak FM Kabale.

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