We are at the climax of a grueling election campaign. Elections begin on Thursday (January 14, 2021) with the election of president and directly elected Members of Parliament (MPs). Subsequently, local council leaders will have their turn. As things stand, it is too late for any contender to change any fundamental aspects of how they will fare at the polls and that chiefly goes to our ever unprepared opposition.
Opposition political parties and independent presidential candidates recently (last week) agreed to form a joint tally centre to coordinate and compute results.
According to the press, the allying entities are the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), National Unity Platform (NUP), Justice Forum (Jeema), Democratic Party, Alliance for National and Transformation (ANT) of Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, Lt Gen. Henry Tumukunde’s Renewed Uganda platform and Dr. Kizza Besigye’s “People’s Government”.
Sitting in Kampala, the teams resolved to use technology and party structures to collect results from polling stations “across the country” as part of their efforts to track performance and how the process will go.
That is okay. The law permits groups and people vying for office in an election to have their own tally centre to help them track their performance. That is a healthy practice, if you ask me. Unfortunately, Uganda’s opposition is ill prepared for such a task. For a start, they appear to have thought of the idea of a tally centre at the last minute. Secondly, they were copying the National Resistance Movement (NRM) which established its tally centre in an undisclosed location last year. Only NRM has a credible tally centre. Opposition cannot have such a platform and the manpower or capacity to run it.
Dr. Besigye himself is said to have warned that what they were working on should have been done long before. “Where is the time? We are talking about 145 districts and that is a gigantic task that needs a lot of resources and effort,” Dr. Besigye is quoted to have said. “The effort and task is huge.”
I fully agree with the former presidential candidate’s fears; the task of establishing such an operation cannot be achieved in a week or even a month. That is why NRM started early. Moreover, the opposition, collectively, has no structures to work through. Only NRM has structures in every cell of the country. Opposition candidates cannot even field candidates and polling agents in most parts of the country. How, then, can they find personnel and resources to coordinate such an operation which requires phones and other gadgets, in so short a time? the idea is good, effort commendable, but it is too little too late.
Uganda’s opposition has never been prepared for any election. That is why they lose and stay in opposition while NRM prepares early and retains power. NRM as it is is already looking at 2026 while the other side can’t look beyond a week. Most of their time is spent running around, attacking Museveni and fighting each other instead of laying strategies on how to reach the ground. No matter how popular one may be, without being organised, little can be achieved. I have heard some groups celebrating that they are “unorganized” but they expect to win a game of the organised. It is a wrong “investment”.
These groups have refused to accept that building structures is a foundational technicality for success. Someone with structures has more chances of making an impression in politics. It is like building on a rock while populists build on the sand; they are unable to prove their presence among the people but want to impose themselves in the picture.
The declaration on the joint tally centre was overseen by respected elder, Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere but his presence alone could not remedy the unpreparedness of the allying entities. Remember that they previously declared that they had formed something along the lines of “united forces of change; I predicted that it wouldn’t last or work. Where is it now? If they could not sustain that simple plan which was only a matter of willingness, what of something that technical? What are their international benefactors doing if they can’t help them develop such capacity? Anyway, the opposition joint tally centre is a sham and only meant to hoodwink the public that they are prepared for the elections.
Everybody should watch them carefully because they may manufacture results and claim to have used their tally centre to gather them.
I also wish to remind all stakeholders that only the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is mandated to conduct all electoral processes as it has been doing, and declare the results officially. It is logical that a participating party or person cannot be entrusted with the mandate of announcing results because they would be biased and declare only those that favour them. Let anybody who can have a monitoring and tracking centre and gather what they can but the role of officially telling Ugandans who got what in the elections remains exclusive to the IEC. It has been equipped by the tax payer to deliver on that role and I am sure that it will do what is in its best ability. Anybody who tries to usurp this mandate should be prepared for the consequences.
The author is a Presidential Assistant in Charge of Media Management