Monday, March 21, 2011

One Month On

Post election violence in Kenya, Mugabe in Zimbabwe and the recent troubles in Egypt, Ivory Cost, Tunisia and Libya, we’ve all seen how things can quickly get out of hand when it comes to politics in Africa. Therefore I was somewhat nervous about being in Uganda in the lead up to elections here. But thankfully, here we are a month since Museveni was announced as President for another 5 years and all is still calm, I can only hope that things stay this way. But what is it that makes Africans so passionate about politics?

Boda drivers awaiting the NRM candidate's arrival
One of the major issues that blights African politics is the length of time that leaders are in power.  In Uganda, Museveni has been in power my entire lifetime and now that he has recently been re-elected there is talk of extending term lengths from 5 to 7 years so I could be 32 by the time Uganda votes again. Whilst this does bring stability, which in the case of Uganda was essential after the regimes of Amin and Obote, it also allows for political stagnancy. Promising x,y and z when you’ve already been in power for 25 years seems almost ridiculous after all what have you been doing for all that time? This split voters into those who saw Museveni as a force for stability and opposition as potentially bringing back the issues of tribalism and those who saw Museveni as stagnant and the opposition as a change for good. Both camps were vehemently opposed to the other.

Many voters are swayed not by issues but rather by personalities. In fact many of the candidates’ stances on various issues were not entirely clear. Rather they won voters with their looks, smiles, personalities. Nearly all politicians at some point during their rallies dance along with the crowds, showing that they are one of ‘the people’. Museveni took it one step further, not content with simply dancing he released a rap song to ingratiate himself with the youth vote.

Rallying is clearly a serious business
However it seems that money is the root of all voting. As one person told me “people vote for money, rarely anything else”. Boda drivers were given petrol money and other gifts (money, t shirts, bandanas) to take part in NRM rallies. In the village small sums, candles and other minor gifts were distributed. Then there’s the sheer cost of the various party campaigns. The disparity between them was for me, the most startling thing about the February 2011 elections. NRM, the ruling parry, simply blew everyone else out of the water with their campaign. Their rallies were numerous and began months before any one elses. They flew Coco Finger from Juba to Kampala just to perform for a rally and Bebe Cool another musical heavyweight was singing for the cause despite the fact that his own father, Bidani Ssali was running for the PPP.

As they say money talks, and in this case the voters answered. So it’ll be Museveni for at least another 5 years, it will be interesting to see the public reaction if he is successful in extending terms from five to seven years after all he has already done away with maximum term limits. Only time will tell the true cost of these elections, I just hope it won’t be too costly.

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