Article by H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni President of the Republic of Uganda on election rigging in Uganda 1961 – 2014

Sunday 25th May 2014

As soon as the Universal elective processes were introduced in Uganda, the shallow opportunists immediately hatched two schemes of winning power against the democratic phenomena.

One scheme was sectarianism and the other was election rigging.

Both result in the negating of the democratic process because they distort the results of the process.

People who should not have been elected are elected because of sectarian intoxication or because of cheating.

In this article, I will deal with the election rigging. On another occasion, I will deal with sectarianism and other political issues.

The practitioners of rigging in the 1961 and 1962 elections were the Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC).

By 1961, I was 17 years old and I was beginning to be active in the Democratic Party (DP) Youth League.

Since the Youth League of DP was not well organized, I was really self-mobilized because of the sectarian politics the elite had been pushing for some time – undermining the Uganda National Congress (UNC) which had started with a patriotic platform – at least in rhetoric.

The UPC, apart from co-sponsoring sectarianism along with DP, had the additional mistake of systematically rigging the elections of 1961, 1962 and 1980.

How did they do it? They started with the election law, assisted by a British official (whether he did so consciously or not, I cannot tell), known as Peagram.

Every Political Party had to have its own ballot box, ballot papers had only Party symbols (a hoe for DP, an open palm for UPC and one finger for KY) and the Party symbols were simply glued on the top of the ballot box - an opaque wooden one.

Then a grass made enclosure (akakaari), similar to the old rural urinal places in the schools, was built so as to hide the ballot box allegedly to ensure secret voting so that the people in the queue did not see which party you ticked.

It was in the secrecy of that polling booth that pre-ticked ballots would be stuffed into the ballot box and even the labels glued on the ballot boxes could be swapped if the officials discovered that the box of the unwanted Party was heavier than the one of the favoured party.

On all this, you add underage voting. I neither voted in the elections of 1961 nor the one of 1962 because the voting age was 21 years at that time. As already pointed out above, I was 17 years by the end of 1961. However, my late Comrade Eriya Kategaya, who was only one year older than me and, therefore, also under age, did not only vote, but he voted 8 times according to his own admission to me later.

He was in UPC while, as already said, I was in DP. 

Then there was the issue of Constituency gerrymandering. Constituencies had no fixed boundaries. The boundaries would be made on an ad hoc basis for each election. 

This was in order to use one sectarian group to dilute the strength of another one in terms of numbers. You, therefore, had a constituency like Ankole North East.

It covered the Counties of Kashaari, Nyabushoozi-Kazo and Ibanda. In the 1980 elections, some sub-counties of Nyabushozi were taken to Kashaari and the ones of Ibanda were brought to Nyabushozi.

Counting was never done on the same day. Immediately after voting, all the boxes had to be brought to Mbarara, over a number of days, where the counting was done.

Along the way, a lot of mischief was done. 

This is not to mention election violence and intimidation, especially by KY in Buganda in 1961-62 and UPC in the 1980 elections.

It did not take long for this system to collapse. By 1964 (just two years after independence), the whole political alliance of KY and UPC was tottering on the edge of collapse on account of the lost Counties of Bunyoro (the now Kibaale district) as well as parts of Mubende, Nakasongola, Kiboga and parts of Kayunga.

Riots broke out, the late Sir Edward Mutesa shot seven Banyoro at Ndaiga etc.

By 1966, the whole system collapsed, resulting in the suspension of the Constitution, the overthrow of Mutesa as President of Uganda and Kabaka of Buganda and the abolition of the Kingdoms (Buganda, Bunyoro, Tooro and Busoga) as well as the other new chiefdoms that had come up (Lango, Bugisu, etc).

That crisis, eventually, led to the one of 1971 when Amin made a coup detat etc etc.

The sum total of all this was that by 1986, a total of 800,000 Ugandans had died on account of the extra – judicial killings that followed the two mistakes – sectarianism and election rigging.

33 mass graves have been preserved in the Luwero Triangle, containing 70,000 skulls. The economy had shrunk by 40% between 1971 and 1986. 

When, therefore, the NRM came into Government in 1986, apart from disciplining the Army, challenging sectarianism and repairing the economy, our other task was to try and end election rigging.

What did we do? Right from when we expanded the NRC in 1989, we legislated that a constituency must coincide with the existing administrative boundaries – i.e. a County or a cluster of sub-counties of the same county. Never would, again, sub-counties of one county be transferred to another county in order to make ad hoc constituencies.

When it came to the Universal suffrage of 1993/94, we provided for one ballot paper, one ballot box but in the open where everybody can see, pictures of candidates on the ballot papers, more recently we have provided for transparent ballot boxes, counting immediately after polling at each polling station, candidate agents at each polling station etc.

We thought that we would eliminate election rigging in this way. To see how much we tried to fight rigging, we, initially relied on people lining behind candidates.

It, actually worked very well. We only changed when it came to the CA elections because of the need for secret ballot - to protect the choice of the voters.

However, the weakness of the system was that it was based on two factors: integrity of election officials, on the one hand, as well as the loyalty and vigilance of the candidate agents.

Where these three – integrity of the election officials, loyalty and vigilance of the candidate agents, are lacking, then the whole system collapses. We are back to 1961, 1962 and 1980.

Especially elements from the opposition, totally lacking in ideology or mission other than thirst for power and money, engage in rigging where the NRM vigilance goes down.

I have got information to this effect - in the case of the bye-elections of Bushenyi, Entebbe, Kasese and, just the other day, in Luwero. In Kampala it has been habitual.

On the eve of the 2011 General elections, one intelligence contact brought me election officials in the Kampala area who told me how the rigging was done.

With the collusion of election officials, somebody comes with pre-ticked ballots under long sleeves and with a sign.

When the elections official gives him the official vote to cast, he goes to the basin where we tick the votes, removes the votes under the sleeve and casts all of them as if they are one.

Then the riggers would have agreed with the corrupt election officials to tick the names of the absentee voters or those who died or shifted or even the ones still in the village so that when they come to vote, they are told that they have already voted.

If there is no strong Party organization, the peasants can be intimidated and back off. This is, of course, along with the NRM weakness in terms of organization.

There ought to be some party official at each polling station to cope with these schemes. Somebody who votes should have his or her finger dipped in indelible ink.

I, however, heard that the ink is sometimes not indelible - that it can be washed off.

In the recent case of Luwero, a rumour was passed around by somebody, telling voters not to walk to the Polling stations. That the NRM will send money or vehicles for transport.

Hence, many voters stayed at home and the corrupt election officials, along with the criminal opposition, used the absentee names for ticking in favour of the anti-NRM candidate.

This is partly due to the weakness within the NRM. Why not detect those schemes and counter-act them using the radios? 

It is for this reason that I have been insisting on computerized voting for almost 20 years - especially the use of electronically read thumb-print.

It is a pity that Africans need to be supervised by machines on account of lack of integrity, lack of loyalty and lack of vigilance.

I had told the NRM Candidate in Luwero, Nalwanga, that she must have, at least, 600 loyal colleagues of hers, one per village, to monitor these schemes.

It is bad for the opposition to cheat but it is also bad for the NRM to be lax and disorganized. 

After the cheating in Bushenyi, we designed a counter system to protect the NRM votes.

NRM agents would have their own exercise books and record by name the people that would come to vote so that we would be able to compare with the final totalling.

Of course, we would not know for whom each person voted; but we would know that the total was so much.

We did it in a few constituencies and it worked well. However, in Luwero, I was told by Dr. Mushemeza that the Electoral Commission stopped it. Why?

Yet I have reported to the Police and the Electoral Commission all the cheatings we have unearthed.

The Opposition cheat because the NRM has put forward a patriotic platform and this has undermined the previous sectarian platforms of these groups by exposing the bankruptcy of sectarianism.

The people look with contempt and skepticism at the pseudo-ideology of sectarianism, male-chauvinism and general mendacity.

Instead of the Opposition learning from the people, they either concoct lies or rig aided by the weaknesses in the NRM.

However, the law will punish those who have made it a habit to usurp the sovereignty of the people of Uganda by rigging.

Besides, the computerization will end this new betrayal of the people as if the old mistakes were not enough.

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni


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