Friday, February 18, 2011

Uganda Votes…Uganda Decides?

One of the unique experiences I’m having right now is the chance to witness an African presidential election first-hand. Elections in Africa are notorious for being unfair, non-democratic, split along ethnic lines, rigged, and even violent, whether on the part of the candidates (who throw each other in jail or worse) or on the part of citizens who are angry with the results, often because they suspect the results have been altered in favor of the ruling party. The current president, Yoweri Museveni, has been in office for 25 years (after he changed the constitution to eliminate the 2-term limit), so no matter the outcome of the elections, I can imagine people will be upset.

So far, things in my village have been peaceful and celebratory. One of the candidates for Member of Parliament (like a Congressman) came to our village the other night and a big crowd showed up, everyone excited to hear speeches and then dance/celebrate afterwards. However, I was slightly appalled by a story my neighbor had told me earlier – she and 9 others had met this candidate before and told him they were a women’s group raising goats and needed money to buy more goats for the group. He gave them money to help their cause, not realizing (or at least not admitting) that it was a fictitious group and they all spent the money on clothes, beer, etc. Now they’re all going to vote for him. While candidates in America spend a large part of their campaign money on commercials, tours, billboards, etc., here they literally buy votes, whether with money or just things like t-shirts (which are not even affordable for some people here). People often say they won’t vote for a candidate unless they are given something directly. It frustrates me that people seem to care less about the issues and beliefs of the candidate than what type of hand-out they’ll get prior to voting, but if you’re impoverished it might be more important to get money to feed your family this week than how the next president will increase the number of children in school or improve national security.

It’s interesting to hear the opinions of people around me. Some openly admit that their elections are not free and fair, others say the opposite. Most deny that violence ever occurs during elections, while others say there will be trouble. While I can’t take an open political stance, or show favor for a certain party of candidate, due to my affiliation with Peace Corps and the U.S. government, I can say that I hope Uganda can make improvements on previous elections and make the entire governmental system more democratic.

Elections are today, and the results will be announced on Monday. If there are any riots or trouble with elections, it will mostly likely not occur in my small village but rather be in the towns and cities. President Museveni is voting in Kiruhura District, where I live (he’ll vote about 45 minutes away from me but right where one of my PCV friends lives so I hope it goes well). I will keep you all updated on how things go in the next few days. I’m hoping that it all goes smoothly and we can continue serving in Uganda as Peace Corps Volunteers.

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