DISCLAIMER: This is a fun post for my non-Ugandan readers. Ugandans already know what happened.
On Thursday, February 18, 2016, Uganda held hotly contested presidential and parliamentary elections. Although the following days delivered unsatisfying news for many, the famously wry Ugandan sense of humour reigned throughout. People chose to laugh to keep from crying.
Election day itself was (mostly) peaceful, though fraught with problems involving late or absent ballots at polling stations, or technology issues regarding the thumbprint identity machines. Most of the problems were found in urban polling stations, largely opposition strong holds. In the end, voters waited patiently for hours in the hot sun, some voting as late as the next day. However, when lunch was brought for polling station staff, voters chased them off. And when teargas trucks arrived to enforce peace, voters shared a desperate laugh, wondering how food and teargas could travel faster then ballots.
By government order, Uganda was frozen out of social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp, major communication tools used largely by urban Ugandans. Huge numbers of tech-savy social media users got around the blockade by downloading VPNs and continued communicating in their usual manner.
Reporters and party observers, based at various polling stations around the country, took to Twitter to announce vote counts as they happened. However, it soon became apparent that official figures, as released by Uganda Electoral Commission, didn’t necessarily match those circulating on Twitter. Whether this was because of differences in the way polling station reports were being added to the official tally, or because of outright vote rigging, Ugandans quickly began losing faith in the Electoral Commission.
When the incumbent was announced the winner, people weren’t surprised. They weren’t happy either. Instead, they were savagely hilarious.
Truthfully, the situation in Uganda isn’t all fun and games. There are well-reported, serious allegations of electoral irregularities. Local and international observers have commented and made recommendations. Our main opposition leader has been arrested over 7 times since February 18th, and today remains under house arrest. While he wishes to legally contest the election results, government security forces are keeping him detained, basically barring him from doing so, within the 10 day post-election period.
In response, our president has been his usual self – arrogantly, chillingly, entertaining:
“I told [US Secretary of State] Kerry not to worry a lot about the internal affairs of Uganda because we know how to handle the issues, and I will call the [new United States] Ambassador and tell her the things she does not know about Uganda.” Published here in The Daily Monitor
Monday’s New Vision published these quotable quotes from our newly re-elected president:
“I don’t need lectures from anybody…Those Europeans are not serious.”
“Anybody who is trying to challenge the results of this election must not be serious…If anyone was rigging, why did we not rig in Kampala? Why did we agree to lose where we can rig?”
On the opposition leader’s repeated detainment and continued house arrest, “he can’t be allowed to invade our peace” – The Observer.
Ugandans continue to vote for their local leadership today and over the coming weeks. The government is, indeed, enforcing a tentative peace. Ugandans, for the most part, are getting back to normal life. It’s been an emotional week, and we’re exhausted!
NOTE: The cover photo for this blog post is credited to This is Uganda. I highly suggest checking out their blog. They share stories about Ugandan innovation and motivation! Want to support Ugandan innovation and motivation? Think about volunteering with The Real Uganda. Laugh along with Ugandans as they continue to build their country!