Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Prof Gilbert Bukenya’s re-election: about time we got a law to stop ex-convicts from contesting for public office

By Pamela Nabukenya Wairagala
On 1st December, former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya was declared winner of the by-election for the Busiro North parliamentary seat, which fell vacant early October after a successful law suit against Bukenya in which voter bribery was cited as the grounds for nullifying his victory.
Surprisingly, Bukenya was among the four candidates that were successfully nominated by the Electoral Commission to contest in the by-election, which he went on to win with 10,728 votes (76.7% of valid votes cast) ahead of Kasta Hussein Bukenya whose successful petition had pulled the former Vice President out of the August house. Kasta, who was the second after Bukenya, polled 3,025 votes, representing 21.7% of the valid votes while the remaining two candidates barely managed 250 votes between them.
Of interest however is the fact that in a constituency with 48,320 registered voters, only 14,518 (30%) participated in the by-election. Not even the Electoral Commission could explain the low turn-up and Mother Nature could not be blamed either, for the heavens only opened up at five o’clock, the official poll closing time.  Some circles have blamed the heavy police deployment for scaring away the voters, but I believe that for a population that got used to coming face to face with tear gas canister wielding policemen during the two editions of the “Walk to work” campaigns, when Gen. Kale Kayihura’s boys exhibited some of their not so popular antics, mere police presence is not deterrent enough.
Former VP, Prof Gilbert Bukenya in court awaiting judgement.
In his victory speech, the former VP said the voice of the people should not be mistaken this time around. “The people have re-affirmed what they stated in the February election,” Bukenya commented. But had they??
If you are voted by 22% of the whole constituency, how legitimate is your representation? In essence, 78% have not sent you to speak on their behalf. Unfortunately this is becoming a common trend, even at general elections. The voter turn-up keeps reducing. Could it be that the voters have actually given up on the electoral process? Are the roots of voter apathy deepening? What then does this mean for a nascent democracy such as Uganda’s? Is there hope?
But the Busiro North vote is just a tip of the iceberg. Whom does the electoral process in Uganda really serve? And what quality of democratic rule does it seek to foster?
Aren’t the three arms of government (The Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary) supposed to be independent but working together with clear roles and power stipulated by the constitution? Could it then be that these arms are not working for the common good, but undermining each other’s power and authority? How then do we explain the fact that someone who is found guilty by the Courts of law (the Judiciary) and subsequently thrown out of parliament (Legislature), is free to contest for the same seat, wins it and goes back to start exactly where they left off? Is it even worth it for tax papers’ money to continue being wasted in these so called by elections, with the current electoral law? Do the leaders, especially those that temporarily loose their seats, only to get them back, learn anything?
Media reports claim that Prof. Bukenya opted not to have open campaigns, lest his political opponents mistook that for voter influencing! But was that the best lesson the good old Prof. could learn from this whole process? How about others like him, do they learn anything from temporarily becoming un-honourable?
How about if the electoral law was more stringent? For example suspending or even completely banning politicians who are found guilty of committing electoral offences from participating in elective politics? Wouldn’t our good representatives act more honourably, especially when interfacing with their disadvantaged constituents?
While some may argue that voters should learn to reject the politicians’ bribes, the situation on ground is very different. For a common man for whom sugar, paraffin, soap and even salt have become a “Christmas” affair, if some politician’s visit translates into “Christmas in February”, so be it.
I believe that for as long as the electoral law remains unchanged, allowing convicted office bearers to contest for the same offices, voters will continue to be taken advantage of, and their votes exchanged for paltry offers. Until the rules change, the game will always be played the same way, with the same results!
The writer is an MA student of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University, Kampala Uganda.

Is the availability of cheap ARVs fanning the AIDS flame?

By Rebecca Muyizzi
Over the past two decades, President Yoweri Museveni has combined efforts with local, national and international organizations to campaign against the HIV/AIDS scourge, which has already claimed the lives of millions of people.  
However, it is sad to note that AIDS continues not only to kill millions of people but also lower the life expectancy of Ugandans. This has also affected the country’s labor force, reduced agricultural output and food security and also weakened educational and the health services.
Surprisingly, many people don’t believe that Aids still kills. As much as HIV/ AIDS is a subject that has been talked about globally for many years, in many media channels, the society is still complacent.
There is an assumption that, HIV/AIDS is like any other treatable disease. A friend of mine who works with the Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC) had this to say, “The current HIV prevalence rate in Uganda today is estimated at 6.5 among the adults and 0.7 among children.     The number of new infections in 2009 was 120, 000, which exceeds the number of annual death toll in 2009 which was 64, 000.  So it is feared that   HIV prevalence rate in Uganda may be rising.’’      
However, though many organizations like TASO, the Uganda Aids Commission, JCRC, government and private hospitals have come up to help reverse the situation, the HIV/AIDS scourge  still remains a challenge to individuals, families and societies at large. One wonders why the HIV prevalence rate is escalating.  Uganda as a country begun to implement routine or opt –out testing, where anybody can enter a health care facility, government hospitals and is tested.
One of the reasons is that the availability of drugs like the ARVS delays the onset of the disease. Many people may look healthy but when they are already infected with the virus.
 It can be believed that ARVs drugs have changed the perception of HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to a treatable manageable disease. This may have reduced the fear surrounding HIV and in return, it has caused an increase in risky behaviors.
One wonders, what can be done to change the behavior in society.  If one talks about abstinence from sex, especially those who are not married, it is unbelievable, the society thinks it is not possible.  Abstinence could be one of the controversial areas in HIV prevention campaign.  A teenager in my locality said, “We are in our adolescent age, trying to adventure in all activities including sex, how can someone say that abstinence is the way to go?”    I was so surprised to hear such a statement from a young boy.  However, this revealed to me something   which I thought would help parents, counselors and guardians.  It is not enough to tell the youth that Aids is still a deadly disease,   but there is need to keep praying for  them, such that  God assists them to understand the importance of being  male and female  creatures.
In the old days, the virtue of virginity was so important and respected. Unfortunately these days’ young people shun it.
President Museveni has been encouraging the married people to be faithful to their partners.  He normally uses the phrase “Zero- grazing”.  This term comes from the agricultural practice of tying a cow or a goat to a post restricting it to a zero shaped section of grass.  Unfortunately, in Uganda today there is an increase in multiple partnering.  An official from the Ministry of Health made a comment that the number of sexually active Ugandans who are reported to have more than two or three sexual partners has increased in the previous   years.
What more could be done to stop the scourge that continues to spread like a wild fire? 
The writer is a postgraduate MA student of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University.

Is Museveni talking peace with Besigye a New Year’s gift or round two of the Nairobi "peace jokes"?

By Julius Aboko
It is not that I don’t believe in surprises or better still, unlikely miracles. However, as I enjoyed seeing 2012 emerge from its shells, I woke to the really unexpected news (and possibly I am not alone in this) reading: Mkapa to chair Museveni, Besigye talks. The news, which had been published in the New Vision, indicated that the two leaders have actually agreed to talk and resolve their differences.

Too good to be true: News that Beisgye (above) can talk peace with Museveni.
According to the story, Besigye expects the talks to review the previous elections, campaign financing, electoral reforms as well as the restoration of the Presidential term limits. Museveni on the other hand is said to be ‘open to the talks’, but among others, asked Besigye to denounce the walk-to-work protests, denounce violence as a means to changing government and accept complicity in treason activities.
Although I wanted to believe that the talks could actually take place, the nature of the two sets of demands looks, to me, like a rough edged stone being pushed through the mouth of a pot, which is not just clay, but badly undersized.

Having derailed the Nairobi peace talks a.k.a "peace jokes" in 1985,
 can Museveni be trusted to engage in peace talks with Besigye?

One does wonder how comfortable Museveni will be in discussing campaign financing, yet he knows tough questions like the sh20m, which was given to MPs to purportedly supervise NAADS during campaigns, will most likely come up?  How will Museveni convince Besigye that the NRM got its over sh20b campaign money through clean processes, yet the FDC leader believes the President’s party used state resources?
How will Besigye accept complicity in treason activities, yet he knows those charges were preferred against him and colleague activists as a political witch-hunt tool?
Now, assuming the highlighted issues will really form the backbone of the proposed talks, does anyone see a light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t quite think so. Anyway, if it comes, and the parties agree, then it’s worth celebrations. But, first pray that it doesn’t turn out to be a joke.
The writer is a postgraduate MA student of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University.