See the Uganda we want to have

Published October 10th 2005 in New Vision Online
We accepted the invitation to participate in the commemoration of the Constitution Day this year because Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) used the right word, to “commemorate”. Had it been to “celebrate” we would have had a problem. We likened this function to a situation where a couple’s first son or daughter is murdered on a day the couple is celebrating its silver or golden jubilee. The first son of the 1995 Ugandan Constitution was the two five-year term limit for the president. This year, somebody hired our MPs by giving them sh5m each to murder the son. The term limits provided real checks and balances in the constitution and it was the pride and hope of all of us. Thus while we commemorate the Constitutional Day, we must also mourn the tragic murder of term limits in our constitution.

Will multi-party democracy make any difference?

The biggest danger under the Movement system was the tendency to personalise power and turn Ugandans into captives of the regime. This largely explains the many attempts to resort to the gun as means of changing power. Regrettably, because some people were obsessed with creating a life presidency, the constitutional review process did not address the question of the type of multi-party democracy we needed on the basis of our common shared values. In the end, Ugandans have once again missed a chance to reach consensus on the shared view of our country’s future.

Furthermore, the Movement government is introducing multi-party democracy in a sadistic manner so as to make it fail. Movement functionaries are violating human rights especially in rural areas by forced conscription into the NRM party. The population is told NRM party cards are National Identity Cards and they are being used on road blocks at night.

Four major evils have eaten deep into the fabric of the current regime and threaten to erase any potential benefits from the multi-party system. They are corruption by the top leaders in the ruling regime, commercialisation of politics as exhibited in Kisanja cash, personalisation of politics (including personalisation and creation of parallel security organs) and human rights violations. The potential benefits from the democratisation reforms are already undermined by these four evils. No wonder, Uganda is now listed among the failed states in Africa by the annual Failed States Index compiled by the Fund for Peace (based in USA).

Proportional Representation

In order to curb the personalisation of power and political corruption, we need to move to a system which relies more on consensus building. One of the inherent weaknesses in the American-style democracy we have adopted is the phenomenon of winner-takes-it all.

Our view is that proportional representation systems of elections have a sufficient in-built mechanism to address these weaknesses. This system ensures that the overall results are proportional to the distribution of votes. Under the current system, parties which get 10% or 30% or even 49% are total losers. It is only the winner of 51% who takes every thing.

Under proportional representation, parties provide lists of candidates equal to the number of seats in a district, region or parliament which should be displayed on the ballot. Voting is for a party rather than an individual candidate. The seats up for grabs are then distributed to the different parties according to the percentages of votes received. All voters get representation and all political groups in society get the representation in proportion to their strengths. This system is used in Scandinavian and most European countries, Latin America, Asia, Mozambique and South Africa.

One of the major strengths of this system is that it is issue-oriented rather than personality-based. This could reduce election violence, which has become common in our elections.

Regional tier

The fear of the clan leaders (Abataka B’obusolya) about the universal adult suffrage election of the Katikkiro is a genuine fear under the current winner-takes-it-all. This is why they are demanding to screen the candidates to ensure that the elected Katikkiro and possibly sponsored by the Government does not cause havoc to the Kabaka. In a proportional representation system where there is no winner-takes-it-all, this threat is unlikely.

Women participation

Uganda is considered to have done well in the promotion of women’s participation in politics. Women are estimated at about 23% in Parliament. However, this impressive performance is artificial because it is not based on open competition with men. Less than 5% of women stood in open constituencies against men. Furthermore their gain through affirmative action is also being exploited to prop up autocracy. The situation will worsen when women have to be subjected to universal adult suffrage. This means that the campaign for women with such a large constituency will be more costly. It will automatically favour the NRM which can use public resources to sponsor its candidates.

The countries which achieved a critical mass of women participation on open competitive basis such as Sweden (45%), Norway (36.5%), Belgium (35.3%), Mozambique (30%) and South (Africa 29.8%) have proportional representation. Women participation is below the critical mass in developed democracies such as UK and US which are not based on proportional representation.


Coalitions are easier to form under the proportional representation system than under the current system. Under proportional representation coalitions are formed after the elections. At this point the strength of each party is empirically defined according to the votes it gets. Before the elections are held every candidate claims to have support and it is difficult to arrive at the presidential as well as parliamentary candidates. It will therefore require a spirit of give and take for G6 to sort out which candidate stands in which constituency.

Way Forward

Realisation of proportional representation is not possible before the 2006 general elections. The only option available is formation of a coalition without an objective criterion of the relative parties’ strengths. The coalition however must have a purpose. This country needs to build a system which relies more on consensus building rather than coercion. Proportional representation is high on our agenda even as we plan to join the G6 coalition.

After the election, whether we shall be in power or not we shall do what it takes to push for more political reforms in the direction of proportional representation as the master key for building the Uganda we want based on the common good of all.