Shame on EU in Uganda for defending marred election

The interests of international donors and the Ugandan government have become closely intertwined

In Summary

• An election is not an event. It is a process, and in this case, it is clear to everyone who cares to see that the ground was uneven.

• State violence, killings, intimidation, arrests, internet shutdown  and claims of ballot stuffing make clear the electoral process was rigged.


Head of EU delegation in Uganda Attilio Pacifici/ TWITTER
Head of EU delegation in Uganda Attilio Pacifici/ TWITTER

For years, the West and the US have lectured Africa on elections, human rights and democratic institutions.

But going by recent developments, especially in the US, the tables have turned.

It was particularly disturbing when Head of the European Union delegation in Uganda Ambassador Atillio Pacifici was reported saying they were impressed with “the level of organisation and peaceful conduct exhibited during the presidential and parliamentary polls” on January 14.

Uganda's Daily Monitor said the envoy spoke to journalists at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds tallying centre.

The backlash online was huge, pushing the EU delegation to tweet, “Today's @dailymonitor headline, based on remarks by Amb @APacificiEU taken out of context, give a misleading view. The EU has not deployed an Electoral Observation Mission to Uganda and has not made an assessment of the way the polling day has been run.”

While the mission questioned the headline, it did not deny the accuracy of the envoy's remarks.

But an election is not an event. It is a process, and in Uganda's case, it was clear the ground was uneven. State violence, killings, intimidation, arrests, internet shutdown, claims of ballot stuffing and allegations of expulsion of opposition agents from polling stations made it clear the electoral process was rigged.

In fact, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell in an earlier statement had said, “The pre-electoral cycle has been marred by violence and numerous difficulties faced by several opposition presidential candidates, civil society organisations, human rights defenders, electoral experts as well as journalists."

Borrell went on to say the excessive use of force by the state had “seriously tarnished” the electoral process.

The US, whose moral authority on elections has now been questioned, said it was troubled by electoral fraud reports, Ugandan authorities’ denial of accreditation to election observers, violence and harassment of opposition figures and the arrest of CSO members.

“Coupled with authorities’ denial of accreditation to observers, Uganda’s electoral process has been fundamentally flawed. We warn against actions against opposition candidates or their supporters, those responsible will be held accountable,” Tibor Nagy, assistant Secretary for the US Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs, said on Twitter on January 16.

The EU mission was also a victim in this regard.

US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown on January 13 announced that the diplomatic mission would not observe the elections.

Brown said the cancellation was informed by the decision by the Electoral Commission to deny more than 75 per cent of the US election observer accreditations requested.

And as the results were being announced, opposition candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, was under house arrest.

Opposition party National Unity Platform has said it has evidence of rigging and will legally challenge the vote.

In various African countries, elections are used to demonstrate how fraudulent military regimes or incumbents are, not for the democratic voice of the voters to be heard. And instead of the EU condemning this, they cheer it on, saying, “We saw an extremely well-organised election exercise."

This can’t be right.

But then, there are interests.

Kristof Titeca and Anna Reuss write in Africa Arguments that President Yoweri Museveni decries foreign interference yet plays to Western donors. Donors warn of Ugandan corruption yet facilitate it. A complicated relationship, they term it.

“The interests of international donors and the Ugandan government have become closely intertwined. And, as research has shown, the more donors invest in a country – both financially and politically – the “more committed they become to ensuring that [those countries] remain positive examples,” the duo wrote in a January 7 article.

They said this situation allows the Museveni administration to use donor support to protect its interests. 

The writers went ahead to predict that it was doubtful Uganda’s traditional partners would openly deny recognition of the results.

"This neither-here-nor-there stance reflects donors’ perceived limits to their manoeuvring space: any critical statement may be used to substantiate the government discourse on interference by foreign backers. Moreover, there’s a latent fear that cutting off Museveni’s funds may drive him further into the arms of Russia and China," the article read.

And where do these donors come from? Of course, not Africa. Your guess is as good as mine.

In Kenya, former US Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the Carter Centre’s observer mission of the 2017 General Election, told Opposition leader Raila Odinga to "get over" his defeat.

The EU Observer Mission led by Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake’s initially declared the poll to have been largely free and fair.

Only after the presidential election was nullified by the Supreme Court did she say, "We never said that the elections were free and fair…the EU mission never used these terms."

It may be time to put an end to this electoral tourism.