KAMPALA , 06 January, 2021 / 5:00 PM (ACI Africa).-
Ahead of general elections in Uganda slated for January 14, Catholic Bishops in the country have, in their latest Pastoral Letter, highlighted 13 issues that “could taint the credibility of the electoral process and outcome of the polls if not addressed urgently.”
In their Pastoral Letter sent to ACI Africa Tuesday, January 5, the members of the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) also offer five pastoral exhortations toward, they say, a free, fair and credible election.
UEC members raise concerns over a history of “mismanagement of election results,” terming it an issue that “remains one of the biggest challenges in our elections, and is among key drivers of election-related violence.”
They say that mismanagement of election results has led to “bloodbath in the past and the scars of that violence are still with us” and regret that instead of Ugandans learning from such incidents, they “seem to slide back into the same problem.”
“We appeal to the conscience of persons involved in such acts to allow the will of the people to prevail,” Catholic Bishops in Uganda say, and caution, “Remember, that the commandment Thou Shall Not Steal applies also to vote stealing.”
In the 24-page Pastoral Letter titled, “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” UEC members express their concerns about the “commercialization of elections” that has seen “some candidates spend colossal sums of money with the hope of recouping this money when they come to office.”
“In our previous pastoral letters and communiqués, we pointed out the futility of turning politics into a money-making venture,” they recall and add, “To our disappointment, the situation has gotten worse, thus, threatening the good initiatives by various actors to deepen democratic governance in our country.”
Though the current laws governing elections in the East African nation “safeguard the country from illicit financing, prevent breach of national security and encourage accountability on the part of political parties and their leaders,” UEC members note, there is “no law that pays specific attention to the unfair imbalance that excessive money may create among political players.”
In their considered opinion, “there is need to emphasize modesty given the likely adverse effect on our economy; the rights of less resourced citizens to effectively participate in the electoral process as candidates; and the quality of leaders that such an election is likely to produce.”
In the letter signed by UEC Chairman, Bishop Joseph Antony Zziwa on behalf of Uganda’s 28 Catholic Prelates and an Apostolic Administrator, the Catholic leaders also raise concerns over “inadequate voter education,” a factor that is “partly responsible for the many invalid votes in our elections since 1996.”
They note that the country’s electoral commission has not undertaken some election activities “in a timely and comprehensive manner,” a situation that they caution could lead to “limited awareness among voters of the major electoral activities and their duties in the various stages of the electoral cycle.”
That the East African nation is experiencing restriction on the use of mass media despite being the recommended means of campaigns amid COVID-19 restrictions is another issue of concern that the Bishops highlight in their Pastoral Letter “on the 2021 General Elections” dated December 2020.
“Such acts, coupled with exorbitant cost of media campaign, only lends credence to the continued flouting of the Election Guidelines by some candidates,” UEC members say referencing restrictions on the use of mass media.
In their 58-points letter, the Bishops in Uganda express their disapproval of attacks on journalists and members of civil society organizations, which they say add “fire to an already fragile situation that characterize these elections.”
Other issues that the Bishops are concerned about include breach of peace and rights of persons, intolerance, discord in political parties, bribery, intimidation, use of abusive and derogatory language, little effort to engage the youths in the elections, and the inadequate enforcement of the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
As a way forward, UEC members call for an effective management of the electoral process, which they are confident can be achieved if the electoral commission can be impartial, establish collaborative and “robust voter education programs” and engage all political players in issues that can affect the credibility of the polls.
They also want the security agencies to secure the electoral process by conducting themselves in a “diligent and professional manner.”
The Bishops want the electorate to possess a “strong sense of patriotism” by turning up to vote on January 14.
They also want the government to balance between health and the right to vote amid COVID-19 pandemic, and to commit to protect the rights of journalists and members of civil society.
Once the elections are over, the Bishops advise the party that will clinch power “to initiate a process of national dialogue and reconciliation” considering that there “are many outstanding issues in our country that cannot be resolved by elections or mere change in leadership.”
“May God keep you safe during this election period; may he inspire you to be agents of peace; may he give you the courage to witness the love of God in your daily interactions with your neighbors, for, as Jesus taught us, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,’ the members of UEC implore in their Pastoral Letter shared with ACI Africa January 5.