Episcopal Commission, UK-based Catholic Agency Appeal for Peaceful Elections in Uganda

Singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine (left) is standing against long-term leader Yoweri Museveni (right) in Uganda's General elections slated for January 14.
Credit: Reuters

The leadership of the Uganda National Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CJPC) and the humanitarian arm of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) are appealing for peace in Uganda ahead of general elections slated for Thursday, January 14.

“With support from UK aid agency CAFOD, the Catholic Church through the National Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace is also involved in voter mobilization, voter, and civic education on radio calling for peaceful elections, anti-electoral bribery and anti-corruption messages,” CJPC Director, Fredrick Ssemwanga has been quoted as saying Tuesday January 12 interview.

Mr. Ssemwanga adds, “With CAFOD's support we have also built up the skills, knowledge and ability of Diocesan Justice and Peace Coordinators from the nineteen Catholic Dioceses of Uganda, who will act as national election observers.”

In the January 14 polls, Ugandans are expected to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections marred by political repression as singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine challenges President Yoweri Museveni’s 34-year rule.

 “There is a lot of fear and anxiety on what may happen after the election on Thursday. This has been mainly due to the current pre-election violence in the country with attacks to civilians, media, and civil society,” Mr. Ssemwanga who doubles the Parliamentary Liaison for the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) says.

He adds, “Many are convinced that elections may not be free and fair.”

“Violence has been experienced in the pre-election period, particularly last year in November, when 54 people were killed when taking part in an opposition rally,” he continues in the January 12 interview.

According to the Ugandan-born CJPC official, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected electoral campaigns with the Uganda Electoral Commission issuing a new road map, which prohibited big public gatherings as a step towards controlling the spread of the virus and this has in the end limited campaigning by most political players.

“This has also been one of the major causes of pre-election violence as the police and other security agencies struggled to enforce the Ministry of Health guidance,” Mr. Ssemwanga says.

He adds, “We may not have violence on election day itself. But depending on how the Uganda Electoral Commission handles the process of releasing election results – this is where the tensions will be.”

Despite the seeming tension, the CJPC director says, “People are expected to go and vote, and voter slips are currently being issued to all eligible voters. People are ready to exercise their democratic right."

He recognizes the role of the Church in fostering peace saying, “The Catholic Church has individually taken steps to call for peace in two official statements and has joined other interfaith bodies in calling for peace during and after elections.”

In their Pastoral Letter issued January 5, Catholic Bishops in the East African country highlighted 13 issues that “could taint the credibility of the electoral process and outcome of the polls if not addressed urgently.”

In the Pastoral Letter shared with ACI Africa, UEC members also offered five pastoral exhortations toward a free, fair and credible election.

The expressed concerns about what they termed a history of “mismanagement of election results” saying it is an issue that “remains one of the biggest challenges in our elections, and is among key drivers of election-related violence.”

In the 24-page Pastoral Letter titled, “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” UEC members want eligible voters in Uganda to demonstrate a “strong sense of patriotism” by turning up to vote on January 14.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
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