KIRUKU: Whoever wins or loses, Ugandans must have matoke in peace


Uganda Decides

By Anne Kiruku, East African News Agency

All eyes are once again on Uganda, with the campaigns and elections having taken place on Thursday. It has been an electioneering season like no other in four East African countries: Tanzania and Burundi just did theirs last year, while Kenya is gearing up for polls next year.

We all hope that the aftermath of Uganda’s election will be acceptable: Transparency is key in acceptance of election results; integrity of the candidates is paramount, too, as are honesty and the humility to accept defeat.

The Ugandan judiciary must be ready to handle election petitions with outmost fairness and justice to ensure acrimonious cases are resolved amicably. All efforts to heal the country and clear any lifts created by the elections and campaign euphoria must now be prioritised.

Burundi may probably be the most recent example of a sham election that ended in bloodshed. Thousands have been displaced and forced to flee to neighbouring countries, scores have died, and thousands of children have been left traumatised after losing their parents. Scores of women have been raped. And sadly, the violence in the world’s second-poorest country is far from over as President Pierre Nkurunziza continues to employ strong-arm tactics.

Memories are still fresh of the hooliganism, deaths and chaos occasioned by the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya. Scores of women were raped and thousands of others internally displaced, with several thousand people escaping to neighbouring countries. The country was left highly polarised after the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) disputed the victory by the Party of National Unity in the presidential contest.

Election seasons across the region are therefore times of tension, even though the process provides an opportunity for all citizens to participate in democratically electing their leaders.

This do-or-die duel that has come to characterise elections in East Africa is, unfortunately, a feature across the African continent.

Elections are not inherently violent events. For the reason that they determine resource allocation in our dirt-poor economies, they can and do exacerbate political, regional, ethnic, and religious tensions. These then spill over into violence, especially where justice and constitutionalism are thrown out the window.

That means that Uganda – and indeed all EAC countries – must embrace legislative reforms.

Where necessary, national healing and reconciliation commissions will help address some of the more serious concerns of aggrieved populations.

In this march to justice, it is paramount to also ensure transformative and restorative justice systems are put in place. Emphasis should be on repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour, and this is best achieved through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders.

The fundamental principles? Justice requires that different categories of people work to restore those who have been injured, and that those most directly involved and affected should have sufficient opportunity to participate fully in the response programme. The role of governments would be to preserve a just public order as well as to secure safe social and political spaces; that of affected communities would be to build, nurture and maintain a just peace going forward.

Ugandan civil society organisations and the public at large must be actively engaged if a successful national healing and reconciliation process is to be achieved. A process aimed at responding to people’s needs must involve the people affected by the conflict, especially at the grassroots level.

In this context, civil society organisations can play a vital role in monitoring the implementation of the reconciliation and healing processes. In this way, their work can give greater legitimacy to the healing process, thereby reinforcing the principle of bottom-up approaches which guarantee sustainable and transformative peace.

The media must also ensure responsible journalism through publishing of materials that promote unity. Given Uganda’s chequered history, it is crucial for the local media to exercise caution in the airing and publishing of sensitive material. The media can no longer afford to be a non-partisan observer, but must promote peace and harmony throughout the region.

But political goodwill is an essential ingredient in ensuring speedy healing. In Uganda, both the government and the opposition must commit to ensuring that regardless of the outcome of the results, peace is maintained and the process of rebuilding the country begins in earnest.

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