Coronavirus truce is over, and Political Punches Returning

Saturday, May 30, 2020

As the world unlocks COVID-19 pandemic measures, the political truce is getting over. Some Ugandans are demanding to know if the 2021 general elections will be held as scheduled and safely. Many political analysts think that postponement isn’t an option because the electoral commission, police, and political parties will agree on standard operating procedures (SOPs) to govern the campaigns.

In the US, President Donald Trump is feuding threatening to transfer the Republican National Convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, if there are no guarantees that the state will have lifted COVID-19 restrictions on how many people can gather in closed spaces by late August. And never mind that COVID-19 deaths in the US this week surpassed the 100,000 mark.

Tweeting early this week, Trump said he needed guarantees from North Carolina Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, that Republicans would be able to fill Charlotte’s Spectrum Center to capacity during the convention. Trump tweeted that he was the one who had “insisted” on holding the convention in Charlotte at the end of August, but that the State’s Democratic governor “is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena.” He argued that it is not prudent for the Republican Party to spend lots of money without knowing if the governor would allow them to fully occupy the space.

But in Burundi, long embroiled in war, violence, ethnic mistrust and international isolation, a peaceful election took place this week in which President Pierre Nkurunziza, is slated to handover to Gen. (rtd) Evariste Ndayishimiye. The ruling CNDD-FDD party also won 72 of 100 seats in the National Assembly while the main opposition leader, Agathon Rwasa got only 23.41% and his party, the SNL scooped 27 parliamentary seats. Burundi is among the few countries that defied international political correctness didn’t impose many of the COVID-19 restrictions and successfully held its general elections. In a sense, one has to admit that politics and elections are part of the broader scheme in a devil’s bargain where many compromises have to be reached.

Hopefully, with this development, the region and international community will return to re-engage with Burundi to consolidate stability and progress. Burundi now follows the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) among Africa’s political basket cases to transfer power through a democratic election. 

Here in Uganda after two months, many public activities and facilities including Churches, mosques, and open political gatherings remain closed because they are considered unsafe where social distancing as a means to control the spread of coronavirus is difficult to practice. As normal politics was suspended, opposition parties declared a kind of truce and most Ugandans rallied behind government and president Museveni

Some politicians unable to see around corners like the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) MPs, long lost in the crowd, a few weeks ago tried to poke President Museveni to declare a state of emergency but they died in own movie as not many paid attention. To the above categories, we can only advise them that as the lockdown gets relaxed, they should take full advantage that modern media of radio, television and social media presents to launch their campaigns. Next week President Museveni will give the State of the nation address when he opens the last session of the 10th parliament where he will outline the country’s agenda for the next year. A week later he will be presenting the 2020/21 budget and hopefully will include the post covid-19 stimulus package that many people have been demanding for.

From the current COVID-19 publicity experience, it is possible, in fact cost effective for politicians to use radios, and social media platforms instead of the old methods of public rallies to reach constituents and general public more effectively. Young social experts and enthusiasts could come in handy to assist political candidates pitch their election messages especially with creative adverts. Also, by using the various media platforms as the main avenue to reach the public, candidates don’t need the lengthy campaign period stretching for months on end.

There is perhaps need to amend the electoral laws so that the nomination fees paid by candidates can be used by the Electoral Commission to buy airtime on all radios for joint candidate’s appearances and slots for individuals to pitch their key election platform. It is cost effective and helps deepen the media as businesses and employers.

Working jointly with the ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), and National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), it should be easy to facilitate parliamentary candidates to have vibrant engagements with each other and the public. Post-COVID-19 presents an opportunity to drastically change the way elections campaigns are conducted in Uganda away from public rallies which are odious, expensive and rife with potential for violent confrontations among rival groups. Engagements through media platforms could also reduce physical contacts with voters, and lessen direct petty voter bribery especially the most common and humiliating where voters are given five hundred shillings, or few grams of salt and soap.