Thursday, January 24, 2008

Proud to rig with utmost efficiency!
OPINION from the Uganda Weekly Observer

Anne Mugisha

And so having waited in vain for an invitation, President Museveni finally invoked his authority as Chairman of the East African Community and chair of the Commonwealth to travel to Nairobi to try his hand at mediation.

The announcement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs did not allude to any formal invitation from Kenya, only to Museveni’s regional and international credentials as the raison d’ĂȘtre for his trip to Nairobi.

And so we witness the specter of one accomplished election manipulator giving advice to a novice. When Mwai Kibaki was declared President by a besieged Electoral Commission a few weeks ago, my Movement friend with more audacity than common sense called to express his disappointment at the process: “Omanyi?

Abana Kenya tebamanyi kubba akalulu,” he declared. My friend was disgusted with the amateurish manner in which the PNU had gone about stealing votes. The inference being that they were a total disappointment to their Movement counterparts for their lack of finesse in stealing votes, a failure which could not have occurred in Uganda. How brazen!

Election rigging in Uganda has become an ingrained part of political culture that those in power are proud of how well they handle their thievery. There is no shame associated with rigging but rather shame and dishonor is brought by those like their apprentices in Kenya who have failed to master the art.

It is not surprising that my friend, who knows me to be an outspoken opposition activist, feels no fear or shame to share with me his pride in Uganda’s culture of flawless rigging. His conscience has been cleared through a process of widespread acceptance of this political evil that he feels no embarrassment but only some devilish pride for being able to accomplish the crime peacefully.

Only recently we saw Ugandans carrying ex-ministers on their shoulders after they had been charged with crimes of corruption. Corruption by those who hold public office has been so trivialised as a crime in Uganda today that there is no shame in being implicated in corruption. In fact, those who steal public funds successfully (read: without being caught); are the true heroes of our people and they are rewarded with votes come election time.

This has become possible because everyone shares in the fruits of their loot. The businessman gets his contract to supply substandard goods, the church accepts their offering and tithe, the village development agency accepts their hoes and seeds, the schools accept their footballs and chalk, the spouse gets a brand new Lexus and the children get to visit Disney in Orlando, Florida.

In the same way, any guilt that would ordinarily result from election rigging has been spread out to the lowliest in society that those who participate in it are now proud of their prowess at stealing votes. As long as the thieves get sworn into power and the status quo is maintained, the pawns in this potentially deadly game of election thieving are proud of their role which assures them of sharing in the spoils of power even if the spoils are just the crumbs that fall of the high table of political corruption.

It is not until the cheaters get caught in the crosshairs of dictatorship that they start crying and confessing their stupidity. The naiveté that they display when they are faced with the fangs of the dictatorship they helped to create is quite stupefying.

And so I listen to the sob story of a woman old enough to be my mother whose brother was imprisoned on trumped up charges by the dictatorship. She narrates through her tears how she spent the whole night in 2001 ticking ballot papers for Yoweri Museveni, and how could he now treat their family like this?

A young girl who has since realised that Kizza Besigye is not the monster that the government made him out to be tries to remember the number of ballots she personally rigged. And I think, how sad that a whole nation’s conscience has been compromised to a point where we no longer can tell the difference between right and wrong. Where even the most educated are proud to have stolen and not gotten caught!

Still, I could not help but wish Museveni luck in Nairobi. Seeing Kenya come to its knees because of election rigging is heartrending. Once peace and security are removed from a country it can be decades before they are restored, if ever. But I am convinced that peace and security that are built on a foundation of blatant thievery can only be temporary at best. The real problem in Kenya and indeed Uganda is the legitimisation of thieves, liars and rogues through election rigging.

The author is a Special Envoy, Office of the President, FDC.