Media Series: Implications of Uganda’s Digital Election Campaigns

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Screen grab of the moderator and panelists during the webinar on Zoom

Click here to watch the conversation on our YouTube channel

(Kampala, July 10, 2020) Human rights activists in Uganda have called on the Electoral Commission to work with opposition parties and other stakeholders to ensure that the upcoming elections are free and fair. On June 16, 2020, the Electoral Commission issued guidelines banning traditional outdoor mass campaign rallies in the 2020-2021 general election campaign. The EC encouraged candidates to make use of news media and digital media to send their messages to the electorate.

In a Chapter Four webinar held under the theme: “Democracy in the Digital Age; Implications of Uganda’s Digital Election”, the panel of distinguished experts expressed concern that many Ugandans would likely be disenfranchised in what has come to be known as a “scientific election”.

“For this scientific election to be free and fair, all candidates should have equal access to the media,” said Perry Aritua, the Executive Director at the Women’s Democracy Network - Uganda Chapter. She further noted with concern that some of the previous state actions such asgagging opposition candidates and forcefully pulling them off radio stations, switching off social media, as well as the bias of state-owned media to the incumbent creates an unfair election environment.

Pro-democracy scholars warned of the likelihood to abuse the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain or entrench authoritarianism.

“Many countries have taken advantage of the preoccupation with the pandemic to further entrench their power.” said Francis Fukuyama, a Senior Fellow at Stanford University.

Activists emphasized the role of civil society in overseeing the election to ensure that all candidates are able to get their messages to the electorate. CSO’s were also advised to adapt to the new modality of observing elections, taking into account new realities that come along with digital campaigns such as cyber bullying.

The Electoral Commission was urged to liaise with the Ministry of Health to establish the necessary safety measures to facilitate smaller gatherings so that all candidates can communicate their messages to voters.

“The primary duty to ensure a democratic election lies with the people of Uganda. Therefore, civil society organizations should continue to engage with the politics of the day, as long as they do not engage in partisan politics,” said Nicholas Opiyo, the Executive Director of Chapter Four Uganda.

Acknowledging that the election is likely to happen in person, the discussion emphasized the importance of developing alternative ways of casting the ballot while allowing for social distancing, protecting poll workers from infection, as well as providing adequate resources for the election to happen.