On Thursday 29th July 2020, the Ugandan Parliament passed a resolution that approved 46 newly created constituencies. The net effect was that the Parliament will have 46 more members, making it a whooping 526 MPs in the house!
The approval in the plenary session chaired by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga followed a motion by the Minister for Local Government, Raphael Magezi, in which he said the counties are created basing on a population quarter of 150,000, means of communication, level of economy, wishes of the people and others.
The creation of more counties was also premised on the argument of effective representation. However, the timing itself, in a campaign period, makes it look like a strategy to win the 2021 elections.
Given the fact that almost 85% of the created constituencies are NRM strongholds, the strategy fits in the category of a mischievous political trick called gerrymandering.
Be critical enough to note that there was no mention of the same in opposition hotspots like Kasese, Arua, Gulu, Kampala, et cetra. Instead, there was prominence in NRM strongholds of Western Uganda where you have Ruhaama, Ruhinda, Rwampara, Bugangaizi, Buhweju, Kiboga, Mitooma, Kagadi and many others which will obviously add numbers to NRM in Parliament.
History repeats itself
Interestingly, when Obote was strategizing to win the 1980 elections, he used the same gerrymandering tricks. Candidate Obote smartly identified all the UPC strongholds and divided them into new constituencies.
For instance, he divided the strongest UPC stronghold of Opac district into Opac North, South, West and East. He went on to do the same in most of Eastern and Northern Uganda which were all UPC strongholds.
This gerrymandering gave Obote an immediate advantage in the 1980 elections. Obote was also smart enough not to make the mistake of dividing areas opposed to UPC and much more aligned to DP like Mpigi district which remained big but with just one Member of Parliament.
One important aspect about the 1980 elections, which is not talked about these days, is that it was contested in a Parliamentary format which prescribes that the party to win more seats in the Parliament made government.
Due to this gerrymandering exercise, it meant that UPC already had 17 unopposed seats even before the vote was cast. This clearly shows that UPC was to win the election, notwithstanding the DP dominance in Buganda.
The problem (that led to insinuations of rigging) was that the army of the time was more aligned to UPC and was central in making a lot of human rights violations that undermined Obote’s victory. The partisan UNLA army, committed crimes of torture and killed most of UPC’s opponents.
It’s these violations that made the 1980 elections look like rigged elections. In fact, UNLA made Obote himself look like one of the worst killers, yet there is a lot of evidence to the contrary.
For instance, if you want to find out Obote’s track record, you look at how he handled the political personalities that had opposed him in the 60s. For instance, even the man who had tried to assassinate him at Lugogo was simply arrested and jailed in Luzira prison. I digress; the subject was gerrymandering and not Obote’s human rights record.
But the digressing was contextual
I am simply saying that politically speaking, the landscape of 1980 favoured UPC to win those elections. But since history has mostly been written by the victims and losers of the 1980 elections, they combined the atrocities committed by the army with the political fate at the time.
Politically speaking, Obote was in a better shape than all the other contestants and would have won those particular elections anyway – notwithstanding his unpopularity in Buganda.
When BBC stringer Robin White interviewed the then army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. David Oyite Ojok (find clip on YouTube), he asked him about the fate of the elections. Ojok told Mr. White to ask the same question of the Common Wealth observers who had come to cover those elections.
The unanimous view of the Common Wealth observers was that the elections had been won by UPC, despite the unfairness that preceded them. So, when the Ugandan Parliament sat and created another 46 constituencies, it was a case of history repeating itself.
Gerrymandering was a waste of time
Just like it was with UPC dominating the newly created counties, the NRM is dominating in all the newly created counties and will therefore be boosted by an additional number of MPs to continue endorsing their views in the August House.
However, while the NRM strategists might be boasting about their gerrymandering tricks, we need to remind them that they are not enough to win the 2021 elections. Why?
One; this is a presidential system where an election is conducted on a one-man-one-vote basis. This means that the person who gathers more aggregate votes throughout the country can become the next President of Uganda.
The gerrymandering would have been very effective in a parliamentary system because of the big number of assured Members of Parliament that arose from the creations of new counties.
Secondly, this also means that someone can have fewer MPs in Parliament and still become President. So, the gerrymandering was advantageous in as far as dominating Parliament is concerned; not in influencing the aggregate outcome of the Presidential elections.
So, when you think deeper, you find that since NRM was already dominant in the Parliament, then the gerrymandering was simply a waste of time in as far as influencing the outcome of the Presidential elections. This is because NRM already had control of the legislative branch.
Also, the economic consequence is that the cost of expenditure on Parliament alone has risen to over UGX 500bn per annum.
The way forward
The creation of more counties simply means that the house will have over 500 MPs. This obviously will result into calls for the creation of another forum for effective representation.
This will simply mean that we have two houses; the lower and upper houses, akin to the Senate and the Congress to create room for more effective debate.
Otherwise, I shudder at the thought that the Speaker can identify the eloquent legislators in a house of over 500 MPs. It looks like a complete circus.
DISCLAIMER: Any and all views expressed in the article are not those of The Investigator News. They are an expression of the author’s personal opinion. Usage, of any kind, of the information herein is at the user’s own risk. The Investigator News shall not be liable for any consequences arising from such usage.
- Fred Daka Kamwada is a seasoned journalist, blogger and political analyst for over a decade in Uganda
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