The East African Community (EAC) member states have sent a 74 man short-term election observers to witness Uganda’s presidential and parliamentary elections on January 14, 2020. They are to reinforce the work of domestic election observers and make recommendations not only for the benefit of Uganda but other partner states.
The observers who announced their presence yesterday from Kampala say they will see and report what they have seen with recommendations after the elections. The mission aims to contribute to strengthening Uganda’s political accountability and provide an opportunity for other EAC member states to share experiences on election management with a view of learning from each other as well as documentation of bad practices.
“It is not our role to change what Uganda does. Our work is to observe and report. We are coming for observation but where we can, we shall advise but you (Ugandans) must make your own decisions. The objective of the mission will be to observe the electoral process and offer a balanced assessment of the election,” Mr Domitien Ndayizeye, former president of Burundi and head of the EAC mission told journalists in Kampala yesterday. He was accompanied by EAC Secretary-General, Ambassador Liberat Mfumukeko.
Other members of the team include support staff from the East African Legislative Assembly, EALA, the East African Court of Justice, the EAC secretariat, and electoral management bodies among others who will be trained and deployed in limited areas on the polling day.
EAC is an intergovernmental organisation composed of six countries in the African Great Lakes region: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, is the EAC’s chairman.
The EAC member states are sovereign with different electoral laws and constitutions.
Mr Ndayizeye said Ugandans must follow their election laws.
“The independence of each country must be preserved. Do not think that this team in this mission is coming to give instructions to Uganda. We are coming to observe if the practice (of election) here is in conformity with the principle law of Uganda,” he said.
The coming of the observers is in line with the EAC and African Charter on Human and People’s Rights to ensure a record of the goings of the election process as a measure for free, fair, and credible elections for meaningful democracy.
Article 3, 3 (b) of the Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC requires member states to observe;
“adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights, and social justice.”
The observers come to ensure these principles are adhered to during the election process.
Mr Ndayizeye further emphasized the need for member states to ensure observance of Article 6 (d) of the community which contains the fundamental principles of the community for instance;
“good governance including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, accountability, transparency, social justice, equal opportunities, gender equality, as well as the recognition, promotion, and protection of human and people’s rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
The Treaty for the EAC was signed on November 30, 1999, and entered into force on 7 July 2000 following its ratification by the original three Partner States – Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
The Republic of Rwanda and the Republic of Burundi acceded to the EAC Treaty on 18 June 2007 and became full Members of the Community with effect from 1 July 2007. The Republic of South Sudan acceded to the Treaty on 15 April 2016 and became a full Member on 15 August 2016.
In the 2016 Uganda presidential and parliamentary elections, the EAC sent only seventeen members who arrived in Kampala on 7 February 2016 and remained in the country until 21 February 2016. They gave a preliminary report two days after the highly contested election results which the incumbent Yoweri Museveni won by 60.62 per cent.
Mr Ali Hassan Mwinyi, retired President of the United Republic of Tanzania and headed the 2016 EAC Election Observation Mission that wrote a report with recommendations for election reforms in Uganda including;
“Re-evaluate the utility of the removal of presidential term limits in the electoral system, consider the introduction of a legal framework to regulate campaign financing in order to promote an equal playing field for all parties and candidates in the electoral process and explore legal mechanisms for controlling of negative use of Youth by Political Parties and Candidates in the electoral process,” read part of the recommendations among others.
The observer team also noted in 2016 that the media played its primary role of educating and informing the public on the electoral process. However, there were concerns of discrepancies in the allocation of airtime to political parties and candidates. There was widespread use of social media during the electoral period. However, on polling day, the government issued a directive to shut down all social media platforms. This measure was widely criticized by the public and the international community as it was seen to be an infringement on freedom of information.