(Ceremonial) Democracy


Following the just concluded Ugandan elections, there’s this clip doing rounds on social media. It’s from a movie I’m told. In the clip, there are a number of athletes at the starting line of their race. Each is down on one knee…waiting for the starting gun to go off.

On your mark…

Get set…

Then, one of them shoots off as the others are still waiting for the starting gun. He sprints several meters ahead and then you notice that he has the starting gun in his hand. Once he feels he is well ahead, he shoots the gun and the other participants begin the race. Some of the other athletes, perhaps because they were well prepared for the race, start to catch up to the first guy, the one who gave himself a head start. He happens to glance back and sees them gaining on him so he, gun still in hand, shoots at their feet to injure them. He does this to two of them and they start to fall back.

Again, comfortable in his lead, he proceeds with the race. When he gets about two thirds through the race, a 100 metre sprint by the way, he starts to get tired, his pace slows considerably. He turns back and once again other competitors are gaining on him, threatening his lead. This time, the two individuals holding the ribbon that represents the finish line, noticing his distress, sprint to him and just in the nick of time, before anyone else can pass him, because they surely were going to, he throws himself through the ribbon splitting it in two and bursts into a celebratory dance. Never mind that a third of the race is yet to be run, he has won.

At this point the clip ends but if the race is anything like democracy as practiced in most African countries, this ‘winner’ likely gets awarded the gold medal. Sure, the audience may be very loudly protesting, sure the cameras may have caught all this on tape, but the winner must own the system because no one in the system acknowledges that anything is amiss.

This clip is hilarious really, but that a whole nation’s democracy is likened to it made me sad.

Why aren’t there institutions on the people’s side? I’m not saying Museveni did not win but given the numerous complaints about election irregularity, surely someone should have been mandated to look into matters!

A few days after the presidential elections, Uganda had local elections and the turn out was considerably lower. Now, we can only speculate as to why, perhaps local elections do not seem as important as the presidential elections, perhaps they have lost faith in the electoral process but whatever the case, less people went to vote.

Not only is the system flawed, it is scarring a whole generation! I read a few articles on-line on the matter and one woman Ugandan woman is of the opinion that they should stop wasting their time with these elections, with the pretense of voting, with the facade of democracy, that Museveni should be declared a lifelong president already.

I wonder whether it is the money or the power that makes African presidents unwilling to let go. Perhaps both.

Coincidentally, this week my university had student government elections. I did not vote. (Look at me being part of the problem.) I did not vote because I have not seen or felt the impact of any student leaders on campus. They do not make a difference in my life so I simply enjoy the break from classes that the day affords us. The only time I voted was when I was in first year. I remember how the young man running for Entertainment Secretary at the time made all sorts of promises to us freshmen, setting very high expectations for the vision he had for the “Fresher’s Bash”, an annual event held in honour of freshmen. It would be the first item on his agenda if he was elected, he promised. It is not because of his promise that I voted, I voted because I believe in exercising my democratic right, I believe every vote counts. He happened to win and that year, for the first time in a long time there was no ‘fresher’s bash’. Money had been allocated by the school for it, but that it did not actually happen was a non-issue. As far as I know, no one followed up.

The following year a close friend of mine ran for a student government position. I did not vote. I wanted to but the election day happened to fall on a day when a conference I was attending was beginning. I literally had to choose to either catch school transport to the conference venue or vote and be left behind. I went for the conference. My friend did not win. I later came to discover that he had lost by 22 votes. I occasionally think about the fact that if that bus-load of people that headed to the conference had detoured for a little bit to vote, things may have turned out different. Sure, they may not all have voted for him in the first place, but what if 23 had? I wonder if he would have made a difference if he had won.

When it is time to vote, we have the power, or at least we are made to believe we do, but the moment elections are over and the dust settles, our ceremonial democratic right exercised, the individuals with actual power run things and many times they fall short in the eyes of the people.

I need to look for positive things to write about when it comes to politics and public office, clearly.

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