Election day in Uganda passed peacefully for the most part, with only a few scattered incidents of reported violence. This does not come as a surprise, however. The announcement of the presidential winner, due no later than Sunday evening, is what will draw the most reaction from the streets.
Peaceful does not mean that the vote was without irregularities, however. As opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye stated in a press conference today, “it is already very clear that there have been widespread malpractices in the electoral process.” I witnessed not only voters providing names that clearly did not match the picture provided on the voting register, but also the coaching of voters in the polling queue by party officials or their hired hands. Below, poll workers and local officials in the town of Mbale argue over apparent typographical errors on the register.
One colleague of mine reported and photographed the blatant handing out of cash in exchange for votes. Below, police arrest Jackie Nabulu, the campaign manager of MP candidate Dr. James Mtende, in the town of Mbale. Ms. Nabulu was accused of improper interference at the polls.
Of greater issue was that many voters’ names were absent from the register despite having confirmed their status as a registered voters and having received voters’ cards. After Patrick Achou went to the polling station where he voted in the town of Soroti during the 2006 election, he was shocked to find his name missing from the register. He was then directed to several other different polling stations in town but was never able to vote. “Last election I voted very well. I feel very bad, I wanted to vote for my candidate,” says Mr Achou, shown below. I witnessed at least a dozen other such incidents where voters, even with valid voter’s cards, were turned away at the polls because their names were missing.
The local media has reported this as a widespread problem, especially in the eastern part of the country, where these images come from. The east, especially the town of Mbale, happens to be an opposition stronghold. Below, Mr. Elamu Michael (26) casts his vote for Dr. Besigye in rural Soroti district. He wore a Barack Obama shirt to the polls in the spirit of ushering in fresh leadership: “I want change. We have seen big problems here,” he says.
Many voters in the east echoed Dr. Besigye’s call for change. After casting her ballot for one of the seven presidential candidates running against incumbent Yoweri Museveni, the voter shown below, who wished to remain anonymous, remarked, “We’d like to see what the difference looks like.”
Even if protests do erupt on the streets following the announcement of results, it’s difficult to envision the weeks of Middle-East style resistance occurring in Uganda that Dr. Besigye is calling for. Ugandans are generally more complacent when it comes to government. Whatever the official tally of the vote, I genuinely feel that Mr. Museveni, whose massive campaign fund faced a divided opposition, has the support of the majority of the population. Below, poll workers count votes the old-fashioned way at the close of the polls in Mbale.