In central Uganda, there is a saying that goes: “atalina sente tafumita lizindazi”, which literally implies a person without money cannot pierce (eat) bread. Yes, in Uganda today, it’s increasingly becoming clear that only those with a lot of money stand a better chance to get elected into (pierce?) political offices. Money is playing a critical role in politics.
It is on this account that, in our third episode of our series: “enhancing women’s participation in leadership“, we discuss the role of money in Uganda’s politics. How are women affected by commercialization of politics?
There is no scientific study on the actual cost of becoming a political leader at any level in Uganda. But evidently individuals who run for political offices in this country are spending lots of money to sweet-talk voters. The guys who vote seem to be concerned about money not ideas.
Candidates in local and national political offices spend on: election posters and fliers, hiring venues, public address systems, transport, facilitation to campaign agents, nomination and registration fees paid to the electoral commission. All these are normal costs.
However, one particular problem is developing. That is a vice of paying the voters. Much as it is criminal to buy goodies for voters, often times the political candidates are confronted by voters to buy them alcohol, sugar, soap, salt, clothes, among other goodies. Sometimes the politicians entice the voters to take up these things in a hope that they will be voted back. That’s a tragedy for our country.
In addition to paying the nomination costs which vary depending on the seat one is contesting for, another cost of bribing voters is making running for political office very expensive for the poor. Consequently, those without money but good leadership abilities and ideas will be locked out.
Take this example. In the 2016 general elections, each presidential candidate paid a non-refundable nomination fee UShs20 million, MP aspirants each paid UShs3 million, city mayor candidate paid UShs200,000. Candidates for district chairperson paid UShs200,000 each while candidates for municipality and city division mayor each paid UShs100,000.
That was not all. A civil society group (Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring) tracked the 2016 presidential election campaign money allegedly spent by the aspirants. It showed that:
- President Museveni spent UShs773 billion
- Amama Mbabazi Ushs66 billion
- Kizza Besigye Ushs15 billion
- Venansious Baryamureeba Ushs1.5billion
- Benon Biraro Ushs871 million
- Abed Bwanika Ushs435 million
- Maureen Kyala Ushs67 million
Although Uganda is graded as a poor country, within Uganda there are classes of poverty. Even among the poor there are people who are considered “rich”. Recall the saying “a one eyed man among the blind is king”? At the same time, when the poor compare themselves with fellow poorer folks, they think they are somehow better off.
It’s therefore not surprising to find studies referring to several of Uganda’s women as being among the poorest. This is mainly because of the patriarchy society where women in most cases don’t control the means of production. It is a common that many men in rural areas have waited for women to toil tilling the land only for the man to grab and drink the money from produce.
Money in politics has even made it difficult for poor women to access the top political offices. Even if husbands supported their women to contest for political office, money is another roadblock to women’s ascend to the top political leadership.
To be elected an area member of parliament be at it constituency or district level a woman needs money to register with the electoral commission, to campaign for party’s flag, to move around making campaign rallies, hire a public address system, produce election fliers and posters, a convoy of vehicles to move around the constituency introducing her programme to the voters, and worst of all “facilitating” the voters with soft and hard drinks, transport refund, etc. This is a rugged and difficult hill to climb for most women because their pockets and bank accounts are dry.
For instance, Maureen Kyalya, the only woman presidential contestant in 2016 and the candidate with the smallest budget, was forced to take a two-week break from the campaign because it became costly for her to travel around the country.
Obviously, money seems to be a big factor in joining the political race in Uganda and for women it is a seemingly bigger barrier to overcome; given that they still earn less than men. If the status quo is maintained soon more and more women will not be able to pierce the political bread.
Retired Bishop Zac Niringiye has aptly said commercialization of politics has resulted in a breed of political leaders who are stealing from public purse and boldly telling lies. It’s time to speak up against commercialization of politics because it is resulting in wrong leaders leaving the poor but leaders of integrity out.
Make way for the women to get to top political offices by removing unnecessary money in politics.