FLASHBACK: The light side of the 2011 elections

The election atmosphere is sweeping the country once again. The presidential candidates are in their first week of campaigns, traversing the country. As we bring you regular blogs from the newsroom and the campaign trail, I start with some tidbits from my 2011 election journal.
That election was the first I got actively involved in. It wasn’t by choice, actually. My boss then thought I would do well in supporting the online team, which was a small section comprising of one journalist and two IT staff. I was quite reluctant at first, but later wished it would last longer.
The newsroom was also quite thin compared to what we have today, so we had to spend about three nights in the office updating stories. I compiled some of the highlights – mostly the light side. There were more interesting moments in the newsroom; those will stay in my journal…

Thursday, February 17, 2011
The streets of Kampala are quiet. Usually, the gridlock is agonizingly slow. I take about an hour to get to my work place. Today, however, I left home just after 7am and it was a 20-minute drive to Namuwongo, the Monitor Publications offices. And today is not a public holiday. It is what I would call ‘Election Fear’!
As we go to the polls tomorrow, there is mixed air of anticipation, uncertainty; fear, even. This is also the time some Arab nations had been tweeting, Facebooking and texting out their rulers. But there is hope! We still have an opportunity to exercise our democratic right by electing our next leadership.
…but I, too, have this quiet Election Fear!

Friday, February 18, 2011 (Election Day)
I get to office rather early – 8:30 am. Yes, that’s quite early in the newsroom! I did not vote so I settled down to getting updates from correspondents around the country for our online platforms. Our mailboxes soon fill up with all sorts of stories: funny, bizarre, sad, comical…
It immediately dawned on me that this is the best time to be in the newsroom (Thank you, boss for cajoling me to do this).

Iganga: Civilians ‘arrest’ police constables
By mid-morning, our correspondents reported that Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party supporters had detained eight special police constables after they were allegedly caught ferrying sachets of salt, sugar and bars of soap (in a police pick-up truck) “to bribe voters”. They dragged the officers to the home of the FDC parliamentary candidate for Iganga Municipality and locked them up in a room. I find the determination of these citizens admirable and hilarious.

Moroto: Presiding officer ‘succumbs to hunger’
When this story dropped in our mail box, a colleague burst out in laughter. It is tragic but hilarious, isn’t it? That a presiding officer would collapse at the polling station as he counted the votes and it is discovered that he was not sick, but hungry. And tired.

Kamuli: Minister grabs ballot box
A junior minister, probably in panic mode, grabbed a ballot box containing electoral materials from a presiding officer, alleging voting had already kicked off by 5am instead of 7am as the law requires. The state minister dashed to Kamuli police station but his antics were found to be just that, antics.

No voter turns up, ballot papers blown away
In Nwoya, no voter turned up to vote at one polling station. The EC officials did not even open the ballot boxes as potential voters decided to engage in other activities. Also in Nwoya, strong winds swept away several ballot papers.
Male name; female picture: In Bundibugyo, some male voters were stunned to find photographs of females against their names.

False scare: In Moroto, voters abandoned a polling station for safety after mistaking UPDF soldiers for warriors. It is understandable…

Besigye not on register! Missing names in the national voter register seemed to be the story of this election. It happened at every polling station. It also happened to Inter-Party Cooperation presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye. Besigye was advised to go to another polling station – where he eventually found his name.

Illegal vote! Independent presidential candidate Sam Lubega whose name was, like many other voters, missing at his polling centre, was allowed to vote. So why were others advised to look for their names at other centres?
Kayunga: Take this bribe… Supporters of one candidate, a minister, were arrested for staging a roadblock to distribute money to a rival’s supporters.

Another ballot paper, please! Someone demanded another ballot paper, saying he had ticked a wrong candidate… and he happened to be the presiding officer of the polling station!

Get our names right! In the newsroom, we insist on getting names right. The people of Katakwi would do well in newsrooms. The voters here were angry with EC officials, accusing them of mispronouncing their names. They claim this disenfranchised many.

Wind ‘rigs’ poll: At a polling station in eastern Uganda, strong winds blew voting materials with at least 300 voters having cast their ballots. Residents ‘accused the wind’ of aiding rigging.

Sticks defeat the gun: Budadiri West MP Nandala Mafabi and his supporters disarmed soldier who shot at them. The armed men took off from the stick-wielding and stone-throwing civilians. A journalist who was in Mafabi’s car sustained serious injuries in the shooting.

Procedure, Mr ‘President’: Mr Abed Bwanika, the People’s Democratic Party presidential candidate, amused voters and EC officials when he forgot to stamp his finger with ink after voting.

Blind voters fail to vote: Six blind people in Amuru District failed to vote because there was no one to help them. They turned up at the polling centre early but they were turned away by polling assistants to go and bring helpers. They waited for over an hour and left without exercising their constitutional right! After posting this story on our Facebook page, a cheeky reader wrote: “Sorry, in other words Besigye has lost six votes” (probably because northern Uganda was an Opposition stronghold).

Otunnu’s no show at the voting booth
With a few minutes left to the close of voting, the political editor called the reporter deployed at the polling station where Uganda People’s Congress candidate (UPC), Olara Otunnu, was expected to vote. Apparently, the UPC candidate had not surfaced at the centre. Otunnu indeed boycotted, claiming he could not take part in a sham.

Memorable quote
“We didn’t have any elections in northern Uganda,” declared former Chua County MP Livingstone Okello-Okello after losing to minister Henry Okello Oryem. So, if there were no elections, didn’t good old Livingstone vote for himself?
I look forward to another eventful campaign. I will, for the first time, also attend some rallies whenever I can, starting this weekend in West Nile where NRM candidate, Yoweri Museveni, will be wooing my people.