Uganda

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The law also allows authorities to carry out elections for the lowest-level local government officials by having voters line up behind their preferred candidate or the candidate’s representative, portrait, or symbol. Serious irregularities marred the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections and several special parliament elections since.

Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held its fifth presidential and legislative elections since President Museveni came to power in 1986. The Electoral Commission (EC) announced the president was re-elected with 61 percent of the vote, and FDC candidate Besigye finished second with 36 percent. The ruling NRM party captured approximately 70 percent of the seats in the 431-member unicameral parliament. Domestic and international election observers stated that the elections fell short of international standards for credible democratic elections. The Commonwealth Observer Mission’s report noted flawed processes, and the EU’s report noted an atmosphere of intimidation and police use of excessive force against opposition supporters, media workers, and the public. Domestic and international election observers noted biased media coverage and the EC’s lack of transparency and independence. Media reported voter bribery, multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, and the alteration of precinct and district results. Due to election disputes stemming from the elections, in August 2016 the Supreme Court recommended changes to electoral laws to increase fairness, including campaign finance reform and equal access for all candidates to state-owned media. The Supreme Court instructed the attorney general to report in two years (2018) on the government’s implementation of the reforms. On July 25, the attorney-general tabled in parliament the government’s first effort to comply with the court order.

During the year the EC held several local elections, which civil society organizations and local media reported featured incidents of intimidation of election observers by security forces, arrest of dissidents, and voter fraud. On February 21, the EC lifted the 2018 suspension of the accreditation of the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) after the two institutions agreed on “mutually binding commitments.” The CCEDU is the main civil society election watchdog organization in the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition leaders and intimidated and beat their supporters. The law prohibits candidates from holding official campaign events more than four months prior to an election, although the ruling NRM party operated without restriction, regularly holding rallies and conducting political activities. Authorities restricted civil society organizations from observing electoral processes. On July 9, local civil society organization Alliance for Finance Monitoring reported that the UPF had arrested five of its observers on the eve of an election after a ruling party supporter accused them of bias because one wore a T-shirt with the words “we are tired of corrupt leaders.” The UPF released the five without charge on July 10. According to local media and the Assistant Inspector General of Police who is in charge of political affairs, Asan Kasingye, members of Local Defense Units (LDUs) confiscated and destroyed national identity cards belonging to youth. Since national identity cards are required to qualify as a voter, opposition politicians complained that the government was intentionally disenfranchising urban youth who are likely to support the opposition. The UPF said it would investigate and punish all LDU personnel it caught destroying the cards but did not report details of any such actions by year’s end.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, although cultural factors, high costs, and sexual harassment limited women’s ability to run for political office. Female activists reported that the official fees required to secure a nomination to run for elected office were prohibitively high and prevented most women from running for election. They also reported that male politicians sexually harassed female politicians or those who aspired to enter political office. On June 10, a group of female personal assistants to MPs accused their bosses of sexual harassment and petitioned the speaker of parliament for redress. They reported that male MPs regularly pressured them into exchanging sex in return for keeping their jobs. The speaker instituted a committee to investigate the allegations, but the committee did not report its findings by year’s end.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties of up to 12 years’ imprisonment and confiscation of the convicted persons’ property for official corruption. Nevertheless, transparency civil society organizations stated the government did not implement the law effectively, officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and, many corruption cases remained pending for years.

Corruption: Media reported numerous cases of government corruption, including a July 7 investigation that revealed members of the judiciary, police, and prisons, some caught on camera, soliciting bribes from the public to secure noncash bail. According to media reports, officials–including judges and state attorneys–collaborated to keep individuals detained until their families paid a bribe. The Kampala City High Court was one of the major epicenters of these activities. In response to this and other allegations of corruption, the chief justice established a taskforce to investigate malpractice in the judiciary; it was due to report findings in late October but did not do so by year’s end. On February 18, the Parliament Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities, and State Enterprises (COSASE) published its findings from the 2018 inquiry into “irregular conduct” by the central bank in the process of taking over defunct banks and noted that the central bank acted irregularly in the process. It recommended that central bank officials responsible should account for their actions. Local media reported that MPs across political lines faulted the COSASE for not naming individuals responsible or recommending any arrests. On February 19, the Inspector General of Government (IGG) asked ISO to investigate allegations that members of the COSASE had received bribes from officials in the central bank. In March media reported that the speaker of parliament rejected this request and wrote that it was an attempt to attack parliamentary investigations and “blackmail” and “intimidate” parliamentarians. By year’s end there were no criminal proceedings or resignations resulting from the COSASE report.

On June 9, domestic media reported that the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), a governance program in the country established by European nations, was withdrawing support from four domestic NGOs due to allegations of significant corruption. The report also stated that the DGF had identified widespread corruption among its own staff members, whom they later reprimanded.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to disclose their income, assets, and liabilities, and those of their spouses, children, and dependents, within three months of assuming office, and every two years thereafter. The requirement applies to 42 position classifications, totaling approximately 25,000 officials, including ministers, MPs, political party leaders, judicial officers, permanent secretaries, and government department heads, among others. Public officials who leave office six or more months after their most recent financial declaration are required to refile. The IGG is responsible for monitoring compliance with the declaration requirements, and penalties include a warning, demotion, and dismissal.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future