South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out – a dream deferred?

 

A Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the COVID-19 at the Klerksdorp Hospital, as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021. Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP

On Tuesday 13 April, Health Minister Dr Zwelini Mkhize announced the suspension of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine roll-out to healthcare workers over fears of blood clotting. The decision comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States suspended its use of the vaccine and J&J’s delay in further shipments.  Over 1.5 million South Africans have been infected with COVID-19 and the variant B1.351, causing the loss of over 53 000 lives. After an incredibly difficult year for South Africans, the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out brings new hope for life returning to some degree of normality. The pandemic has highlighted the socio-economic and healthcare inequalities found across South African communities. Effectively administering the COVID-19 vaccines will be vital in the quest to halt further socio-economic decline and give South Africans a brighter outlook for 2021.

Despite facing serious challenges in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and oxygen availability, and overwhelming hospital admissions, South African healthcare workers must be commended for their efforts in combatting the virus thus far. Their efforts have translated to a recovery rate of about 95% among COVID-19 patients. It is hoped that the vaccine roll-out will begin easing pressure on our healthcare system, because there are many other important healthcare crises that need our healthcare workers’ attention.

Progress for Phase 1

Source: Department of Health, 15 April 2021. *Announced on 24 March 2021

South Africa was the first country on the African continent to receive the AstraZenca COVID-19 vaccine in February. Since then, Minister Mkhize presented a three-phase plan to inoculate healthcare workers, essential workers, vulnerable groups, and the public. The first phase of the vaccine roll-out runs in conjunction with the Sisonke Study, which is a clinical trial of the single-dose J&J COVID-19 vaccine. The clinical trial allows the government to make the J&J vaccine available to healthcare workers while it processes the licensing of the vaccine. The target set for the Sisonke trail is to vaccinate 500,000 healthcare workers.

Since vaccinations began in February, about 292,623 healthcare workers have received their dose. This slow rate of inoculation has raised concerns. The daily vaccination rate is too low to meet the proposed target of 1.25 million healthcare workers by 17 May. However, at the current rate we will only vaccinate just over 500,000 healthcare workers. When President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation before the Easter weekend, he indicated that the government were on track to complete healthcare worker vaccinations within three months. However, there is confusion as to whether he is referring to the Sisonke trial or the 1.25 million targets. In Minister Mkhize’s cabinet statement, he refers to 1.5 million healthcare workers, whereas on the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) website, the number is 1.2 million healthcare workers. That would leave around 650,000 healthcare workers remaining, to be carried over to Phase 2, placing an additional burden on the roll-out process. Strengthening our primary healthcare infrastructure is vital if we are to vaccinate 67% (~41 million people) of South Africa’s population.

Source: Department of Health, Government Communications 2021

Reflections from healthcare workers

In an attempt to ascertain the vaccine roll-out’s progress, we interviewed some healthcare workers – doctors, administrative staff and biokineticists. Experiences varied and were mostly positive. The electronic vaccination data system (EVDS) was complimented for its ease of use in both registering and booking their vaccine appointments. In some cases, doctors were turned away if doses had run out before the end of the day, requiring them to reschedule for another day. When queuing for their vaccination, social distancing protocols were not strictly followed, which were a concern for those we spoke to. They all described having the expected post-vaccination symptoms for 48-72 hours.

A repeated concern raised was the hesitancy among some healthcare workers to register for vaccination. There are myths and misinformation circulating amongst communities about the safety of the vaccine. If healthcare workers are hesitant, rallying citizens to register could be a challenge. The government has released a ‘myths and facts’ page addressing some of this misinformation. The government implemented mask-wearing campaign is a good example of a positive initiative adopted by the public and private sector. Continued communication from government and civil society to remote communities is equally important to build positive vaccine sentiment.

Minister Mkhize has also proposed a post market surveillance system study to ensure medical authorities closely monitor the deployment of both J&J and Pfizer.

Three phase roll-out strategy – the devil is in the detail

Phase 1 roll-out facts and challenges

The first phase of the government’s roll-out plan proposed 18 centralised sites which have now expanded to 58.  During the expansion there was confusion around certain sites being listed as open but were in fact closed and vice versa. For a venue to be utilised as a vaccination site, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), the Department of Health (DoH), Desmond Tutu Health Foundation, Centre for Aids Programme of Research (CAPRISA) and Janssen Pharmaceuticals must be consulted. This makes the coordination of opening a vaccination site somewhat complex. The process of approving venues creates a bottleneck. The sites need constant updating on the EVDS where registration occurs. There is little information yet on how the government plans to overcome this process when Phase 2 begins next month, which could add to the already strained roll-out process.

Phase 2 roll-out plans

The government plans on increasing the number of vaccination sites to 1,750 and they will range between small, medium and large sites. Small sites will likely be community clinics or pharmacies and general practitioner offices. Medium sites include hospitals, medical centres and retail locations that may be fixed or temporary. Large sites are venues such as stadiums and conference centres.

A massive scale-up effort is needed for site approval if they are to reach this target and vaccinate up to 300,000 people a day. To reach that number per day we will need to mobilise at least 6,250 vaccinators (per day) and they’ll need to do 48 inoculations a day. If South Africa enters a third wave it could mean that some sites would have to de-escalate vaccination efforts to open facilities for COVID-19 testing, slowing down the roll-out further.

Vaccine procurement

Source: Department of Health 2021

Before the end of April, an additional one million doses of J&J are expected to arrive, after which two tranches of 900,000 doses will arrive in May and June. 31 million J&J (single dose) and 30 million Pfizer (two dose) vaccines have been secured by the DoH. Just under two million Pfizer doses are expected to arrive in May. In total South Africa is expected to have 46 million full vaccine doses, which should be sufficient to cover the necessary 40 million needed to obtain herd immunity.

The J&J vaccine will be particularly important for the roll-out in rural areas and remote communities. The J&J vaccine is easier to store, with only a single dose and can be frozen and kept for up two years (refer to the table below). Its efficacy against the B1.351 variant is 95% and is very effective in preventing severe disease or death associated with COVID-19. Unopened vials can be kept for up to three months at fridge temperatures of between 2˚C and 8˚C. If they are drawn into syringes, they will need to be administered within six hours.

Source: Department of Health, National Institute of Communicable Diseases 2021

The Pfizer vaccine on the other hand requires colder storage -20˚C for up to 14 days, and 2-8˚C up to 5 days, with two doses required and can be frozen for up to 6 months (refer to table below). The second dose should be administered between 21-42 days after the first dose.  As yet there is no substantial clinical evidence that the Pfizer vaccine protects against the B1.351 variant. A recent study concluded that the B1.351 variant was, to some degree, able to break through’s the Pfizer vaccine’s protection. The government will need to confirm veracity of this study before administering the vaccine. Coordination amongst pharmacists, vaccinators, researchers, and medical administration staff is vital to ensure jabs are not wasted, so as to avoid any impediments to the roll-out process.

Supply chain governance

Proposals for storage and distribution of the vaccine will be done on an open-tender basis. The Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa (Biovac) and the SAMRC have helped distribute the J&J vaccine but the government is yet to announce who will distribute the Pfizer vaccine. Minister Mkhize has said the department have identified storage capacity across the country but no further details on where these facilities are located.

When vaccines reach their destination, they will need to be signed off by a pharmacist on delivery. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least one pharmacist for every 2,300 people, in South Africa we have one for every 3,837 people. The distribution of pharmacists across provinces is not equal and may pose a problem when delivery is made to areas without these specialists. Measures should be implemented to ensure the adequate placement of pharmacists across provinces is finalised so as to mitigate challenges that may arise.

Local vaccine manufacturing

The government has partnered with Biovac, Aspen and ImmunityBio to develop localised manufacturing of a COVID-19 vaccine that will offer long duration immunity against multiple variants of COVID-19. President Ramaphosa has called for the continent to use its existing skills and capacity to manufacture its own vaccines. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said that “vaccine equity” cannot be guaranteed by “goodwill alone” and that Africa should produce its own vaccines and pharmaceuticals products. The COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for African countries to collaborate and promote continental (and local) innovation within the pharmaceutical industry.

Recommendations

  • Government to continue sharing relevant information learnt from Phase 1 to grow public trust and confidence in the vaccination roll-out process.
  • Finalise the sites and required number of healthcare workers to be placed to administer vaccines per site.
  • Formulate measures to overcome potential internet connectivity concerns for vaccine registration.
  • Finalise registration process for undocumented migrants without passports or identification documents.
  • Government to continue sharing the vaccination roll-out progress.

[1] Current population estimate for South Africa is 59.6 million according to StatsSA data from 2020.

Dr Craig Moffat is Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact at Good Governance Africa.
Monique Bennett is a senior researcher at Good Governance Africa. She has a keen interest in data science, data visualisation and statistics using the R programming language. Throughout her studies, research topics such as development, democracy and the environment within the context of developing countries have been her focus areas.

Uganda 2021 Election: Implications and Lessons

Introduction

On Saturday 16 January 2021, the Electoral Commission of Uganda (EC) once again declared President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) as the winners. He will start his 6th term as president of Uganda. Museveni is entering his 35th year in power and is the fourth longest-ruling head of state in Africa. Museveni won 5.85 million votes (58.6%), while the main opposition contender Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine, won 3.475 million votes (34.8%). Museveni assumed power on the back of an armed uprising in 1986 and has defied the political laws of gravity which have seen other long-serving leaders removed from office.

Museveni’s rule, though controversial, has seen extended periods of peace and significant developmental changes. However, these positive developments have been accompanied by strong armed tactics to maintain his grip on power through various means such as nurturing a personality cult, employing patronage, compromising independent institutions and side-lining and silencing opponents.

After the results were announced, Bobi Wine, leading presidential candidate for the National Unity Platform (NUP), said that his party would initiate the relevant processes to challenge the election results. However, he has since been placed under house arrest by the security forces. Since 14 January 2021, access to Bobi Wine has been limited, including for his lawyers or journalists. The US Ambassador Natalie E. Brown was also denied entry to Bobi Wine’s residence after attempting to visit him on 19 January 2021. His lawyers have filed an application in the High Court of Kampala demanding that a public official deliver a valid reason for his detainment. In terms of challenging the election outcome, the law allows for 20 days after the release of the election results to apply to the Supreme Court for a legal remedy.

The campaigning period leading up to Uganda’s 2021 general election saw an unprecedented level of violence meted out by the security forces towards the opposition parties. Also, several opposition members were arbitrarily detained on different occasions, restrictions were imposed on foreign media, international election observation teams were limited, and on the eve of the election, an internet blackout was imposed. 17.5 million internet users were affected by the internet blackout and it cost the economy an estimated US$9 million. Social media remains blocked, while the internet has been restored.

Election day itself was relatively peaceful, with few instances of violence reported. There was agreement between both international and local observers about concerns over the heavy handedness of the state forces during the pre-election period. The East African Community (EAC) election observation mission stated that the election was largely free and fair, but listed some crucial election discrepancies that their team observed, such as the malfunctioning of biometric voter verification machines, internet shutdown and late delivery of voting material.

Dr Fonkam Samuel Azuu, the African Union Head of Mission, condemned the government’s decision to shut down internet during a time he believes was when citizens needed access to information the most.

The Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda also noted that the pre-election period had seen many problems, and believed that many voters were not given the chance to interact with their candidates due to COVID-19, which left them ill informed.

A police officer sits on a car at the gate of the headquarters of National Unity Platform (NUP) in Kampala, Uganda, on January 18, 2021. Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP

Implications

Although this election saw violence and civil unrest it cannot be written off as a completely illegitimate process. Local observers believe that election day was relatively well managed, with no significant incidents of rigging or ballot stuffing as some opposition representatives claim. Ugandans, for the most part, were able to exercise their right to vote, and the parliamentary results reveal that democratic processes can result in a change of leadership, in this instance, parliamentary. Bobi Wine’s NUP won 56 parliamentary seats with an opposition majority, while Museveni’s NRM lost 20 seats, including that of his Vice President Edward Sekandi. This development should give the opposition parties some sense of a victory, however small it may be for the moment. The NRM still holds the majority in parliament with nearly 500 seats. The NUP has replaced the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) as the leading opposition party in Uganda.

Voter turnout dropped by 10% from the 2016 election, with just 57% of registered voters coming out in this election. Voter education remained a major issue, as mentioned by local observers, as many civil society organisations and development partners were not given permission to operate prior to election day. Seven million registered voters chose not to vote, some may have feared that violence may break out, and others were poorly informed. The government must strengthen its partnerships with these civil society organisations, to improve voter education and thus voter turnout.

The opposition’s legal challenge to the election results could see the judiciary demonstrate their independence and take the case on its merits, rather than simply cowering to Museveni’s demands and dismissing the opposition’s application. If they rightly demonstrate their independence, it will only be the third time on continent where the judiciary has overturned a presidential election and called for a fresh election. I imagine the opposition is holding on to the idea that it is possible to trust the judiciary to be professional and independent. As this important legal precedent has found a footing in other African courts, it will be prudent to monitor the outcome of this Ugandan legal application, as it may be prove to be indicative of the consolidation of democracy and good governance in Uganda.

Deputy President of Uganda’s opposition National Unity Platform Mathias Mpunga says the party “rejects the announced results of the presidential elections”. Video: AFP
Lessons learned

The 2021 election in Uganda has exposed electoral weakness that should be addressed if future elections are to be declared fair, free and credible. The following are concerns and that require attention in order to strengthen the democratic system and good governance in Uganda:

  • Improved Voter Education: Despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the EC failed to implement favourable ways of promoting voter education. With such a young population, many of the voters were first time voters or ill-prepared second time voters. Better engagement strategies should be formulated, with the assistance of media, civil society and any other relevant organisation, to achieve a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to improved voter education.
  • Delayed Opening of Polling Stations: More effort should be made to ensure all polling stations open at the stipulated time. There were several reports of some polling stations only opening long after 07:00. While others opened on time, there were claims that not all polling stations had all the necessary voting material, or that voting material arrived late. This resulted in avoidable long queues, with some voters leaving the polling stations without casting their vote. The electronic devices are necessary to capture and verify details of voters before they can be issued with ballot papers.
  • Failure of Biometric Voter Verification Kits: There were allegations that some of the Biometric Voter Verification (BVV) kits used to identify voters were not operational, with some arguing it was due to the internet shutdown. This exacerbated the issue of late opening of some polling stations.
  • Slow Changing Political Landscape: While the opposition may not have won the election, there was some degree of the change in the political landscape, as we saw some candidates who due to their high-ranking positions as incumbent officials or their affiliation to the ruling party, expected to emerge victorious but failed. The election outcome saw several Ministers and the Vice President failing to match their previous election victories. A lesson from this victory for future political candidates is that elections seats are not guaranteed simply due to incumbency.
  • Lack of a United Opposition Front/Bloc: There were 11 presidential candidates participating in the 2021 election. The only form of coalition between the opposition leaders was in the election run-up, with Dr Kizza Besigye, who has run several election campaigns against Museveni, choosing to opt out of the election race and instead, to ally himself with Bobi Wine to help him gain more support. This lack of cohesion amongst the opposition saw them challenging each other in multiple constituencies, resulting in splitting the vote of the opposition vote, benefitting the incumbent.
  • Establishment of a Joint Tallying Centre: In an attempt to avoid potential miscounting of election ballots, some opposition political parties and independent presidential candidates agreed to form a joint tallying centre (JTC) to compute results from the January 14 polls. As a security measure, they declined to reveal where the JTC would be stationed or how it will operate. The opposition parties resolved to use technology and party structures to collect and relay results from polling stations across the country. This initiative is commendable as it mitigates against potential election counting fraud.
  • Electoral Commission Partiality: Incidents of EC’s partiality was on display during these elections. The EC released provisional election guidelines prohibiting mass campaign rallies. Instead, election campaigns were to be carried out via broadcast media. Chairperson Justice Simon Byabakama presented a “scientific electoral programme”, which prescribes online registration, virtual campaigns and several other events in line with guidelines in the fight against the coronavirus. In theory, this is a sound approach in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in practice, opposition parties expressed concern over this method of campaigning, contending that candidates would not get equal access to media coverage. In addition, further limitations of the EC’s impartiality were noted with the lack of response to the many claims and instances of abuse by the security forces against opposition candidates and supporters. Also, the restriction of some opposition party agents to observe polling stations on the day of voting was of serious concern, and not adequately addressed by the EC.
  • Incumbency Abuses: There is an urgent need to find a more systematic approach for all Electoral Commissions on the continent to find ways to stem incumbency abuses. In Uganda, campaign disruptions and violence at opposition rallies was a defined strategy by the incumbent seeking to undermine the success of the opposition’s election campaigns. He allowed the misuse of his office to spread fear amongst opposition candidates and potential voters by unleashing the security forces when he saw fit, while Museveni’s own rallies were untouched by the security forces and held with few disruptions despite drawing large crowds. Moreover, the rallies were held in contravention of provisional election guidelines released by the Electoral Commission disallowing mass campaign rallies.
  • International Election Observers: Because of the low number of international election observer teams deployed, some local embassies stationed in Uganda asked for accreditation as diplomatic election watchers rather than fully deployed international election observer teams. The major difference between a diplomatic election watch exercise and an international election observer team is the length of observation and mandate. An international election observer team usually involves months of observation of the electoral processes, the media coverage of elections, the campaigning of candidates, and the behaviour of security forces towards participating candidates prior and during the Election Day. In short, an election observer team is more beneficial to the tracking of the election processes while the diplomatic election watch, due to its composition, tends to focus on the election day process itself.

Additionally, the role of local observers becomes all that more important. As the Malawi case study showed, a more home-grown ownership of the election process can prove successful despite the absence of international election observer teams in these uncertain Covid-19 times.

Dr Craig Moffat is Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact at Good Governance Africa.

Uganda Election Day 2021: Summary

While we wait for the official results to be verified and released, the following will provide a summary of events that took place on election day in Uganda

 Polling Stations  

  • Most polling stations opened at 07h00 and closed at 16h00. Some polling stations in Kampala and other areas in northern Uganda opened late as polling material failed to arrive on time.  
  • Confusion over new polling stations had some voters unsure of where to cast their vote. Many had not picked up their voter location slips, while some had received them but could not read where they needed to vote.  
  • Biometric Voter Verification (BVV) devices, costing around US$22 million, were acquired for election day to help speed up voter identification and prevent voter fraud. Due to the internet shutdown and limited network connection, these BVV devices failed to work on the day, forcing election workers to revert to manual identification. The electronic devices are used to capture and verify details of voters before they can be issued with ballot papers. 
  • In the Wandegeya neighbourhood in Kampala, frustrations boiled over as some of the youth waiting to vote refused to give elders and pregnant women preferential treatment. 

Claims of Election Irregularities  

  • In the Kira Municipality, reports of ballot papers being delivered with broken seals angered voters who said they would not cast their ballot unless the ballots were sealed. 
  • At the Kireku Railway polling station, it is claimed polling material arrived with not only broken seals but some of the ballot boxes were half empty. Again, resulting in voters refusing to cast their votes until proper polling material arrived.  
  • Protests broke out in Kashari County, Mbarara after a box containing ballot papers was stolen in transit to their polling station while voters were reportedly given pre-ticked ballots. 
  • Outside of Kampala, in the western district of Bunyangabu, claims were made that some polling stations had not opened yet 2 hours later because voters had not shown up to witness the opening of the ballot material. The district has 92,440 voters and 184 polling stations. 

Election Violence 

  • Bobi Wine tweeted late yesterday evening that election day had seen “widespread fraud and violence”, reports of violence on the day have yet to be verified. Soldiers and police continue to patrol the streets while votes are being tallied. 
  • Alliance for National Transformation Uganda candidate Mugisha Muntu tweeted that when he casted his vote, his polling agents had experienced rejection, arrests and intimidation.  
  • Police raided Hotel Africana where civil society activists and election observers had set up to gather data from their colleagues from polling stations across the country. The police said they got word that the group had established an illegal parallel vote tallying centre. According to Sarah Bireete, around 20 of her colleagues had been arrested by police. 

Internet Shutdown 

  • Uganda’s electoral commission confirmed that the internet shutdown would not affect the release of election results. Justice Simon Byabakama, head of the Commission, stated their internal mechanisms do not require local internet to share the results.  
  • The internet shutdown remains in place. 

Regional Election Observers 

  • The East African Community (EAC) sent 74 election observers to observe Uganda’s presidential and parliamentary election this year. Head of the EAC’s mission, Domintien Ndayizeye, said the objective would be to observe the electoral process and offer a balanced assessment. They have not released a preliminary report yet.  
  • The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) sent a small election observer mission to just five districts due to limited funding and manpower. The Observation Mission was composed of 22 observers from IGAD Secretariat and Specialised Institutions and led by Siraj Fegessa, Director of the Peace and Security Division of IGAD. Initial statements from Fegessa allude to his team having observed some election irregularities.   
  • The Women Situation Room deployed 1,500 observers in 30 districts, as an African Union initiative. They are a peacebuilding initiative that empowers women to be the leading force for democratic and peaceful elections.  
Dr Craig Moffat is Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact at Good Governance Africa.

Uganda election: pre-election day developments 11 – 13 January 2021

Election Campaign Concerns

  • Twitter and Facebook have suspended several Ugandan government officials and ruling party accounts due to alleged manipulation of public debate on the platforms. Fake and duplicate accounts were used to engage with users and make officials seem more popular than they are. The Ugandan government rejected the accusations.
  • On Sunday 10th January, with only four days left to campaign, police arrested Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Patrick Amuriat. He was detained for an apparent traffic offence in the Mpigi District. Since his nomination to contest the elections, Amuriat has been arrested nine times.

Musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, also a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections, speaks during a press conference in Kampala, Uganda, on January 12, 2021. Photo: Sumy Sadurni/AFP

Election Violence

  • Bobi Wine’s campaign and security team were harassed and detained over the weekend by security forces. The home of Bobi Wine was raided the morning of 12th January and all personnel on the property were arrested.
  • A massive military presence has begun to occupy to streets of Uganda’s capital Kampala as the country prepares to vote tomorrow. The Ugandan government has claimed the military deployment was due to fears of mitigating post-election violence. Kampala residents have expressed concerns about the large military presence and acts of intimidation.
  • The U.S Embassy has issued a security alert to its citizens in Uganda to avoid election activity and remain vigilant over the follow days.

Internet and Social Media Shutdown

  • In response to Facebook and Twitter’s account suspensions, Museveni ordered Uganda’s communications regulator to have the country’s internet providers block all social media platforms until further notice.
  • On 11 January 2021, in a letter by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and 54 other organisations called on Museveni to keep the internet connected during and after the polls.

A staff member gestures towards a screen displaying how a ballot paper should be marked during the upcoming elections at the electoral commission headquarters in Kampala, Uganda, on January 12, 2021. Photo: Sumy Sadurni/AFP)

International Election Observers

  • The short-term East African Community Election Observer Mission (EAC-EOM) began their duties yesterday morning after being deployed to various districts across the country. The Head of Mission Domitien Ndayizeye stated that the mission would be guided by the principles outlined in the African Charter for Democracy and the EAC’s Principles for Election Observation and Evaluation. He encouraged all political actors to avoid the incitement of illegal behavior and requested the media to exercise social responsibility.
  • S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown to Uganda issued a statement over the decision to cancel their diplomatic observation of election day. She states that “the Electoral Commission of Uganda denied more than 75 percent of the U.S. election observer accreditations requested.” There was no explanation given for denial of accreditations.
  • European Union (EU) High Representative Josep Borrell expressed concern over the excessive use of force during the pre-election cycle in Uganda against opposition, civil society, journalists, human rights defenders and electoral experts. The EU did offer to send electoral experts, but this offer was not taken up.
  • In view of the fact that several international observers won’t be deployed, the role of local observers will be even more important than before.

Uganda Elections Tracker 2021

Uganda’s General Election Quick Facts

o 14 January 2021
o 18.1 million people have registered to vote
o 11 presidential candidates
o One female presidential candidate
o President Yoweri Museveni has served 5 elected terms
o 50% plus 1 vote needed for a candidate to avoid a run-off election
o 529 MPs will also be elected

Source: Uganda Electoral Commission 2021

Introduction

After a year of several contested elections, the first election of 2021 on the continent takes place in Uganda. Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni is entering his 35th year in power and is the fourth longest-ruling head of state in Africa. The 76-year-old is hoping to get a new mandate for his 6th term as leader of Uganda and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). Museveni assumed power on the back of an armed uprising in 1986 and has defied the political laws of gravity which have seen other long-serving leaders removed from office.

Museveni’s rule, though controversial, has seen extended periods of peace and significant developmental changes. However, these positive developments have been accompanied by strong armed tactics to maintain his grip on power through various means such as nurturing a personality cult, employing patronage, compromising independent institutions and sidelining and silencing opponents.

Uganda heads to the polls on the 14th of January for what has already been described by the leading opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine, as a “war and battlefield”. This has led to growing fears that the election results may lead to an outbreak of violence in the post-election period.

Election Contenders

There are 11 presidential candidates who were approved by Uganda’s Electoral Commission to participate in the 2021 general election.  The NRM’s main political contender is the National Unity Platform (NUP) led by Bobi Wine. An interesting development in the election runup is Dr Kizza Besigye, who has run several election campaigns against Museveni, choosing to opt out of the election race and instead, to ally himself with Bobi Wine to help him gain more support.

Young Electorate Age

Uganda has one of the world’s youngest populations, with about 75% under the age of 30. Both the incumbent and Bobi Wine are hoping to appeal to this young generation of voters. As this young voter pool is becoming more politically aware, the race to capture their vote has been intensifying. Young opposition supporters have become increasingly active and present in the political landscape due to improved media access and travel. The youth vote will be critical for the outcome of the election. Will they remain satisfied with the current political status quo or will they seek a new political order?

Posters of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who is running for his 6th presidential term are seen on a wall in Kampala, Uganda, on January 4, 2021. Uganda gears up for presidential elections which is scheduled to take place on January 14, 2021, as President Museveni seeks to continue his 35-year rule. Photo: Sumy Sadurni/AFP

Outbreaks of Violence

Since the start of campaigning in 2020, nearly 100 incidents of violence have been reportedbetween security forces and citizens, with the month of November registering several incidents such as:

11th November – Thousands of NUP supporters gathered to see Bobi Wine. Police clashed with the supporters and fired tear gas and live rounds in Gulu.
13th and 15th November – Hundreds of NUP supporters again clashed with the police. BobiWine and his security detail were also injured in the clash whilst trying to reach their supporters. The UN expressed concern over the election violence and urged Uganda’s security force to respect human rights and avoid the use of force.
18th November Bobi Wine was arrested, resulting in NUP supporters protesting and rioting, leading to several being shot and arrested.  
At the same time, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) supporters also clashed with police as they attempted to attend a campaign rally for their leader, Patrick Amuriat.
19th November At least 49 people were killed and over 100 wounded as NUP supporters clashed with police over the arrest. Protestors called for his release.
28th November Violent riots broke out after Bobi Wine was arrested for allegedly violatingCOVID-19 regulations. Protesters clashed with the police and military as they fired live bullets and tear gas in Kampala.
27th December – Bobi Wine’s bodyguard, Francis Senteza, was killed after being run over by a military truck after trying to help injured journalists during a confrontation with police.

Using ACLED’s conflict data we took a closer look at how the pattern of violence over Uganda’s election campaign played out.

Election Campaigns

Because of the violence meted out to opposition leaders and their supporters in November 2020, several chose to suspend their election campaigns in protest:

Bobi Wine suspended his election campaign on 1st December after the escalation of violence between his campaign team and government security personnel over November.
Candidates Nobert Mao (Democratic Party), Mugisha Muntu (Alliance for National Transformation) and Henry Tumukunde (Independent) also suspended their presidential campaigns due the ongoing violence and detention of opposition candidates and their supporters.

All the candidates resumed campaigning later in December, although clashes with government forces continued. To mitigate these campaign struggles, opposition leadership decided to join forces and sign a declaration that would promise collaboration during and after the election. The declaration hopes to ensure unity and cooperation between political players and promote non-violence and constitutionalism in a hostile political climate.

In an attempt to avoid potential voting miscounting of election ballots, opposition political parties and independent presidential candidates have agreed to form a joint tallying centre to compute results from the January 14 polls. As a security measure, they have declined to reveal where the tally centre will be stationed or how it will work. The opposition forces are the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), National Unity Platform, Justice Forum (Jeema), Democratic Party, Alliance for National and Transformation, Renewed Uganda (RU) platform and People’s Government. In a joint statement,  the opposition parties resolved to use technology and party structures to collect and relay results from polling stations across the country.

Electoral Commission Impartiality

The Electoral Commission (EC) released provisional election guidelines disallowing mass campaign rallies. Instead, campaigns are to be carried out via broadcast media. Chairperson Justice Simon Byabakama presented a “scientific electoral programme, which prescribes online registration, virtual campaigns and several other events in line with guidelines in the fight against the coronavirus. Opposition parties expressed concern over this proposed election campaign programme, contending that candidates would not get equal access to media coverage.

Limitations of the EC’s impartiality has been witnesses with the unresponsiveness to the abuses of security forces against opposition candidates and supporters and a concern that thousands of Northern Ugandans in the village of Apaa may not be able to vote as they’ve been removed as an electoral area.

Incumbency Abuses

The ongoing campaign disruption and violence at opposition rallies has been a clear strategy by the incumbent seeking to undermine the election campaigns of his opponents. He misused his office to spread fear amongst opposition candidates and potential voters by unleashing the security forces when he saw fit. Museveni’s rallies have gone untouched by security forces, and few disruptions have taken place despite his large crowds. The Human Rights Watch expressed concern over the violence, and pointed out that NRM rallies carried on as usual whilst the opposition rallies were unfairly disrupted. Moreover, the rallies were held in contravention of provisional election guidelines released by the Electoral Commission disallowing mass campaign rallies. Opposition parties have expressed concern over this so-called scientific electoral programme, contending that candidates would not get equal access to media coverage.

COVID-19 Restrictions

The COVID-19 pandemic has been relatively well managed by Museveni’s administration. With under 300 deaths, many Ugandans seem satisfied with efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the government’s pandemic efforts, radios, televisions, money and food have been provided to citizens. It could be argued that these donations could be part of the government’s election strategy to increase its vote count.

Museveni’s government has imposed COVID-19 restrictions which have given him an advantage in supressing opposition campaigning. If the pandemic numbers are accurate, Museveni’s government has been successful at containing the virus, which may prove beneficial to his election efforts on the voting day.

Restricting Media Freedoms

A recent Afrobarometer survey concluded that a media-only election campaign would likely leave many Ugandans poorly informed, because the level of access to various channels of media remains low, and concentrated among young, more educated men in the urban centres.The survey also found only half of Ugandans think the EC is impartial, and fewer think of it as trustworthy.

In December 2020, the government revoked media accreditation for all foreign journalists, including those already registered to cover the election. Journalists have been requested to reapply for registration within seven days and told that this is to “ensure the industry is well-monitored and sanitized from quacks. Journalist David Kalinaki of the Nation Media Group said: “the timing is very suspicious, both in terms of when it has been announced, and how much time has been given for conformity.”

Some foreign journalists attached to CBC News, a Canadian public broadcaster, who were already in the country to cover the election, have been deported. Mr Jacob Siminyu, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has declined to explain why the Canadian journalists were deported.

Election Observers Participation

The European Union has decided not to send their international observers to Uganda, as their recommendations during the 2016 election were not taken into consideration or implemented. Some of the recommendations included reforms to make the Electoral Commission body more independent, eliminate excessive use of force by the security forces, and increase transparency in tallying of votes. For the first time since the 2006 elections, the European Union Election Observation Mission will not have an election observer team deployed. Initially they claimed their non-deployment was due to the COVID-19 pandemic threat and ensuing travel complications, but it soon became apparent that Uganda’s non-adherence to previous election observation report recommendations appears to be the main issue. The EU sent a large number of election observers to Uganda for the 2006, 2011 and 2016 elections. This time, however, the EU delegation has written to the EC seeking to have a list of diplomats accredited to participate in an Election Watch Exercise on the polling days.

The major difference between a diplomatic election watch exercise and an election observer team is the length of observation and mandate. An election observer team usually involves months of observation of the electoral processes, the media coverage of elections, the campaigning of candidates, and the behaviour of security forces towards participating candidates prior and during the Election Day. In short, an election observer team is more beneficial to the tracking of the election processes.

Also, the British High Commission has sought clearance for 46 election observers to be accredited to observe the election period.

The East African Community (EAC) has indicated they will be deploying election observers to the country in two phases in December and January. The December deployment will be followed by a short-term mission in mid-January.

Lastly, In November 2021, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation offered to work with Ugandan diplomats to assist in election cooperation and share “best practices” to assist their upcoming election process.

Dr Craig Moffat is Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact at Good Governance Africa.

Monique Bennett is a senior researcher at Good Governance Africa. She has a keen interest in data science, data visualisation and statistics using the R programming language. Throughout her studies, research topics such as development, democracy and the environment within the context of developing countries have been her focus areas.
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