How monetized elections excludes many Women in Uganda’s politics

Since 2006 when the multiparty political dispensation was reintroduced in Uganda, elective politics has become highly commercialized/monetized, consequently perpetuating exclusion of women from participating in the electoral processes as candidates, and also undermining the fairness of campaigns.

In Uganda, women constitute 50.7% of the 47.12 million total population (World Bank,2019 report). The numerical advantage however is not reflected in the political participation statistics as highlighted in several reports. For instance, the Uganda Electoral Commission report on the general elections of 2021 shows that 38,253 candidates were nominated to compete for open elective seats (non-affirmation action seats) of which on 950 representing 2.5% were female under the category of Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government. At Presidential level, out of 11 candidates nominated only 01 was female.

At Parliamentary level, out of 2043 candidates nominated for direct constituency, only 134 representing 6.6% were female. Meanwhile at Local Government level, out of 36,199 nominated candidates, only 815 representing 2.3% were female across various categories of district/city chairpersons, municipality/city division chairpersons, municipality/city division directly elected councilors, subcounty/town/municipality chairperson, and subcounty/town/municipality directly elected councilors. These numbers clearly magnify that electoral spaces in Uganda have continued to be a preserve of affluent men and hence more women are being left-behind in Uganda’s Politics, consequently, this affects their participation in decision-making processes.

For women to break this structural barrier to equal their political participation as candidates competing with men in all available political positions, there must be a shift in numbers and positions of authority in decision making spaces in order to counteract male dominance.

To achieve this, it is imperative to decommercialize electoral politics which is a vehicle through which women can get into positions of leadership and authority, and challenge male dominance created by commercialized politics. The following specific challenges that underpin commercialized politics and exclude women from participating effectively in electoral processes need to be tackled:

  • The lack of access to campaign finance for women to compete in electoral politics. Majority of the women in Uganda have limited of sources of campaign finance required to compete with men since they don’t own property to liquidate or use as collateral to access loans. This is coupled with the existing income inequalities affecting their savings and contributions from their networks and among others.
  • Inadequate financial illiteracy skills for women in politics is another barrier to their effective participation in politics. Majority of women lack the capacity to financially plan, manage and run a campaign in a highly commercialized/monetized political setting. As a consequence, many who attempt to join elective politics spend money unnecessarily which in turn exposes them to unwanted loans thus plunging them into debt and consequently losing property hence their counter-parts stay away from contesting.
  • The inability of political parties to allocate adequate funds towards strengthening women and that nurture women and youth leaders is also contributing to the problem. This is in part due to the exclusion in political party planning, budgeting and implementation processes. SecretsKnown recognizes that almost all political parties in Uganda are male dominated and male-led, thus further entrenching patriarchy within the party structures.
  • Sexualization of campaign finance where women become victims of sexual violence to fundraise for campaigns. Since majority of women politicians don’t have access to campaign funds, oftentimes, they are vulnerable to male patrons who finance their elections in exchange for sex. As a consequence, a number of vibrant young women leaders have lost interest, while others have become prone to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Regulate money in politics to create space for equal women participation in elective politics.

The Uganda Electoral Commission reports on the past two electoral cycles have also been highlighting commercialization of politics as one of the challenges to Uganda’s electoral integrity. For example, The Electoral Commission report on 2016 general election submitted to Parliament highlighted commercialization of politics as one of the causes of the electoral related violence. The Commission’s report on the 2020/2021 general elections submitted to Parliament under section 14.2 (d) page 83 recommends “government to enact stringent anti-commercialization of election laws/legislations”, as this would help in curbing excess money in elective politics when enforced.

SecretsKnown would like to reiterate the position of Electoral Commission and other pro-democracy actors on the need for government to regulate money in politics. It must be recalled that on November 18, 2018, President Museveni through his twitter handle made a tweet that “I urged leaders of the opposition political parties, together with their supporters, to work with the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Government to eradicate electoral violence & the monetization of politics to give democracy & stability a chance to flourish in Uganda.” – YK Museveni’s tweet made November 18, 2018.

It is high time government of Uganda walks the talk by putting in place a comprehensive election campaign finance law that will help cure the problem of commercialization and monetization of elective politics in Uganda.

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