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Are Ugandans as Satisfied With Their Government as This Opinion Poll Shows?

Voters line up at a polling station in Nyendo Masaka, Uganda, on February 18, 2011. Photo by Peter Beier. Copyright Demotix

Voters line up at a polling station in Nyendo Masaka, Uganda, on February 18, 2011. Photo by Peter Beier. Copyright Demotix

American think tank International Republican Institute (IRI) released the results of an opinion poll at the end of March, which revealed that a majority of Ugandans are generally satisfied with government performance. Over two-thirds of respondents (69 percent) said the country is headed in the right direction.

In particular, those polled thought the government was performing well or very well in managing the economy, reducing crime and delivering basic services in terms of health, clean water, roads and education. However, the government did register poor marks on fighting corruption, with 69 percent of respondents thinking that authorities were handling corruption badly or very badly.

The findings prompted a lively debate in social networks and on mainstream media, with many commenters questioning how so many Ugandans could think the country, where President Yoweri Museveni has ruled for nearly three decades, was headed in the right direction.  

According to the 2013 Millennium Development Goals Report for Uganda, the country under Museveni has succeeded in “halving the number of people living in absolute poverty and achieving debt sustainability” – and was on track to achieve another eight of its targets. The country registered real gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 5.2 percent in 2013 due to strong exports and public investment, and was expected to continue growing even more in 2014 and 2015, according to African Development Bank data (although severe drought may have changed this forecast).

However, international organizations have over the years denounced human right abuses and attacks on freedom of expression in Uganda, where the regime uses ready-made laws to target activists and opposition leaders. In October 2014, Amnesty International expressed concerns that Ugandan people were “unable to challenge their political rulers, speak freely and dispute a group of new human rights-denying laws.” Human Right Watch lists similar concerns, including the “deaths of at least 49 people during protests in 2009 and 2011.”

‘People DO NOT grow to love and cherish dictatorships’

Readers commented widely on an analysis of the poll results published on the website of the Uganda's Monitor, a highly respected private daily. SagInc, taking examples of dictators laundering, wrote:

The question is who requested for and subsequently paid for the research to be carried out? You will be surprised how much money has exchanged hands and from whom. Former dictators: Ben Ali of Tunisia, Suharto of Indonesia, Yakubu Gowan of Nigeria, Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania all engaged in social-engineering at the height of their dictatorships to try and conceal the true state of affairs but all in vain. History tells us that people DO NOT grow to love and cherish dictatorships but rather the opposite.

IRI says the poll was conducted in December 2014 and funded by the foreign aid arm of the United States, the US Agency for International Development.

Ugandans have reason to be skeptical. A few days after the poll results were released, Ugandan media revealed that the government had reportedly paid a US public relations firm 614 million Ugandan shillings ($206,000, 174,000 euros) “to prop up Uganda's image” after it took a hit internationally thanks to a law that criminalized same-sex relations with life in prison in some cases. The Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down by the country's Constitutional Court in August 2014.

Infographic courtesy International Republican Institute.

In Uganda, 65 percent of respondents in this poll support the respect of term limits, an issue that grows more relevant by the day. Museveni has already been chosen by ruling party National Resistance Movement to run once again in the 2016 elections, despite controversy over his eligibility because of a constitutional age limit (Museveni is 70, and would pass the cap — 75 — during another five-year term served). In January 2015, Museveni said he is not ready to hand over power to the opposition leaders, calling them “wolves lurking to tear Uganda apart.” 

James commented:

Election reform and terms limit reflect the views of many. The rest of the survey is pure fuzzy maths.

‘Dictatorship, murders, lies’

On the same site, commenter Jomo wondered if the respondents were informed enough:

I don't know whether the researchers took into account the fact that a large number of Ugandans (un-researched street wisdom!), both urban and rural, are largely uninformed, and depend on either here-say, or information handed down by government agents/representatives, to form their opinions.

Augustus Karube thought the poll provides useful information for political parties and wondered how their leaders are going to use it:

What really matters most, to opposition parties is, how best they can use this information, to prepare themselves, to develop strategy, to address and focus on key issues, which were sited in this quick/short poll. They should take a particular note of respondents disagreements or dismay or disapproval, but not to read too much into it. Never the less, do not dismiss it all together, as rubbish.

At least, it is a document, which provides a sort of overview of the political, economic and social issues, under this regime, as seen through the lives and experiences of voters, minus the untold truth. Use it wisely. Nothing out of it, should be taken for granted, to be or not to be the absolute truth. What is your view? If you were to be asked, but you were not?

Uganda's opposition parties have threatened to boycott presidential and parliamentary elections due in February 2016, arguing that the Electoral Commission is biased in favor of Museveni and his ruling party and demanding it be replaced. 

An analysis by Moses Khisa, a PhD candidate in political science at Northwestern University in Illinois, USA, on Uganda's Observer criticizing the poll results as “self-deception” received a lot of comments from netizens. mungu wrote:

MK you also have to concede that your concept of ‘right direction’ vastly differs from that of most Ugandans.
For them all those failures of M7 [Yoweri Museveni] regime are in fact sweet music and the right direction. In my village they will tell you he has actually helped reduce the dust on their roads because ever since he came to power none of their children has excelled academically, got a well paying job and bought a car. So they are not interested in a tarred road either. A resistance to Western civilization may be? Think about it

Francis, another reader, wrote:

What can you write home about M7/NRM/NRMO [Museveni/National Resistance Movement/National Resistance Movement Organisation] other than Dictatorship, Murders, Lies, Nepotism, Cronyism, Land grabbing, Coercion, Militarism, Robberies, Thefts, Impunity, domineering, Threats, Poverty, Rotten Education system, Tribalism, sectarianism, deception.

Among the readers of that daily newspaper, Peter was the only one to express a positive comment:

If the country is going in the right direction and Museveni achieves high marks, the logic is there is no problem. Other problems created does not arise, they have no base. Let those who want to come to power wait for 2016, to see Uganda continuing in aright direction.

Bambalazaabwe Ssemakula represented the opinion of many readers:

Survey or no survey, nothing is gonna change as those in leadership do not see this as credible information as long as it does not wholly suit NRM [Museveni's National Resistance Movement]

Ugandans went to Twitter, too, to comment on the results, with hashtag #IRIUgandaPolls. Twitter user T.Ddumba and journalism student kemigisa jacky pointed out unrealistic promises from politicians:

Water and sanitation specialist Fredrick Tumusiime, based in Kampala, responded to their tweets, saying:

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