Gifford Pinchot said: “It is a greater thing to be a good citizen than to be a good republican or a good democrat.”
From the worldometers.info website, Uganda has a population of 46.486 532 million people and 50.8% of these are women.78% of the population are under the age of 30, making us the country with the youngest population in the world.
I first voted in 1980 when I was almost thirty years old. By then our population was 12.548 million with a median age of 16.4. 126 parliamentary seats were contested , there were 4.898, 117 registered voters and a voter turn out of 85.2% .
Forty years later, the population has grown to 46.486 532 with a median age of 16.7
A hotly contested general election is due next Thursday, 14th January 2021.The Electoral Commission website shows that there are 17. 658 527 million registered voters of whom 77 % are under the age of 25. This is the group that will determine our country’s future in a free and fair election.
There are 353 constituencies seats and one women representative seat from each of the the 146 districts of Uganda.
The pre-independence elections were held early 1962, followed by Independence on the 9th October 1962. Then from May 1966, the country was embroiled in years of civil strife until April 1979 when soldiers of the Tanzanian Defence Forces assisted some Ugandan exiles to overthrow Idi Amin Dada’s military dictatorship.
The ruling military commission organized the December 1980 general elections that saw Milton Obote return to power for the second time. The elections were rigged and led to the protracted bush war in the Luwero triangle in central Buganda for five years. It ended on January 26th January 1986 when the then rebel leader , Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was sworn in as the 8th President of Uganda.
I have been in economic exile for almost 25 years so forty years after I cast my first vote, I shall be voting for the second time!
For those under 30, you could be taking the right to vote freely for granted and yet some men and women fought for this right. For the women in particular, you owe your vote to the progressive Women’s rights pioneers- they campaigned, lobbied the governments of the day, held demonstrations and protests to win the Women’s suffrage- the right of women to vote in elections. This opened up the women’s entry in the public arena.
After centuries of socialization that the women‘s role in society was motherhood and home- making while the men provided and protected them, it was a long and serious struggle. Almost all our traditional African societies believed that a woman had to first be protected and cared for by her father who then passed her on to a husband and if the husband died, her eldest son would take on the responsibility for her. By all intents and purposes, the woman was considered a minor.
It is therefore not surprising that even in Greece, the foundation of Western Civilisation democracy, the women had no voice in the democracy or governance of their country.
These women rights pioneers were fighting for the equality of the sexes in law and reality-to get half the country’s sidelined population into the democratic functioning of society. Their biggest obstacle was that feasible social changes were to be passed by men in an all-men parliament.
They struggled doggedly and recruited men on their side by proving to them that improving the position of women in society would also raise the quality of life for the average family and the nation as a whole. They believed that the problems of women were not theirs alone but they were problems for the societies they lived in.
The best example is Switzerland, it was the last country in Europe to give women the right to vote in 1984 after three referendums of 1968, 1971 and 1973!
The following list gives you an idea about the protracted struggle.
New Zealand – full suffrage in 1893
Denmark – 1915
Russia – 1917
USA – 1919
South Africa- white women only – 1930
Philippines – 1937: the first in Asia.
Greece- 1930 but in reality in 1944.
Israel – since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.Little wonder then it had its first woman Prime Minister, Golda Meir in 1969.
India – full suffrage 1947
Ethiopia – 1955
Tanganyika – 1958
Nigeria – 1959
Zimbambwe – 1978
South Africa- full suffrage in 1994.
Saudi Arabia – December 2015. In 1957,women were banned from driving cars and the right was restored after intensive campaigns and lobbying in September 2017!
Uganda as a British territory had its first woman member of the Legislative Council, Mrs. Florence Alice Lubega as early as 1957 and between 1958 and 1960 she was followed by a number of educated women like Pumla Kisosonkole, Joyce Mpanga, Sarah Ntiro, Frances Akello and Eseza Makumbi. At the time of Independence Florence Lubega, Sugra Visram Namubiru and Barbara Saben were members of Parliament.
As more women were empowered by good education – to university level, the number of female members of parliament increased.
The numbers surged after the United Nations End of the Women Decade Conference held in July 1985 in Nairobi, Kenya. The then Uganda government of Milton Obote- 2 sent a big delegation of Non Government Organisation and government officials for the three weeks conference. By the time they returned to Uganda the government had been overthrown but the members of the NGO forum went on to found ACFODE- Action for Development and the medical doctors among them founded the Women Doctors Association. They also fanned the activities of FIDA- UGANDA, the Uganda chapter of the International Women lawyers which had been founded in 1974 and other local organizations promoting women’s rights.
Later, in January 1986, when the new government headed by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was sworn in , these energetic members lobbied his government for a Ministry of Women in Development to be headed by a woman, mainly to develop social mechanisms to promote Equality and put it into practice. Over time it has grown and evolved into the Ministry of Gender Labour and social Development.
Creating the position of a Parliamentary representative of women from each district of Uganda was one of these social mechanisms and still stands today. Empowering women through education combined with these social mechanisms have changed the social position of women in Uganda forever. We never forget that the struggle for a better quality of life can only be fought by men and women together.
“In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.”– Barack Obama
I was happy to see one female, forty years old Nancy Alice Kalembe , a mother of two, among the eleven Presidential candidates . She may be invisible among that crowd of men but she is a beacon of hope for the young generation of women and validates the efforts of those women who have waged the ceaseless battle to get the woman in the political arena.
“ No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severes its lifeline.”– Citizenship quote
Knowing and understanding clearly where the women are coming from, I will go out with enthusiasm and optimism to vote on Thursday 14th January 2021 and later be part of the selection of Local Authority officials. I am busy encouraging others to do the same. Politics determines our every day needs- healthcare, transport, quality of education and our livelihood, I cannot take democracy for granted, I have to play my role as a responsible citizen.
Gellhorn said: “Citizen is a tough occupation which obliges the citizen to make his own informed opinion and stand by it.“
The wisest among us learn from others: the highly contested US election of 2000 between George Bush Jr. and Al Gore taught the Americans and all members of the Global Village that every vote counts.
It is extremely unfortunate that the general election will be taking place during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic- the new cases are surging and the deaths are increasing and yet we have to vote.
The best option is to strictly adhere to the Ministry of health safety guidelines and ensure that you are not in harm’s way as you fulfill one of your fundamental rights of citizenship.
Whom I vote for is my own business but I would want to vote for a leader with vision, integrity, accountability,humility to serve others, focused and inclusive and a strategic planner. He has to be someone who will inspire us to do things we never thought we could do.
“ Anyone who refuses to make a choice has already made a wrong choice by allowing his life for chance to rule.”- Myles Munroe
“ There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.” – Nader
QUESTION: Are you ready to be a good and responsible citizen by exercising your right to vote freely on the 14th January 2021?