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Monday, November 21, 2016

KIGGUNDU AND THE BUILDING OF INSTITUTIONS

Thursday was the last day in office of Dr Badru Kiggundu’s tenure as head of the Electoral Commission (EC).

The event went largely unnoticed, overshadowed by our  latest scandal, the whodunit surrounding the death of social worker Kenneth Akena over the weekend. Two people – Matthew Kanyamunyu and his partner Cynthia Munwangari remain in custody as suspects in the incident.

The story has more twists than a Kisoro road and the public – never mind what social media says, is no closer to the truth  as to what happened on that fateful evening.

But back to Kiggundu and his place in history.

Engineer Badru Kiggundu was appointed chairman of the EC, seemingly out of the blue in 2002. The former dean of the technology faculty seemed an unlikely replacement for Aziz Kasujja, whose term at the EC came to an unceremonious end a year after the 2001 polls.

"Looking back to the time, quite a few people felt the engineer would find himself out of his depth.
That the unrelenting intrigue and political gymnastics that come with the position, would bamboozle the linear logic of his scientific mind, frustrate him and soon have him scampering for the hills in bewilderment.
They clearly underestimated the man.
He oversaw the contentious 2006 polls, bounced back to shepherd the 2011 elections and finally the most recent at the beginning of this year, where logistical snafus had people seeing conspiracies at every turn. This is not counting the myriad of elections at local government level and the hundreds of by elections that we have become accustomed to.

But Kiggundu’s legacy is more than just about the man but as a builder of the foundation of electoral practice.

We may raise an eyebrow about the way this election was carried out, frown at the result of that poll or sneer at the seeming favaroutism of another, but precedent has been set for better or worse, which will give us a chance as a country to improve our process going into the  future.

It’s not automatic but at least there is a better chance of progress.

We forget that between Independence in 1962 and 1980 the country had only on general election. But in the 20 years from 1996 to date we have had five presidential elections.

The critics might pooh it away as mere ritual but that is to ignore or not understand how culture is established. Culture is the way things are done. It is not written into existence, but practiced over long periods to the point that a new baseline is set. Suggestions mooted last year that maybe for lack of money we should not hold this year’s elections, did not see the light of day, as a standard had already been set and should be observed regardless of circumstance.

The Democratic Republic of Congo which was supposed to have a general election in December has opted not to with little repercussion to the establishment, because elections are still a novelty in our western neighbour and can be done away at the convenience of the ruling elite.

In the US the most crude of electoral malpractice, ballot stuffing, vote buying and intimidation have been reported down the ages. Much of it has been worked out of the system through improved legislation and the employment of technology.

But this would not have happened if they had not retained the culture of having an election every time it was due.

Elections are not democracy but it is one of the most critical pillars of democracy.

Kiggundu was not a saint and neither did he claim to be one. If Uganda matures into a better democracy his role over the last 14 years would have pride of place in the history books about the process.

"In a world where a person’s worth is measured by the size of his bank account, it is easy to dismiss his contribution. Future generations with no sense of history may relegate him to a footnote. But regardless of what happens, serious chroniclers of our time will find the record of Kiggundu’s era provides useful material to make head of tail of our time....


Kiggundu and his team have laid their brick on the wall of history. No one can take that away from them.

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