To vote or not to vote: Will the 2016 election represent the will of all Ugandans?

A lady casting her vote during a general election
A lady casting her vote 

By Philimon Badagawa and Paul Kisembo

The February 2016 Elections are billed as a crucial time when #UgandaDecides who will be the next president, Members of Parliament and local government leaders. Frequent free and fair elections are globally regarded as a key component of democratic governance as citizens of a country get the chance to determine who will lead them.

All Ugandans aged 18 and above were urged to register to vote and take part in the February 18th 2016 polls. According to the Uganda Electoral Commission, a total of 15,277, 196 have been registered to take part in the 2016 elections. But are all the registered Ugandans looking forward to voting (and therefore deciding) who will be in what office after the polls are conducted?

Like the past elections, there are ongoing efforts by different players including the Electoral Commission and civil society organisations encouraging people to cross check their voter details, to go and vote on election day, and to ensure citizens vote based on their free will or appreciation of issues being articulated by candidates, and not material enticements, bias or force. But as the clock ticks to the February 2016 election, many observers are worried that fewer Ugandans might turn up to vote, and therefore the minority might determine who becomes the country’s next leaders.

Looking through statistics from Uganda Electoral Commission on the voter registration numbers and voter turn up, one can notice a drastic decline in the number of voters turning up to vote on election day over the years.

A voter deciding her favorite candidate
Is voting day a deciding day of who will win?

Despite the growing increase in the number of people registering to vote across all the districts in Uganda over the election years (1996, 2001, 2006, 2011), the percentage of people turning up to vote has been reducing. Even then, many Ugandans do not register to vote.

The estimated eligible Population to vote in 1996 stood at 9,875,250 but out of these, 8,492,231 were registered to vote while a total of 6,193,816 turned up to vote for their presidential candidates representing 72.9%.

While in 2001 out 10,775,836 voters who were registered, only 7,511,606 voted for presidential candidates indicating 69.7%.

During the 2006 election, 10,450,788 were registered to vote but only 6880232 turned up to cast their votes (65.8%).

 Out of 13,954,129 registered voters in 2011, a total of 8,272,760 turned up to vote, which is 55.32%.

The interactive graphs below show statistics of registered voters and voter turn up in the last four elections

The figures clearly indicate a drop in the countrywide voter turn up from 72.9% in 1996 to 69.7% in 2001, 65.8% in 2006 and 53.32% in 2011.

This implies that the voter turn up can hardly increase in 2016 where 15,277, 196 are registered and eligible to vote in the February 2016 general elections

In the tabs below are maps indicating the number of registered voters and the number of those who voted for Presidential candidates per district in the past four elections for the years 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011.

1996 Elections

2001 Elections

2006 Elections

2011 Elections

It can be clearly noted that the voter turn is higher in some districts and not others. Statistics show that more people in the Districts of Kamwenge, Kyanjojo, Mbarara, Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono and Masaka do turn up to vote as compared to other districts in Uganda.

Kamwenge had the highest voter turn up in 2001 with 92.1% of the registered voters turning up to vote in 2001 but reduced to 65.3% in 2006. One wonders why this big reduction.

The tabs below show bar graphs indicating the differences in the number of registered voters in the different districts and those who turned out to vote in the years 1996, 2001,2006,2011

In 2001 Presidential elections, out of 701,895 people registered to vote in Kampala, 511,113 turned up to vote; representing 72.8%. While the percentage dropped to 34.2% in 2006 and dropped further in 2011 despite the gradual increase in the number of people registering to vote.

Display of the voter's registrar ahead of fresh elections.
Display of the voter’s registrar ahead of fresh elections.

Mbarara which is one of the districts with the highest voter turn up since 1996 saw 469,806 out of 569,137 registered voters turning up to vote in 2001,standing at 82.5%. The percentage then dropped to 16.6% in 2006.

The story is the same in Wakiso District whose voter turn up stood at 57% in 2001 but kept declining to 30.7% in 2006 and further in 2011. Mokono falls in the same boat with a voter turn up of 61.0% in 2001, and 26.3% in 2006.

Voter Inflation Vs Low voter registration

Yet, despite the seeming low voter turn up, there has been wide concern over the years that the voter register is inflated to reflect more numbers of voters than there actually is. A comparison of Uganda’s voter registration statistics and the country’s population statistics is indeed telling.

According to population statistics (Census 2014) released by Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), Uganda has a total population of 34,856,813. The Electoral Commission says 15,277,196 Ugandans are the registered to vote in 2016 general elections.

This means that 43.83% of Uganda’s total population are registered voters in 2015, despite concerns that many did not make it to the voter registration/ national ID registration exercise of 2015.

Some people question whether Ugandans above 18 years- the voting age are above 15 million people as per the Electoral Commission statistics.

The UBOS Census 2014 report shows that 48.1% of Ugandans are aged 14years and below. Therefore, having 43.83% registered voters (above 18years ) by the Electoral Commission shows a glaring mathematical mismatch.

But just like the taste is in the pudding, the real questions arise as you look at the details of each district. The tabs below show the map of Uganda indicating population figures (Census 2014) and number of registered voters (2015) per district. You can also look at the graphs showing population statistics of the Most and Least populated districts in Uganda vis-a-vis the registered voters.

Whatever the case, the drastic decline in the voter turn up over the years does not only leave many questions unanswered but also makes one wonder whether the outcome of the election results really represent the will and expectations of the people of Uganda given the fact that many do not turn up to vote.

Some NRM critics have for long said that even death does not seem to stop people from voting in Uganda. The dead, the sick and sometime underage have been cited in evidence presented by Dr. Kizza Besigye’s 2001 and 2006 vote rigging petition to the Supreme Court.

One wonders how if such voting anomalies have twice been confirmed by the Supreme Court, there is still such a big population of people (in official statistics of EC) who don’t turn up to vote? Are Ugandans that good at abdicating from exercising their right to vote and duty to choose who should lead them? Are the majority of Ugandans so indifferent as to deciding who should lead them? Are so many people in Uganda having less trust in the election process? Is election time becoming a decision of whether to vote or not to vote, instead of being about choosing the best leader(s) for next term of political office? The Campus Times talked to a cross section of Ugandans to find answers to some of these question.

Below we bring you audio and video recordings of some of the people we interviewed or whether to vote or not to vote, how and why they arrive at such a decision.


Obiga Brian is a youth from Arua District

christine Nawetane is the Guild President at Kampala University(2015/2016)

Kayihura Safiri Felix, Former UNSA President

Business people

Madinah Zalwango is a business woman and a politician in Entebe

Lufunya Derrick is an entrepreneur and Lawyer in Kampala


Okebe Nathan is a lecturer at Nkumba University.

Religious Leaders


Here are some popular quotes that some people have come up with to support their decisions to vote or not to vote.

Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be.  ~Sydney J. Harris

A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.  ~Bill Vaughan

It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting.  ~Tom Stoppard, Jumpers

Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently and all for the same reason.  ~José Maria de Eça de Queiroz, translated from Portuguese

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
― Winston S. Churchill
“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”
― David Foster WallaceUp, Simba!

“I have never voted in my life… I have always known and understood that the idiots are in a majority so it’s certain they will win.”
― Louis-Ferdinand Céline

“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
― Abraham Lincoln

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Presidents are selected, not elected.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil. Next time, go all out and write in Lucifer on the ballot.”
― Jarod Kintz99 Cents For Some Nonsense

“Democracy is not just the right to vote, it is the right to live in dignity.”
― Naomi Klein

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.”
― Larry J. SabatoPendulum Swing

“All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or back gammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obli­gation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.”
― Henry David ThoreauOn the Duty of Civil Disobedience

“A man without a vote is a man without protection.”
― Lyndon B. Johnson

“Pops added,”you know, they say if you don’t vote, you get the government you deserve.”
“And if you do, you never get the results you expected,” (Katherine) replied.”
― E.A. BucchianeriBrushstrokes of a Gadfly

Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?  ~Robert Orben

Why pay money to have your family tree traced; go into politics and your opponents will do it for you.  ~Author Unknown

Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.  ~W.C. Fields

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.  ~George Jean Nathan

I’m tired of hearing it said that democracy doesn’t work.  Of course it doesn’t work.  We are supposed to work it.  ~Alexander Woollcott

People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people.  Of course, that is not true.  Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.  ~Walter H. Judd

If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these acceptance speeches there wouldn’t be any inducement to go to heaven.  ~Will Rogers

Our presidential race is beginning to sound more and more like Harry Potter’s duel with the Ministry of Magic.  ~Dave Beard, 2008 Aug 02, during the Obama-McCain race

If God wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates.  ~Jay Leno

The problem with political jokes is they get elected.  ~Henry Cate, VII

The most important political office is that of the private citizen.  ~Louis Brandeis

Politics, it seems to me, for years, or all too long, has been concerned with right or left instead of right or wrong.  ~Richard Armour

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.  ~Oscar Ameringer

When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.  ~Clarence Darrow

Truth is not determined by majority vote.  ~Doug Gwyn

Don’t vote, it only encourages them. ~Billy Connolly, An Audience with Billy Connolly, 1985

Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule – and both commonly succeed, and are right.  ~H.L. Mencken, 1956

Take our politicians:  they’re a bunch of yo-yos.  The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of cliches the first prize.  ~Saul Bellow

In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.  ~Charles de Gaulle

Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what you think it is you want to hear.  ~Alan Coren

We have plenty of Confidence in this country, but we are a little short of good men to place our Confidence in.  ~Will Rogers

Applause, mingled with boos and hisses, is about all that the average voter is able or willing to contribute to public life.  ~Elmer Davis

The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal – that you can gather votes like box tops – is… the ultimate indignity to the democratic process.  ~Adlai Stevenson, speech, Democratic National Convention, 18 August 1956

We have, I fear, confused power with greatness.  ~Stewart Udall

Political campaigns are designedly made into emotional orgies which endeavor to distract attention from the real issues involved, and they actually paralyze what slight powers of cerebration man can normally muster.  ~James Harvey Robinson,The Human Comedy, 1937

During a campaign the air is full of speeches – and vice versa.  ~Author Unknown

If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.  ~Emma Goldman

Democracy:  The state of affairs in which you consent to having your pocket picked, and elect the best man to do it.  ~Benjamin Lichtenberg

The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.  ~Karl Marx

I offer my opponents a bargain:  if they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them.  ~Adlai Stevenson, campaign speech, 1952

We would all like to vote for the best man but he is never a candidate.  ~Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard
Sourced from different websites

After looking at the above analysis of the registered voters’ response to voting in the previous presidential election in Uganda since 1996, one can not dismiss the concern by some that less than 50% of Uganda’s legible voters will decide who the next President is after the February 2016 election, if at all it is the election to decide.

As George Jean Nathan once famously said, “bad leaders are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” We hope that you as a Ugandan will do your best to exercise your right to vote and duty to contribute to choosing the next President of Uganda, the Members of Parliament and Local government leaders in your respective areas.

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