To Vote or Not to Vote Part 2: Is the Declining Voter Turn Up a Reflection of Lost Hope

A voter checking the voter register (Photo:Uganda electoral Commission)
A voter checking the voter register (Photo:Uganda electoral Commission)

Samson J Nfuuko clocked 18 years in late 1990s. At this age, he is eligible to vote according to the Ugandan Constitution. But surprisingly, he has never participated in any general elections since 1996. He believes Uganda can move on with or without his participation in the voting and election process.

“I do not think my one vote can change any thing in the results”, he openly says. Samson has no faith in the Uganda’s election process and has little hope that he can make a difference in the final results.

Samson is not the only, his story on voting is like a drop of ice in an ocean. He is a representation of many Ugandans whose participation in elections is declining year by year.

Despite the growing increase in the number of people registering across all the districts in Uganda over the election years (1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016), 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 when Uganda held the 1st elections under President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s rule 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 of 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 6,880,232 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 population census 2014, indicated that there are 34.6 million persons in Uganda and but only 15,277,198 registered to vote in 2016 general elections and 10,329,131 turned up to vote in 2016 presidential elections. This represents 67.41% voter turn up, indicating a slight increase by 12.1% compared to those who turned up in 2011.

Below is a graph showing the voter turn up since 1996.

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 55.32% in 2011.

This implies that the voter turn up can hardly increase in 2021 where more than 17 million people are registered and eligible to vote in the February 2021 general elections.

The graph below shows the number of registered voters and number of voters who turn up to vote for the years 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016.

The interactive graphs below show statistics of registered voters and voter turn up in the last four elections. (click on the year on top of the tab to see the respective graphs )

Voter turn up in 1996





Below are Maps of Uganda showing the number of registered voters per district as well as the number of those who turned up to vote in presidential elections (1996, 2001, 2006,2011 and 2016). (Use the + sign on the left bottom hand corner to zoom out and see clearly the Uganda map, click on the year on top of the tab to see the respective maps. Then click on the icon in the map to see the data for a particular district of choice) It also shows the number of votes each candidate got during the general presidential elections in 2016.






Map of Uganda showing registered Voters per district and turn up in 2016 presidential elections. It also shows the number of votes each presidential candidate got per district. (Use the + sign on the left bottom hand corner to zoom out and see clearly the Uganda map, click on the year on top of the tab to see the respective maps. Then click on the icon in the map to see the data for a particular district of choice)



1996 voter turn up:


The population of Uganda was 34,634,650 persons in 2014 according to UBOS 2014 Uganda population census. This
represents an increase of 10.4 million persons from the 2002 census.

Out of which 17,060,832 were male while 17,573,818 were Females according to Uganda population census last carried out in 2014.

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-à-vis the registered voters.

Most Populated Districts

Least Populated Districts

Maps for Districts

Below is a map of Uganda showing population per district for 1991, 2002 and 2014 censuses and also a graph showing the population of Uganda by gender for the last ten censuses (from 1911 to 2014). This information/data is based on Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) statistics.

Map of Uganda showing the population per district for the last three censuses carried out in 1991, 2002 and 2014. (Click on the + sign on the left bottom hand corner to zoom out and see clearly the Uganda map. Then click on the icon in the map to see the data for a particular district of choice)

Interactive graph showing population of Uganda by gender for the last ten censuses (from 1911 to 2014), it also shows the total population for the respective years when the census was carried out.

Map of Uganda showing population of the most populated districts (2014 census)

Map of Uganda showing population of the least populated districts (2014 census)

Why the declining voter turn up.

Despite the increase in the population and the number of people legible to vote, the curve of those turning up to vote is on a declining lane.

A number of NGOs and the Uganda electoral commission have always carried out massive voter education aimed at a free and fair election besides encouraging Ugandans to participate in elections.

But the low turn up leaves a number of unanswered questions, one of which is, “Have Ugandans lost hope in elections?”. Your

Below are views from a cross section of individuals with varying views on why they think the voter turn up is declining and what they think could be done. 

Anna Adeke Ebaju Makerere University Guild President
Anna Adeke Ebaju, former Makerere University Guild President and youth leader.

Anna Adeke Ebaju, Member of Parliament representing the National Female Youth Constituency in the 10th parliament, (2016 – 2021): Anna says it’s about the credibility of elections and she thinks the loss of trust in credibility of elections is predominant among young people, the youths.

“For me I would relate it to credibility of the results. Also the general governance question and poverty. For 35 years we have had one government- Ugandans have grown poorer by the day,……Why participate in elections then? They yield the results to favor only one man and party”, she says.

On what needs to be done: We need strong independent institutions which can guarantee transparency. But above all- we need to speak about transition and effect it because there are many inequalities on and in the ballot paper which ballot papers themselves can not easily permit a free and fair election.

Kaihura Felix; Well people are loosing trust in the leadership and the voter structure management particularly Electoral Commission. He says the structure needs to be changed and democratic governance enhanced as well as reducing voter bribery.

Abubaker Matanda
Abubaker Matanda

Abubaker Matanda, National Youth Coordinator for Alliance for National Transformation: Voter apathy is caused by many things, but for the case of Uganda, I think it has a lot to do with a compromised electoral system and civic ignorance.

Many Ugandans feel that whether they vote or not, their votes do not count because of rigging, and others merely do not know how much power their votes hold.

They think their vote is just a lone number that does not have a significant impact on the whole.

To solve this, there is need to carry out massive voter education programs, and also demonstrate to Ugandans that they can actually make a difference through a vote.

Christopher Buni, former guild president at Kyambogo University: Lack of trust in the electoral process which has made people not bothered about who is president, they have decided to concentrate on having what to eat/themselves.

Derick Tumusiime, political activist : Wide spread ignorance that voting is a civic duty. Many citizens of Uganda still don’t understand that voting is a constitutional duty bestowed upon it’s citizens. for example,  Instead many  see it as a favour to vote for their preferred candidate if that doesn’t  contest the next election they don’t vote. ( Some demand to be paid for them to vote by candidate)

Mistrust of citizens with how our election is managed and those that manage it. The nature of how the voters  register is complied especially starting with the 2016 election. The EC no longer does registration of voters which by the way is contrary to the constitutional provisions  that places the mandate of voter registration unto the EC, but rather it relays on the register of persons complied by NIRA.

This means several potential voters who have never interacted with the Electoral Commission as far as voter registration is concerned probably are not aware by virtue of the Registration of persons they are eligible to vote, for example very few People turned up for the voter update process, why??  Therefore there is need for deliberate sensitation of the people that  if they registered for the National ID, they are as well registered as voters.
The EC should also reclaim it’s mandate until the Law is amended accordingly.

Below are some popular quotes on elections and voting 

Popular quotes on elections

Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi

Elections are not a beauty contest. It is all about tolerance. Vladimir Franz

The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything by Joseph Stalin

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods. H. L. Mencken   

If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it, by Mark Twain

Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation, by Simon Sinek

Clever and attractive women do not want to vote; they are willing to let men govern as long as they govern men     by George Bernard Shaw

Quotes on elections
Quotes on elections

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, by Abraham Lincoln

In elections, the undecided vote is usually the deciding factor, by Evan Esar

To finalize, the purpose of an election is to hear the will of the people, not to fabricate votes, by Lincoln Diaz-Balart

“We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Somewhere inside of all of us is the power to change the world.” – Roald Dahl

“Voting is the most precious right of every citizen, and we have a moral obligation to ensure the integrity of our voting process.” – Hillary Clinton

“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.” – George Jean Nathan

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

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” – Plato

“Voting is a civic sacrament.” – Theodore Hesburgh

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

“If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.” – George Carlin

“By voting, we add our voice to the chorus that forms opinions and the basis for actions.” – Jens Stoltenberg

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” – Pericles

As we look forward for the coming 2021 general elections in Uganda, your guess on whether the “lost hope” will be restored is as good as mine.

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