Background Briefing

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Inequality of Campaigning Opportunities


Imbalance in Campaign Resources, and NRM-O Misuse of State Resources

The funding and infrastructural imbalance between the NRM-O and the opposition parties is a severe impediment to equal campaigning opportunity.  Not only is the NRM-O in receipt of state funds as successor of the Movement (see above), but government ministers avail themselves of the resources of their ministries to campaign.  Uganda’s domestic judicial commission of inquiry into misuse of money from the U.N. Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria disclosed in late 2005 that Ministers even borrowed funds from the Ministry of Health to campaign during the 2005 referendum.71

The Electoral Commission has noted the NRM-O’s unequal access to cash, and the weakness of the enforcement mechanisms in accounting for and controlling campaign finance.72 Human Rights Watch recorded several eyewitness accounts of government vehicles being used for campaigning,73 and the press reported that the Vice President was using a government vehicle to campaign.74

Both the Parliamentary and Presidential Acts have restrictions on the use of non-financial government resources by office-holders during election campaigns, and prescribe fines for misconduct.75 The Presidential Elections Act restricts the President to using “only those Government facilities which are ordinarily attached to that office.”76 This works as a loophole for the incumbent who has all government facilities at his or her disposal.  The police have yet to prosecute a minister for campaigning in government vehicles, but in theory they could, pursuant to the Parliamentary Elections Act. 

State Minister for International Affairs and NRM-O member Henry Oryem Okello said, “There is no way Museveni is going to lose the elections.  Not with all the government machinery at his disposal.  I am in government and I know what I am talking about.”77

Opposition parties also complained to Human Rights Watch about the inadequacy of state subsidies for their campaigns:78 under the Presidential Elections Act 2005, presidential candidates receive a subsidy of Ugandan Shilling (Ush) 20 million (U.S. $ 12,000) subsidy from the government, but first they must pay a Ush 8 million (U.S. $ 4,400) registration fee.79  Opposition parties also complain about the financial advantages of the ruling party. According to the media, NRM-O has promised each of its parliamentary candidates between Ush 5 and 25 million (U.S $ 2,700-13,900).80

Restrictions on the Right to Free Expression

The state has acted against journalists who criticize it or disagree with government policy. Its actions constitute an attack on freedom of speech and have drawn criticism from both Ugandan and international organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists.81

On December 13, 2005, editor James Tumusiime and reporter Semujju Ibrahim Nganda of the privately-owned Weekly Observer were charged with “promoting sectarianism” by reporting that the Forum for Democratic Change had accused the president and three top military officials of persecuting Dr. Besigye on ethnic grounds. The two could face up to five years’ imprisonment under Uganda’s penal code.82

On February 1, 2006, the army raided the Unity FM radio station in Lira and arrested station manager Jimmy Onapa Uhuru, journalist Paul Odonga and two others after they made remarks warning people about meningitis in Moroto region and reporting that people from Moroto were being brought in to boost numbers at a forthcoming NRM-O presidential rally.  They were taken to the district police station and required to record statements before the district police commander. The deputy police chief Taire Idwege told local journalists that the police have opened an investigation against the radio station staff.83

In a case unrelated to the elections, but impacting the election media environment, Andrew Mwenda, political editor of the Monitor newspaper and a radio presenter (probably the most outspoken and critical of the lively community of talk show hosts in Uganda), is on bail facing several charges of sedition and “promoting sectarianism” for remarks he made on his radio show in August 2005 about the responsibility of the Ugandan government in the death of Sudanese Vice President John Garang in a Ugandan presidential helicopter crash. 

Government intimidation of the media was a particular problem during the arrest and trial of Dr. Besigye. A directive from the Ministry of Information was issued on November 23, 2005, to media outlets forbidding them from running any stories on Besigye, since to do so might prejudice his trial.84 This directive was generally ignored by the press, who continued to cover the campaign and trials. However, Winnie Byanyima, Besigye’s wife, was pulled from speaking on Robert Sempala’s show on Radio Sapienza on November 23.85

With the election campaign underway, a planned radio appearance by Dr. Besigye on Mega FM in Gulu on January 23 was cancelled by the radio station at the last minute.  According to Nancy Okello, district registrar of the Electoral Commission, this was apparently because Besigye did not have a scheduled campaign meeting in Gulu.86  Another radio appearance was hastily arranged on Choice FM, a rival station, but the deputy police commissioner blocked the candidate from appearing on the same grounds. 

By contrast, President Museveni as a candidate has never been turned away from a radio station, even when he had no campaign program in the town concerned, according to the Electoral Commission campaign schedule.87 For instance, he appeared on Radio West, Mbarara, on January 4, although he was scheduled to campaign in Rukungiri that day.88

The Constitution and national law provides that the government-owned media is to provide equal access to all presidential candidates.89   It has not done so, according to independent research. Uganda Journalists Safety Committee monitored print and broadcast media coverage of the main parties and candidates from January 16-29. While in the print media, both state and private, Besigye and the FDC party received slightly more coverage than the NRM (49.2 percent to 47.4 percent), and other parties only 3.4 percent, most of this was attributable to the Besigye trials.90

On the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation Television (UBC-TV), however, the coverage was heavily in favor of the ruling NRM-O, which received almost ten times as much coverage as the FDC: 62.4 percent for the NRM-O compared to 6.4 percent for FDC, and 0 percent for all other parties. 91

Ugandan law requires that, during an election, television and radio stations, whether state or privately owned, must abide by minimum broadcasting standards including equal coverage as follows:

Where a programme that is broadcast is in respect to a contender for a public office, then each contender is given equal opportunity on such a programme.92

In many areas local private radio stations are owned by incumbent NRM office holders and members.  Thus there is Voice of Teso, owned by Soroti district MP and State Minister for Health Mike Mukula; Radio Rukungiri, owned by Rukungiri district MP and Health Minister Jim Muhwezi; Radio Kinkizi FM owned by Defence Minister Amama Mbabazi; and Radio Paidha in Nebbi, owned by NRM-O candidate Simon D'Ujanga. FDC local businessman James Musinguzi attempted to open up a rival radio station to Radio Kinkizi FM in Kanunugu, but was blocked by the Broadcasting Council.93 Simon D'Ujanga, an NRM candidate, circulated a memo to staff at Radio Paidha raising the rates for all political programs. Previous charges were 100,000 Uganda Shillings (U.S. $ 55) for 60 minutes.  The new rates are 1 million Ush (U.S. $ 550) for 60 minutes with 15 minutes costing 200,000 USh (U.S. $ 110).94 The FDC claims such exorbitant charges prohibit it from advertising on radio, while the NRM gets free access.95

Lastly, the government has attempted to constrain foreign journalists. They were notified to re-register with the Media Centre in January 2006 and seek clearance before they travel more than one hundred kilometers outside Kampala.96 Information Minister James Buturo later said the step was taken because foreign journalists had become a “security threat.”97

[71] Jude Etyang, “Ministers Cited in GF Scam,”New Vision , January 23, 2006, [online]

[72] David Kaiza, Esther Nakazzi and Julius Barigaba, “Uganda parties buying voters' cards,” East African  (Nairobi, Kenya), January 23, 2006, [online]

[73] Human Rights Watch interviews, Rukungiri, January 18, 2006, and Iganga, January 24, 2006.

[74] Alex Atuhaire, “VP uses government car to campaign,” Daily Monitor , February 6, 2006.

[75] Parliamentary Elections Act 2005, Section 25 (2): “Where a candidate is a Minister or holds any other political office, he or she shall, during the campaign period, restrict the use of the official facilities ordinarily attached to his or her office to execution of his or her official duties."

[76] Presidential Elections Act, Section 27 (2). 

[77] James Odong, "Besigye can't win - Oryem," New Vision, January 16, 2006.

[78] Human Rights Watch interviews with Sara Eperu, FDC, January 13, 2006 and Mwanga Kivumbi, DP, January 14, 2006. 

[79] Presidential Elections Act 2005, Section 22 (2): “The Commission shall offer to each candidate as a contribution to be used solely for the election - (a) the sum of one thousand currency points; and (b) such other facilities as may be approved by Parliament.”

[80] Ssemujji Ibrahim Nganda, "NRM Candidates to get Shs 10m," Weekly Observer, January 12-16, 2006.

[81] Open Letter to President Museveni. Committee to Protect Journalists, New York, January 24, 2006.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with journalist Joe Wacha, February 3, 2006; Emma Masumbuko, “Police arrest four Radio Unity journalists,” Daily Monitor, February 6, 2006.

[84] “Uganda: Political Repression Accelerates,” Human Rights Watch Press Release, November 24, 2005, [online]

[85] Human Rights Watch interview, Robert Sempala, Kampala, January 16, 2006. 

[86] Chris Ocowun, "Security Organs Block Besigye," New Vision, January 30, 2006.

[87] Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[88] Radio West, Mbarara, January 4, 2006.

[89] Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, Section 67, Clause 2: “no candidate shall be denied reasonable access and use of State-owned communication media”; Clause 3: “all presidential candidates shall be given equal time and space on the State-owned media to present their programmes to the people.”See alsoPresidential Elections Act 2005, Section 24, Clause 1, as above. 

[90] Uganda Journalists Safety Committee Preliminary Report on the state media coverage of the 2006 elections, January 2006, copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[91] Ibid and Human Rights Watch interview, Uganda Journalists Safety Committee (UJSC), Kampala, February 5, 2006.

[92] Electronic Media Act of 1996, First Schedule, (d).

[93] Human Rights Watch interview with FDC Officials in Kanungu, January 19, 2006. 

[94] Circular CI 06 seen by Human Rights Watch, January 20, 2006.

[95] Human Rights Watch interview with John Baptist Oyer, FDC Chairman, Nebbi, January 20, 2006.

[96] Frank Nyakiru, "Govt sets  tough rules for foreign journalists," Daily Monitor, January 14, 2006.  DEM Group has said, “The mandate and functions of the Media Centre remain largely unknown and can therefore be used to undermine the freedom of the press.” ‘Statement on new restrictions on foreign journalists,” DEM Group, January 16, 2006. 

[97] Open Letter to President Museveni, Committee to Protect Journalists, January 24, 2006. 

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