Civic Education Inspires a New Wave of Electoral Participation in Kapchorwa District

Like most parts of Uganda, Kapchorwa District has had a turbulent electoral history. Political contenders faced challenges of narrow political space for competition and deep animosity amongst competitors. Often, those in power would not consent to fair competition with their challengers.

Voter bribery was rampant, and intimidation was high. Most of all,women were marginalized and forced to stay in their husbands’ “shadows” as regards to choosing candidates for electoral offi ce. Mary Cherop, a housewife from Kapchisome Parish attests to this claim. “Women had no power back then. The power to choose a candidate was with the men. It didn’t matter the choice the women had, they were forced to go with their husbands’ decisions or face violence.” A large section of the population also voted for relatives and clan members, even when they had better-abled alternatives from other clans. However, since 2012, Kapchorwa Civil Society Alliance (KACSOA) with support from the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) has made a signifi cant contribution towards change, not only in people’s perception of elections but in the general electoral landscape of Kapchorwa.

The organisation has been working closely with district stakeholders including the district local government, the political leadership and the media to empower the electorate on their responsibilities and entitlements in the democratic process. Through voter sensitisation meetings; radio talk shows; music, dance and drama shows; KACSOA has been able to reach about 100,000 people, accounting for 34% of the population with well packaged information on their rights and responsibilities as citizens. Overtime, the situation has slowly begun to improve. There is evidence of a growing participation in democratic processes in the district. Citizens are increasingly taking on their roles and at the same time, demanding for their rights. Women are now assuming their equal responsibilities in electing leaders. “When KACSOA and our local leaders sensitised us, we were empowered and begun voting for candidates of our choice. Most of our men now understand that we have the right to choose leaders. We vote candidates whom we believe can contribute to development in our area. Some of our men still take offence, however, they do not cause us physical harm” notes Mary Cherop.

Chesakit Francis, who is an opinion leader and a resident of the district, adds to this argument “We now vote without fear or intimidation. We know that we have the right to sue those who threaten our peace. We also know that if our leaders don’t deliver, we can vote them out of office. This is because we consistently monitor them.” Francis also adds that tribal politics is slowly dying away. In the 2016 general elections, the Chairman elect emerged from a minority tribe - the Bukusu, a development that would have been impossible in the past. Prior to the 2016 general elections, KACSOA championed the development and launch of a social contract between the people and their leaders. Referred to as the “Citizen’s Manifesto,” the document highlighted the views, aspirations, commitments and demands of the people. Some of these included: the need for government to address the poor state of the trans-border Kapchorwa-Suam road; the low education standards; lack of access to clean and safe water; the need to resettle inhabitants from Mt. Elgon slopes to the plains; and the poor state of health facilities.

The youth, who constitute a big percentage (60%) of the population who were previously manipulated into perpetuating election violence, were able to ensure their issues are captured in the manifesto. A platform was also provided for contestants to jointly table their manifestos before the citizens. Christopher Ssonko, the L.C.5 Chairperson elect for Kapchorwa district corroborates the value the platform provided. “I was able to notice the gaps in my manifesto and compare notes with the ones of my opponents. In the end, I enriched my manifesto”. The  Chairperson however notes that more effort is still required to reach the rural population through civic education.