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Key findings
  • More than eight in 10 Ugandans (83%) support regular, open, and honest elections as the best way to choose their leaders. This support for elections has remained consistently high since the 2002 survey.
  • But fewer Ugandans (61%) believe that the 2016 general election was free and fair, a decline from assessments of the 2012 election.
  • While two-thirds (65%) say the government performs well in preventing violence during elections, almost half (48%) of all respondents say they fear “somewhat” or “a lot” becoming victims of political intimidation or violence during election campaigns.
  • Two-thirds of citizens feel they “often” or “always” have to be careful about what they say about politics (65%) and how they vote (64%).
  • Only four in 10 Ugandans (42%) say they trust the Independent Electoral Commission “somewhat” or “a lot,” down from 54% during the 2015 survey (which was conducted several months into the 2016 election cycle).

Over the past decade, Uganda has emerged as a success story of African development. Economic growth and diversification, relative political stability, and considerable investment in infrastructure have seen the country rise as a regional power (Murray, Mesfin, & Wolters, 2016). But to many international observers, this success is dimmed by the long rule of President Yoweri Museveni and a political system that has been described as “dictatorship light” (Gettleman, 2016). While elections are conducted regularly, many have questioned how free they are. In particular, reports of intimidation and violence have emerged in regard to the 2011 and 2016 general elections, and the participation of opposition politicians has been constrained on questionable grounds (Kaka, 2016; Musisi, 2016; European Union Election Observation Mission to Uganda, 2016; Butagira, 2016). To many observers, development and economic progress have been achieved at the cost of civil liberties and inclusive democratic governance (Suzan, 2017).

Do Ugandans share this view? In particular, how do they perceive the cornerstone of their democracy, their electoral system?

Based on a recent Afrobarometer public-attitude survey, this dispatch finds that Ugandans support choosing leaders through regular, open, and honest elections but express doubts about the quality of their elections. While a majority think the government is doing well in preventing electoral violence, they feel they have to be careful about what they say and how they vote. Fewer than half express trust in the Independent Electoral Commission, and strong majorities support stricter rules to increase the transparency of elections and address misconduct of candidates.

Thomas Isbell

Post-doctoral research fellow and research assistant at Afrobarometer

Francis Kibirige

Francis Kibirige is the national coordinator of the Afrobarometer survey in Uganda and managing director of Hatchile Consult Ltd.