Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fresh photos posted will no doubt thrill, delight (in theory...)

I've posted pictures of my recently completed peace/electoral journalism seminar in Mbale. Great group, great work, great experience being there, despite some hiccups. See also new pictures of a hike my friend Caesar and I took at Sipi Falls, near Mount Elgon National Park. The short trek, after lots of rain, was slippery, but definitely worth the effort. Spectacular.

Doing some hard thinking about my goals, expectations

From the Parkville Luminary

MBALE, UGANDA—I lie awake at nights wondering if I’m engaged in an exercise in futility.

The goal of the Peace, Development, and Electoral Journalism project I’m leading here in Uganda is the prevention of violence, especially media induced violence, before, during, and after the 2011 Ugandan presidential elections. However, recent events here have left me questioning whether the whole effort isn’t destined to fail.

During the last month, the ruling party here, the NRM, has held its primary elections. These “elections” have been a disaster. Ballots have been lost, voter registrations have gone missing or been suspiciously altered, ballots have come to polling sites with candidates’ names pre-selected, ballots have been hours late being delivered to polling sites, ballots have been burned, and local primary elections have been postponed repeatedly. This might all be marginally comical if this NRM chaos hadn’t led to mayhem—injuries, beatings, tear-gassings, etc. as partisan supporters of candidates, and sometimes even the candidates themselves, exchanged blows. For example, in Kibale, a member of parliament’s car was stoned, while in Butaleja, NRM elections were cancelled after a testy mob attacked election organizers, injuring 12. In West Budama, a government minister drew a gun on his opponent’s supporters. ( ). Many have been arrested. These ugly scenes have been repeated nationwide.

Remember, these are just the primaries.

One small silver lining is that everyone from the president on down has sharply condemned the violence. The NRM and the opposition both vow that the general elections will not end in violence, and that a lesson will be learned from the NRM primary debacle. Given this backdrop, it’s easy to understand why I feel like I’m paddling upstream.

Still, I am working hard to try to cling to at least a little optimism. There are a number of efforts here by non-governmental organizations to combat violence during this election cycle, and I am hopeful that these will make a difference.

I have taught Peace and Electoral Journalism to about 140 Ugandan radio journalists and announcers thus far. Our seminars are scheduled to reach about 260 more journalists by election time next year, for a total of 400. Now, if even half of these journalists/announcers take our lessons to heart, this means Uganda will have about 200 radio professionals covering the election in a way that reduces inflammatory rhetoric, empowers voters, discourages violence and promotes cooperation and reconciliation.

I am encouraged by the reception our seminars have received thus far. The participants have been interested, active, and engaged, with the exception of just one seminar. Generally, the journalists/announcers have left the seminars promising to concentrate their efforts to prevent violence. In follow-up meetings and emails, it’s clear that the principles of peace and electoral journalism have taken root in some places. In Gulu, one journalist wrote that she is concentrating on holding candidates accountable for what they say, which is a pretty good lesson for American journalists, too. Radio stations are also broadcasting anti-violence radio spots (PSA’s) in Gulu. In Fort Portal, one journalist told me that his station is working harder to balance election coverage, and is focusing now on issues of community concern. Another said his station is looking beyond campaign rhetoric, and forcing candidates to take positions on vital issues. Several participants said they have shared election coverage and peace journalism tips with colleagues at their radio stations, which is definitely encouraging.

So, there is some small reason for optimism, though this is clearly overshadowed by the NRM primary mess, which has forced me to reassess my goals. Perhaps the prevention of all election violence is too tall an order here in Uganda, at least for right now. Maybe the most that peace and electoral journalists can do is reduce the number of violent incidents, and keep the violence from spreading when it does occur. As I tell my seminar students, the very least they can do is to not pour gasoline on the fire.

1 comment:

  1. In a situation where one party controls a disproportionate percentage of the resources to win an election, winning the primary takes on disproportionate importance as well. Look at DC. Vince Gray has won the Democratic primary here, and all the articles are now discussing what he will be like as mayor! Getting your piece of the national cake (as opposed to our pie) is indeed important enough to slug it out for.