Saturday, February 12, 2011

Home from Arua; Election Updates posted here

Back in Kampala after long trip from Arua, in far NW Uganda. Great seminar--very engaged journalists. (See photo. For complete photo album of the seminar, click here).

Meanwhile, we're preparing ourselves for the presidential election on Friday. See article below. Stay tuned to this site for full details and regular updates. I plan to update several times on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Hopefully, there won't be much to report--other than election results.

Ugandan elections ignite concerns

From the Parkville Luminary

MASAKA, UGANDA—This being Africa, and this being election time, you’ll excuse me if I worry about my Ugandan friends.

I’m worried about Gloria, who lives just a few miles from the site of a tire-burning riot a few years ago. I’m concerned about Gloria’s two adorable girls, especially my god-daughter and namesake, 1 ½ year old Stephanie, who finally let me hold her a few weeks ago.

I’m worried about Tabu, who lives in an economically depressed neighborhood where violence might be more likely. I’m concerned that Tabu and his family could become targets if violence breaks out because Tabu is a grass roots organizer for a political party.

Most of all, I’m worried sick about the 320 radio journalists who we’ve trained since last July. These journalists will be immersed in the crowds, right there on the ground, and will be in real danger if violence breaks out during or after the Ugandan presidential election scheduled for Feb. 18.

This worry is understandable, given the legacy of election related violence here in Africa. In Kenya in 2007-08, 800 people died and 250,000 were displaced in post-election violence. Ghana, Zimbabwe, Togo, and Ethiopia have all suffered from election violence in recent years. Now, Cote D’Ivoire is in the grips of what could be a very violent situation.

No one knows if the election this Friday will be violent, although no one doubts that this is a real possibility. There are number of risk factors for violence present in Uganda. The electoral commission, which is supposed to administer a non-partisan, fair election, is widely seen as corrupt and unfair. The 2006 presidential election here was largely rigged, according to a Ugandan court ruling that acknowledged the fraud but did not overturn the result. Stir in past animosities between the government and several tribes, threats and intimidation by candidates and their supporters, and you have a tinderbox just waiting for a match.

After eight months here working with radio journalists, I am confident that this match igniting conflict will not be thrown by the press. I am directing and teaching a Peace Journalism program here designed to show journalists the important role they play in not inciting violence and framing their stories in such a way as to lay a foundation for peace. I believe that the radio journalists understand the stakes, and will not induce the violence here, the way radio in particular has fueled conflicts in Kenya and Rwanda.

The question remains, however: Even if the violence isn’t started by media, will the politicians light the match? Certainly, bitter, defeated politicians are as dangerous as wounded animals. Will there be peaceful post-election protests that turn violent because of brutal security forces? Extra security forces here don’t make things extra secure, and are as likely to spark violence as to prevent it.

Even the most well informed Ugandans I ask don’t seem to know if there will be violence, offering guesses all over the map, from completely peaceful to significant rioting and unrest. If Ugandans do take to the streets, I’m hopeful that the Egyptian revolution can show them that non-violence is a desirable, even preferable option.

As Friday approaches, Ugandans are understandably nervous. Seeing riot police moving around in their full battle gear is disquieting, as is reading about new water cannon and tear gas trucks being delivered in Kampala. The bomb sniffing dogs at the shopping center yesterday didn’t exactly put us at ease.

In a travel advisory urging Americans to exercise caution, the State Department writes, “Uganda’s 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections generally were orderly and peaceful, and there are no indications that the 2011 elections will be any different.” I concur, though I concede that this may be wishful thinking. Whatever happens, my wife, son, and I will be hunkered down safely in a well-stocked apartment in a guarded compound in a well-policed, safe part of the city. So please save your concern, as well as your thoughts and prayers, for the vast majority of Ugandans who do not have the luxury of safety. My family and I hope and pray for peace on Feb. 18 and the nervous days that will follow.


  1. Hi Steve.

    Am a Ugandan and very proud to be one. i find it disturbing that foriegn journalists are so excited to the point that it seems they want or rather "wish" that they will be chaos in Uganda?????

    Your carefully placed words like "nervous days that will follow" or "electoral commission....widely seen as corrupt and unfair"

    so have have you talked to everyone Ugandan???? u have interviewed everyone of us? is this want we all agree about the electoral commission??

    Are we savages that we are waiting to pounce on each other??????

    We have peace in this country the elections will come and go! i doubt you will write an article praising us about how peaceful the elections where! (now you probably will...after i have aired you out on ur blog)

    Why cant you guys ever say something nice...why must it be lined with false tension and make belief impending doom.

    it's a shame. that our elections are a platform for such articles of doom and gloom.

    Matthew. A very proud Ugandan

  2. Matthew:

    I have been in Uganda for eight months, and have trained over 400 Ugandan radio journalists and radio managers. Our goal—to prevent media induced election violence. To imply that I wish for violence here is absurd. As my column reflects, I love Uganda and Ugandans, and my most fervent hope is for a violence free election.

    During this time, and in talking to literally thousands of Ugandans, I have yet to meet one who believes that this will be a free and fair election, or that the electoral commission isn’t unfairly stacked in favor of the ruling party. Believe what you like, but your beliefs run counter to what I’ve been told over and over.

    As for the “false tension” which you mention, it is certainly not false for any of the Ugandans who I’ve talked to. They are genuinely concerned. Also, the “make believe doom” you reference is again nothing of the sort. I have not talked to a single Ugandan who is not worried about the potential for violence. A report by the Deepening Democracy Project addresses many of the risk factors for violence that I mentioned in my piece. There is nothing make believe about their conclusions. See: ( )

    Finally, as for never writing anything that would praise Uganda, I suggest you peruse the archives of what I’ve written about this place since last June. I challenge you to find anything unfair or unreasonable. I don’t need your prodding to write something positive. Regardless of what happens, I plan to report—honestly—about the election.

    Steven Youngblood

  3. Dear Readers:

    See unedited comments below from Matthew, who I will generously allow to have the last word on this matter. (Yes, this is the last post on this article/subject from myself or Matthew, since I think both of us have had our say. If someone else would like to comment, go ahead).

    I will take the high road here, and not belittle or insult Matthew. My only comment is this: Matthew is the only Ugandan I know of, or have read about, who believes there is no possibility of election violence. I have never said there WILL be violence; only that this is a POSSIBILITY. Matthew and I agree on one thing--the hope that the election is violence free.

    From Matthew, unedited:


    Be fair when you write about our political atmosphere or our people, you have been here since last June,so that makes you an expert on our country's affairs, wake up Steven, it's laughable.i never took a shots at your previous articles, i commented on this one, which you boldly defend to be the the truth.

    Let me tell you what will happen this weekend, we vote Friday, by midday on Saturday, we will know who has won.

    Should the opposition lose they will claim they where cheated. they will try and rally their supporters and cause chaos (it wont work) come sunday celebrations will still be going on

    Monday we back at work. life goes on. till 2016

    I know you have not talked to thousands of Ugandan's, u know u have not, a few hundred yes,u have been duped big time. they wont be any massive political violence in our country,riots not even close,but i did say the opposition would try if they lost

    You have taken an angle to our up coming elections and you gonna stick with it. u know u have.

    If you do reply dont get to emotional,be logical.

    I know you dont wish violence towards anyone,but your article show's your outlook towards our up coming elections,wish is a shame and a sign of bias journalism.

    Am just saying Steven. read your article again it's peppered with violence hints, it's actually written in such away,so that if things do fall apart (which they wont) then you you will say look "i told you so"

    Get a Grip Steven,Get real


  4. Steve - Here at Park U, we're all crossing our fingers and hoping for the best for the Ugandan election. Prof. Getty talked about peace journalism in class a few days ago, and it's been a topic of conversation around the comm arts department too.

    I know I'll be watching the news very closely over these next few days... Stay safe!