FEATURE. The excitement when the Ugandan Cabinet pronounced itself on the regional cities in May 2019 was evident, from the ministers of the respected areas, the members of parliament, the local governments right to the grassroots, who wouldn’t want a city in their own region?
Such excitement was to be short-lived, questions began to arise on many fronts including the time frame for the 2021 elections for those lucky regions that would have finally gotten the not to operate as cities.
The local leaders began to sound alarm bells to the prospective annexes of the new cities fearing land grabbing and a general lack of preparedness to receive this global trading centre.
For Arua, despite the fact that other aforementioned concerns apply in equal measure like for other new proposed cities, the bigger question of electoral areas, demarcations and whether, the commission can timely organize elections in 2021 to suit this new city setup remains the biggest concern.
In the run to the 2016 general elections, enthusiasts from different political affiliations particularly from the national resistance movement (NRM) paid a heavy cost after contesting for non-existent electoral areas.
Speculation was rife that the city would be granted and the ghost constituencies like Ayivu East, Ayivu West, etc it emerged. The party electoral commissions got swallowed up in the whole drama; the process would later end in court from the disgruntled hopefuls.
For the proposed Arua city, this wasn’t the only problem at the time, the quarrels over border demarcations were a bigger issue, and different political actors seemed to have positioned their views on what they premised would favour them at the time.
Whether to win an election or favour their community of origin, Arua was heated to boiling point.
Fast forward to the end of 2019, many would argue that the only tangible progress towards the attainment of these regional cities is the Cabinet proposal to operationalize some of these said cities from the financial year 2020/21.
However, the same enthusiasm that set up an interesting scene of drama in 2016 has started resurfacing; shall the 2016 events get a repeat in 2021?
The unanswered questions
How is the electoral commission planning for these proposed new cities?
Justice Simon Byabakama, the chairman of the electoral commission says until any concrete pronouncement is done by Parliament, the commission’s planning maintains the current status quo.
“The issue of Arua city is still a proposal by cabinet and it has to go through another process of being tabled in parliament and that is true with all the other proposed cities.
When all that is done, that is when as the electoral commission we shall now come and organise the election as city status but the planning we have been doing has Arua premised as a municipality” Justice Byabakama clarifies.
What happens to the mandate of the current elected leaders in the event of new political setups?
Some leaders will need to be accounted for in a city setup, for instance, what would happen to the mandate of the LC III’s that have no place in the city set up but are elected on a five-year mandate from the people.
“Now that is not for electoral commission to resolve but for government and the parliament to decide on what happens to the mandate they were given.
Ours is to come on ground to see what has been created as a city, what are the new wards, the divisions and what are the electoral areas, and how many elective positions etc”, Justice Byabakama says.
Does the commission have adequate time to prepare in case the cities are operationalized?
“Oh yes we have the time, and that’s why we are here on and that’s why we launched the road map in December 2018 and informed the people of Uganda of what we shall do in all this process.
Every activity is time-based, we have allocated time for any emerging issues like that of Ayivu so that we address them before 2021” The EC chairman says.
In anticipation, the EC chair, however, says they are already doing groundwork to accommodate the new cities in case they are Okayed.
“The only component that we considered is since the place has been proposed to be a city, we better be prepared to carry some of the things that will come when parliament pronounces itself”.
He says when a new entity emerges out of the current status quo or scenario, then the electoral commission will get back on the drawing board possibly come to the ground and try to rearrange the electoral areas in the context of the new cities as they have been declared.
The Ayivu petition
On the 15th and 16th of November 2019, the people of Ayivu led by their MP Bernard Atiku didn’t only write a petition but had lengthy meetings with the top brass of the electoral commission led by the chairman.
The Ayivu people argued that the new proposed mergers of sub-counties was unjust and non-representative of the views of the people.
“You are aware that Ayivu has seven sub-counties at the moment and therefore the thinking is that these sub-counties having the numbers in terms of population and land area coverage would be suitable to be considered as electoral areas of their own”, he states.
“But the new proposal was that the directly elected councillors would be reduced to four as well as four women representatives to the city council and this for us was disenfranchising the political voice of the people of Ayivu”, Atiku explains the basis of the petition.
He maintains that it was unfair to propose the current Arua hill division with only 18,000 voters to be a separate entity whereas Ayivuni Sub County with over 22,000 voters is proposed for a merger with another sub-county of 30,000 voters.
“The people Ayivuni deserve the same voice just like those of Arua hill division in the city council”, Atiku says.
“Our proposal as Ayivu is for four divisions; Ayivu North, Ayivu South, Ayivu East and Ayivu West; if the worst comes to the worst we can have three or two at worst, we will have no complaints” He further says.
Justice Byabakama received the petition and acknowledged that the figures used for the proposed demarcations were from the old data but appeals to the people of Ayivu and any other aggrieved area to be calm saying there is no problem that can’t be amicably resolved.
“We are going back to the drawing board to establish whether the complaint has merit and whether we can make any corrections in the light of the existing law and I ask the people not to be worried or alarmed because what we have done is not cast in stone”, Justice Byabakama says.
Ayivu interim cultural chief Mr Manaseh Yuma has since said the people of Ayivu shall not accept any bad proposals in regards to the new city.
“The moment we accept any bad things, we would have ruined our young ones because they will suffer the most, so we shall try our best without fear or division not to sell Ayivu and I am firmly behind these people, the MP and councillors”, he says.
“The city is a new phenomenon and we should all understand what it means to us, the advantages and disadvantages and we should not rush to say it’s good without understanding”.
We have accepted it is for development but it should come with the consent of the ordinary people and we must speak with one voice”, Yuma says.