Uganda Peoples Congress

A visit to the misperceptions on the 1980 Elections

By Peter Otai
(Former Minister of State in the Office of the Vice President and Minister of Defence and Member of Parliament)

The 1980 election has exercised the minds of many people; some of who decided to perpetuate a grotesque lie intended to justify their long held view to go to the bush in order to capture power through the barrel of the gun. The most hilarious group was the leaders of UPM who knew that they were going to lose the election as evidenced by the statement which was attributed to Dr. Rugunda the then Foreign Minister at the time when he was quoted in the Monitor of January 01-03 1996 as follows:

At a seminar held in a Secondary School in western Uganda on 30thDecember 1995, where the topic was 'The Basis of Conflict', the Foreign Minister, Dr. Rugunda was reported to have said that, "When (they formed the Uganda Patriotic Movement, UPM) its founders knew they could not win the elections." He went on to say, "we had absolutely no illusion about winning the 1980 election. We knew we were going to lose. But we decided to plant a seed so that it germinates in five years and produce seeds in 10 years."

Similarly the DP who equally had no confidence of winning the election gave birth to UFM/UFA (dominated by DP members), which was led by Dr. Kayiira (RIP) and Francis Bwengye, in order to fight the UPC government. The DP and UPM expected to be elected to power without offering the electorate a manifesto stating what they would do, if elected to power. It is therefore no wonder that the then Mr. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni went to the bush to wage a war against a democratically elected UPC government. These forces orchestrated a campaign of vilifying the elected government as having ascended to power through rigging the 1980 election. Neither the UPC nor Mzee Muwanga, who was the Chair of the Military Commission, deputised by Museveni, rigged the election. There were sufficiently in-built checks and balances to guarantee that rigging would be extremely difficult to accomplish. The checks and balances I refer to are exemplified in a chapter entitled "The Count", contained in the Report of the Commonwealth Observers' Group which is appended hereunder. This is a must read chapter by any political analyst who writes a critique on the outcome of the 1980 elections.

These two groups were not believers in the elections, they believed in using violence as a means to attain power. In the case of President Museveni he tried to seek the support from leaders of friendly neighbouring countries to bring pressure to bear on the Military Commission to delay the election but the leaders approached declined to pressurise the leaders of a sovereign state.

Furthermore when Museveni was interviewed by the New African magazine in September 1980 (London publication), he was asked:

"In your 1969 essay: Fanon's Theory of violence; its verification in Liberated Mozambique, you wrote of the need for violent struggle to win true decolonisation. You finally came to lead a violent struggle yourself against Amin's dictatorship. Do you feel that struggle is going to lead to a true decolonisation of Uganda?"

Here is Museveni's answer:

"Frankly, I would have preferred a much more protracted struggle. That would have given us time to sort out most problems we have now. As it was, the struggle was short and there were other people involved in it... It was a mixture of guerrilla warfare and conventional war by Tanzanian army. So in my view, the process of deliberate use of violence to liberate the people was really not consummated. It was pre-empted by a quick victory and that is why we still have quite a number of problems. A more protracted struggle would have been the best."

From the above quotation it is possible to surmise that with President Museveni in power you are inviting a permanent state of war ad infinitum. It is thus no wonder that Uganda under Museveni has fought endless wars not only internally but also against our neighbours resulting in millions citizens dying. Besides our country the other example, among others, is the DRC as exemplified in this excerpt:

"Conflict in Congo has killed 4.7m," charity says
Starvation and disease multiply toll from fighting
James Astill in Bukavu and Isabelle Chevallot
Tuesday April 8, 2003
The Guardian

A total of 4.7 million people have died as a direct result of the Democratic Republic of Congo's civil war in the past four and a half years, according to a report released today by the International Rescue Committee, a leading aid agency. By the IRC's methodical calculations, Congo's convoluted war - one barely mentioned in the western media - has claimed far more lives than any other conflict since the Second World War.

"This is the worst calamity in Africa this century, and one which the world has consistently found reasons to overlook," David Johnson, the director of IRC's operations in eastern Congo, said yesterday. "Over the past three years our figures have been consistent and clear. Congo's war is the tragedy of modern times." With a margin for error of 1.6m - a standard proportion is applied to areas too dangerous for researchers to reach - IRC admits its estimate is approximate. Yet few aid workers in eastern Congo doubt that a total death toll of 4.7m is possible."

The war in the DRC has led our country being convicted of serious offences, which have landed Ugandans to be ordered to pay US$10 billion. This is the tip of the iceberg. What happens if the relatives of the dead make claims for their dead, how long will such consequential debt be met by generations yet to be born?

Surely since Museveni went to wage a war in the DRC without Parliamentary approval he must assemble his silent allies to share in clearing that debt. I say this because when he was quizzed in Parliament as to why he invaded another country without Parliamentary approval, he nonchalantly made it clear to Parliament after the event as reported in the Uganda Confidential of May 26-June 1,2000 as follows:

"I need to inform you, Honourable members, that some of these things that we do are very well calculated. We are not adventurers; we have our scientific plans of doing things. In all these activities, we have our silent allies whom I do not need to mention here. They are not in the Congo but we always consult with them and we have been in the Congo with their knowledge. These allies are in Africa and abroad."

It is imperative that our Presidents respect institutions. Most of our past Presidents have done so except two. Let us pray that the next Parliament will not be a mere rubber stamp. The Congo consequences speak for themselves.

The Count

  1. The count began in most polling stations at about 2.00 pm on 11 December 1980 that anticipated difficulties as to insufficient light generally did not materialise. Each party-polling agent was treated as a counting agent for the purposes of the count at his polling station, so that representatives of all the parties contesting each constituency were enabled to be present, and was present, during this most important phase of the poll. Outside polling stations, hundreds of those who had voted thee earlier gathered at an early hour to await the outcome.
  2. Generally the count began with a joint inspection of each box to determine whether or not it had been tampered with. The first box was then opened and the votes counted and recorded before they were bundled up and placed back inside it. The first box was then securely closed before the second box was opened, and so on. As a ballot paper was not required to be marked with the party of the voter's preference, it was essential that there be no possibility of the various bundles of votes becoming mixed.
  3. The inspection of the boxes included on examination of the labels to ensure that these had not been exchanged or replaced wit those of other parties. As the labels had not been affixed in a uniform fashion, the possibility of this occurring without its being detected seemed to us to be slight. Certainly during our visit to as many as 1476 polling stations no suggestion was made to us either that boxes had been tampered with or that labels had been changed. In addition, many of the boxes contained improvised labels inside, and these were required to correspond to the party labels on the outside. This was done with agreement of all the party agents and in their presence.
  4. The actual count was performed out loud and in many of the polling stations we visited the numbers were changed in chorus by party agents and polling staff alike. Boxes were either emptied out on to mats - and the box of one party we saw turned out to be completely empty suggesting that the two polling agents appointed by it had in fact voted for another party! - or, with a sense of theatre, the presiding officer removed one ballot paper at a time from the box, holding it up for all to see that it had been validated and maintaining suspense to the last. Party agents occasionally conducted their own independent count and the memory lingers of one particular party polling agent who three times checked the nine votes his party had received at his station.
  5. At the conclusion of the count the figures were entered on a form designed by the Electoral Commission. The agents of each party were required to countersign this return, and were in addition provided with a copy. In this way each party contesting a constituency was rendered capable of assembling its own set of returns from polling stations and was thus placed in a position to contest the returning officer's arithmetic should it so wish. We regarded this provision as a most important one, and had suggested it to the Electoral Commission as a corollary of the safe-guards agreed between the Military Commission and the DP in respect of an immediate count at all polling stations. The counting procedure thus had its own inbuilt checks and we observed during our visits to the polling stations that these appeared to be working well. No party polling agents made any complaints to us.
  6. On the debit side we noted that the form did not provide for a formal reconciliation of used and unused ballot papers with the number of ballot papers received and the votes cast. Further, presiding officers generally either lacked seals or were not aware of the requirements that unused papers should be accounted for and sealed up separately before the count itself commenced. However, no suggestion of impropriety was made to us in this regard. We would also note that because of the exceptionally high poll the addition of extraneous ballot papers was rendered readily detectable. An additional safeguard lay in the fact that each stamp held by a presiding officer bore a different number.
  7. Because of the size of the turnout, the area for malpractice in respect of stuffing ballot boxes or of ballot box substitution was narrowed to a very fine margin, and the likelihood of detection was correspondingly high.
  8. For these reasons we are satisfied that the protections built in to the counting process were such as to provide adequate safeguards for each of the contesting parties, and to enable them quite independently to establish whether or not any alleged irregularities actually took place.
  9. Overall, our impression was that the count passed off without incident and in an orderly fashion. We were, of course, unable to be present at more than a significant sample of the counts, but enquiries made of the various parties before we left did not suggest that the situation and been otherwise where members of our Group were not present.
  10. Late on the afternoon of Thursday, 11 December, we were dismayed to learn of a retrospective Proclamation made by the Chairman of the Military Commission (Annex 4). Although this document amended the electoral lay in positive ways so as to legitimise the fact that polling hours had been extended and that the count had taken place at polling stations, the remainder of the Proclamation had the effect of giving to the Chairman of the Military Commission the sole power to announce results as well as the power to declare the poll in individual constituencies to be invalid. Each returning officer was enjoined to communicate the results only to the Chairman of the Military Commission, and to provide him with a confidential report on "various aspects" of the poll. The Proclamation also provided that no decision made by the Chairman of the Military Commission could be challenged in any court of law.
  11. As this Proclamation constituted a negation of the open basis on which the elections were to have been conducted, and as it rendered anyone providing results to us liable to inordinate penalties, we were forced to consider our own position.
  12. We were not able to see the Chairman of the Military Commission until early the following morning. We found that in advance of our representations, he had already prepared a press statement which he had agreed with the leaders of the UPC and the DP and which had the effect of preserving the Proclamation in force whilst authorising returning officers and the Electoral Commission to publicly announce results.
  13. The Chairman explained to us that these extraordinary powers had been rendered necessary by the abysmal performance of some returning officers in distributing materials and in opening polling stations on 10 December. He explained that he was anxious to avoid a repetition of such incompetence at the crucial stage of the conclusion of the count. We would, however, note that by the Proclamation the Chairman was to be provided with confidential reports by these self-same returning officers, which presumably were to form the basis for the exercise of his unfettered and considerable discretion. The Proclamation, and the absence of any publicly stated reasons for it, inevitably heightened tension and created a climate of suspicion and apprehension.
  14. Although the press statement was made available to us, and we immediately disclosed its contents to the press, it was several hours before we could persuade the Electoral Commission to start announcing the results it had received. In this Brigadier Oyite Ojok, who, although a member of the Military commission, was unaware of the press statement but was anxious to reduce growing excitement on the streets of Kampala, as both sides were by then claiming outright victory, assisted us. Indeed, the DP had first claimed victory before the polls had even closed.
  15. The first results were announced over Radio Uganda shortly after 2.00 pm on 12 December. We were present in the communication centre at this time and while results were coming to hand.
  16. Earlier in the day we had debriefed all our assistants who had returned to Kampala from various parts of the country and it had become apparent to us from the reports of their observations both during the poll and at the count that the DP was publicly claiming to have won seats, which it had almost certainly lost. For instance, the claim was even made of a success in Gulu, where we knew that the UPC was taking over 90 per cent of the vote. At no state did we lend credence to claims made by the DP that they had won a clear majority. Rather we contacted the DP to advise it of the position as we understood it to be, and subsequently the DP confirmed to us that some of its information from outlying districts had been incorrect.
  17. The day in Kampala ended with a barrage of gunfire from a variety of weapons. No authoritative explanation for this was forthcoming.


  1. This has been a turbulent and troubled election, characterised by confusion, delays, intense mistrust, and in the end, a sense of wonder that it happened at all. Some, at least, of these difficulties could have mitigated, even in Uganda's situation, if the Electoral Commission had been a more efficient and imaginative body than proved to be the case; if the Military Commission had not delayed a final decision and announcement on the venue and manner of the count till just three days before polling; if there had been a mechanism for continuing consultation between the Electoral Commission and all the political parties, sitting together, to consider and resolve difficulties as they arose; and if logistical arrangements for the distribution of balloting material had been made with a greater degree of thoroughness.
  2. We have expressed at some length our reservations regarding nominations and a number of the unopposed returns: without question, this is the area most open to criticism, but it is one where the courts have the power to provide redress. We would, however, add that about half the seats involved are likely to have been captured by the UPC in any event, so that despite their effect on the arithmetic, they are unlikely to have affected the outcome.
  3. In the remainder of the country, despite all deficiencies, the electoral process cohered and held together even if some of its individual strands were frayed. Surmounting all obstacles, the people of Uganda, like some great tidal wave, carried the electoral process to a worthy and valid conclusion.

In conclusion it is important to bear in mind that the Electoral Commission of 1980 was selected on the consensus of the then National Consultative Council unlike the current EC which was appointed by one man viz President Kaguta Yoweri Museveni. Not withstanding the Muwanga Declaration, no declaration went to his desk. In any case if there had been such alterations it was easy to cross check such alterations by comparing the signed declarations ins as per paragraph 132 of The Count.

Will the Forthcoming election be conducted with the checks and balances akin to those, which were applicable in the 1980 elections where the Observers had powers to suggest improvements on the process by making suggestions, which were taken on board?

Peter Otai