Brian Atuheire Batenda, an opposition candidate for the position of Member of Parliament for Kinkinzi West, a constituency in Kanungu District auctions a pineapple and places money into a collection basket at a fundraising event for a new classroom block organized by church youth. With only two congregants putting on masks and zero social-distancing being observed, this scene offers insight on both the candidate and voter’s take regarding the basic guidelines issued by the Electoral Commission.
A man carries a handwashing setup past the entry point of Kihihi Town Council Market in Kanungu district, early in the morning before the market (whose gate is covered with campaign posters) opens and is flocked by the public. This young man refills the setup with water and soap every morning and makes sure it does not run out through the course of the day. Hand washing seems to be the most respected guideline regarding the COVID-19 SOPs in most public spaces within Kihihi Town.
A man carries a campaign poster of Brian Atuheire Batenda to the center of the road in Kihihi town, Kanungu district which is found in the South western part of Uganda as Boda-Boda cyclists observing social-distancing look on. Campaign posters continue to play a big role in enhancing the visibility of candidates to their constituents and remain one of the safest modules to campaign in Uganda especially in the hard to reach areas.
Brian addresses a small crowd at a homestead with his posters on their windows in the background in Kabeho village, Kanungu District. Small community rallies involving as little as two households within a neighborhood are a common occurrence as the candidate strives to avoid large crowds and thus minimize the probable spread of the virus.
Children skip along barefooted, following their father as he escorts Brian Atuheire who is vying for Member of Parliament on his early morning door-to-door campaign exercise in his home village Kabuga found in the constituency of Kinkinzi West, Kanungu District. The Electoral commission issued strict guidelines that limit the number of people that can gather at any one event to not exceed 200. Brian devised door-to-door rallying as a strategy to avoid mass rally gatherings.
People observing a level of social-distancing listen to the candidate in a local bar, with campaign posters of various candidates for different positions plastered on the wall above them, in Kabuga, a village in Kanungu district located in the South Western part of Uganda. With the need to reach as many people as possible, candidates have opted as in earlier polls to increase their visibility through placing their campaign poster in places that attract regular and high human traffic such as bars, pork joints, markets among others.
Brian shares a light moment with voters during his door to door campaign exercise in his home village, Kabuga in Kanungu District. Faced with guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic that limit the number of any form of gathering to 200 people, Brian resorts to door-to-door exercises to avoid holding open rallies at which he could not control the number of people likely to show up.
Sitting at a distance, Brian talks to ladies sorting harvested groundnut shells at their home in Kabuga Village, Kanungu district. They talked about finding market for their produce and the poor road network that makes it hard for them to transport their harvest to better markets outside the district. Kanungu lies approximately 410 km south west of Kampala.
Brian talks to workers at a construction site, observing social-distancing, as they carry on with their work, in his home village Kabuga in Kanungu District during his door-to-door campaign exercise. Despite taking steps to ensure some level of social-distancing, masses have been slow in adopting the use of masks as a protection measure especially in the rural areas.
A lady dressed in a National Resistance Movement (NRM), the ruling political party, T-shirt pauses from pruning a banana tree in her garden to engage Brian by the roadside during his door-to-door exercises as other ladies look on from their own gardens in the background. The NRM party has been in power for the last 35 years with President Museveni as president of Uganda. Many people in the rural areas reserve their mornings for garden work, and the candidate found himself having to reach a number of people in their gardens rather than around the homestead.
During his door-to-door campaigns, MP aspirant Brian speaks to a teacher who recently set-up a temporary nursery school for the children in his neighborhood. In February 2020, schools across the country were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were only opened in September for finalist classes. With Education being one of the key issues Brian plans to address if elected, he engages Mr. Suleiman on what challenges he might be facing at the moment as two young girls that have not yet enrolled look on in the background. Mr. Suleiman started the temporary school after realizing the need to keep the minds of the children in his village Kabuga engaged until normal school resumed.
Brian speaks to women seated outside a church after addressing a congregation during the installation of a new priest at a church in Kihihi Town Council. The limit on the number of people that could congregate was recently raised from 70 to 200 by the government, still, these women could not be allowed into the church as the limit had already been reached. Despite attempts to wear a mask, as often as possible, the candidate would often take it off as seen in this case, to easily communicate with people or for comfort, which placed him and the people at risk.
Brian holds a one-on-one discussion with a gentleman in Nyamirama trading center in Kanungu district, face-to-face and in close proximity but with no masks in sight.
With poor access to internet and smartphones in the rural area, Radios remain a solid communication medium and heavily relied upon by candidates to reach out to potential voters, especially through airing of songs written and recorded with the intention to give praise to a particular candidate and/or speak about his manifesto points.
Brian Atuheire salutes police officers that had ridden over to one of his public campaign rallies to enforce guidelines governing the campaigns, only to find the rally done. The Electoral Commission decreed that no open air mass rallies should take place past 6pm.
The candidate walks back home at the end of the day with some of his supporters from a rally. This particular campaign has had to be special as candidates had to go down to the roots of their communities and have a more personal touch with their supporters and potential voters due to the smaller numbers of crowds allowed at rallies.
The Politics of a Scientific Campaign.
Understanding the viability and the maneuver of challenges involved in running campaigns during a Covid-19 pandemic.
Will stakeholders be able to strike a balance between the protection of both democratic and health rights of the citizens?On the 16th of June, 2020, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (EC) of Uganda announced the release of a revised roadmap, which requires that all electoral processes such as nomination of candidates, campaigns and polling, would be “scientific”. Scientific in the sense that any and all activities pertaining campaigns and elections would have to occur with less numbers to accommodate the viability of social-distancing in a bid to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.Uganda has been experiencing a surge in the number of new cases, as the government battles to control the spread of the virus. As of November 30th, 2020, Uganda had recorded 21,145 cases of COVID 19 infections and 201 deaths.The EC argues that this approach aligns with the Government’s health and safety measures aimed at safeguarding the people of Uganda and providing a free and healthy environment. Civil Organizations such as the Elder’s Forum and Opposition Stakeholders continue to call for a need to build provisional regulations for the upcoming election in order to reach a compromise between democratic and health safety of the citizens.Given the usual culture of political campaigns in Uganda that ranges from huge crowds to processions through city centers, open air rallies, various theatrics and the need for proximity between candidates and voters; stakeholders will have to adjust and adapt to the guidelines issued that prohibit all these.By trailing, Brian Atuheire Batenda - a candidate for the Member of Parliament in Kinkizi West, Kanungu District in South Western Uganda under the flag of the Forum for Democratic Change, one of the more popular opposition parties in the country - Blair Davis Mugume embarks on a journey to document and try to understand the intricacies and challenges involved in running campaign in a pandemic.
Ps. This project was entirely shot on a Smartphone.