The good, the bad and the ugly in the Soroti East by-election: A journalist's tale

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Eyu Christine, the Uganda Electoral Commission's returning officer for Soroti City, declared National Resistance Movement (NRM)’s Ariko Herbert as the Soroti East MP-Elect at 9:50 p.m. on Thursday, July 28, 2022, amid celebrations from the yellow party.

Despite the fact that the elections were marked by the arrests of primarily opposition party agents and supporters, claims of voter bribery, and ballot stuffing, the EC stated that the process was mostly peaceful and that the election was free and fair.

The opposition accused the NRM of "brazen election thuggery" in the Soroti East by-election, but the NRM claims these are just allegations to justify their defeat.

Shamim Nabakooza, an NBS Television journalist who was on the campaign trails of both the opposition and the NRM in the run-up, during, and after the election, spoke with Nile Post about her experience. Some of the excerpts are listed below.

The good

According to Nabakooza, the Soroti East by-election is her second by-election to cover, following the one in Kayunga.

"You know what happened in Kayunga and how everything went down there," she says.

“When we were covering the Soroti by-election, unlike in Kayunga, where there were bullets, tear gas, and fights, the campaigns in Soroti were excellent. The campaigns were clean,” Nabakooza adds.

According to her, the people of Soroti were allowed to come out and support their candidates in joy and harmony, without interference from security forces, as had been the norm in previous elections throughout the country.

"You could see Soroti's decision just by looking at the crowds."

The bad

Things began to change, however, as election day approached.

What struck Nabakooza in Soroti was that people can afford to dare a population with arrogance without regard for what the people can do in response to their arrogance.

“As a person, I had difficulty covering the NRM in the way they would have preferred. Because I was on the trail with them and FDC at the same time, I had both ends covered," Nabakooza told Nile Post.

She claims that based on the crowds at both campaigns, the NRM candidate did not appear to be the candidate that the people of Soroti East wanted to represent them in Parliament.

Despite the fact that one side was allegedly handing out money to the people and the other was not, the NBS TV journalist claims that you could see where the crowd was even when both parties had big shots from Kampala.

“Money was flying in Soroti, I can assure you. In Soroti, money was flying everywhere,” Nabakooza adds.

She goes on to say that the NRM Secretariat had its own journalists brought in from Kampala to cover them, leaving her and the rest of the independent media personnel as "black sheep."

“We found it difficult to report on and cover the NRM because they claimed we were reporting incorrectly and were not a friendly force” she stresses.

“They even accused us of being in Attan's camp. We hadn't had much interaction with Attan.”

She comes to the conclusion that the things she noticed during the election were that; she actually saw money flying.

Pre-ticked ballot booklets confiscated at a polling station

“Some Parliamentary Commissioners were handing out money, 5000 notes, brand new money notes. People who obtained the money claimed to have obtained it from the hotel where ministers were staying”.

“At one point, on the day of the press conference, a security personnel but in the NRM camp knew I was going to do a story showing the divisions in the NRM and told me, ‘just don't show those things, you'll be sorted.’

“My laptop was on the table, and I was editing a story on it. I had to cover it so he wouldn't see it. I didn't investigate the security personnel's claim that the speaker would cover me because there was no need to pay me,” she says.

According to Nabakooza, some journalists were used in the election to move money in “malwa” pots.

The ugly

According to Nabakooza, the prime minister's appearance at the Lions Club did not go down well with some voters.

“Jonah, we arrived at the Lions Club, where hundreds of people urged her to return to Kampala.”

Hundreds of Soroti residents gathered to demand that Nabbanja leave. Even if you listen to the footage we captured that day, you can hear some of the voices.

The prime minister, Minister Ogwang, and others were inside, and when we arrived, police were still deploying.

 

A man arrested over allegations of ballot stuffing

However, Nabakooza stated that what drew her attention the most was when she was speaking with an RDC and an old lady, most likely in her 60s, came to enter the hotel and first flashed a voter slip to a security personnel.

“She first showed him a voter slip, which I witnessed with my own eyes. She took it from her bag and was permitted to enter. So, where we know there is a prime minister and where we know it was not a campaign day, why would a woman seek to enter and first show a vote slip at the gate, and yet the next day was to go to polls?”

According to Nabakooza, as the people became more enraged, the prime minister was driven out of the hotel in a pickup car with her lead car and deployment remained there.

On election day, Nabakooza says that nothing exposes election fraud than seeing booklets in the ballot boxes on election day.

"People took ballot papers on the side of a polling station in Opuyo and ticked them. One of the people who took the videos had his phone taken away.”

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