Uganda: 2021 Roadmap - Cost Implications of Virtual Campaigns

The Electoral Commission (EC) yesterday announced the 2021 revised electoral roadmap and told all those interested in elective offices in the next election to use the media for campaigns.

"Mass rallies will not be allowed but campaigns will be conducted mainly through the media.

The Commission will issue specific guidelines for each electoral activity under this revised roadmap in due course and will engage with various stakeholders on the same," the EC chairperson, Justice Simon Byabakama, announced on Tuesday.

But experts warned that the new guidelines will have huge financial implications on the campaign process and the candidates. Another issue of concern is whether all the candidates will be afforded equal media space across all platforms for effective campaigns.

Mr Henry Muguzi, the national coordinator for Alliance for Campaign Financing Monitoring (ACFIM), a loose coalition of civil society activists advocating for transparency in financing political parties and election campaigns, said the decision to do virtual campaigns may double the cost of campaigns. He said the new approach will force many people out of politics.

"This decision will leave women, youth and new comers at a disadvantage. We will see the cost of elections going up and only those with financial muscle will manage it. Media houses will also aim to make a killing out of the campaigns with high costs of talk-shows," Mr Muguzi said.

He added that some candidates will resort to door-to-door campaigns to avoid paying for media airtime.

"Previously, you would address large number of people and give them about Shs200,000, which they would share. Now when you go from home to home, you will leave a minimum of Shs50,000 in each home. So this will increase the cost of campaigns," Mr Muguzi added.

Cost of 2016 campaign

A report done after the 2016 election by ACFIM indicated that President Museveni was estimated to have spent a minimum of $231m (Shs773b) during the campaigns.

He was followed by the Go Forward's Amama Mbabazi with $19.9m (Shs66b).

FDC flag bearer Kizza Besigye, who was the runner-up in the election, is estimated to have used $4.5m (Shs15b).

The same report showed that Prof Venansious Baryamureeba used $0.46m (Shs1.5b), Benon Biraaro $0.26m (Shs871m), Abed Bwanika $0.24(Shs841m), Joseph Mabirizi $ 0.13m (Shs435m) and Maureen Kyalya $ 0.02m (Shs67m). The expenditure does include the Shs20m nomination fee for each candidate.

During the same campaigns, Members of Parliament,who made it through, spent a total of Shs24.7 billion in the campaigns.

The report showed the biggest spenders were MPs allied to the ruling NRM party who spent on average about Shs233 million per candidate, followed by the independents at Shs189 million and Opposition members who spent Shs187 million.

What radio stations charge

Different media platforms have different charges for talk shows. On average, radio stations in Kampala charge about Shs4.5m for one hour talk shows in the evening prime time.

For television stations, the same slot goes for Shs5 million per hour. Live broadcast within Kampala is Shs4 million per hour, while outside Kampala, this goes for Shs6 million.

Upcountry radio stations charge between Shs700,000 and Shs2 million for the evening prime time talk shows.

While for political parties it may be slightly easier because of pooled resources, for independent candidates the costs may be prohibitive. Also to suffer the blunt of high costs to get media space will be the new comers, women and youth who may not have the financial muscle to manage such expensive campaigns.

Most Opposition politicians were locked up in closed door meetings yesterday and were unable to talk. NRM Deputy Secretary General Richard Twodong also agreed that the campaigns will be a bit more expensive.

"The difference might be very small because most activities will remain the same. Candidates might be required to pay for more airtime and space in the media. The money they would have used for campaign rallies might be spent there," he said.

Mr Muguzi also warned that Opposition politicians are likely not to have equal access to the radios and TVs because most media houses are either owned by the NRM party members or its sympathisers.

According to Mr Muguzi, politicians will begin to fight for media space by "bribing" to have access to the media.

"The impact of this is that quality of information will be compromised and authenticity of information will be doubted," he said.

Cost of 2016 campaigns

A report done after the 2016 election by ACFIM indicated that President Museveni was estimated to have spent a minimum of $231m (Shs773b) during the campaigns. He was followed by the Go Forward's Amama Mbabazi with $19.9m (Shs66b).

FDC flag bearer Kizza Besigye, who was the runner-up in the election, is estimated to have used $4.5m (Shs15b). Members of Parliament,who made it through, spent Shs24.7 billion in the campaigns.

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