Since 2007, September 15 of each year is commemorated globally as the International Day of Democracy.
This day provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the positive values of democracy and their link to national cultures as well as evaluate the state of democracy, including how citizens exercise their political rights and the strength of democratic principles such as respect for the rule of law, civil liberties, regular elections and the political culture in any given country.
Across the world, democratic principles and processes are increasingly under threat. This year’s theme: ‘Democracy under Strain: Solutions for a changing world’, offers us an opportunity to review democracy in a modern evolving world. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres emphasises this in his message for 2018 when he states: “Democracy is showing greater strain than at any time in decades.
That is why this international day should make us look for ways to invigorate democracy and seek answers for the systemic challenges it faces.”
Like elsewhere in the world, Uganda’s cultural values and history are part of the country’s democracy journey.
Democracy’s core values of inclusion, respect for all, community cohesion and fairness are also some of the key values within Ugandan society.
The word democracy comes from the Greek – “demos” meaning ‘the people” and “kratia” meaning “power or rule”. These two words combined form demokratia literally meaning “power of the people”. This is an opportunity to recognise the universality of some African values recognised as Obuntu, Ubuntu, Omuntu – across cultures.
Obuntubulamu comes from the Nguni word (Southern Africa) “Ubuntu” meaning “your humanity is connected to my humanity”. Some of the key Ubuntu related values relevant to the democratic journey include Ensonyi “honour/dignity”, Obwetoowaze “humility, respect for others”, Okweyimirizaawo “self-reliance”; Empisa “good moral conduct”; Obukulembeze “leadership”; Obweerufu “transparency”; and Obwesimbu “integrity”.
The quest for self-rule and consequently Uganda’s attainment of independence from the British in 1962 is also an illustration of the critical value of dignity and hence central in Uganda’s democracy journey.
These values are also entrenched in Uganda’s 1995 Constitution, which states that “Everything shall be done to promote a culture of cooperation, understanding, appreciation, tolerance and respect for each other’s customs, traditions and beliefs.” This helps to ensure that democracy, human rights and the rule of law are upheld while promoting social justice, national unity and stability.
The 1992 decentralisation programme extended the opportunity for local voices and for people to participate in development planning at district and village levels.
This contributed to creating an inclusive approach to development across all levels of government and enhancing the space for democratic participation.
A national referendum in 2005 further opened the democratic space when Ugandans voted to return to a multi-party political system. As a member of the African Union, Uganda has also committed to promote the principles of democracy and good governance under the Africa Peer Review Mechanism.
In 2017, Uganda completed its second country assessment under the Africa Peer Review Mechanism, which noted progress in areas such as the conduct of regular elections, advancement in instituting policies and strategies for economic governance and management.
It also called for improvement in the political culture, such as addressing the issue of extensive use of money in politics and elections.
At the global level, Uganda led the United Nations General Assembly in 2016 when world leaders adopted Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One of these Goals – SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions invites us to ensure access to justice for all as well as ensuring effective, accountable and inclusive institutions that leave no one behind.
The SDGs call on all nations to place people and the planet at the centre of efforts to ensure prosperity, sustain peace and manage equitable partnerships.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (RIP) once said “No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime…”
This is a key reminder that democracy does not start and end at the ballot box. It is a continuous learning process for government, its institutions and the people it serves.
For democracy to flourish, therefore, it is important to ensure that constitutionalism and the rule of law remain key parts of our democratic journey.
Uganda’s democratic journey like that of some other nations, will be about the national context, including its historical milestones, its development aspirations and achievements to date, its security capabilities, its economic vision and rationale for partnerships/trade.
Placing Ugandan communities and families at the epicentre of national development will help to ensure that the democratic journey and efforts to ensure stability become a shared responsibility for all – old and young, men and women.
This International Democracy Day is an opportunity to revisit the roles and responsibilities to overcome strategic bottlenecks in Uganda’s democratic journey.
A shared understanding on who will do what to contribute to Uganda’s economic growth and democratic evolution from village to national level will be important.
Our partnership framework with Uganda known as the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF 2016-2020), informs our contributions to Uganda’s Second National Development Plan (NDP II) and its Vision 2040.
As President Museveni stated in his inauguration speech in 1986 ‘democracy is a birthright to which all Ugandans are entitled.’ On this International Day of Democracy, let us re-commit to ensuring this right is enjoyed by all.
Ms Malango is the UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Uganda Resident Representative.