By Tusiime Tutu
The week before 14th January 2021 was a time of anxiety for a lot of Ugandans. Conversations at the time rotated around what will happen on 14th and the days post that, who will win and how the other parties will take it. In fact a lot of people I know travelled from Kampala to the country side- to vote yes, but to also flee from Kampala and be with their families in case we go into a state of emergence. Yes, the anxiety was that bad. what no one fore saw and anticipated is ‘peace’. A lot of people expected President Museveni to win and others expected Mr. Robert Kyagulanyi to win. In any event though, regardless of who won, it was not expected to be peaceful.
And then election day came. Throughout the whole day of 14th media houses reported from all around the country how peaceful the election had been. How people turned up, voted and went back to their homes. Even in Kampala where it was surely expected to be chaotic was relatively quiet, people voted and went on back to their homes. It was almost as if indeed the pigeons which failed to fly did not much deter the prayers of most Ugandans. However, we are still a pessimistic bunch and the expectation for chaos was forwarded to when the results would be announced.
On 16th the electoral commission announced that President Museveni won, to no one’s surprise if we are being truly honest with ourselves. But chaos still did not break out. Before election it became a state of mind to “prepare for the bush”, a hint at the fact that a war of sorts is sure to break out in Uganda. A lot of people shopped and locked themselves inside their houses in anticipation of this. To take it further all through the weekend a lot of businesses worked half day or were not open at all.
What we also did not quiet anticipate was the complete shutdown of the internet, something that exposed how dependant we have all become on the internet. Everywhere around social media platforms, different VPN applications were recommended and memes to that effect were nonstop. And then on Wednesday evening the day before Election Day, the internet was shut down, VPN or no VPN nothing would work. I remember at the time I was at a restaurant and people started panicking and gathering their belongings to go home and get ready for what’s to come next. We went back to phone calls and reading a book for a people who have become accustomed to streaming movies and texting on social media apps. Many businesses which had moved operations to online platforms had to go days without business.
The internet shut down had a major negative impact on the social and economic factors of many people and businesses. However though, it might have just been a blessing in disguise because all the people I have spoken to attribute the peace or quiet we had through election weekend on the fact that people had no access to the internet and so communication was limited. So when access to the internet was regained on Monday 18th, the expectation for chaos came back up.
It has now been a week since general election day and there still has been no chaos. The question though now is, is this the calm before the storm? Have we as a nation become so expectant of chaos that the absence of it seems abnormal? Most election seasons have been chaotic before and after the election. And this year, it was even more contentious because of the notoriety of Mr. Kyagulanyi and the party NUP which in its first run around the mill was able to win majority of the opposition parliamentary seats and get 34.83% of presidential votes which was an impressive start.
All of these factors have understandably exacerbated the anxiety of Ugandans towards continued peace. But a week is a long time and now the anxiety is starting to fade. But the question still remains, should Ugandans count their chickens yet, should we stop being on guard and being ready for chaos? Should we get on with our lives normally and peacefully with the continued feeling of peace? Or is this the calm before the storm. Is chaos lying beyond, is unrest gearing up to convulse the country? On 20th January, the USA inaugurated a new president and as this event went on, a poem was recited by Youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman in which poem there was a line “we have learned that quiet isn’t always peace”. So I wonder whether Uganda is just quiet or peaceful or if we are mistaking the quite that has generally happened for peace and this is simply the calm before the storm.
As we all resume our usual routines an get back to tackling 2021 with absolute determination we can only hope that our expectations of the worst are just that and don’t come to be. The air still feels tense and as the saying goes, only time will tell…
Tusiime Tutu is a Ugandan Creative Writer