Uganda Elections 2006: Change to Party Politics Now Means Changing Lifestyle

Uganda Elections 2006: Change to Party Politics Now Means Changing Lifestyle

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: February 14, 2005

Ever since Ugandans voted in the 2005 referendum that the country returns to multiparty politics, many people's life style has never been the same. The wind of political change has not only affected those in politics but almost every citizen in the way they greet, dress and speak among others.

In a referendum that was boycotted by the opposition and criticized by old political parties including the Uganda People's Congress (UPC), the Democratic Party (DP) the Conservative Party (CP) and the new kids on the block Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Ugandans voted to move from the one-party movement system to party politics.

President Yoweri Museveni who had by that time registered the National Resistance Movement-Organization political party surprisingly vehemently campaigned for the return to political pluralism following pressure from within the country and donors.

In Uganda, the opposition described the Movement system as a one-party dictatorship orchestrated by President Museveni to deny the opposition any chance of getting to power since the only 'legal way' to come to power was to contest under the system with which Museveni was chairman.

The opposition filed petitions challenging the legality of the Movement system and the Constitutional court ruled that the Movement was a political party, which had structures. Following this historical judgment, the opposition said that there was no need for even taking part in a referendum to choose on whether to retain the movement system or not.

To the opposition, the ruling National Resistance Movement and the rest of the Ugandans, this has been a big struggle to political liberation despite the long held fears that political parties are bad. At least for now, the law does not allow political parties formed on religious or tribal lines, something that had bogged the past party politics.

Despite all these measures, the effects of the new political dispensation have begun to be felt, not that people are fighting, but rather that they have to adjust their lifestyle to fit in the new political environment. In this article we will explore how political pluralism has changed the lifestyle of Ugandans particularly through the use of symbols, signs colors and speech.

Political Party colors:
For those planning to dress in red on Valentines Day (February 14) and you do not support the Uganda People's Congress (UPC), you are doing the UPC proud indirectly. If you did not know, red in Uganda does not only mean love and danger. It is also UPC's party color.

On the other hand, yellow no longer means jealous or mobile phone company-MTN's color because the National Resistance Movement has also taken it on as the party's color. Recently, an MTN street bash was mistaken for a rally organized by the National Resistance Movement that has gone beyond the official campaign time. According to the Uganda's Electoral Commission, rallies are supposed to stop at 6:00pm.

And for those who have been associating the phone company, Uganda Telecom to President Yoweri Museveni, the tone may be changing as their newly launched blue color is also the color for the opposition Forum for Democratic Change.

Many people who are fond of dressing in green colors have had to think twice, since everything one in green is now taken for a support of the Democratic Party.

Party signs:
As required by law and the election regulations here in Uganda, every political organization is supposed to have a party sign/symbol. But these ones have an impact that is even more pronounced than the colors.

Thumbs-up victory sign for the NRM

Thumbs-up victory sign for the NRM:
In the cultures of many Ugandans and probably in Africa, a thumbs-up shows support but may also be interpreted by those who are unfortunate to be demeaning to them. The thumbs-up is also used to show someone that things are okay but you risk to use it for that purpose and it will be interpreted as supporting the ruling NRM party.

The palm sign for the UPC

The palm sign for the UPC:
If you do not want to be mistaken to be from the UPC, it is proper to say good-bye by word of mouth instead of waving. Why? Waving with your palm may also mean support for the UPC, one of Uganda's oldest parties. The sign also reminds Ugandans of the good and bad times when the late Dr. Milton Obote was President. The sign was not only for the party but also remains a trademark for the fallen president.

The V-sign of the FDC

The V-sign of the FDC:
This is a sign that symbolizes victory. So, if you want to show that you are a victor in Uganda, you have to use another method, as this is a symbol for the FDC party. This captivating symbol that has taken the country by storm has however been interpreted by some people as a snake's fangs waiting to eat Ugandans. That aside, the sign no longer symbolize victory but rather the FDC political party.

The fist of the DP

The fist of the DP:
If you are not a DP supporter, you have to think twice in order to show your strength, as the fist no longer represents strength but the Democratic Party, a party that believes that taking over power does not require guns but people's power in the vote.

How is Uganda going to look like under party politics?
As the country moves to the 'full blown' party politics, many things are expected to happen as some people have begun demonstrating. A friend of mine who subscribes to the opposition Forum for Democratic Change recently told me he gave up putting on his yellow shirt because that would raise doubts on whether he is FDC or NRM.

Some Ugandans who used to put on red shirts but do not support the UPC have had to take them back to the bedroom while those in support are flocking the markets to buy the latest fashionable color in relation to their political belief. One only wonders if this is going to continue beyond the February 23rd elections.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: February 14, 2005
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.