From Thursday through to Saturday, Kyambogo University, the Electoral Commission-designated national tally centre, looked every inch like a virtual fortress of roadblocks, fences and armed police/security checks as officials tallied votes and announced results.
One wouldn’t be faulted to think that the university had been quickly transformed into an army barracks. Roads to the tally centre were dotted with roadblocks right from Royal Foam Industries and the car depot, all the way to the university.
All entrances were manned by men and women in police uniform. Surprisingly, many security men and women were also dressed in EC white T-shirts and caps.
INSIDE THE TALLY CENTRE
Inside the university, there was the security tent and two other big tents; one used as the tallying centre and the other for catering services. Behind the tents were several containers used as bedrooms for several commissioners and commission department heads.
Temporary toilets supplied by Photogenix were all visible. The men and women at the entrance made sure persons entering had negative Covid-19 test results. About 50 metres from the first roadblock at the entrance, was a tent with detectors and quite a big number of security operatives mainly dressed in Electoral Commission T-shirts and caps.
The Observer team has seen these very security operatives before on guard duty at parliament, Bank of Uganda, ministries, government departments and agencies. This tent enforced Covid-19 standard operating procedures like sanitizing. There were two detectors used to screen luggage and people.
Some of the men in EC T-shirts were officers of the Special Forces Command (SFC). They are usually seen at presidential functions. These seemed to be the overall over-seers of the security team scrutinizing persons accessing the administrative tent or tally centre. The other was the catering tent where meals were served. It was well decorated with tables and chairs in white, black, red and yellow colours.
The waiters and waitresses were al-ways on standby to serve breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner. Men and women in EC T-shirts were spread out and carried concealed pistols. At intervals, they would approach journalists and ask for their identification tags.
“Are you a journalist? From which media house? You will be told not to move in certain directions and you must heed that advice,” a security operative in EC uniform told journalists.
The operatives kept asking for Covid-19 test results and tags. Some EC officials who accredited journalists at Serena Conference Centre were shadowed by SFC operatives with PPU (presidential press unit) tags. Journalists wondered whether the presidential press unit was in charge of issuing media accreditation. The SFC men also issued separate small tags with names and numbers to journalists.
“…you will be asked not to access certain places even with those two tags. These small tags are specifically for the tally centre but despite having them, you are not supposed to access everywhere,” one EC official told journalists.
“You have to cooperate once told so. You can even be asked to leave and do not ask questions but leave,” another official said.
A chat with some operatives revealed some insights into the SFC deployment. They said they have to obey their bosses’ orders.
“We are here because we were told to come and oversee security in this place,” a security operative told The Observer. “My friend, once you have been told to be in a certain place, you do not ask why. You have to do as told. Are you feeling uncomfortable with our presence? Don’t you realize this election was peaceful? We have to maintain safety and this is the way we do it,” another security operative attached to SFC told The Observer.
INSIDE THE TALLY ‘ADMINISTRATIVE’ HALL
Inside the tally centre hall, chairs and tables were well arranged with markings showing where different categories of people were to sit. There was a high table for EC commissioners and space for the Information Technology (IT) experts with a clear boundary.
It was tightly guarded by uniformed and non-uniformed security operatives. Anyone approaching that demarcated area was quickly questioned.
“Where do you want to go? You are not supposed to go there and if you want to go out, use the main entrance and exit,” a security operative said.
Throughout Thursday and Friday, security operatives, IT personal and journalists filled the ‘administrative’ hall. The Presidential Candidates’ cor-ner was occupied only by Presidential Candidate Willy Mayambala with a few operatives that posed as polling agents.
Each time the EC chairman was about to announce results, he began by recognizing Mayambala and agents of other presidential candidates who were not in attendance. In his first address, Justice Simon Byabakama announced that elections in Kamwenge North constituency had been cancelled due to a fault in a candidate’s name on the ballot paper.
He said another date would be communicated. Byabakama sounded calm and composed. At one of the polling stations within Rushenyi constituency, Byabakama said a voter had run away with a ballot box but arrangements had been made for voters there to vote on Friday.
Paul Bukenya, the acting Electoral Commission spokesperson, announced that the first batch of results would be announced shortly. He asked the media to have their gadgets ready.
“Everything is set and we are going to have the first batch of results announced shortly,” Bukenya said. Security heads including Assistant Inspector General of Police Asan Kasingye, Police spokesman Fred Enanga, Prisons spokesman Frank Baine and UPDF deputy spokesman Deo Akiiki were present at the tally centre and were seen busy supervising their subjects until about midnight when they started disappearing one-by-one.
NRM big shots including the executive director of Uganda Media Centre Ofwono Opondo and NRM spokesman Emmanuel Dombo were also busy making or receiving calls from time to time. Seats for political party representatives, candidates’ agents, electoral commission staff, Inter-Religious Council of Uganda and observers stayed vacant except for the media.
At about midnight, murmurs were heard from different corners prompting security operatives to move around to establish the cause of the disquiet. Some people were heard saying the commission was playing delaying tactics.
At exactly 2am, the commissioners made their way into the hall where almost half of the people inside were asleep. They woke up when Bukenya announced the arrival of the commissioners. Justice Byabakama told the audience that 10,359,479 votes were cast (57.22%), of which, 9,978,093 were valid and 381,383 were invalid.
At about 2:55am, uniformed and non-uniformed persons inspected the hall. Some stood behind journalists’ computers. They tried to listen-in to the journalists’ conversations and tried to read what they wrote on their computers.
At about 9:12am, the commissioners were in the hall to announce the second batch of provisional results. Special recognition went to candidate Mayambala before the chairperson introduced commissioners and there-after, he declared the second set of provisional results.
Another set of results was announced at about midday. Byabakama apologized for the delay. He had earlier communicated that he was to return at 1o’clock. After announcing the results, journalists were given an opportunity to ask questions.
Asked how results were relayed to the tally centre in the absence of internet, Byabakama explained that the commission had designed its own system to transmit results with or without internet.
‘We have our own system transmitting results from districts. Internet break-down is not an impingement to us. We didn’t want to take chances; so, we designed our own system of transmitting results,” Byabakama said.
This was Saturday when the final results were expected to be declared. Byabakama had indicated on Friday night that the next release of partial results would be at 9am and that by 4pm, the country would have a president-elect.
At about 9:06am as the commissioners were entering the hall, Byabakama received a call and walked a few steps back to pick the call. He spoke for more than five minutes before entering the hall. Some people inside murmured and whispered.
“His boss has called. He wants to know what he is going to announce before the cameras,” an official wearing an Electoral Commission T-shirt was heard telling a colleague. At about 9:15am, Byabakama led the commissioners into the hall to announce another batch of results and would return at 2pm.
Like indicated earlier, he came for the ‘ritual’ and said he would return before 4pm. On return, the East African and national anthems were sung.
He recognized candidate Mayambala, ambassadors and mission heads, religious leaders and observers, among other categories. He then went on to mention and thank all the eleven presidential candidates that participated in the election before reminding the audience of the constitutional obligation to declare the winner.
He then read out names according to alphabetical order of presidential candidates and their scores and declared Museveni Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa winner with the highest number of votes (5,851,037 [58.64%]). In all his declarations, Byabakama maintained a calm voice and distanced his actions from any form of intimidation by anyone.
NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba in the company of NRM vice chairperson Moses Kigongo Ofwono Opondo and Emmanuel Dombo ululated and danced to kadodi tunes.