Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Rabbi Gershom becomes an MP in the Uganda Elections

Rabbi Gershom'soffice in Nabugoye staffed with his loyal followers. It was nice to see that in Nabugoye religioin was not allowed to play any role in the Rabbi's election. Jews, Muslims and Christians all count amongst the Rabbi's supporters

My apologies for having taken so long to update the blog. I have in recent years faced a number of family tragedies and illness.
Rabbi Gershom with some helpers was worried about his supporters being made to stand for hours in the hot sun to vote. The voting procedure seemed designed to wear people down and discourage them. If the hope by the ruling party was that people would go away that did not work, although some people were unable to vote because the 4pm deadline passed whilst they were waiting in line.
Wonderful things have been happening in Uganda and Kenya. The Abayudaya's beloved Rabbi Gershom was after a long, bitter and hard struggle finally in 2016 declared a Member of Parliament with all that entails for him and his community in Mbale. Nabugoye has a new and beautiful synagogue and a bakery. The Ol Kalau community is going from strength to strength with its children being educated in school and communal a allotment being farmed.

When I was in Uganda last year I made it a point to visit communities I had not been to before and hope soon to write about them and also show you the pictures. Uganda is indeed a beautiful country although its people are suffering severely from the recent drought.

We who come from western countries have no idea what it is to stand for election as an opposition MP in a developing country. Uganda has for decades been effectively a one party state although it does barely tolerate the opposition. The opposition whilst allowed to field candidates in elections is not really intended to win those elections. In order that the elections are won by the ruling candidates all manner of tools from the gerrymanders manual of stealing elections are used. Voters and candidates are intimidated, votes are stolen, lost, ballots are stuffed etc etc.
As I was the official observer I felt I could push the boat out and even film the whole event including the police. I did wonder whether this was now going to cost me a beating and arrest (I have learned to be very careful about not upsetting police in developing countries). Election day was however the exception to the rule about photographing police in Uganda. They were on their best behaviour in Nabugoye.
The police are there not so much to assure the safety and sanctity of democratic elections but to make sure that the President and his men get re-elected.
It was a long day for Musa's aged father. This amiable man has not only brought up his children as a farmer on his own but did his duty for the community and his rabbi despite the heat and the sun.


This is where humble me came in. I was asked to be the elections observer to see that no foul play happened and to record anything that did happen. Some untoward things did take place but I was happy to see that my presence seemed to have a calming effect on the police. Beatings are not meant to be splashed in foreign news reports and that is the fear of the ruling classes in despotic countries when international observers are present and doing their job. I say that last phrase because the EU turned up in Mbale and manifestly did not do their job! They spent at the most and hour in the council chambers and a few minutes at the sharp end outside where the police had been using violence. I spent the whole day there and was rewarded with the beautiful sight of the Rabbi being lifted aloft and born away on the shoulders of his voters.

Rabbi Gershom talking to a local reporter in Nabugoye
I know little about the political system in Uganda but have been told that President Musuveni brought peace to Uganda after the catastrophic reigns of Idi Amin and Milton Obote. It was interesting that some people I talked to were more afraid of violence returning than of having their votes not counted.