Amb Otengo roots for Public Health as COVID-19 threatens polls in Africa

Ambassador Rebecca A. Otengo with Africa Union Chairperson H.E Faki (File Photo)

Uganda’s Permanent Representative to African Union Her Excellency Rebecca Amuge Otengo is rooting for Public Health system as COVID19 threatens elections within Africa.

The ambassador made the remarks while responding to African Union’s briefing by H.E Amb. Minata Samata Cessouma who’s a Commissioner for Political Affairs on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on elections in Africa.

The conference, still ongoing virtually is chaired by the Permanent Representatives Committee Meeting H.E Ambassador Xolisa Makaya the South African Permanent Representative to the African Union.

According to the brief read out by Amb. Minata a copy of which TND News has obtained, COVID-19 pandemic has direct impact on elections as it present both health emergency and humanitarian crisis which has stressed Africa’s governance, peace and development challenges.

The report further notes that African Union will not be sending teams of observers to respective elections until the threat by the virus is contained.

At least 19 member states are scheduled to hold national elections this year 2020 with Burundi and Malawi going to polls on 20th May and July 2nd, 2020, respectively. However, the Commissioner opines that organizing elections in the COVID-19 pandemic context poses three overarching dilemmas: constitutional, legitimacy and financial.

This is so because a government that continues operation after expiry of its tenure and or conducts elections during COVID-19 and registers low voter turn up would be illegitimate and unconstitutional, respectively.

In response, Ambassador Otengo noted that the common challenges posed by COVID-19 is an inevitable bottleneck given a drastic shift in World’s social order since COVID-19 was declared global pandemic. She notes that there is need to balance the rights to elections and public health.

“It’s important that we strike a balance between the rights to vote and the rights to health. Every country presents a unique battle with COVID-19. Countries must be allowed to make a judgement call on elections regarding the prevailing circumstances of its people,” Ambassador Otengo added.

Ms Otengo called upon African Union to encourage case by case analysis and continued consultation on the surge of COVID-19 within member states to inform decisions on elections.

 She added that it would be “unfair to conduct an election when majority of one’s population is dying.”

Her submission was supported by Chair Amb. Makaya who directed that elections are sovereign responsibilities of each member states who are at liberty to conduct so in as far as its circumstances permits.

On Monday 11, May 2020, Uganda’s President Gen. Yoweri Kagutu Museveni during interview with NBS television’s Canary Mugume, noted that it would “be madness to conduct an election with high prevalence of COVID-19”.

President Museveni added that Uganda would be open to reconsidering its election calendar should the coronavirus not be contained in the country by July 2020.

Some opposition figures in Uganda have been pushing for extension of Uganda’s 2021 general elections owing to the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19.

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