The last part of my two-week African adventure was spent in Kampala, Uganda, where the non-profit I work for helped establish a center of excellence in health (an institute dedicated to improving health through research, training, prevention, and advanced clinical services). I’ve been to Uganda twice before to visit this center, but it had been several years since my last visit. It was fun to see how things have changed – and how much they have stayed the same. I was most pleased to see that the spirit of the people hasn’t changed. As a mass generalization, Ugandan people are so kind-hearted, warm, welcoming, thoughtful. And they were all quite interested in America’s upcoming election.
I got into a conversation with a taxi driver who asked whether our elections were safe and credible. He went on to explain that in Uganda, the elections are full of fraud. In the last election, the winner received more votes than people who were recorded as voting. Democracy, he concluded, isn’t always democratic.
This conversation really underscored how lucky we in the United States are.
But, then, this morning on election day, the news is filled with people alleging that their vote is being suppressed or that others are illegally voting. There are reports of hoaxes meant to discourage voting. People are so concerned about their party’s voters being intimidated that they showed up at polling places with billy clubs (because that’s not intimidating….). On Facebook, friends complain about fraud while others complain about voter ID laws. And most of these concerned voices are less worried with the actual fraud than that their candidate will lose votes or the other will gain votes in error.
It seems like the outcome of the election has become more important than the democratic process that defines the greatness of our political system. Of course, whoever is declared the winner is important – but maintaining the integrity of our political process and discourse is far more important. Indeed, what stood out to the young taxi driver, and I’m sure to others around the world, wasn’t that America might elect Obama or Romney today. Instead, what stood out was that individuals can safely voice their opinion and know that it is important to shaping the future of our country.
I hope we never forget the importance of that. No one candidate is worth hurting the integrity of our political system at large.
I’ll step off of my soapbox now and share a few photos from my time in Uganda…
**Please note that this post contains only my opinions and is not in any way reflective of my employer or the clinic I was visiting.