The Women’s Situation Room is a mechanism that mobilizes women and youth to promote peaceful electoral processes and promotes the participation of women in peace building in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. It is an intervention that Uganda needed urgently during the 2021 general elections to ensure peace during and after the process. The emphasis of the WSR is on the inclusion of youth and women, and timely resolution of any conflict or potential violence in elections.
During the campaign period for presidential and parliamentary elections, Uganda registered deaths due to violence caused by both security and political party supporters from different parts of the country. One would ask what role the mechanism played to prevent the looming violence in the country. As all this was happening, the Women’s Situation Room which comprises of Eminent Women, Steering Committee members and the Secretariat was working day and night to ensure Uganda registers a peaceful election.
The Eminent Women held several closed-door meetings with key stakeholders in security, political parties, Electoral Commission, youth from the informal sector to avert future violence and to ensure that the country did not lose more lives. To achieve this, 1500 youth were trained from the 30 districts with indicators of violence and 1500 women peace advocates with the aim of empowering women to sensitize and to keep peace in their communities.
Prior to elections, WSR Uganda trained and deployed 1500 election observers spread out in the 30 districts to document and share incidents of violence during and after elections. WSR set up four physical rooms in the regions with fully connected call centers to receive and handle incidents during elections that are likely to cause violence. One of the incidents that were handled by the room was the issue of failure of the biometric machines which was reported to the room by WSR observers on ground through the call center. This prompted the Eminent Women to alert the Electoral Commission. On verifying the information, the Commission immediately released a statement allowing polling officials to use the register where the machine had failed.
On 14th January, one of the observers reported an incident of a stolen ballot box in Kakyerere, Rushenyi County, Ntungamo district. This was forwarded to both police officers in the Room and to the regional election officer for western region, who immediately took action on confirming the incident. As a result, voting was postponed to 15th January 2021. Rushenyi became a hot spot because of the stiff competition between Hon. Mwesigwa Rukutana and Naome. Supporters of Naome had threatened to demonstrate and continued to demand for polling materials to be delivered. Voters assured the police and Electoral Commission that they will vote and they will do anything under their power to protect their vote. The Commission had to organise elections for that specific polling station within 12 hours. On arrival at the scene from Mbarara, we noted that the DPC of Ntungamo was excited to see us and requested for a brief about the Situation Room.
“I have received calls from the Situation Room and I had no idea where the ‘Room’ is but the calls coming in from that centre were many and I was overwhelmed that I failed to respond to all incidents raised,’’ he said.
In the western region, the Room covered the districts of Mbarara, Kanungu, Ntungamo, Kabale, Rubanda, Kasese, and Hoima, Isingiro and Rukungiri. The Physical Room received 425 calls on election day. All callers where reporting incidents of election irregularities in the region which the Eminent Women, police, army and Electoral Commission responded to in a timely manner in order to avert violence.
Compiled by Faridah Lule
National Youth Co-ordinator