Is it possible to find a sweet spot between politics and the Covid-19 Pandemic? That is a pertinent question as Tanzania and Uganda pick the baton of East Africa’s staggered election calendar. Tanzania is scheduled to hold its presidential polls on October 28. Uganda will follow, with its own presidential and local government elections, sometime between January and February 2021.

In both cases, Covid-19 represents both opportunity and risk. As has been demonstrated by Uganda, Covid-19 restrictions confer an advantage upon incumbency while raising the bar even higher for the opposition. From a public health perspective, in settings where there is so little information about the extent of Covid-19 infiltration in the community, the possibility of political canvassing triggering exponential spread, is a real threat.

The immediate policy challenge is how to allow a critical aspect of democratic expression to proceed in a credible manner without assuming the attendant social risk.

Uganda has proposed a “scientific election,” a term still so vague that when viewed against the conduct of state organs raises valid questions about the fairness of the process. Long before Covid-19 came on to the scene, access to media by the Opposition was always a fortuitous experience. Even now, while religious congregations and opposition parties cannot hold meetings, functionaries of the ruling National Resistance Movement not only have unfettered access to the media but also public spaces. In that respect, Covid-19 restrictions are not only reinforcing a long-established culture of unfair competition but also serve the interests of incumbency.