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Ugandan Rabbi Loses Petition Over Votes

Gershom Sizomu is vanquished, but undefeated

Matthew Fishbane
August 18, 2011
supporter of Rabbi Gershom Sizomu shows bruise marks on election night, February 18, 2011, Nabugoye, Uganda.(The author)
supporter of Rabbi Gershom Sizomu shows bruise marks on election night, February 18, 2011, Nabugoye, Uganda.(The author)

In Uganda, where supporters of opposition leader Kizza Besigye were tear gassed last week in the capital, Kampala, erstwhile parliamentary candidate and Black African Rabbi Gershom Sizomu—the leader of the Abayudaya, a group of Jews who live in the hills outside the provincial town of Mbale—heard the result of a petition he had filed last February. The petition laid out examples of vote-rigging (ballot-stuffing, multiple registration, dead voters) and voter intimidation (falsified returns, assault, police malpractice) during the campaign Sizomu lost to Muslim incumbent Yahaya Wojje, the Ugandan MP for Bungokho North district.

The news: “We tried our best but sadly I report that we lost the petition,” writes Sizomu by email.

Moses Sebagabo, an Abayudaya Jew, told me by phone that hundreds of Sizomu’s supporters turned out for a heavy-security, early morning session of the Mbale High Court earlier today, with many of Sizomu’s voters spilling into a courtyard. “Maybe everything has turned upside down for Rabbi Gershom,” Sebagabo said. “I am home now and everybody is now hiding, because we don’t know what can happen.”

Reached by phone in his home in Nabugoye village, Sizomu was demure but disappointed. “It was clear from cross examination,” he said. “The defense witnesses’ testimony was contradictory.” The matter of the February rainstorm, which had forced Sizomu’s polling station indoors to the Nabugoye synagogue to continue the vote count, may also have affected some of the declaration forms. Lawyers for Wojje, the victor, asserted that the rain had kept agents from signing their approval of vote counts, which disqualified whole ballot boxes at a number of stations, while Sizomu insisted that his agents hadn’t signed because they had been harassed. In addition, some of the allegedly beaten witnesses were treated at the Tobin Health Center, a project of the Abayudaya community which is open to the public. Sizomu says this “raised suspicion” in the court, even if Sizomu pointed out that “there’s no proper reason why [his agents] would not be treated at a health center of their own.”

Sizomu has scheduled a meeting tomorrow with his lawyers to determine if he has grounds for an appeal to a higher court in Kampala. There will be lawyer and court bills to pay, as well as undisclosed damages to go to Wojje—and diminishing hope for this time around. Despite these obstacles, will Sizomu run in 2015? “A politician is a politician,” he said. “I will never be defeated.”

Matthew Fishbane is Creative Director at Tablet magazine.