It has been a year packed with violence, death. It has also been a year of preparations and counter-preparations as the country moves towards the 2011 general elections. Angelo Izama looks at what many have called preparation for violence just in case the ruling party is defeated in the poll:-
President Yoweri Museveni took time off his busy schedule to preside over the passing-out of 2,500 youth who had completed their para-military/politicisation training on December 12. The low key event that hardly made a splash in the media took place at Kololo Airstrip - a place which holds some of the strongest symbolism of Uganda’s post-independence history - from the lowering of the Union Jack to the controversial statements of Col. Muammar Gadaffi on why revolutionaries should remain in power in perpetuity.
The passing-out was officially following military science and patriotism training but it has alarmed political watchers and opposition party strategists increasingly convinced that the ruling National Resistance Movement party is muscling up for violence in the next polls.
As young men re-assembled AK-47 assault rifles the question according to Forum for Democratic Change’s spokesman, Wafula Oguttu, who caught the action on TV, is “which war are they preparing for?” This week at the signing of the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) a landmark all-hands-on-deck deal by opposition political parties for a common election strategy in 2011 the spectre of violence in the election was raised.
Mr Omar Kalinge Nnyago, a programme officer at the IPC secretariat which coordinates the joint strategy says the threat of violence was real. The IPC is formed to, among others, set the stage for a “smooth” transition of power should the opposition win the vote in a fair contest.
According to Mr Yonasani Kanyomozi, a veteran politician with the Uganda People’s Congress, the IPC envisages an orderly change of regime. “We are going into this fully knowing that the incumbent is intent on staying on in power and may not go quietly,” he said on a radio programme on Thursday.
The realisation of the IPC may have been the high point on the political calendar for the opposition but with just 14 months to the general election, 2009 has been an underwhelming year for the formal political opposition in Uganda.
The most significant political event was the so-called Buganda riots in September, an event which while it shook the country, also revealed the weak hand of the opposition.
The riots broke out fairly spontaneously and grew out of a stand-off between the Buganda Kingdom and the Central government - an issue in which the opposition has had virtually observer status.
The IPC deal may thus be crown jewel for regime change optimists said one diplomat working with democracy issues with all political parties.
“A year ago one would have thought it was not possible,” said the diplomat who preferred anonymity in order to give an assessment on the condition of the parties in the prelude to the 2011 polls.
According to him on the positive side, besides the IPC, the opposition especially FDC have been active outside of the capital mobilising. FDC is credited for electing new party officials countrywide in a fairly transparent manner.
“The return of Olara Otunnu also provides the UPC with the possibility of climbing out of the factionalism at Uganda House and they look also set for a delegate’s conference,” the diplomat said.
However, on the flipside internal schisms have undermined opposition politics. “They had a poor showing in by-elections and save for a few areas like Hoima lost the opportunity to turn some genuine discontent into votes” the diplomat said.
The Peoples Progressive Party is credited “to a limited extent” for having organisational success. “On the whole it is another year since the parties have been around and that’s something to celebrate even if they still continue to be largely Kampala based” the diplomat said, adding that a lot party structures up country often lacked direction and suffered from “the commercialisation of volunteerism”.
“Most of their supporters expect to be paid to do party work and to this extent the NRM has the advantage because it is fused with the state.” The biggest casualty in the political party inventory has, however, been the Democratic Party which has been weighed down by in-fighting that could render it dysfunctional several experts say.
Mr Oguttu, a retired journalist and entrepreneur-turned-politician, however says overall, organised violence is a more serious problem. “Military training and the military uniforms are for the purposes of violence. When they are defeated they will resort to violence,” he said about the pass-out of Movement’s cadres.
After the September riots again large scale violence has re-emerged as a worry. On the one hand there is no doubt that the politics of the country is wired by such high-tension topics as land, oil in Bunyoro, the dearth of public services and political transition/succession to President Museveni.