The question of whether Uganda needs a national dialogue at this point in time and if so what needs to be in place for it to happen dominated discussion at a meeting of researchers, civil society, civic leaders, elders and the media at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Kampala yesterday.
The meeting was convened by the Eastern Africa Centre for Constitutional Development (Kituo cha Katiba) to disseminate the findings of a research it commissioned on Uganda’s political question. The research titled “Political Settlements in Uganda and Prospects for National Dialogue”, was undertaken by Professor Frederick Jjuuko of Makerere University School of Law and Dr Sam Tindifa, a lecturer at Islamic University in Uganda, Mbale.
It drew high profile civic, political and academic names that included former DP leader Paul Ssemogerere, former UPC president Olara Otunnu, Prof Frederick Ssempebwa, Dr Mwambutsya Ndebesa, former Buganda Katikkiro Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere, NRM deputy secretary general Richard Todwong, to mention a few.
Prof Jjuuko who rolled off the discussion said the Uganda crisis today was characterised by a regime that had stayed over 30 years in power with no prospects of change, institutional dysfunction, deteriorating security, breakdown of social services, growing poverty, unemployment and amidst this situation was the inevitability of change, one way or the other. Yet, he noted Ugandans were in a dilemma; they didn’t want war to create change believe elections cannot bring change.
The researchers noted that from interviews with different sections across the country, it was unanimous that the situation in the country today needed a national dialogue to address what has gone wrong since the last attempt at national consensus under the Moshi Conference that gave birth to the short-lived Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) in 1979.
However, they also found that most Ugandans did not believe a national dialogue was feasible at this time mostly because the NRM regime led by President Museveni was not sufficiently threatened to concede dialogue. They argued that dialogue required a situation of dual power whereby the government’s existence was precarious and the opposition was strong but lacking the “killer punch” to wrest power. That situation did not exist in Uganda today, they said.
Even then, they delved into the proposed nature and structure of the national dialogue if it were to take place stating that it needs to be built around the 15 nations of Uganda that participated in the 1961 Lancaster Conference and that everything should be on the table for discussion including secession.
Reacting to the presentation, Mr Otunnu said national dialogue should not be treated as a slogan. “We need to see dialogue as a three-part journey. The first is about transition from Museveni and that depends on him accepting to leave and help manage the transition. Thereafter we can have national conference to discuss old and current issues, and finally truth telling, accountability and reconciliation,” he said, adding the last two are dependent on the first.
NRM’s Richard Todwong said President Museveni was open to convening national dialogue dialogue and the issues was being pursued under Inter-Party Organisation’s Dialogue (Ipod).