Friday May 9 2014

Time for a national conference to forge consensus on our future

By Augustine Ruzindana

I have received a lot of feedback on my numerous calls for a national conference, asking me what its objective would be. Many other people have made similar calls and I have no doubt that these calls for some form of national dialogue are valid. National delegates conferences have usually been for the purposes of drafting or revising a constitution in circumstances where an existing one has become outdated because of passage of time and changed circumstances. Currently, there is a delegates’ conference taking place in Tanzania to revise the constitution.

National conferences, especially those which took place in Francophone Africa in the 1990s, were used as a means to forge national consensus on political, constitutional, institutional and democratic transitions from conflict or unstable situations. Uganda has been in conflict situation since the 1960s through to the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s to the present. The fact that judges, ministers, army officers and all types of government officials go everywhere escorted by uniformed gun men with sirens blazing, sometimes with mounted artillery pieces, is a confirmation of a persisting conflict situation.

The fact that political leaders cannot be allowed by security agencies to do what politicians do, i.e. to freely seek support by organising and addressing public meetings, is a sign that the country is in a conflict situation. The fact that supporters of a senior official of the ruling party are arrested and harassed just because of canvassing support for him is not a sign of a conflict situation. The NRM fought against a UPC government and there has never been any peace settlement between them and UPC leaders of the war period, like late President Obote and Col Ogole, who has just died in exile in London, receive grudging recognition only when they die. This hostility covers the whole opposition.

Buganda has been getting back some of its properties and compensation piecemeal in recognition of past injustices suffered but this is raising demands for similar treatment from other areas which suffered similar injustices. The way past injustices are being addressed in expectation of political dividends is not a recipe for a durable solution unless national consensus is forged about these matters. Bunyoro is raising similar claims going back to the colonial period, so how and by whom is a cutoff period going to be agreed upon?

How will the demands from other areas for return and compensation for their properties e.g. sub-county, county and district headquarter properties, be addressed? All the colonial “native” governments owned properties, which are now under central government occupation. Why shouldn’t the central government pay rent for such properties countrywide if it is doing so for similar properties in Buganda? What about schools founded by various religious organisations which have been more or less taken over and managed by government virtually as their own?
Clearly, the country is in a crisis arising from the mistake of removal of presidential term limits, which created a life presidency that is now reaching a dead end.

Regime, ruler interests and national interests have become indistinguishable and this is not sustainable. In order to avert a catastrophe, there is need to build consensus through a national conference that would bring together leaders of government, representatives of political parties, civil society, religious, professional, business organisations, eminent citizens and representatives of the various areas of the country. There would be need for an inclusive organising committee. The main objective of this conference is to avert escalation of conflict, to build maximum consensus on the country’s future, to increase public support for national institutions and to create a level playing field for all.

Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP.