Monday January 25 2016

Why Ugandans should give Biraaro their ears

By Moses Odokonyero

If the presidential debate hadn’t taken place, many Ugandans wouldn’t have known that Gen Benon Biraaro is an eloquent debater with some pretty interesting ideas on how to move the country forward.
Yet Biraaro, like Abed Bwanika (who also put on spirited performance), have struggled to pull crowds, limiting the reach of their otherwise good messages to a critical segment of the Ugandan voter.

Two lessons stand out from the debate. One is that in a fair contest, new talent and innovative ideas on how to address our modern day challenges emerge. The second lesson is the resistance of the old order to emerging new alternative order. Museveni’s no show at the debate and his attempts to pour cold water on an otherwise successful event by describing it as ‘‘secondary school’’ in character should be viewed and interpreted in that context.
Dr Kizza Besigye is a new order growing old. Mr Amama Mbabazi is an old order trying to morph into a new order. Both men are viewed as a danger by Museveni’s old order, which is using a combination of bare knuckles and crafty means to deal with them.

Sucked into this forces was co- moderator of the debate, Alan Kasujja. He was the more combative of the two good moderators. I liked his aggressive style because the presidency is not a picnic. The candidates had to face the furnace.
In the aftermath of the debate, and even as I write, Kasujja is still being lampooned by the social media army. On my Facebook timeline, many of those jabbing poisoned arrows at the BBC man appear to be Besigye supporters unimpressed with a ‘‘Londoner’’ locking horns with the ‘People’s President’.

As Kasujja was being ridiculed in Uganda, in nearby Kenya, journalist Larry Madowo was being roasted for a misunderstood sarcastic post on Twitter about Cord leader Raila Odinga. Raila is Kenya’s beloved everlasting opposition kingpin.
From his haranguing in the hands of Raila’s tweeter army, Madowo penned a piece in the Daily Nation: ‘‘This is what happens when you upset Raila supporters.’’ (Daily Nation, January 20).
Kasujja could as well have written: ‘‘This is what happens when you upset Besigye supporters.’’

The comparison between Besigye and Raila is not exactly the same. It’s not even the crux of my matter but it offers an important demonstration to the unreceptivity to criticism and challenge of the entrenched in either the Opposition or the ruling NRM.
Being hostile to criticism and ducking debates are both obstructive to the emergence of new talent and ideas.

Biraaro and Bwanika may have walked out of the debate with swagger (to borrow from Besigye) but their TV performance won’t substantially increase on the numbers in their rallies. They will continue to opportunistically stage their rallies in markets, taxi parks and other places where people, including the uninterested, mill about.
A significant part of the Ugandan public, like the debate dodger and the social media army with rolled sleeves, are obstacles to the Biraaros, the Bwanikas and to Uganda.

But not all is lost. A positive outcome of the debate is that there is now a conversation on the need by the Electoral Commission to include it in the electoral calendar.
Lastly, whether it be a work of stratagem or fate, it was perhaps good that President Museveni, a man deeply steeped in a military culture, dodged the debate. Numerous commentators have correctly pointed out that his absence enabled Ugandans to have a sneak peek into a future without him.

Mr Odokonyero has interest in media development, communications& public affairs