Why Museveni should have tea with Besigye and six million more Ugandans
Posted Thursday, October 10 2013 at 01:00
Admittedly, some could be ghost voters although ghosts are more likely to turn up and vote than stay away – meaning any ghosts are likely to be among those who ‘voted’ rather than those that didn’t vote.
President Museveni this week extended what can generally be said to be a hand of friendship to opposition leader Kizza Besigye, inviting him to return “home” which can only mean to the ruling NRM party. Museveni then invited Besigye to attend the official Independence Day celebrations, an invitation that Mr Besigye accepted.
Typically, Museveni threw a spanner in the works. Besigye, he said, has to apologise – for what, he did not say. That is unlikely to happen in our lifetime for, as Besigye said, apologise for what? By the time of writing, the Independence celebrations were yet to kick off but it should make for some spectacle. The venue, Rukungiri, is Besigye’s birthplace and has somewhat divided loyalties. Many people there have voted for Museveni in previous elections – but many of the officials who have tested Museveni, including Besigye, Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, Brig Henry Tumukunde, and Col Samson Mande all come from Rukungiri.
Only time can tell how much of it is politics meant to provide a photo-op and score some easy points and how much of it is a genuine effort at reconciliation. Museveni, who only gets praise from this column occasionally – and not from the lack of trying, must be applauded for the gesture, and Besigye for accepting.
The lack of civility between our leaders has militarised our politics and pushed our positions to the extremes. Those who don’t agree with the regime of the day are jailed, killed, or forced into exile. When they come into power, they repeat the cycle of violence and exclusion. And to protect themselves and their grandchildren, the new rulers do everything – from stealing elections to intimidating judges – to stay in power. That winner-takes-it-all set-up, and the political culture it gives birth to (or which gives birth to it), is Uganda’s fundamental problem.
A cup of tea and a long honest conversation between Museveni and Besigye might reduce the tensions but it is going to take a lot more to reconcile the country. The 2011 election offer some illustration about how divided we are. Mr Museveni was announced winner with 68 per cent of the vote but his 5.4 million votes were only 38 per cent of total registered voters.
Besigye and the other opposition candidates received about half of Museveni’s vote but the biggest story of that election is that more people stayed away from the polling stations than those who voted for the winner. Of the 13.9 million registered voters that the Electoral Commission claimed, just under six million did not bother to turn up.
Admittedly, some could be ghost voters although ghosts are more likely to turn up and vote than stay away – meaning any ghosts are likely to be among those who ‘voted’ rather than those that didn’t vote. Whichever way you look at it, there is a big question of legitimacy or the lack of it. Museveni is the legally elected President but if he wants to be the legitimate leader (and not ruler), he will need to reach across the political divide and build some bridges.
Reaching out to Besigye, Erias Lukwago and others is a good first step but there are millions more Ugandans watching to see whether such reconciliation is genuine and whether it will lead to the kind of electoral and political reforms that will inspire them to participate and contest the political space. It would be good for Museveni to get Besigye back into the NRM. It would be even better if he can get the millions of indifferent and disinterested Ugandans back into Uganda.
That, after all, is what Independence is all about.
Finding himself drowning in the deep-end of the political pool, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob L’Okori Oulanyah has been clutching at straws, blaming his woes on anything and everyone except himself and his ineptness. He was at it last Saturday during a radio talk show when he made potentially libellous allegations about your columnist during my days as editor of this newspaper.
On Tuesday evening, I telephoned him and asked why he was taking the conversation out of context and lying through his whiskers. He admitted that the impression created was a false one but when pressed to come forth and set the record straight, he refused, saying he had been “destroyed” by Monitor and did not mind destroying the reputations of others.
I have full notes from all our earlier conversation and the one this week. If Oulanyah continues to tell lies about me, I will tell the truth about him.
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