Friday February 12 2016

NRM, debate organisers in stalemate over Shaka Ssali

Straight Talk Africa host, Shaka Ssali.

Straight Talk Africa host, Shaka Ssali. Courtesy Photo 

By Othman Semakula

Retired High Court Judge, James Ogoola has said National Resistance Movement (NRM)’s demand to drop journalist Shaka Ssali from the Presidential Debate moderation team remains a fluid issue with no decision taken yet.

“It is fluid. As for now we have not made any decision. We shall come out with full details as soon as we have them,” Justice Ogoola told Daily Monitor in a telephone interview on Friday evening.

“It is one of the issues we have been discussing back and forth. Let’s wait for full details,” he added ahead of the highly billed February 13 debate.

NRM, among other demands asked the debate organisers to make sure that the moderation team is composed of neutral people, pointing out Shaka Ssali, saying he is a publicly known critic of NRM.

Speaking in a telephone interview on Friday Mr Mike Sebalu, the NRM Campaign Taskforce spokesperson said they were still discussing some modalities key among them neutrality of moderators and allowing all media houses to air the debate.

“We still have issues with some moderators but we hope to resolve this. We are still discussing on the same matter,” he said.

NTV has the exclusive rights of airing the debate with the option of other media channels picking a live feed from the Serena-based television station.

In a meeting early this week, Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka the NRM legal counsel said they were uncomfortable with Shaka Ssali’s choice, considering his public criticism on the ruling party.

At the meeting Mr Kiwanuka played recorded clips, which allegedly contained Shaka Ssali’s voice criticising NRM.

Other conditions such as allowing all media houses to air the debate as well as allowing President Museveni’s security team to vet all the guests that will attend the debate were also advanced.

More than 1,500 people have been accredited to attend the debate.

The demands, especially vetting participants, could be confirmation of Mr Museveni’s attendance, who had earlier likened the first leg of the Presidential Debate to a primary school discussion.

On Thursday the organisers confirmed the debate would be moderated by retired journalist, Joel Kibazo, Makerere University don, Suzie Muwanga and journalist Shaka Ssali.

The trio, with far reaching experience is expected to midwife a debate whose centre of attention will majorly focus on peace and security, foreign relations, East African integration, the Great Lakes region and terrorism.

Shaka Ssali, whose experience in media spans over three decades, is a Ugandan born American journalist hosting one of Africa’s most viewed talk shows - Straight Talk Africa on Voice of America.

He has previously criticised the ruling party for perpetuating a life presidency by deleting term limits from the Constitution as well as failing to lead Uganda to desired progress.

However, the NRM, whose campaigns have been molded around steady progress, argue that critics are purposely omitting the party’s achievements with the view of skewing public opinion.

By close of business on Friday, preparations ahead of the debate were in high gear.