Kampala- A debate on the prospects for peaceful political transition in Uganda yesterday witnessed an exchange between a minister and senior opposition figure Kizza Besigye who warned that Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi will not be different from President Museveni.
The former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party leader made the remark yesterday during the grand national debate organised by 93.3 KFM, Daily Monitor sister company, WBS television and the Uganda National NGO Forum in Kampala.
Dr Besigye in a presentation that repeatedly drew applause from a large audience insisted that, “even if Amama Mbabazi took over power within this NRM arrangement, he will not be different from Museveni.” He added: “the transition we are talking about is not transition from one leader to another, desirable as it is, but from a system where power is controlled by one person to a system where power distribution is across the board.”
Mr Mbabazi has time and again insisted he will not run for against President Museveni.
Asked by lawyer Kiwanuka Kiryowa if he too, would be any different, Dr Besigye retorted,” even if you elected me under this system nothing stops me from acting like Museveni, I would only be different from him because of my personality and goodwill. We must have a system where people have power over leaders.”
He added: “The transition we want is for people to understand that they have power and the leaders follow, we have to wrest power from where it lies now. Museveni will not listen to your appeals for a legacy, we have to get hold of him and push him out. We must organise ourselves and force them to leave.”
The retired colonel’s remarks provoked minister for the Presidency Frank Tumwebaze who shot back amidst heckles with a suggestion that the opposition politician is not different from the President whom he criticises.
“Dr Besigye you participated in the liberation movement you now call dictatorial, you have said liberation movements are dictatorial, that means even the products of those liberations are dictatorial,” Mr Tumwebaze said.
Turning round his chair and pointing at Dr Besigye, Mr Tumwebaze went on, “You can see his vigour, look at his gestures. I was in Senior Five watching you in the Constituent Assembly, I never saw you challenge the status quo.”
Mr Tumwebaze dismissed talk that the NRM fears to discuss the question of transition, even internally.
“Manifestos without power are useless, Museveni is our best shot,” he said, to which Dr Besigye shot back, “there was a Parliament in 1981 when Museveni went to the bush. Why didn’t he go to the Parliament? This is not a Parliament so we would be wasting time taking electoral reforms there.”
Dr Besigye reiterated the Opposition’s call for peaceful demonstrations, “Museveni was in Luweero and on whose gardens were we fighting? It is their cows we ate and today those people are at the gate of State House seeking compensation.”
To this, Mr Tumwebaze said, “Yes he was in Luweero, if he was stepping in people’s gardens they would not have given you the cows you ate but they welcomed you. Now that you admit you go to the market to spoil tomatoes, we won’t allow you, if you want to fight, go to the boxers association and fight.”
The debate started off at 3pm with retired Supreme Court judge, Prof George Kanyeihamba, recounting behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing which failed the 2001 and 2006 presidential election petitions filed by Dr Besigye. “Initially, five of us said yes, there were anomalies and the election was a sham and it made a difference in the outcome. As time went on three of our colleagues were persuaded to go the other side,” he said.
What the panellists said
Godber Tumushabe, policy analyst and former executive director ACODE: “The participation of President Museveni in any election is a guarantee for an unfair and un-free election because of his fusion with the State. I don’t see any way you can organise a free election with [this] President as a participant,”
Betty Olive Kamya, President Uganda Federal Alliance: “Assume in 2016, Mr Museveni has lost the election or is dead and we have another president. 80 per cent of the constitution is a script written for that President to act. He has powers to appoint all public officers above the rank of commissioner. He has uncensored access to the Treasury where the power lies,”
Prof Mwambutsya Ndebesa, Makerere don: “We have politics of Kabaka yeka (exclusion), we had Idi Amin as the sole president, today we have Museveni not Yoweri but Museveni yeka. How can you have Kabaka yeka politics in the 21st century?”
George Kanyeihamba, retired Supreme Court judge: “I want to remind my President that when we were promulgating the Constitution in 1995, he told us that this is the best Constitution Ugandans have made and I will go to the bush once more if anybody tampers with it. If I met him now, I would say, what went wrong with your promise Mr President, why have you diverted?”
Busingye Kabumba, Makerere law don: “The 1986 moment is very important; we can only ignore it at our peril. The idea that someone grounded in Franz Fanon’s theory of violence can give you a peaceful transition through a piece of paper is a fallacy. In 1986, he told people in Luweero that had you elected [DP’s Paul] Ssemogerere I would have gone to the bush,”
Kizza Besigye, founding FDC president: “NRM is an armed organisation, the whole State was taken over by NRM, the NEC of NRM became the Parliament, NRA became the national army, and the NRM political school became the national political school. We must therefore discuss how to dismantle this system,”