Kampala. It is a divided house. The six organisations that came up with what is called the National Dialogue Process and are supposed to facilitate it have serious internal disagreements, Saturday Monitor has learnt.
At least one of the organisers has since broken ranks with the group, presenting the possibility of holding parallel dialogue processes.
The six groups – which in a paper they issued last year call themselves the Working Group of Six (WG6) – are led by the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), currently chaired by Mufti Shaban Mubajje, and The Elders’ Forum of Uganda (TEFU), chaired by former Principal Judge James Ogoola.
The other four groups are the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU); the Interparty Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD); the National Consultative Forum (NCF), and the Women’s Situation Room (WSR).
Whereas NCF brings together all the 32 registered political parties, IPOD consists of only the five parties that have representation in Parliament.
The recent weeks have been heavy on activity, with the organisers of the dialogue originally setting a date – November 21 – when they said President Museveni would launch the national conversation.
Then Saturday Monitor last week broke the story that the dialogue would not be launched on that date – and perhaps not at all – after the government, through deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana, had poured cold water on the preparations.
Mr Rukutana, in a meeting with the organisers of the dialogue that happened at the Prime Minister’s office on November 7, said there was no need for dialogue because Uganda is a democracy with an elected government, and that there is no crisis that warrants a national dialogue. He further told them that there would soon emerge another conversation in which all Ugandans would participate – the 2021 elections.
The position of the government, Mr Rukutana said, is that elections is the highest form of national dialogue and the process cannot happen side by side with the envisaged national dialogue process.
After Saturday Monitor broke the story, frantic activity followed, culminating in a meeting between President Museveni and some representatives of political parties under IPOD. The representatives of the parties had gone to the headquarters of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party in Kampala for what was called a courtesy visit lwast Saturday, only to be informed by NRM secretary general Kasule Lumumba that she had prepared to take them to meet President Museveni.
The representatives of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party and the Democratic Party (DP) declined the spur-of-the-moment invitation to meet with the President, saying their parties had sent them only to the ruling party’s headquarters to meet with Ms Lumumba. Those who met with Mr Museveni, the presidential press unit would later report, had “cordial” talks with the Head of State, and it was shortly afterwards announced that a summit of the leaders of political parties under IPOD, which includes President Museveni, will meet for the first time on December 12.
It was also reported that President Museveni had during the meeting expressed eagerness to work with the other parties under IPOD to stamp out electoral violence, among other areas of possible cooperation.
The IPOD summit slated for December 12, will come only a week to the launch of the national dialogue process that has now been set for December 18, according to communication by TEFU and IRCU.
What comes out clearly is that the process is now splintered, otherwise why would the IPOD process seem to be kicking off at a time when the national dialogue process is supposed to take root?
It should also be remembered that one key objective of the national dialogue since inception had been to bring all the conversations under one umbrella to avoid ambiguity.
If the seeming unreadiness of IPOD members to engage in the process led by the Elders’ Forum and religious leaders seems confusing, there is an even more clear-cut case to concern those who believe in the dialogue process.
On July 3, Ms Elizabeth Lwanga, the team leader for the Women’s Situation Room Uganda, informed Mr Ogoola, the chairperson of the Working Group of Six on the National Dialogue Process, that her organisation had pulled out of the process.
She wrote: “Following the last meeting of the WG6 in which it became clear that many decisions regarding the National Dialogue Process (NDP) had been taken without consultation with the WG6, the eminent women of the Women’s Situation Room (WSR), whom I have represented on the WG6, have had time to reflect on the role of WSR in the NDP through its membership to the WG6… At a recent meeting of the Eminent Women, a decision was taken to withdraw the WSR from this process with immediate effect. The main reason behind this decision are the clear signs of a parallel NDP process that does not include the full participation of the members of the WG6.”
Ms Lwanga said, however, that the resources which the WSR had prepared - the Mechanism for Women’s Participation and the Code of Conduct for NDP – could be utilised during the dialogue process, and that members of WSR who may want to participate in the dialogue process on their own would be free to do so.
Dr Maggie Kigozi, a member of WSR, is until now one of the leading cheerleaders of the dialogue process.
We were unable to reach Ms Lwanga to clarify on what decisions she refers to as having been taken without the input of some members of the group, because her known phone number remained unavailable by press time.
But the murmurs within the circles of the organisers are loud and many we talked to prefer to complain in secret. One issue that they raise regards money. Where will the money to facilitate the process be sourced and who will manage it? Will the dialogue organisers set up a secretariat? Who will man it?
As it stands now, our information is that the funding for the process is still limited, especially provided by DanChurchAid, a Danish humanitarian nongovernmental organisation aimed at supporting the world’s poorest. The hope of the organisers is, our sources say, that once President Museveni launches the dialogue, a number of other donors will come on board.
But some players, especially the politicians, have a problem with President Museveni launching the dialogue.
Asked about the prospects of the dialogue, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago said: “Museveni simply wanted to use the dialogue to cleanse the battered image of his brutal regime by having a photo opportunity with the key Opposition figures and political actors to hoodwink the donor community that he’s accommodating and tolerant to his political opponents.”
Mr Lukwago adds that the Elders’ Forum and the religious leaders “have no capacity to act as mediators that would bring together Mr Museveni, Dr Besigye and other key stakeholders within the Opposition to a round table to have a conversation and generate consensus on the critical issue of orderly succession to power.”
Which way forward?
With the things being the way they are, questions abound on whether President Museveni will finally launch the process on December 18. But even if he does, what form will it take since a number of the key players, especially the politicians and the Women’s Situation Room have disengaged from it? And how will the parallel processes work?
Who needs to talk?
The categories. The organisers classified the dialogue in three categories – dialogue between individuals, especially the key political protagonists; dialogue of political parties; and dialogue involving all citizens. The fourth possible strand of dialogue is through a constitutional review commission, which has been talked about often but has not been constituted.
Museveni Vs Besigye. The dialogue between individuals, especially revolves around attempts at bringing Dr Kizza Besigye and President Museveni to the negotiating table.
This effort is very old, and Mr Ogoola, when he was still Principal Judge, attempted it and failed. When Dr Besigye was arrested in late 2005 on allegations of rape and treason, Justice Ogoola moved back and forth between Luzira prison and State House to try and mediate a settlement between Mr Museveni and Dr Besigye.
When he finally failed to broker a settlement, he recounted his mediation efforts in open court as he heard Dr Besigye’s bail application. He also said having unsuccessfully attempted to mediate between the two men, it was prudent that he stepped down from hearing the case.
The effort has since then been taken up by a number of other people and institutions, and most recently by the Women’s Situation Room (WSR).
After the 2016 election, WSR got close to causing a dialogue between President Museveni and Dr Kizza Besigye. In that election, Dr Besigye pulled huge crowds across the country and claimed, not for the first time, that the final result was rigged in favour of Mr Museveni. He declared himself winner of the election and was confined by the armed forces at his home in Kasangati near Kampala until he left the house undetected and turned up in the middle of Kampala City on the eve of President Museveni’s swearing in, from where he was arrested, flown to Karamoja and later charged with treason. The treason trial has never taken off since.
In an attempt to diffuse this tension, WSR led a campaign of shuttle diplomacy, moving back and forth between the two men to broker an understanding. A memorandum of understanding was signed and, according to sources familiar with the process, President Museveni appeared prepared to talk with Dr Besigye and even seemed prepared to make some concessions.
Dr Besigye, on his part, remained wary of Mr Museveni’s moves and insisted on an institutionalised dialogue that would involve a broad spectrum of players, including political parties, and not just him speaking with Mr Museveni.
He repeated his long-standing demands that any dialogue with Mr Museveni can only happen with a neutral and internationally well regarded moderator, and that there must be guarantees that the results of the dialogue will be implemented.
Dr Besigye also added the demand that the 2016 election, which he claims to have won with 52 per cent of the vote, must be audited, and that the agenda must include an item on how Mr Museveni leaves power.
Enter Bobi Wine. The effort again failed and the country moved on, with Dr Besigye largely withdrawing from the streets, and in the months that followed, Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, emerged as the new craze in town. In the original dialogue framework, people of his ilk who have no political parties had not been catered for, except for them to perhaps participate as citizens.
Left out? When the religious leaders and the elders pushing for the process recently appeared in a picture with President Museveni, a number of people on social media kept asking, “where are the young people?”