Kampala. The national dialogue that was planned to kick off on November 21, hangs in the balance after Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana pulled the plug on preparations.
The event was expected to be launched by President Museveni.
Mr Rukutana, multiple sources involved with the planned dialogue have told Saturday Monitor, told a meeting of the organisers that the government is opposed to the dialogue.
Mr Rukutana, however, told Saturday Monitor yesterday that he was “only seeking clarification” and raised issues to be answered about the process before the dialogue may be allowed to kick off.
Before what sources say was “a difficult” meeting on Wednesday, the planners of the dialogue had met with Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda on ‘many occasions’, the last of such meetings having happened on October 31.
During that meeting, sources say Dr Rugunda was “amiable as usual but noncommittal” regarding the dialogue process. The meeting, sources say, took just about 20 minutes.
It had by then already been said at a press conference by Mufti Ramathan Mubajje, the chairperson of the Inter-Religious Council, that President Museveni would open the national dialogue on November 21. But at the meeting, sources say Dr Rugunda could not confirm the President’s attendance at what had been announced as the launch of the dialogue.
During the meeting, Dr Rugunda, sources say, kept giving the dialogue the green light, but all the time quickly adding that the matter still needed to be discussed with the Attorney General, the government’s principal legal advisor. Deputy Attorney General Rukutana was in that meeting and, sources say, kept quiet all the time.
When the Attorney General’s time to speak finally came on Wednesday, Dr Rugunda was not in the meeting that took place at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). It was all about Mr Rukutana.
Those in the meeting with Mr Rukutana were former Principal Judge James Ogoola, the chairperson of the Elders Forum of Uganda; Archbishop John Baptist Odama; Msgr Charles Kasibante, the vicar-general of Kampala Archdiocese; Mr Joshua Kitakule, the secretary general of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda, and Ms Rita Aciro, the executive director of Uganda Women’s Network (Uwonet).
Also present were Sheikh Muhammad Ali Waiswa, the second Deputy Mufti of Uganda; Mr Crispin Kaheru, the coordinator of Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), Ms Dorothy Kisaka, senior governance advisor to the Prime Minister, and Mr Julius Mucunguzi, the communications advisor in the OPM.
Sources say the religious leaders, elders and others present looked on in disbelief as Mr Rukutana declared that there was no need for an agenda because what they were about to have was going to be a very short meeting. He then said they did not have to introduce themselves because they all knew each other, but he asked Msgr Kasibante to bless the meeting with a word of prayer.
After the prayer, sources who attended the meeting have told Saturday Monitor, Mr Rukutana had a change of heart and said it would not hurt so the attendees would introduce themselves after all. After the brief self-introductions, Mr Rukutana curtly addressed the meeting, giving reasons why the planned national dialogue was not necessary at the moment.
Sources that attended the meeting say Mr Rukutana said as far as he is concerned, there is no problem in the country that warrants dialogue at this time.
Our sources say the attendees tried to explain to Mr Rukutana why they have planned to hold a national dialogue, but he waved down their attempts to speak, saying in case they needed to respond to what he said, they needed to prepare a ‘position paper’ and send it to him.
A source that attended the meeting said whereas Mr Rukutana had shut down questions, participants insisted on him telling them whether he was speaking to them in his individual capacity or as a representative of government. At first, the source said, Mr Rukutana said he was expressing his own views, but that on being pressured on why then the organisers of the dialogue should take him seriously, Mr Rukutana then said he was presenting the position of the government.
One source told Saturday Monitor that the organisers were prepared to deliver the ‘position paper’ to Mr Rukutana’s office in a few days’ time after the Wednesday meeting.
But, the source said Mr Rukutana told them that next week he will be busy with the presidential age limit case in the Court of Appeal, meaning he would only attend to their ‘position paper’ any time after next week.
But that leaves the organisers very little time for manoeuvre. They had planned to launch the dialogue on November 21, so the back-and-forth that is likely to be involved in discussing the ‘position paper’, if for instance it is delivered to Mr Rukutana on Monday, November 12, may not enable them to be in time for the pre-planned dialogue launch date of November 21.
The organisers of the dialogue would be open to pushing the date of the launch to a later date, sources say, but still Mr Rukutana seems not to have left them with any options. The deputy Attorney General, sources say, told the organisers of the dialogue that another reason he is opposed to the process is that it comes too close to preparations for the 2021 elections.
According to sources, Mr Rukutana argued that the planned dialogue cannot proceed while at the same time preparations for the next election cycle have started, because the country will soon get taken up by politicking.
He reportedly told the meeting that they can only hold the national dialogue before the Electoral Commission (EC) releases the roadmap for the 2021 election cycle. But the EC has already indicated that it will release the election roadmap before the end of this month.
The dialogue that the organisers envisaged, however, would take many months, maybe even more than a year.