National dialogue hangs in the balance

Sunday November 18 2018

Harold Acemah

Harold Acemah  

Barely three days before the long-awaited Uganda national dialogue process is formally launched the prospects for this important, historic and home-grown initiative appear to hang perilously in the balance.
The leaders of the two organisations which have worked tirelessly for months to bring Ugandans together to talk and reason among themselves have put on a brave face despite provocative and unpatriotic noises coming from some reactionary quarters.

The chairpersons of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) and The Elders Forum of Uganda (TEFU) issued a press release a few weeks ago in which they informed Ugandans and the world at large that “His Excellency President Museveni will flag off the conference on November 21, 2018”.

As one who is familiar with State protocol, I know that it takes time to get confirmation from State House for the presence of the head of State at any function. It must have taken IRCU and TEFU months before they got the green light from State House to the effect that the President would officiate at next Wednesday’s event.

Against this backdrop, I was stunned and disappointed to read a headline story in the Saturday Monitor of November 10 titled, “Govt blocks plans to hold national dialogue”. According to the story, Deputy Attorney Mwesigwa Rukutana alleged that there is no cause or situation which warrants holding of a national dialogue at the moment and added that Uganda would soon be busy preparing for the next general election.

Rukutana made those remarks at a meeting between Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and the leadership of IRCU and TEFU. Whereas Dr Rugunda gave the green light for the national dialogue, he said that the matter required further discussions with the Attorney General, who was not present but was represented by Rukutana.

According to Saturday Monitor, “sources say the religious leaders, elders and others present looked on in disbelief as Rukutana declared that there was no need for an agenda because what they were about to have was going to be a short meeting.”
Rukutana abrasively dismissed the proposal to hold a national dialogue saying, as far as he is concerned, there is no problem in the country that warrants dialogue at this time. I hope this is Rukutana’s personal view, which he is entitled to, much as it contradicts the publicly stated position of government.
In this connection, I warmly welcome a pertinent and timely editorial published in the Sunday Monitor of November 11 titled, “Genuine national dialogue necessary”.

Truth be told, the corrupt and decadent NRM regime and Uganda’s political parties will not do Ugandans any favour at all by participating in the national dialogue to which all of them have been cordially invited. As I have argued before, barely 30 per cent of Ugandans of voting age belong to all registered political parties of Uganda. The principal stakeholders of the national dialogue are the youth and women who have effectively been locked out for decades from national politics and the economy.

As the Sunday Monitor editorial correctly observed, “If one paused to ask any of the people who badmouthed the planned dialogue whether they had a problem dialoguing on vital national issues, the likely answer will be that most Ugandans, politicians and non-politicians alike, will think that a genuine national dialogue is vitally important…”

So what is the problem? Why all the foot dragging on the part of politicians from both sides of the political divide?
Once again, I agree with the Sunday Monitor editorial which argues that, “as things stand, those in government feel too powerful to dialogue with those who oppose them, yet those in Opposition feel that the people holding political power have grabbed it by force and have to be forced out of it.”

Well, that is their struggle for power and a piece of “the animal” which somebody claims he hunted many years ago! For wananchi it’s a totally different ball game; it’s a struggle for freedom, justice and survival.
The national dialogue is a golden opportunity for wananchi to expose the filth and rot in Uganda’s body politic which is stinking from top to bottom. No wonder politicians are trying to frustrate the process because it could be a day of reckoning for most of them. The youth must wake up and reclaim their legitimate place and role in Uganda’s political economy.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.