I don’t have any problem with Muhoozi presidency - Otunnu

Ms Winnie Byanyima and Olara Otunnu at Nsambya Sharing Centre during an Inter Party Corporation press conference. Photo by Isaac Kasamani

Uganda Peoples Congress president Olara Otunnu says it might be difficult to reverse the misdeeds of the Museveni regime even after he leaves power. He also shares his views on several issues with Sunday Monitor’s Richard Wanambwa. Excerpts;

What is your assessment of the state of the country today?
The general situation in the country is absolutely dire.
Just look in any direction. It is a landscape of unbelievable poverty; complete collapse of the once proud systems of public education and medical service; wholesale plunder of national resources; systematic destruction of national institutions; death of the rule of law and celebration of impunity; State terror and ‘safe houses’; and sham elections; destruction in northern Uganda; and entrenched discrimination.
This is the legacy of 27 years of Museveni/NRM rule and the much-trumpeted ‘fundamental change’. I fear some of the damages have been so radical and cut so deep that they may prove irreparable even in the post-Museveni era.

You speak often of “a deep moral crisis” in the country. What is causing you this concern?
The socio-economic collapse and the explosive political crisis are obvious for all to see. But at a deeper level, our country is in a moral crisis. As a people, we have lost our sense of outrage, our sense of the unacceptable, our sense of right and wrong, our sense of shame. Things that would make the heavens tremble in horror and fury, Ugandans have now been conditioned to accept them as normal.

What do you propose as the solution?
We should pursue a new national agenda composed of five principal planks. First, removal of President Museveni’s regime; second, instituting an independent national truth telling, accountability and reconciliation process to pave way for genuine national reconciliation; convening a national convention to deliberate on and adopt a new National Covenant.
The fourth item is long-term and particularly daunting, namely rebuilding Uganda from the Museveni system and legacy into a land of equal citizenship and equal opportunities and genuine democratic practices. Finally, and most critical of all, our country desperately needs a moral revival.

Why have you been so insistent on the issue of regime change?
The first order of business must be the removal of the Museveni regime. This must constitute the immediate and most urgent goal of our struggle, because at both the political and moral levels, the regime has simply lost all legitimacy. As long as this regime remains in place, all our aspirations and preoccupations will remain blocked. It is impossible to revive social service delivery, fix the broken school and health systems, stem plunder and corruption, build multi-party democracy and reinstitute the rule of law under the NRM.
The regime is the source and perpetrator of most of these problems. That is why to propose a reform agenda for the Museveni regime is an illusion. This regime cannot be reformed; it can only be removed. Yet regime change is not an end in itself; its significance lies in opening the way for the process of rebuilding and transformation.

There is fear that Uganda could descend into anarchy with the military taking the lead. How do you intend to bring about the regime change in such a situation?
Regime change can come about in one of four ways: armed struggle; military takeover; popular uprising; or through free and fair elections. I am opposed to the first two options. My preferred method is free and fair elections. But when this latter option is completely blocked, the people have to take charge of their own destiny through a popular uprising.
At this moment, we need to build a social movement that brings together all democracy-seeking and patriotic social forces in our society: political parties; civil society; religious organisations; women and youth organizations; traders and professional associations . This must be an inclusive citizens’ struggle.
The specific method we have to employ for this struggle is positive non-violent resistance. This strategy for change has been applied elsewhere to overthrow entrenched injustice and oppression. When properly harnessed, I know that the moral force that propels our struggle will prove to be far more powerful than the cowardly weapons of terror that populate the regime’s arsenal.

Would this social movement include members of NRM?
Yes, this should include many of our brothers and sisters who are in the NRM. There are many patriotic and democracy-seeking Ugandans who, for various reasons, are still travelling in the NRM bus. I call on them to join this struggle.

Who would lead this drive for change?
We are all in this together. We, Ugandans, must become the change agents.
Secondly, to prosecute a political project of this magnitude requires “Resolve.” This ingredient has been missing from the Ugandan political scene. Without resolve, we would never have witnessed the recent successful uprisings in the Middle East, Egypt and collapse of apartheid in South Africa.

A roadmap has been unveiled for 2016 elections, and President Museveni appears to have kicked- off his re-election campaign already. What is your response to this?
Before we discuss the so-called roadmap for 2016, we must ask; what kind of elections are we talking about for 2016? The current Museveni/Kiggundu system will produce the same sham elections as in the past or worse. What Ugandans should focus on now, therefore, is not a scramble for 2016, but a determined campaign for a new electoral system that can deliver free and fair elections. Ugandans should never again accept to accompany Museveni in another sham elections.
We must put forward a basket of specific demands such as an independent electoral commission; a clean and verifiable register of voters; role of security forces; demarcation of constituencies; process of counting, collating and announcement of results; and adjudication of dispute for presidential election.

Your passionate call for free and fair elections does not seem to be getting across to the government or to your opposition colleagues. What do you say?
I have certainly been pushing a campaign for free and fair elections since 2010. In fact, within the then opposition umbrella (IPC), we were able to adopt a common position on this issue, with clear-cut demands. We announced this position to the country and reaffirmed our firm stand on several occasions.
Internationally, some key constituencies had been mobilised in support of this campaign. For example, the US Congress enacted the Congressional Directive on Free and Fair Elections in Uganda. Museveni was under enormous pressure. Sadly, at this critical moment and in spite of all the signs pointing unmistakably towards massive fraud and sham, IPC suddenly made a U-turn and abandoned our common position on free and fair elections. This was truly a tragic error for which Ugandans have paid a very high price. And once IPC made that U-turn, how could we expect our international friends to remain fighting on our behalf?
But, in spite of the bitter experience of 2011, I strongly believe we must embark on a new campaign for free and fair elections in 2016. Consultations are going on about this.
I hope this time round a broad coalition of democracy-seeking Ugandans will have the necessary resolve to prosecute the campaign for free and fair elections. If Museveni rejects our demands for overhauling the electoral system, then my position is very clear: Ugandans have no business accompanying him in yet another sham election in 2016.

You have spoken often about segregation and discrimination in Uganda today. What do you mean?
Uganda today is a land steeped in segregation and discrimination. There is horizontal segregation, which runs along ethnic and regional fault lines. This is the fruit of sectarianism, which has been promoted and practised by the Museveni regime. The other big divide is socio-economic. This is the dramatic chasm that exists between a tiny class of persons who have suddenly fallen into stupendous wealth, the bulk of which has been plundered from public resources, and the vast majority of Ugandans who live in unbelievable poverty and humiliation, with their lives precariously perched on the edge of mere survival.
A huge challenge awaits the post-Museveni era --how to make Uganda one country again.

You have called for a ‘national convention’ and a ‘new national covenant’? What exactly are you proposing?
We need to reinvent Uganda. There are critical issues which have been sagging on the national agenda for too long such as democratic governance; federo, land, building national unity, Buganda Question, uneven development; position and role of cultural leaders; marginalised communities. We should convene a national convention to resolve these issues.

You have been calling for truth telling, accountability and reconciliation. Why are you so preoccupied by this project?
We must have independent investigations into the major traumatic episodes in our history. These include atrocities in Luweero, massacre of Muslims in Ankole; Ombachi massacre in West Nile, Kampala massacre of September 2009; atrocities in northern Uganda; and the 1966 Crisis. This is not about revenge and retribution; it is about healing.

We are seeing friction in almost all major opposition political parties. What do you think is the cause?
Reasons for the internal conflicts (which include NRM) may vary somewhat. However, certain challenges cut across. After decades of entrenched one-party rule, Ugandans have not yet relearned the role and the functioning of political parties. The mentality of ‘individual merit’ still rules. Many see political parties merely as ‘flags of convenience’ to hitch onto in election seasons. There is general lack of ideological orientation and identity -- exactly what does this party stand for, and why am I in this particular party and not another one? Money. And of course, the regime’s determination to sponsor conflicts within certain opposition parties.
In UPC, we went through a rough patch in 2012. The showdown was mainly triggered by three issues. We had taken a firm stand when we discovered that a few of our colleagues were in fact operating on a mission from Museveni to destabilise UPC from within. We also took firm action in one incident involving significant misappropriation of funds destined for party activities. Then there was a small group who opposed and sought to sabotage UPC cooperation with other opposition parties, in spite of clear party policy on this matter.
But in spite of this, the party leadership adopted a conciliatory approach to all disagreement and dissent within the party: we refused to engage in denunciations and negative polemics.

What do you think of the current push for presidential term limits?
In principle, a term limit is a useful device, especially in emerging democracies. In Uganda, it should never have been lifted in the first place. But reintroducing presidential term limit should not constitute a priority today. It is far too late for it to have the intended outcome. Museveni has now been in power for more than 27 years. Actually, he would welcome a new term limit now, as that would legitimise his claim to power for 10 more years. Time will come when it will make sense again to return to the issue of term limits; that time is not now.

Gen David Sejusa affair refuses to go away. What is your view on what is being labelled the Muhoozi project?
Gen Sejusa and I have had some important public disagreement in the past. But I do not hold any grudge against him, and I don’t want that episode to prejudice my judgment of the current controversy.
I certainly applaud Gen Sejusa for discharging his professional and patriotic duties seriously by drawing the attention of the authorities to apparently some very ominous developments. Instead of denouncing the messenger, the government should proceed to fully investigate these allegations [of assassination of senior government people opposed to what is being labelled a project to propel the President’s son, Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to power].
On Muhoozi, just leave the young man alone. I am not particularly concerned about a Project Muhoozi - - an [alleged] attempt by Museveni to have his son succeed him. I have no problem with Museveni’s son, daughter, wife, brother or any other family member aspiring and presenting themselves to become president. Why not? We must let Museveni carry his own cross, not his family (not his tribe-mates). We cannot exclude them from the presidency just because they happen to belong to Museveni’s family. That would be wrong. Any Ugandan should be free to aspire to lead the country.
The issue is not who becomes president (and from which family or ethnic group), but how they become president.
We should focus on fixing the system and process by which anyone becomes president. Once that is in place, if Muhoozi (or anyone else ) presents himself and the people choose him to lead the country. I would say: All power to the elected president.

About the UPC president

Olara A. Otunnu is a lawyer, the president of the Uganda People’s Congress and was presidential candidate for the 2011 General Election.

He was previously an advocate for children’s rights and was once the Ambassador of Uganda to the United Nations, the UN Under-Secretary General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and President of the International Peace Academy.
Otunnu received his early education at Mvara, Mucwini and Anaka primary schools. He received his secondary education at Gulu High School and King’s College Budo.

He then attended Makerere University (where he was president of the students’ guild), Oxford University (where he was Overseas Scholar) and Harvard Law School (where he was a Fulbright Scholar). A lawyer by training, he was Associate at the law firm of Chadbourne and Parke in New York, prior to becoming Assistant Professor of Law at Albany Law School.

Otunnu returned to Uganda to run for president on the Uganda Peoples Congress ticket.
Former UPC president Miria Obote (wife to former Uganda President Milton Obote) stepped down from her seat after Otunnu was elected in a delegates conference where he beat her son Jimmy Akena, the Lira Municipality MP, to take up the seat. He hails from Kitgum District in northern Uganda.

Otunnu is the president of LBL Foundation for Children, a New York-based independent international organization [501 (c) tax-exempt status] devoted to promoting education and hope for children, particularly in poor, disadvantaged, and post-conflict communities.