The gesture of readiness by President Museveni to hold political talks with the Opposition is commendable. This overture, coming hot on the heels of another highly contested election, should be welcome.
As has been with previous elections, the heat from the 2021 polls are palpable, but bottled up.
Invariably, the sources of tension in all elections in 1980, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016, and now, have been blamed on electoral violence, non-credible, not free, and unfair polls with a biased electoral umpire.
Perhaps, this unprompted reassurance on political negotiation, coming from President Museveni himself, seems more believable this time round. What is more, the preps for the talks seem well underway as Mr Museveni revealed: “Actually, we have contacts with some of these groups; we can talk. Whatever divisions we have, we shall talk….” [See Daily Monitor, January 20, 2021].
However, this disclosure and reassurance is not anything new. There have been previous moves to convene national dialogue to create a more durable peace and stability in the country. But all these have remained deceptive manoeuvres to defuse post-election tensions, and once the tempers have dissipated, the country moved on until another noise for another election.
Yet the sources of our instability have always been the problem of credible, free, and fair polls with trusted umpires. One such previous effort was the move by senior citizens to convene a national debate to shape the 2016 General Election.
This public debate sought to underscore the importance of honest and respectful debate at the heart of any democracy and laying the seed of productive and peaceful political dialogue and reform.
But nothing much has come of such approaches.
Even now, Mr Museveni’s fiercest rival, Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, remains under house arrest on the outskirts of Kampala for fear that he may stoke unrest among his political fans.
In the just concluded elections, Mr Museveni polled 5.9 million votes, representing 58.64 per cent, while his closest rival Bobi Wine, polled 3.5 million votes, representing 34.83 per cent of the national tally. But with Bobi Wine, as have been with previous leaders, the same lack of dialogue on electoral reforms lies at the centre of the tension.
This is why we believe that the pronouncement by the President offers Ugandans a new energy for productive and constructive dialogue. But more importantly, this mooted dialogue must be translated into credible and actionable proposals. Let Ugandans seize this opportunity for constructive dialogue on political reforms.