Canada-based former member of UPC’s Presidential Policy Commission, GEORGE OKURAPA, 49, has been mentioned as one of the contenders for the post of UPC president when Miria Obote retires soon. In an on-line interview with MICHAEL MUBANGIZI, he said he is still weighing his options

Do you want to be UPC president?

The truth is that I have been approached by a cross section of party members who have asked me to return home and join the race for the UPC presidency. Other [people] have also approached me and promised financial help for party activities should I return home and join the race.
I am looking into these requests and carefully weighing my options. I will make my decision on the matter known soon.

Some say you have been out of the country for so long and therefore out of touch with Ugandan politics?
I have been involved in my party activities at a very high level from the time I went into exile. I have closely monitored the politics at home and I am as informed as anyone else at home. I speak very regularly with party members from different parts of the country and I receive regular updates on events on the ground as they occur. You must remember that with the advancement in technology, one does not need to be at home in order to follow the political scene. I read the Ugandan newspapers electronically each day and I have participated in radio talk-shows discussing our politics. A person who is out of touch with what is going on would not be able to do this.

Joseph Ochieno (UPC) and DP’s Ebil Otto left Uganda soon after being elected to leadership roles in their respective parties. Will you not do the same?
Mr. Ochieno and Prof. Ebil Otto may have had their own reasons for their decisions. I am not privy to that information and I will not speculate on it either. If I make a decision to return home and vie for the UPC presidency, I will be making a commitment to the party that I am there to serve.
I think my long stay abroad is a blessing in disguise for UPC [because] for the last 22 years, I have gained a lot of experience and I have made several contacts which the party will benefit from. I have learnt lessons abroad and they are all very relevant to the revitalisation of our party and Uganda.

Will you relinquish your Canadian citizenship?
I was born a Ugandan and grew up a Ugandan. My parents and ancestors are all Ugandans. For your information, Canada allows for dual citizenship. You do not have to renounce your citizenship in order to take up Canadian citizenship.

With Jimmy Akena interested in the job, it appears the Obotes want to keep the party leadership within the family?
I don’t think it is right to say that there is a preference for somebody from Obote’s family to lead UPC. This is a national party and not a family clan club. As a national party, we have processes for choosing our leaders. All eligible candidates are given the same opportunity and members decide. Jimmy Akena, as a party member, is eligible to compete.

If the party members decide that he is the best candidate to lead the party to victory in 2011, so be it. He will have won because members believed in his agenda and not because he is preferred as Obote’s son.
Akena is a friend and I welcome his candidacy. The more candidates we have the better for our party. We believe in democratic principles and we must practice those principles to prove ourselves. The candidates will have the platform to debate issues and let the party membership decide.
In this race we are looking for an individual who can provide the party with clean leadership, who can reconcile members and has the potential to propel the party to victory in 2011.

Apart from being Makerere guild president, you are known for only managing the UPC website. Do you really have what it takes to lead a political party?
The website is just one of the many things I have done to help my party. I have extensively been involved in the campaign to restore competitive democracy in Uganda. I have been directly involved in the restructuring of the party and I continue to be involved in many initiatives that the party has undertaken in preparation for 2011.
Besides, for the last 22 years in Canada, I have held several leadership roles. The people who have approached and urged me to present myself as a candidate must have seen my leadership qualities, otherwise they would not have approached me.

Do you plan to return soon for the UPC delegates’ conference?
I will be back. I will make the timing known as soon as I have made that decision. My party and country need me. There is no place like home. I miss home and I miss my family and friends.

UPC performed miserably in the last election. What strategies do you have in place to improve on that performance?
It is true as a party we performed poorly. There are several reasons for the poor showing. One of them being that after the ban on political party activities in Uganda, the party lost membership and there was not enough time for the party to put its house in order and at the same time prepare for a successful election. There was not enough time to reconcile the various factions that emerged ahead of the elections. It takes a while to re-organise, especially after you have been locked up for more than 20 years. Mama Miria Obote as our flag-bearer did her best at that time, considering the circumstances. She deserves to be commended for what she did. The outcome could have been better if the circumstances were different.

This is a question that the membership will be looking at when determining the best candidate to lead the party to 2011. The candidate who will present the best agenda in terms of improving the party’s chances in 2011 is what we need today. We need leadership that can mobilise resources, both within and outside, for the party. We need leadership that can mobilise membership for the party and above all, we need leadership that can reconcile the party membership for a common goal. This should be the litmus test for the candidates.

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