Last Updated: 01 November 2009
With just about 14 months away to the 2011 general elections, some donors are contemplating a possible power-sharing deal between President Museveni and the opposition, if the NRM fails to secure a convincing win. This thinking has been inspired by growing fear in some European capitals that Uganda could plunge into chaos, like Kenya did in 2007, if the next presidential elections are not free and fair.
Diplomatic sources have told us this fear was galvanised by some opposition politicians who have told donor governments that they will mobilise their supporters to reject the outcome of the election in case of rigging. Not taking the threats lightly, donors have in several secret meetings implored the NRM to open a window of dialogue with the opposition to ease tension.
The October 21-24 dialogue in Ghana attended by 18 politicians representing the NRM on one hand and opposition parties on the other was intended to concretise this project which the donors have quietly been working on over the last six months or so.
The inter-party talks in Ghana were facilitated by a public policy NGO called the Institute of Economic Affairs that was founded in 1998 by Dr. Charles Mensah. It is funded mainly by Netherlands’ Institute for Multiparty Democracy.
The organisers want Ugandan politicians to learn from Ghana’s experience of moving from a coup-prone, unstable country to the present democratic culture that has seen the country change leaders and parties peacefully on several occasions.
Ghana has had two peaceful changes of government from the ruling party to the opposition in the last 10 years. In 2000, President Jerry Rawlings’ ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) handed over power to John Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) after its candidate, John Atta Mills, lost the election.
Kufuor went ahead to serve two four-year terms, which ended last year as he handed over power to Atta Mills who defeated the ruling NPP’s candidate. This has placed the West African country on a firm democratic path that has eluded most African countries.
In Ghana, the Ugandans were told that the Ghanaians too have come along way after agreeing on key electoral reforms in 1994, following the disputed 1992 elections won by Rawlings.
The Ugandans were also told of the good working relations between the secretary generals of the ruling and opposition parties in Ghana, under an umbrella organisation that they use to iron out contentious issues before they are presented to Parliament. Multiparty Institute
Highly placed donor sources have told us that the idea of dialogue between the NRM and opposition parties was mooted by FDC, UPC, DP, CP and JEMA under the Inter-Party Co-operation (IPC) and sold to European diplomats in Kampala. The IPC is sponsored mainly by the Christian Democratic International Centre (KIC), a Swedish governance NGO.
Our sources say that IPC leaders told the diplomats in a recent meeting at the European Union offices in Crested Towers, Kampala, that they will mobilise their supporters to reject the outcome of the election if Museveni unleashes violence and intimidation to “win” the election.
Taking the threat seriously, some diplomats called in the Netherlands’ Institute for Multiparty Democracy for help. While Sweden is helping to build strong opposition parties, Netherlands is pushing for dialogue to prepare the losers to gracefully concede defeat and where there is no clear winner, broker a power sharing deal.
An April 2009 Afro Barometer survey by Wilsken Agencies Ltd predicted that President Museveni, whose electoral popularity has shrunk from 75% in 1996 to 59% in 2006, would not secure the 51% of the vote needed to avoid a re-run. Such a re-run would inevitably come with tension and a possibility of violence.
For that reason, the European Union has backed the idea of establishing a multiparty institute in Uganda similar to the one in Tanzania, to ensure a peaceful political atmosphere.
The political situation in Uganda was indeed a subject of debate by the European Union Council of Foreign Ministers on October 27 during which the government was asked to ensure that the 2011 elections are free, fair and transparent. The on-going media crackdown, in which the government has closed three radio stations and charged several journalists with sedition and inciting violence, has not helped allay fears of a sustained campaign to suppress free expression ahead of the polls.NRM joins
Sources tell us that after obtaining the EU backing, the IPC attempted to contact President Museveni and the NRM Secretary General, Amama Mbabazi, but failed. The Netherlands’ Institute for Multiparty Democracy then sent officials to persuade Mbabazi to buy into the idea.
Mbabazi later informed President Museveni about the proposal that saw Local Government Minister, Adolf Mwesige, dispatched to attend preparatory meetings. He was joined by David Mafabi, a presidential aide and Twebaze Hippo of the External Security Organisation.
The IPC suggested that NRM should be represented by party officials and not government ministers. This is how Daudi Migereko, the NRM Chief Whip, was asked to replace Mwesige. While the idea of the ruling party working with the opposition was entrenched in the 2005 constitutional amendment that provided for an inter-party forum chaired by the Electoral Commission, it has never taken off.
The FDC boycotted the meetings that were called by President Museveni in July 2006 at State House Nakasero. Other former presidential candidates attended. After a couple of follow up meetings hosted by Amama Mbabazi and attended by UPC, DP, CP and Dr. Abed Bwanika, a presidential candidate in the 2006 elections, the forum collapsed.
In Ghana, NRM was represented by Migereko, Hippo and Kibuku County MP, Saleh Kamba, while Kampala Central MP Erias Lukwago, Mathias Nsubuga, MP Bukoto South, and Deo Njoki represented DP.
UPC was represented by Yona Kanyomozi (chairman), Patrick Mwondha (treasurer) and James Opoka (secretary general). JEEMA was represented by Muhammad Kateregga (vice chairman), Omar Kalinge Nnyago (secretary for public affairs) and Siraje Balinda. The FDC delegation was led by party deputy secretary general, Augustine Ruzindana.
Briefing the IPC delegates before they left for Ghana, Ken Lukyamuzi, the current rotational chairman of IPC, told them that the international community was fed up with the regime in Kampala and was trying to prepare for a “soft landing”, sources said.
During the briefing, DP delegates told Lukyamuzi that they had been invited for a workshop yet on the programme was an item to do with signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for the formation of an organisation called Institute for Multiparty Democracy (IMD).
Shaun Mackay, an official from the Netherlands’ embassy in Kampala informed DP that those traveling to Accra needed to have a letter from their parties authorising them to sign the MOU.
Ghana’s immediate past President, John Kufuor, chaired several meetings during which he briefed Ugandans on how his country achieved peaceful change of governments. Kufuor said fighting HIV/AIDS was the only positive aspect his country had learnt from Uganda. He spoke about corruption as one of the evils that suffocate democracy.
Kufuor was joined by secretary generals of Ghana’s main political parties to teach Ugandans how to co-exist in a multi-party system. Thereafter, participants went into groups to discuss the structure, missions and vision of the MOU. The Dutch had been given an impression that the Ugandans had already agreed on the details of the MOU and were in Ghana only to endorse it.
The MOU sought to create the Uganda Political Parties Dialogue (UPPD) “to pursue and foster inter-party dialogue, tolerance and co-operation so as to ensure good governance born out of sustainable multiparty democracy and a united, free, just and prosperous Uganda.”
Its highest organ would be a Summit of Leaders composed of the presidents of chairpersons of the member parties or their designated members from the parties’ executive committee. The chair of the Summit would be rotational on a quarterly basis.
The opposition insisted that if the Ghana model is to work in Uganda, presidential term limits must be reinstated and captured in the MOU. But NRM’s Saleh Kamba said reinstating term limits was impossible and that his party would drag President Museveni to court if he refused to stand for re-election in 2011. This radical position, sources said, shocked the Ghanaians.
Migereko told The Observer on Friday that MP Kamba was simply emphasising the strong sentiments on the ground which needed to be taken into account.
“The candidate (Museveni) is desired so much,” Migereko explained.
Meanwhile, DP’s Erias Lukwago reported that he didn’t have the mandate to commit his party by signing the MOU. The issue of funding the proposed Uganda Multiparty Institute also became contentious, with Migereko suggesting that the government bankrolls the project.
However, the opposition sought to make it donor-funded. Eventually, the draft MOU was distributed to the delegations for further consultations. The Ghanaians will be flown here to moderate further talks on the matter. DP’s National Executive Committee is slated to meet today to discuss the MOU, Lukwago said. He added that although DP is not opposed to dialogue, skepticism remained on the commitment of NRM.
“I am not convinced that they are ready to dialogue. NRM is still arrogant, telling us that they are here to stay no matter what we do or say. There are so many opposition members in prison, the media is being intimidated; that is not synonymous with the spirit of dialogue. But we cannot close the door, we can give it a try,” he said.
On his part, Migereko said that the ruling party was open to dialogue. He noted that President Museveni was the first to convene an inter-party meeting in 2006. “Our party supports dialogue and co-operation, but in a principled way. The problem has been that parties like FDC are not welcoming the idea,” he said. Migereko, however, refuted reports that the issue of power sharing had been discussed. “It did not feature anywhere,” he said.