Given the current delicate political, social and economic situation in the country, Uganda is ripe for an all-inclusive national dialogue, says JOSHUA KITAKULE, the secretary general at the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU).
He spoke to Jonathan Kamoga about where the country should be headed…
Religious leaders have been quiet on key issues affecting the country. Some people say you have been compromised by the president. Is there any truth in this?
That is an old story but the truth is that they [religious leaders] haven’t been quiet. The only challenge is that we have different ways of doing things.
We have our spaces in the mosques and in the churches where we speak about these things every Friday, Saturday and Sunday but people have not taken the initiative to listen to religious leaders when they preach. These are places you need to be if you want to hear religious leaders speak.
The second point is that when you have influence and know people, you use that to act. You don’t influence by appearing on TV or radio.
There are certain categories of people that you want to approach personally; so, our method is that we prefer to speak to people in confidence. Most of the time, religious leaders go to these people rather than embarrass them in public. They speak to them individually.
Many times when we speak, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they would act because religious leaders have [spoken], but I can assure you that many times we have won and sometimes we have lost.
Tell us about IRCU’s consultative meetings for a national dialogue; what is this exactly?
This is the second phase of the national dialogue. The first was consultation of all key stakeholders in the country, including the president, presidential candidates, women, youths and cultural leaders.
The idea was to find out how we can make this a platform that will facilitate Ugandans to talk about those things that will make the country what we want.
IRCU was asked together with other organisations to put in place a draft framework for a national dialogue. After putting it together, we thought it was important to go out there to present this framework to the people and ensure that they own this process.
What is in the national dialogue framework?
This is about the numerous challenges we have been facing as a country, which we have been pushing under the carpet. We have had four general elections and there are things that arose which divide Ugandans. For example, ethnicity becomes a sharp divisive issue and we never talk about it. Why would a politician mobilise support on ethnicity?
Issues of religion; you cannot believe it that in some regions of this country people rally support around religion. We need to take advantage of the resources God has given this country to benefit the whole of it.
The idea of corruption; everywhere you go everyone is talking about corruption. The whole idea of values; parents have abandoned their duties and we now have just mothers and fathers, but not parents.
Service delivery; hospitals and schools are collapsing and the quality of the products of these schools has gone down. Our focus has only been on politics.
We thought it was important to have an all-inclusive dialogue that looks at the different segments of the community, but most importantly those key issues that are common to all of us, no matter where you come from or who you are.
Do you believe IRCU can push, this, given how Ugandans perceive you?
It is our calling; Isaiah says, “Come let us reason together.”
You cannot preside over a society that is divided. We speak out as religious leaders on what we think is right. So, what we are doing is exercising a prophetic voice. We are warning that if we continue like this, dividing ourselves, focusing on things that don’t unite the country, then we are likely to slide back.
To focus on the future, it will be important we all focus on the kind of country we want to live in. When do you think dialogue will come? For example, the president has declared that by 2020 Uganda should be a middle-income country. So, have we had a conversation on how we should support him to get there? We have Vision 2040; are Ugandans participants or passengers?
We need to give direction to the country by working together. Our involvement here is also to bring back the image of God in this country like our motto says, ‘For God and my country’. Where is God in the things we are doing? We need to look at our motto with pride.
This isn’t the first time something like this is being done; you spearheaded the making of the Citizen’s Compact whose findings were never implemented, what makes you think this will be implemented?
I think we are learning from the citizen’s compact. We cannot say it was not implemented. It gave space to Ugandans to air out their views. Whether it wasn’t implemented or not, voices of Ugandans were heard.
It is even why we are talking about this now. All the issues that Ugandans wanted to present were presented and that is a plus for me. And we think we have to learn from this process.
How is government involved in your process?
We have been working very closely with government. We had conversations with the president who assigned the prime minister [Ruhakana Rugunda] as our contact person and since then, we have been working closely with him to make sure that we put in place this framework.
We have agreed on the foundation activities and these informal consultations are to prepare the country for the real dialogue. Government is supportive and they are planning to look for funds to support this.
On the age limit debate, what is your stand? We saw some of your partners being raided by police for speaking against the lifting of presidential age limits.
The age limit is the very reason we need to [have] dialogue. Most of these issues are symptoms because we have never had a chance as a country to reflect on the challenges we have gone through for the past 55 years: issues of governance, politics, religion, and economics.
Wherever we have been, people have thought we were going to tell them about age limit but after we make the presentation, their tension calms down and they hope that they will interact with their leaders, talk about the Uganda they want.
You recently met with the speaker of parliament, what did you discuss?
One of the key things was, how do we fast-track the dialogue process, and how does parliament get involved.
Who is funding this? Government says there is no money…
In our meeting with the prime minister, government agreed to provide the funding but as it looks for the funds, it asked UNDP to fund this consultation process and they have done so.
How will the dialogue affect the country?
This dialogue will empower citizens with knowledge and information but most importantly, it will bring back the responsibilities we have forgotten. The constitution gives us roles, responsibilities and duties as citizens.
This process reminds citizens that you don’t just go there and start blaming people for not improving service delivery; rather, what is your role?
This will empower citizens to begin holding their leaders accountable.