UPC President, DR. OLARA OTUNNU, has been fiercely criticised by the governing NRM for demanding a commission of inquiry into the wanton killing of people during the Luwero bush-war that brought President Museveni to power 24 years ago. MICHAEL MUBANGIZI interviewed him on this and other issues.
After naming your cabinet, what next for UPC?
This is the beginning of UPC’s renewal. UPC has deep historical roots but for the last 24 years, it has been in hibernation, it has been banned, demonised and largely out of the political scene. A lot of UPC structures have collapsed over the last 24 years; so, we want to reestablish them.
We will be electing new officials throughout the country. Secondly, we want to tell the UPC story. Many Ugandans, especially the young people, don’t know what UPC is about partly because of the 24 years of Museveni’s lies and propaganda.
He wanted Ugandans to forget about UPC or have a distorted view of UPC because it posed a threat to his government. We will be telling Ugandans what UPC did and what it stands for. UPC is about serving the ordinary people. That is why UPC invested in building roads, cooperatives and hospitals all over the country.
UPC has been about Pan-African liberation. That is why it invested so heavily in the independence of countries like South Africa. Thirdly, we want to unite and achieve reconciliation within UPC. Over the last years, there have been disputes, even court cases which have been very damaging and unfortunate.
We also want to reach out to a lot of UPC people who out of fear, intimidation, need to survive or because of the lack of a viable strong UPC drifted somewhere because they wanted a political home.
We invite all these people to come home now that the compound to their home (UPC) is clean and the roof is on.
Five years ago, outgoing party president, Miria Obote, came with the same promises but not much changed.
I have enormous respect for Mama Miria and for what she has done for the party. She has put in place the foundation on which I must build. I certainly don’t want to compare myself to her in anyway. All I can say is that I am determined to reach out to all [former UPC members], end the infighting, unite and reconcile the party. You just have to wait and see whether I succeed or not.
Why bother with old members? Why don’t you recruit new ones?
We are doing both. We are reaching out to UPC members who are no longer within the flock. They are assets and talents developed by UPC and we want them back.
These are people who grew up in UPC and developed the party. It is natural to say that they belong here and we want them back. We are also reaching out to particularly the young people who were born and grew up under Museveni and consumed much of his propaganda.
But some people, like MPs Ben Wacha and Cecilia Ogwal, are now working with FDC.
To the best of my knowledge, most of the people you referred to are not FDC members. They left UPC or decided to operate outside UPC because of the misunderstandings I have told you.
We have no problem with the memorandum they signed [with FDC]; so, we just ask them to come back to UPC as we solve the misunderstandings which caused this in the first place. At the moment, they are in no man’s land politically. In Parliament, they are not FDC, NRM or UPC MPs, yet they are close to UPC in their belief and orientations.
How big a threat is UPC to Museveni’s government when it polled less than 1% of the votes in 2006?
No, no. You didn’t get the point right. I said President Museveni always felt and feared that the biggest threat that would be mounted against him would come from UPC. And therefore he had to do everything to kill, demonise, throw mud at UPC and distort the UPC message.
I am not saying that over the years that is what UPC has been (the main threat to Museveni). I am saying Museveni feared that would be the case.
So, you mean that Museveni achieved his intentions and that is why UPC performed poorly in 2006?
Absolutely. Museveni went a long way in achieving his objective; that is why UPC is like being born again. We are on the way to reviving UPC and making it the primary challenge to Museveni. As we speak now, Museveni knows that the biggest threat he faces comes from UPC.
I can tell you basing on my travels across the country that UPC is back in a very big way all over Uganda. In Buganda, it is not as strong as it should be because of the situation which we are addressing.
You lost in Mbale by-election and never fielded a candidate in the Rukiga by-election. That can’t be a strong party.
In Rukiga, a deliberate position was taken, even before I became party President that we would support the FDC candidate. In Mbale, the issues had to do with the incredible rigging which took place even before the election.
NRM realised that historically Bugisu is a UPC stronghold. So, for them, their biggest threat was UPC taking back Mbale. NRM would live with anybody but not UPC. So, they did everything to make sure that UPC was out of the picture.
If you were there at our rallies, you would have seen the people’s enthusiasm but when it came to the vote, there was no reflection of that and that had to do with the very, very systematic targeting that was done by NRM.
Your slogan of ‘Taking Uganda back’ has alarmed some people who wonder whether you want to lead the country back to coups and abolish kingdoms.
That is a misunderstanding or a distortion. My rallying point is, “We must take back our country.” It’s [like] recovering what has been stolen from you. It has nothing to do with the country returning to the past.
Our country has been hijacked by Museveni and his tiny clique; they have taken away the assets, the resources; they are looting the country and are now scheming to steal the oil revenue and are trampling on our rights. So, this is about taking control again, being in charge and reclaiming our country.
Do you think that Norbert Mao’s refusal to join the IPC could divide the opposition vote in Northern Uganda, where both of you come from?
It’s a pure coincidence that Norbert Mao and myself come from the North. My own view, even before Mao was elected DP President General, was that DP should join the IPC. That is still my view. The IPC (Inter-party Cooperation) is poorer without DP; the DP is much poorer without IPC. So, I hope they will review their position and join IPC.
I also hope that the current efforts to unite DP will succeed. A united DP is good for Uganda and the opposition. It’s not in the interest of democracy or the opposition to see a divided DP. Mao’s election as DP President General will not change the fortunes of UPC in Acholi, Northern Uganda or anywhere else in the country.
UPC is very strong, in Northern Uganda, Acholi and its support won’t be affected by Mao’s election.
The fact that Mao and I are all from Gulu will not count. People will vote for Mao or for me basing on the programmes of our respective parties, on the vision we present for this country and on the kind of leadership that we bring to the table.
What are your chances of being the IPC flag bearer?
I am not so much preoccupied with that. I am preoccupied with rejuvenating, reenergising UPC, getting out the UPC message to the country, recruiting new members and consolidating the IPC framework, to work closely with the other parties under the IPC.
I will support whatever system or procedure the IPC will adopt for selecting a flag bearer. You see, I am relatively new to the IPC. I am the new kid on the block, so I am still learning about issues in IPC.
Some UPC members are still opposed to IPC.
The UPC Delegates’ Conference officially endorsed the IPC project before I became President. UPC has participated in IPC work and signed all the IPC protocols and there is no doubt that UPC is committed to it.
What is true, however, is that there is a minority opinion in UPC which is still suspicious of the IPC. They think that UPC will be taken advantage of. They are also wary whether one can combine IPC work with the immediate challenge of rebuilding the party.
My view is that we can do both. It is very important for us to rebuild UPC but that is not in conflict with cooperating with other parties to create a genuine democratic space.
Your call for an inquiry into the Luwero killings has been described as an attempt to open old wounds.
When one has had a major traumatic episode like Luwero, you cannot simply sweep it under the carpet and say that it didn’t happen or it doesn’t matter. What happened in Luwero can’t be simply forgotten.
People suffered so much and there have been a lot of wild allegations. At one time, Museveni went to Luwero and collected skulls, saying these were killed by Olara Otunnu. I never set foot in Luwero, I wasn’t in the military, the entire time the war was going on I was in New York and he knows it.
So, in the face of those kinds of lies, let us get an independent, impartial body to dig up all the facts and let the chips fall where they may. On the basis of that, we can decide who did what in Luwero and hold accountable those who did great crimes and atrocities.
It now turns out that it’s Museveni and his commanders, the Tinyefuzas, who are so petrified of this inquiry.They are haunted by the ghosts in Luwero because they committed horrific atrocities in Luwero and they are afraid that any impartial investigation will dig up the facts and will point a finger at them.
The Luwero blood trail will lead to them; so, they have something big to hide. They are afraid that the lies they have told about Luwero will be uncovered.
What about a broader inquiry to cover Nakulabye, Kasubi killings in the 1960s, the murder of Muslims in Nyamitanga and the 1966 attack on the Lubiri? There was also killing of civilians during the ‘No Lule No Work’ demonstrations in 1979. Since you are keen on inquiries, would you welcome inquiries on such issues?
I have consistently called for investigations or inquiries into the major traumatic episodes in the post-independence Uganda. In my reading, these include the 1966 confrontation that led to the rupture between the central government and the Kabaka’s government, the Kabaka flight (to exile), and the abolition of kingdoms.
Secondly, the Amin era when a lot of mass killings and disappearances that have never been investigated, took place. Thirdly, the Luwero war and the genocide committed by the Museveni regime for 24 years in Northern Uganda.
What if such inquiries find UPC culpable since it was an actor?
So be it. And please don’t be concerned about that. It doesn’t matter to me where the chips fall. To me, it doesn’t matter whether the person [or persons found guilty is or are] UPC, NRM, DP or Museveni.
My concern is truth seeking and truth telling and after that we can talk about the issues of accountability. So, don’t worry about UPC being vulnerable and don’t presume anything, don’t jump to any conclusion, wait for the facts.
But UPC is prepared to assume any responsibility for whatever facts may assign to it. But this should be through an evidence-based, objective inquiry.