After more than two years of on-and-off engagement and hesitation, government and opposition have agreed to begin talking in June this year, largely to address some of the contentious issues that have dogged Uganda’s elections over the years.
Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana told a two-day Entebbe retreat for the national dialogue coordinating team that government had committed to fully support the dialoguing process.
At the initial stages, Rukutana said, many in government argued that since elections had been held, and the government was running normally, there was no need for dialogue with the opposition.
“We have appreciated a number of realities; yes, you can say we are the majority as indeed we are, you can say, we are exercising our mandate in accordance with the Constitution, which I believe we are doing; you can say there are institutions and processes to address any kind of dissent, and of course they are there but that doesn’t mean that out there, there are no people that are not satisfied with all those things,” Rukutana said.
“They are Ugandans and they must be heard,” added Rukutana, who was appointed to be the leader of the government team on the coordinating team for the national dialogue.
Other members of the government team are, Evelyn Anite (state minister for Investments), Dr Kenneth Omona (NRM deputy treasurer), James Tweheyo (NRM CEC member) and Dorothy Kisaka (senior presidential advisor on the Office of the Prime Minister).
“We don’t agree politically, we don’t agree on economic policies, we don’t agree on anything but we must live together. This country is much theirs as it is yours,” Rukutana said.
The government team is joined by the office of the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, members of the working group of seven - Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), Women Situation room, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), the Elders Forum, Inter-Party Organisation for dialogue (IPOD), National Consultative Forum and Uganda Women Network (UWONET).
These are joined by the secretaries general of the political parties with representation in parliament. Processes for the national dialogue started after the chaotic 2016 general elections that led to the arrest and incarceration of former FDC presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye.
Besigye, who garnered 3,508,687 votes behind President Museveni’s tally of 5,971,872, denounced the election results and later took a presidential oath of office leading to his arrest and arraignment in court on treason charges.
“After the 2016 elections, we went to see Besigye; he was so bitter but we managed to convince him to sit and talk. We also engaged President Museveni, and some people thought that we should do political negotiations but we said no; we said, we should instead make it public; it should be a dialogue,” said IRCU co-chair, Bishop Joshua Lwere, head of the National Alliance of Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches in Uganda.
The Mufti of Uganda Sheikh Shaban Ramathan Mubajje, who is the current chair of IRCU’s council of presidents, said that after the Entebbe retreat, the next phase of the dialogue process will be the establishment of an independent secretariat, which will provide technical and logistical support to the process.
“The hope of many Ugandans both at home and abroad is that this process will restore a sense of fresh love for the country and concern for its destiny, tackle political paralysis caused by a culture of polarization and marginalization and explore ways of building an economy that works for everyone,” Mubajje said.
About Shs 11.2 billion will be spent on the process that is initially planned to last eight months but can go on for about two years. Rukutana said that government has committed to meet the expenses and also help conveners source for funding from international donors.
But some members of the coordinating team seemed opposed to the idea of government funding in preference for local fundraising drives.
Team members such as Henry Kyemba (Elders Forum), Crispy Kaheru, Godber Tumushabe and acting DP secretary general Gerald Siranda argued that since the dialogue is intended to be citizens led, they should be allowed to fundraise so that the ordinary Ugandans can own it. Rukutana, however, argued that the money government will use is taxpayers’, which gives the citizenry ownership of the process.