Could national dialogue lead to change of guard in Uganda?

Sunday August 27 2017

Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda is said to be leading the national dialogue consultations. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NATION


Behind the debate over whether Article 102(b) of Uganda’s Constitution should be amended to allow President Yoweri Museveni to seek another term — after he turns 75 ahead of the 2021 elections — efforts to push for national dialogue are taking shape.

Efforts to enable President Museveni to stay on are already in high gear and there is general consensus that a national dialogue could ensure a smooth transition.

For the past one year, meetings have been taking place to shape the objectives, criteria and agenda of the talks.

While initially brushing aside calls for dialogue before the 2016 General Election, President Museveni later gave the go ahead, placing Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda at the helm.

Julius Mucunguzi, a spokesperson for Dr Rugunda confirmed to The EastAfrican that the Prime Minister was involved in the national dialogue consultations.

“I can confirm that he has been highly involved but as to the details of what is being planned and the time lines, you would need to speak to him directly,” he said.


Shortly after last year’s disputed elections, Dr Rugunda appointed what he called a “Group of Six” made up of leaders of groups involved in the election. He has been consulting with the six-member committee for an inclusive national dialogue process. 

The six members are drawn from the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), the Elders Forum, the Women’s Situation Room, Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), the Inter-Party Dialogue (IPOD) and National Consultative Forum (NCF).

The IRCU and the Elders Forum were critical in putting together the first successful presidential candidates’ debate, which President Museveni and his main opponent Kizza Besigye participated in.

READ: Elders, religious leaders plan talks on Uganda’s future

The Women’s Situation Room had an election observer delegation in the elections. The CCEDU carried out one of the biggest voter education initiatives while its sister network, Citizens Election Observer Network-Uganda had the biggest domestic election observer team.

Also working behind the scenes are two think tanks, the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS) and Agency for Transformation (AFT), which together with the IRCU secretariat are providing technical support, The EastAfrican has learnt.

Donor agencies, especially the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which provided part of the funds for the presidential candidate’s debate, are said to be willing to fund the dialogue.

Supporters of the dialogue say it is the only sure way to avoid a political impasse in the country.

The Women’s Situation Room was unsuccessful in trying to broker negotiations between President Museveni and his main rival Dr Besigye after last year’s disputed elections.

The IRCU made similar efforts but they too were unsuccessful. At the time, Dr Besigye was under house arrest in his home in Kasangati. He remained under house arrest for 43 days.

After several discussions, a roll out of nationwide consultations have began, starting with Luwero and Masaka.

READ: Test of supreme law: Ugandan MPs prepare to scrap age limit

Other key players involved in the meetings are former principal judge James Ogola (representing the Elders Forum), the Mufti Sheikh Shaban Ramathan Mubajje (as current chair of the revolving IRCU chair, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda Stanley Ntagali, Metropolitan Yona Lwanga of the Orthodox Church, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of the Kampala Archdiocese of the Catholic Church and Joseph Serwadda, representing the born again churches.

They have all been involved in the meetings at various times over the year.

Documents seen by this newspaper show the aim of the National Dialogue is “to create a platform for Ugandans, in all our diversity to agree on a shared transformative and development agenda that accelerates the consolidation of peace and justice, sustainable development and shared prosperity.”

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