Groups pushing for a national dialogue to address Uganda’s recurrent political, social and economic challenges agreed after a meeting with President Museveni to push the launch date from November 21 to December 18.
President Museveni, who has been in power for 32 years, recently embraced the dialogue process. He stands at the centre of the dialogue for both its success and key political objective —charting a peaceful path out of Uganda’s violent changes of power.
The president has met separately with some of the key players in the dialogue process and at a recent meeting indicated he favoured a process that put political parties at the centre through the Inter Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD).
For the dialogue to be judged a success it must answer how power can change from President Museveni to a successor — an elusive prospect since he took up the reins. This has been the critical question, especially when it came to how to gain his confidence and blessing to participate.
The planning, which started in 2014 in the hope of impacting the 2016 elections, was shelved as the election drew closer with the government remaining aloof, but after the elections it appeared to embrace the process in a dramatic turnaround that put Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda at the centre.
Dr Rugunda invited six entities including those that had been part of the earlier private initiative, mainly civil society actors, to meetings he hosted before that effort went cold as attention shifted to amending the Constitution to remove the presidential age limit.
Without the amendment of Article 102 on presidential age limit, President Museveni would have been ineligible to contest the next election and would therefore significantly reduce concerns about resolution of the political question and maybe the need for a dialogue itself.
But the amendment was pushed through parliament in an acrimonious process that saw fists fights on the floor of the house and an unprecedented invasion by security from the elite Special Forces Command that guards President Museveni to arrest mainly opposition MPs who were most vocal against the amendment.
Organisers see this as the challenge of pushing a dialogue in peace at a time when the incumbent is comfortable in his space while his opposition cannot be described as clearly definable.
The visible opposition parties are weak to provide a sufficient counter force to current power holders yet evidence of discontent abounds in the population.
“Who is ready to see President Museveni eyeball to eyeball among the opposition to force a credible negotiation?” Questions veteran journalist and former press secretary to President Museveni, Onapito Ekomoloit.
“President Museveni is in such a comfortable position that he may see no reason to dialogue because he has nothing to fear or lose,” Mr Ekomoloit said.
And yet President Museveni has dramatically embraced the dialogue process, which according to Godber Tumushabe, associate director at the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, is a major step forward.
Mr Tumushabe says President Museveni is only part of the broad agenda and that the country has more to dialogue about.
“Our premise is that once we bring Ugandans together, we will be able to break the political, ethnic, religious and other barriers that prevent us from seeing a future of limitless possibilities and opportunities. The process should project a horizon where every segment of Ugandan society — politicians, young people, women, the business community, into local communities, see itself gaining something and thriving on a new Uganda built on consensus and mutual accountability.”
Chrispin Kaheru, co-ordinator at Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, one of the groups that have been involved in the push for the dialogue said: “We hope that the dialogue will facilitate a consensus around informing and changing policies, practices, ideas and values that perpetuate inequality, prejudice and exclusion.”