A highly billed dialogue between opposition political parties and the ruling National Resistance Movement on Thursday failed to live up to expectations after debate quickly degenerated to the lack of a level playing ground.
The dialogue held under the auspices of the Uganda’s Interparty Organisation for dialogue (IPOD) held at the Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala, raised more questions than answers as to whether the opposition and the ruling party were willing to genuinely talk with each other.
IPOD is a summit that unites all political parties with parliamentary representation and currently consists of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Justice Forum (JEEMA), National Resistance Movement (NRM) and the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC).
The main opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) boycotted the dialogue, shifting focus from the main theme to whether a genuine dialogue was possible to resolve the country’s longstanding question of power management and peaceful transition.
There was power play at the venue even before the summit kicked off as the other party presidents lined up to receive President Yoweri Museveni who was attending in his capacity as chairman of the ruling NRM.
Following this script, the president later on during the deliberations lectured his would be equals on how he was not going to tolerate political demonstrations and accused them of hiding terrorism behind their politics.
“You cannot ask for justice when you are a terrorist and pretending to be democratic on the other side,” said the president noting that the opposition was always planning to disorganise the country in an “Arab Spring style.”
President Museveni, who has been in power for over 30 years, categorically stated that he wasn’t ready to talk about a transition and that the only important things to discuss were security and transformation.
“There are some people who are jealous of Uganda. When you travel this country you will see industries everywhere but they [opposition] do not talk about this, they speak as if I am zero,” he said.
DP president Norbert Mao nevertheless reminded the president that he will have been in power for 33 years come next January, adding that the biggest gift he could give to the country would be to peacefully hand over to another leader.
“The president said he would crush the opposition by 2021, and here we are talking about strengthening political parties. We the opposition also threatened to throw him out before the next general election, but here we are talking about peaceful transition,” Mr Mao said.
JEEMA’s Asuman Basalirwa said to a smiling President Museveni that the opposition needed assurance that there will be no torture and that political opponents will not be taken to be enemies.
The president instead called the opposition parties' concerns “small issues which they (opposition) keep talking about.”
Zimbabwean author Brian Tamuka Kagoro, who gave a keynote address at the summit, said the process of dialogue means, “You lose some and gain some.”
But Dr Moses Khisa, an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University, said that even if dialogue was the right thing to do, to dialogue with President Museveni was to “listen to him lecture to everyone” about his achievements and what he won’t tolerate.
“How do you dialogue with a man having an exaggerated and deluded view of himself as the only one who knows Uganda's problems and is able to liberate the country, and sees his opponents as unworthy, unserious and saboteurs?'' Dr Khisa asked.