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Wednesday December 12 2018

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni addresses

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni addresses delegates at the Inter-party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) Summit at Munyonyo, on December 12, 2018. PHOTO | UGANDAN PRESIDENCY 

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It’s a matter of days before 2018 ends and 2019 begins. This is the time when those who make New Year resolutions are figuring out what it is they want to focus on next year.

It is also a good time to reflect on the year’s defining occurrences, those that impact or are bound to impact the lives of individuals and societies.

I spend much time watching, taking note of, and reflecting on goings-on in the political arena.

As a result, I believe that, in any one country, there is nothing more important than politics. Few will agree with this.

It is not unusual to hear people say that the world would be better off, or that their own lives would be better, if there were no politics and no politicians.

The fact of the matter, however, is that politics either drives or stifles everything that matters in life.

How politics is organised and practised in any country, how it shapes its relations with other countries and how society relates to its politicians, determines above all else, how its members see and feel about themselves and the world around them.

Where politicians and the governments over which they preside are seen as working for the common good, people tend to feel positive.

Where there is a general feeling that politicians are in it for themselves and that the governments they run serve narrow interests, there is usually doom and gloom in the air.

As 2018 gallops towards its denouement, I have found myself reflecting on two political processes in the two countries I call home, Rwanda and Uganda.

Both tell us a great deal about the importance of politics in shaping the general mood and outlook.

In Uganda, for a while now, we have been going through the motions of organising a national dialogue, a process seen by many as possessing the potential to heal wounds and create a collective understanding and acceptance of what needs to happen to enhance national unity and cohesion.

Today, a sizeable number of Ugandans feel that tensions created by disagreements about how the country should be governed, or the quality of governance improved, and the government made to work for everybody, have severely undermined unity and cohesion. Thus, the desire for dialogue.

There was a time when opposition parties brought together with the ruling party under the auspices of the Inter-party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) were constantly pushing for dialogue, while the National Resistance Movement was doing all the foot-dragging.

Occasionally President Museveni would suggest meetings, at venues of his choice, such as State House.

The opposition parties would reject his overtures, claiming he couldn’t possibly be trusted, and that all he wanted were photo opportunities he could use to argue that he and his opponents were talking.

Recently, after years of stasis, Museveni eventually agreed to meet his opponents on neutral ground, and not as president, but as a party leader engaging fellow party leaders of “equal status,” as opposition parties always wanted.

But just as it began to look like a golden opportunity for politicians to scale down their mutual antagonisms and brighten up the pre-Xmas atmosphere, some opposition parties jumped ship, citing many reasons, some of them clearly spurious.

While there may be grounds for suspecting Museveni’s motives, including that he seeks to use IPOD to undermine actors who are pushing for a much broader dialogue involving not only politicians, but wider society, what the dissenting parties have achieved is to perpetuate tensions that serve only to maintain a mood of uncertainty and despondency among ordinary Ugandans.

Meanwhile, across Uganda’s southwestern border, many Rwandans are looking forward to next week with a sense of anticipation as they prepare for the 16th edition of the Annual National Dialogue.

On December 13 and 14, the Kigali Convention Centre and a few other venues around Kigali City and upcountry, all connected via video link thanks to Rwanda’s remarkable advances in information and communications technology, will be buzzing with Rwandans from different walks of life, gathered to look back at the year gone by and measure how far they have come in terms of the collective ambitions they set out to achieve, and those they aspire to pursue in 2019.

In attendance will be national and local politicians representing each of the country’s 11 political parties and lowly and high-level civil servants and other public officials.

There will also be ordinary folk, young and old, some listening on radio or watching on TV, all looking to contribute to the discussions or listen to their compatriots who are tasked with various responsibilities, accounting for what they have or haven’t done, and what they intend to do next year.

Dozens of diaspora Rwandans will fly or drive in to catch up with the latest developments.

The diplomatic community and friends of Rwanda from across the globe will also be present, listening attentively. It is difficult to sum up everything that happens during the two-day event.

One thing, though, is clear: By the time the delegates disperse, they are in no doubt as to where their leaders seek to take the country and the contribution of Rwanda’s non-adversarial politics.