Uganda awaits response on calls for dialogue between Museveni, Besigye

Saturday February 27 2016

Ugandans await President Yoweri Museveni’s response to calls for dialogue with Forum for Democratic Change leader Dr Kizza Besigye, who he has kept under a lockdown after the latter rejected the results of the February 18 presidential election.

Local and foreign individuals and organisations who have made the calls say dialogue is necessary to clear the “sombre mood” in the country following the announcement of the election result on February 20.

Those who have made such calls so far include Maj-Gen Benon Biraaro and Dr Abed Bwanika, both of whom were presidential candidates, the Uganda Joint Christian Council, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), the Uganda Women’s Network, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Uganda Law Society, the United Nations and the election observer missions.

And after nearly a week of a blockade during which Dr Besigye has been kept under house arrest and police custody, with no access to family and his lawyers, the FDC leader was on Friday allowed to receive a delegation of diplomats from Western countries, led by the European Union Ambassador Kristian Schmidt.

The diplomats arrived at 2pm but were at first denied entry before the heavily armed police caved in after making frantic calls, and allowed the ambassadors into Dr Besigye’s compound. Details of what was discussed are still scanty as both parties remained tight-lipped.

ALSO READ: US calls for Besigye’s release as Museveni celebrates win


President Museveni was declared winner with 5,617,503 votes, representing 60.75 per cent of the vote, extending his 30-year rule by five more years. Dr Besigye polled 3,270,290 votes, representing 35.37 per cent.

As results from other polling stations that had not yet been tallied continued to trickle in, by February 22, the numbers had jumped to 5,971,872 (60.62 per cent) for President Museveni against Dr Besigye’s 3,508,687 votes (35.61 per cent).

Dr Besigye and the FDC, Uganda’s largest opposition party, immediately rejected the results and set out to challenge them, by calling for an independent and transparent audit of the outcome.
Police then mounted a lockdown at his home on February 22, and blocked him from going to the Electoral Commission to demand results from each polling station for the presidential and parliamentary elections, which he said he needed, alongside other information, “to prepare a well-considered response.” The blockade was still on by the time we went to press.

READ: Uganda opposition leader Besigye taken into police custody -VIDEO

Reacting to the stand-off, the Inter Religious Council of Uganda, which organised the first presidential debate in the country, said: “It is our conviction that the way forward for this country requires willingness on both sides of the political divide to open up to each other for an honest and straight engagement in dialogue towards a peaceful and productive future for our country.”

According to some analysts, this year’s election appears to be the last in which the voices of the traditional donor community from the West will matter as their authority is set to gradually diminish with the rise of alternative sources of foreign support and oil revenues. 

“Donors now have a finite period of time during which their opinions and actions over electoral reform can influence State House,” said Dr Jonathan Fisher in an analysis of the role international donors played in the 2011 elections.

Dr Fisher has researched the relationship between the Ugandan government and its international aid donors between 1986 and 2010. The 71-year-old President Museveni, could be on course for a life presidency if he pushes through an amendment to the Constitution to remove the 75 years age limit.

READ: Ugandans brace for Museveni life presidency bid

In 2005, Uganda scrapped presidential term limits.

President Museveni’s decision on the current political stand-off will also give the earliest signal yet how he is likely to govern over the next five years.

Under this new term he is likely to draw harsher criticism both nationally and internationally over his longevity in power. He is currently the fifth longest serving African president. 

On Thursday, February 25, the European Union, Uganda’s biggest bilateral development partner, asked the EC “to publish without delay” on their website comprehensive information on election results, including scanned copies of the Declaration of Results Forms, to enable any interested party to thoroughly evaluate the returns.

The EU Election Observer Mission (EU-EOM), said transparency and accountability were “very important in the post-electoral environment” that, according to Dr Bwanika, is compounded by shock, confusion, and a disturbing silence that has engulfed the nation.

READ: EU mission urges Uganda to release detailed poll results for scrutiny

“The outcome of  this election as announced by Dr Badru Kiggundu [EC chairman] left many Ugandans in shock and still groping for the way forward,” said Dr Bwanika, who has contested the presidency thrice.

The EU-EOM further called on the police to lift their restrictions on the freedom of movement of the FDC leadership in Kampala.

The request came a day after the police blamed Dr Besigye for the lockdown they had forced upon him. “Since Rtd Col Kizza Besigye has not retracted his statements of defiance and incitement to violence, police shall continue to regulate and closely monitor his movements so that he does not pose a danger to public peace and national security,” said Gen Kale Kayihura, the Inspector General of Police.