Uganda: Without New Election Laws Opposition Will Simply Endorse Gen. Museveni's Shame Vote -- Otunnu

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Will opposition defeat Gen. Museveni -- dictator of 30 years?

[Africa: Commentary]

Once again, the people of Uganda are being summoned to escort Yoweri Museveni into another round of ritual elections in 2016. Once again, the country is in the grip of contrived elections fever.

Under the campaign for free and fair elections, we have put forward specific proposals and demands for a new system for organizing and managing future elections in our country.

Alas, these proposals have now been torpedoed by the NRM regime. Incidentally, it is quite misleading
to speak of “electoral reforms” in the context of Uganda. To undertake reforms is to make some important improvements to a system that is otherwise legitimate and functional.

What Uganda needs and what we have demanded therefore are not “reforms”, but a new electoral system altogether; a system that is designed and organized to deliver genuinely free and fair elections.

Without a new electoral system in place, it is manifestly obvious that 2016 elections will be a complete
sham. In the face of this, what should be the response of the Opposition and all democracy-seeking Ugandans?

The present togetherness project of the Opposition started in March 2011, soon after the debacle of February 2011 elections. For two-and-a-half years now, this question has come up persistently in our deliberations. But we have studiously avoided it, afraid to probe the difficult options ahead, afraid to confront our divergent views on the issue. This remains the big elephant in the room.

That is why, to date, The Democratic Alliance (TDA) has not yet adopted a common policy on 2016 elections. It is crucial and urgent that a collective position is forged within TDA. At this crossroads, we have essentially three options to choose from: participation in the elections, boycott, or active campaign of de-legitimization.

Since 2010, my own position on this issue has been unequivocal and constant.

I believe that, after the series of wholesale fraudulent elections, the people of Uganda should have taken a firm stand in 2010, and need do so this time, to bring this issue to a head.

I, therefore, urge TDA to adopt a common policy of non-cooperation, non-participation and de-legitimization, concerning sham elections in 2016. Incidentally, this was the common
policy we had adopted in IPC in 2010, before the fateful U-turn.

I will advocate for this option at the TDA summit. I also will actively engage in the efforts to frame a unified and principled TDA policy. An agreed common position should be clear and unambiguous; on this crucial issue, we should avoid conveying mixed messages and signals.

Since 2010, and again this time, many esteemed leaders in the Opposition have argued that Museveni
can be overwhelmed in his own game, and that they can take measures to outflank the rigging infrastructure. I respect these views, but I disagree.

In Uganda, we are operating in a radically abnormal political situation. Our judgment call on this issue has to be made in that context. This is not the first time the Opposition finds itself at this crossroads.

It is critical for TDA to draw and apply important lessons from the tragic missteps of 2010. Then, the Opposition, under IPC, had adopted a clear policy and made specific demands concerning 2011 elections, only to make a dramatic last-minute U-turn.

This episode damaged the credibility of the Opposition, rescued Museveni from a political and diplomatic siege, and has been very costly to the people of Uganda.

My own party, UPC, faced a wrenching dilemma. After the collapse of the collective position in IPC, we remained alone holding this line. But eventually, concerned about being completely isolated, the party leadership made a reluctant decision to join in the campaign.

I then made a conscious decision to use the campaign platform to draw attention precisely to the
themes of: “Free and Fair Elections Now” (including gathering petitions for the Blue Book); and “We Must Take Back Our Country”. At the end of the campaign, I used my own one vote (by deliberately not casting it) to protest about the utterly sham character of the elections.

At this stage in our general struggle for democratic change and liberation,  as well as to ensure the success of TDA, we should focus like a beam on certain paramount considerations and commitments; these should trump other interests for the sake of the "big picture".
Togetherness: Although we come to the TDA table with very divergent histories and political orientations, the togetherness of the Opposition and other democracy-seeking forces is an imperative. This conviction is the reason why I have personally devoted a lot of time and energy to building and shaping the content and direction of the togetherness project of the Opposition, since the inception of the current process in March, 2011.

The campaign for free and fair elections: Since embarking on TDA as an electoral alliance, the campaign has been parked aside. This is a mistake. We must press this campaign to its logical conclusion. This is our most important common project. We traversed the country informing and
mobilizing for this; we convened a national consultation to adopt a compact on this.

Prosecuting this campaign must be the top priority of TDA. The collective resolve of the Opposition.
So much turns on the collective resolve of the Opposition; on our remaining firm, unequivocal and
unafraid. This ingredient has often eluded us when we most needed it.

The desperation for change: The people of Uganda are not only ready, but very desperate for change. But there is still great need for serious mobilization, organization and direction, before this portent political potential can turn into an unstoppable force for real change.

The role of civil society: Unlike the experiences of Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Senegal, Tunisia or Egypt, it is very striking that hardly any civil society formations are seriously engaged in the current phase of this struggle.

It is natural that this struggle should be spearheaded by political parties and political actors. But the telling absence of civil society and the intelligentsia reveals a major weakness in our situation. A broad front --The Democratic Front-- had been envisaged, to be formed simultaneously with TDA. This has not happened.

The spirit of give-and-take: For the TDA process to succeed, there will be need for a great deal of give-and-take and fair play on the part of all parties.

This will be particularly important in the choice of joint TDA candidates at all levels.

Risk of focusing narrowly on removing Museveni: There is the risk that TDA will focus narrowly on removing Museveni from power. Because of the comprehensive brokenness of our society, the TDA agenda needs to reach much deeper. That is why, for example, I proposed amendments to the TDA protocol, to incorporate a TDA minimum program and a commitment to certain fundamental
principles and values.

In the same vein, we need to identify a few seminal tasks to assign to the five-year Transitional Government of National Unity (TGNU). I have proposed three projects in particular, to be put in place in the TGNU interregnum. 

First, convocation of a national convention to forge a new national covenant. This will in turn constitute
the basis for a new constitutional dispensation for our country, to replace the current Museveni/NRM "regime constitution".

Second, instituting an independent commission on truth telling, accountability and reconciliation, concerning major traumatic episodes in our postindependence history.

And, third, establishing a special priority program – our own equivalent of a "Marshall Plan" – for rehabilitation, reconstruction and social healing in the zones of northern and north-eastern Uganda, that have been devastated by 20 years of war.

On a personal note. I have personally invested heavily in building and shaping the content and direction of the current togetherness project of the Opposition and democracy-seeking forces, since the inception of the current process in March 2011.

For a long time, I served as chair and coordinator of the group. I have contributed extensively to ideas, strategy and drafting of key positions and documents.

I am deeply committed to this togetherness project. Even after handing over the leadership of UPC in the near future, I will remain engaged in our common struggle to bring about democratic change and liberation in our land.

Mr. Otunnu is president of Uganda Peoples Congress. He was convener and coordinator of the consortium of Opposition political parties and the campaign for free and fair elections. He is a former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations.


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