Friday, October 22, 2010

Olara Otunnu interview with The Observer

"Uganda doesn’t belong to Museveni and his military clique who have been plundering and terrorising the country for the last 25 years. It is high time Ugandans behaved as the owners of this country. We must resolve to take back, regain control of our country from the Museveni clique that has hijacked it". - Olara Otunnu

Written by Michael Mubangizi | THE OBSERVER
Wednesday, 20 October 2010 

Federo to be decided by national conference

Otunnu will fight corruption ‘like it is a war’

New constitution to replace ‘Museveni’ constitution

Replace UPE with quality primary education

Since UPC pulled out of the opposition alliance, IPC, on August 30, Party President OLARA OTUNNU has kept Ugandans guessing almost about everything – from his candidacy to whether he would follow through on his threat to boycott the 2011 general elections organised under the watch of Eng. Badru Kiggundu.

However, in a Saturday interview with MICHAEL MUBANGIZI, Otunnu put an end to the speculation, announcing he would run for president. He also laid bare his political plans for Uganda which include quashing the current Constitution.

How have the 14 months been since you returned to Uganda?

The period has been intense, packed with events and activities at a personal and political level. I have moved around the country several times, activating UPC structures and mobilising our supporters.

People had a lot of expectations in you. They thought you would advance UPC and the opposition cause, do you think you have lived up to their expectations?

It is for others to say, not me. But I have tried to put on the national agenda, things that had been either missing or under represented. I have made the issue of free and fair elections, replacing the current Electoral Commission, acquire a new dimension.

Although it had been discussed before I came, it hadn’t acquired the sharp prominence it has today.

My coming home has opened the question of truth telling and accountability that had been quietly spoken about. When I came I said this is the most unresolved issue on the national agenda.

Today, lawyers, judges, academia and religious people are beginning to say that I have a point.

On the rule of law, I don’t know when Ugandans had said to government officials, ministers and Police officers that, “sorry, I will not comply with this order because it is illegal,” the way I did when I snubbed Police summons.

I am surprised that people were utterly shocked when I did what is perfectly normal and legal. It shows the extent of the culture of impunity that the President has cultivated in Ugandans that whatever he says becomes law.

Even our rulers, Police, the President must rule under the law not above the law. We must not assist them to break the law with our compliance. I am respectful of the laws of this country but above all, the rule of law.

Acting the way Museveni did was undermining the rule of law and misusing the CID. Instead of letting them investigate crime, people that burn schools, sacrifice little kids, he is telling them to arrest, interrogate Otunnu!

People are terrified of doing anything that would invite reprisals from government. I have been telling people not to be afraid. We must not accept abuse, terror and victimization. If there is one thing I represent, it is seeing Uganda as one, cohesive nation despite our diversity.

As an aspect of this is the issue of Buganda, Uganda question, or UPC and Buganda. I have said we want to build one country in which a Muganda can be very proud to be one and also equally feel proud being a Ugandan.

We address the issue of 1966 not withstanding that historians will continue to debate what [former president Milton] Obote, [Kabaka] Muteesa, Mengo and the central government did. I have extended to Buganda the hand of dialogue, good will and friendship.

How are you planning to address the demand for federalism? Dr. Kizza Besigye says he will automatically grant federalism, Norbert Mao says he will subject it to a vote?

Federalism is not a Buganda issue but a Uganda issue, even though Buganda has been at the forefront of championing it. Uganda remains the most highly centralised and personalised government.

I am personally in favour of a formula in which decisions are made at the closest proximity by those affected by them. Besides federalism, there are so many pending national issues like land, monarchies and kings, development, national unity which need to be resolved.

My idea is that we need a national compact (constitution) that brings these pieces together and the way to arrive there is by convening a national conference bringing together representatives of our country.

These would debate freely and arrive at the compact (constitution) which will translate into a new constitutional order. The current constitution was imposed [on people]. It was debated, but there was tremendous pressure from Museveni and NRM leaders, so this is a Museveni or regime constitution.

We want a constitution freely arrived at by free representative citizens. We need an open, democratic forum where free citizens openly and democratically dialogue and arrive at that.

What if people at the National Conference reject federalism, will you respect their view?

Of course it has to be democratic. We won’t impose anything on anybody. I have told you personally, I support federalism and I will champion it. Happily as it turns out, most Ugandans support federalism as seen by the Benjamin Odoki Commission findings. I am not afraid that Ugandans will reject it. I think it is a question of working out the details.

So your federalism promise is not automatic. It is subject to views of the people who will attend the National Conference?

No. You are mis-framing the issue. I said me and UPC as a party support federo. I believe most Ugandans support it. I think the National Conference will agree with a federal structure. We just need a national forum to discuss it and work out the precise details of what a federal structure will look like.

If it is supported, why not guarantee it automatically instead of subjecting it to a lengthy process where it could be rejected?

How do you make it automatic? You mean the President wakes up one day and says we now go federalism? That is unconstitutional.

What if that conference rejects federalism?

Don’t ask me hypothetical questions. You know my views and UPC’s stand on federalism and what we shall be championing, pushing for and in what framework.

Museveni has been subjecting those processes to Parliament, commissions of inquiry, LCs and it has been rejected?

That is the point I am making that we want to get away from government by dictate. For this (federalism) to be sustainable and entrenched in our political culture, it needs to have popular support. It needs to have a country as a whole saying, yes, this reflects our wishes. This is not just for federalism, but other issues which I have told you.

Shouldn’t you be telling Ugandans how your government will help them get money, food, peace, good roads and schools for their children instead of investigating who killed them in wars?

Those who hold that position can’t be moral. It is very different from what people tell me when I go to Luweero, northern Uganda and Ombachi. It is different from what families of people who were massacred during the September 2009 riots, survivors of the murder of Muslims (in Mbarara) and people who were deeply affected in 1966 tell me.

People want healing and we shall never heal without addressing these traumatic episodes honestly, with humility and in a forgiving way. Knowing facts is imperative.

Does that take precedence over good roads, schools?

No body has been pressing hard for quality schools, roads, hospitals and making the wellbeing of ordinary people the preoccupation of government than myself. You have heard me ask why the state has abandoned ordinary people.

You have been sitting on the fence on key issues. For instance, it is not clear whether UPC will participate in the coming elections or whether you, Olara Otunnu, will contest [for] the presidency?

You can’t say that I have been sitting on the fence when I am the one who has been calling for truth telling, saying that we must have genuine rule of law, not a police state when I have been outspoken about the corruption in this country.

Okay, will you contest the presidency in the coming election?

Now you are talking. And on that one UPC hasn’t been sitting on the fence. We have been categorical in saying that we shall not settle for anything less than a free and fair election. We have been equally clear that we need a new, independent electoral commission and a new clean, verifiable voters’ register.

We have always said even in the IPC meetings that we are not for boycott. We are participating and UPC will field a presidential candidate. In UPC, the party president is automatically the presidential candidate.

How far have you gone with the collection of signatures for submission to EC ahead of the October 25-26 presidential nominations?

I don’t know. Because I am not personally doing that. But you can be sure that whatever the date is for the [presidential] nomination, UPC will be fully represented. We are not bystanders; we are not watching the train as it goes by.

What does your candidature offer that people like Museveni, Dr. Besigye and Mao don’t?

We have a unique package that Ugandans are crying for. UPC is a nationalist party whose vocation is to unite our country across ethnic, religious lines.

Today, our country is tragically polarized and divided by Museveni’s divide and rule policy. We need UPC and Olara Otunnu. I have personally been devoted to the issue of national unity since my public engagement on Uganda’s political scene.

If there is one thing that UPC and Olara Otunnu stand for, it is to serve ordinary Ugandans and make their well-being the central business of government.

Over the last 25 years, government has abandoned the ordinary people. So the issue of delivering social services to the ordinary people is very important. Instead of UPE, we want to rebuild quality primary education, accessible medical services and support farmers in the countryside.

We shall re-establish the cooperatives network, invest in infrastructure so that there is free movement of goods and services. The reason ordinary people are not served is because those in power are using (state) resources that should be used to benefit ordinary people to serve themselves.

So fighting corruption is like a war and enforcing accountability will be an important aspect that we will bring. I believe very strongly in an inclusive Uganda that doesn’t segregate between different regions, communities and social classes whether in education, award of scholarships and employment opportunities, decent health, education.

I want a society in which one’s fate is not determined by where they are born or their faith. We shall also address the issue of truth telling and accountability for the reasons I have told you.

Then I have told you the issue of a new national compact (constitution.)

In terms of the economy, I want an economy which works for Uganda as a whole, not just for the State House investors. I want an economy that encourages the ordinary person to sell [their produce] in India, China; a tax policy that supports and encourages local entrepreneurs to be the engine of the economy instead of punishing them as is the case today.

What gives you confidence that you will win when the UPC candidate came last in the 2006 elections and when the party has lost all the by-elections under your watch?

If you move around the country like I have done, you will see what is happening to UPC-it is an incredible resurgence and revival. Don’t waste your breath speculating about what percentage we will get, what we ask for is a genuine free and fair election. The rest will fall into place.

After quitting IPC, which party, say DP or NRM, would you be willing to work with?

The day I announced we were leaving IPC, I paid tribute to parties which aren’t members of the IPC for their contribution to democracy in Uganda. I said very clearly that we look forward to working with them and supporting each other.

I made it clear that the task ahead calls for collaboration and working together. We very much want to do that with all the parties in and out of IPC. So our leaving IPC wasn’t about closing doors for collaboration. We have kept the doors open and we have been discussing and talking to all the parties.

Even NRM?

There is no bad blood between us and NRM but there is a fundamental gap, a bridge that is impossible to overcome. I have several friends in NRM but we have not discussed the issue of collaboration between UPC and NRM. We just speak and discuss as personal friends.

As UPC we are eager to cooperate with all democracy seeking political parties. NRM is not a democracy seeking political party; it is a democracy blocking, democracy undermining and democracy killing political party. There are however people in NRM who are very patriotic, like any of us who actually want to see change in Uganda. So we would welcome them to join our broad movement for change.

What will you do with the signatures that you are currently collecting?

That is a non-partisan project. It is neither a UPC nor Olara Otunnu project. It is for all Ugandans who want to see free and fair elections in Uganda employing a strategy of positive, non-violent resistance. We are demanding a new electoral commission and a clean verifiable voters’ register.

This is part of a broader strategy. When we get a significant number, it will be a demonstration to Uganda and to the entire world that the vast majority of Ugandans want free and fair elections and are demanding a new electoral commission and a clean, verifiable voters’ register.

Is that enough to change the Electoral Commission?

I am completely convinced that if we act together on a non-partisan basis, beyond political parties, if we bring together civic, religious organizations, young women and men outside political parties, we can and we shall overturn the Museveni-Kiggundu Electoral Commission and have a new, independent Electoral Commission.

People thought you would unite the party, but former UPC leaning independent MPs have officially defected to FDC and NRM?

Before I was elected [UPC president], there were factions, a case in courts of law. Since my election and my policy of reconciliation in the party, we are not in court, we aren’t fighting each other. All those who were fighting each other are represented in my cabinet.

The MPs from Lango you are talking about have for many years not been active in UPC. They have a UPC background, but they stood as independents. In fact, all of them, during this Parliament, their memorandum of cooperation wasn’t with UPC but with FDC. They have now decided to formalize that relationship.

We disagree, but respect their decision. We wanted them to come back to UPC; I had dialogue with Cecilia Ogwal, inviting her to come back to UPC. Our door has been wide open, and many have actually comeback. It so happens that the MPs from Lango who have been independent and cooperating with FDC have decided to join FDC.

Being Langi, could they be leaving because the party is led by an Acholi?

When they left UPC [and stood as independents], a Muganda was heading UPC, not an Acholi. As far as I know there is no ethnic or personal dimension to this issue.

Last word

Uganda doesn’t belong to Museveni and his military clique who have been plundering and terrorising the country for the last 25 years. It is high time Ugandans behaved as the owners of this country. We must resolve to take back, regain control of our country from the Museveni clique that has hijacked it.

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