Is Uganda Ripe for a National Dialogue?

Since independence, Uganda has not had a peaceful transition of power from one leader to another. All leaders that have ascended to power since then did it through use of violent means/ gun barrel. The whole situation has been characterized by mass deaths, destruction of property, and backsliding of the national economy. Summing up, Uganda has moved through turbulent times ranging from social, economic and political paths.

It is also very unfortunate that the country has normalized the culture of blaming everything on the past leaders instead of discussing the future more. This has also been inherited by the generation that is in their early twenties and late thirties. There is no discussion, which does not involve comparing the current leadership with the past leadership. And perhaps, this is intentionally done to justify the status quo hence forgetting that Uganda will be here more than it has been here.  I very much understand that some folks will argue that we can’t wish away our past and of course, much as I agree with them, I also want to remind them that we cannot get stuck in the past of which we have a future to live. Putting almost all the blame on the past regimes has continued to accumulate anger among the political groupings especially those that were once in charge. I think that this should stop and we direct all our discussions to the future, not the past. One prominent writer stated that we have less to do our past but we have a lot we can do about our future.  

The national dialogue!!!! Of recent, the highly debated topic in the country is the national dialogue. What is the national dialogue? These are conversations/discussions that involve every citizen who holds Ugandan citizenship. These discussions focus much on what went wrong or are being run in a reverse direction but can be redirected to the run normally. These discussions/conversations involve groups that represent a certain group of people or Ugandans themselves. These conversations are not limited to politics; as some political players have decided to frame it. Limiting it to politics alone shadows other areas that are being discussed like culture and environment. The consequence of rapping it look only political narrows the perspective to what the political players in this country have disagreed upon of which there are other non-political Ugandans that want to raise non-political issues that should be addressed through a national dialogue. This is uncalled for and should be discouraged and stopped.

While talking of a national dialogue, we must reflect that something is not going in the right direction in our country. For example, when I was growing up in my home village in Nyeibingo Rukungiri district, we had two famous and historical wetlands i.e. Omukijura-busha and Omu-katenga. These two wetlands were famous for being logged and beautiful sceneries of our times. They were also heavy influencers in rain-formation. But these very two God-given creatures are no more due human activities that encroached on them.  The above-mentioned examples above are just two of the many examples across the country. When I sit down and reflect on how we lost such and what went wrong, my mind tells me that little was done to protect these Godly creatures. It is at this point that we need to sit down together as a country and find a lasting solution to save the remaining ones. The recent scenario in Rukungiri was a contested wetland called Rulindo situated in Nyakishenyi where a prominent businessman wanted to clear the area and plant tea. Members of the community mobilized themselves and put up a fight that led to the loss of lives while others survived with severe injuries. I very much know that some people will come up arguing that line agencies like NEMA can solve issues to do with environment and wetlands in specific. But I want to notify and inform them, that these agencies have been here for a decade and such cases have continued to emerge and happen. I have heard the president on many occasions direct that wetlands should not be tampered with but don’t get shocked that amidst his directives, land titles for wetlands are still being issued up to to-date. This obviously calls for national conversations directed at finding a lasting/sustainable solution.

We also continue to lose a big size forest cover on an annual basis. It’s now evident that Uganda has lost 3,000,000 hectares of forest cover in last twenty-five (25) years and we are poised to lose more in the coming years to human activities (NFA-REPORT). To regain this cover, we need to restore 136,000 hectares of forest cover on an annual basis.  Where are we headed if we don’t restore this cover? Absolutely, we will be headed for disaster. With such a looming disaster, a discussion must be held and a sustainable solution put in place.

While appearing on radio one in the famous spectrum program, the Member of Parliament for Kabula County a one Hon James Kakooza noted that nothing calls for a national dialogue at the moment. He made his conclusion after sighting that there is no war in Uganda that necessitates holding a national dialogue.  I want to advise Hon James Kakooza and those that subscribe to his class of thinking that absence of an active war does not justify that we are at peace and call upon him to drop the narrative of calling off a national dialogue. I will not divulge more on how he defines a war but I want to inform him that the war in Uganda is visible, felt and existing though it is still operating on a small scale.  Over the last two years, Ugandans serving in prominent positions have been gunned down and we are not sure of who next is. This definitely shocks me why the likes of Hon James Kakooza want to dismiss a visible and felt war situation in Uganda. Moslem clerics continue to live in fear only because they don’t know who is killing them and why they are being killed. In-fact what continues to bother most of us peace-loving Ugandans is that no report on such deaths has ever come out. These reports serve as accountability to Ugandans but nothing has ever been produced.  Most of you remember how former IGP Gen Kale Kayihura used to conclude ADF is responsible for all those killings. If it’s true that ADF is responsible, then a war on a large scale is inevitable in the near future i.e if nothing is done to stop it. Even post Kayihura era, these killings have continued to happen the recent one being the murder of Mr. Jackson Kaginda the chairman LC3 of Mutara sub-county in Mitooma district and his boy hanged.

Women have continued to be butchered like animals in Kampala and surrounding areas and no answers on who is killing these women and why they are being killed have been given to the general public. Do you call this a simple matter that we should keep quiet about and continue operating as if its business as usual? Which kind of wars do we need to witness and believe that we are at war?  Do we need to reach an extent of Somalia and Southern Sudan for us to take action of discussing what the way forward is? Why should we wait for dozens or thousands of dead bodies on Kampala streets to act on the future of ourselves?

Over and over time, I have heard Col (rtd) Dr. Kiiza Besigye assert that he won the 2016 presidential elections and he has since used different platforms to tell not only Uganda but the entire world.  He has not only stopped at echoing it out and asserting but he and the party he held a flag for have made it clear to be a mission to reclaim their purported victory. Doesn’t this pose a threat to the existing national peace? We are not pretty sure which mechanisms they are putting in place to reclaim their purported victory. Tracing the 1980 presidential elections when a certain group of people accused Dr. Milton Obote of rigging the presidential elections, they went to the bush and the amount of terror that was unleashed on Ugandans especially those from Luwero is unmatched. I am personally convinced that the national dialogue is the most appropriate channel/platform where such dissatisfaction can be addressed without bloodshed. The national dialogue is the most rightful, secure and convenient platform that will find a sustainable solution to such dissatisfaction of this nature.

For those that I have heard of saying that President Museveni cannot negotiate himself out of power and are calling for actions to squeeze him to the wall, I want to beg you to drop that narrative. Using the political thermometer, one is able to tell that our political temperatures as a country are quite high and need a wet cloth to cool them down. The national dialogue is the right cloth to effectively do the cooling operation. The lives we have lost in political contestations are enough and no one can account for them. We need not lose any more single life under such circumstances.

I personally believe in the national dialogue as the golden parachute to assure Ugandans of a certain and bright future.

Brian K Katabazi.[email protected]Researcher/ Associate Director, Centre for Energy Governance.

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