By Joan Akello
UPC President, Olara Otunnu spoke to The Independent’s Joan Akello about his party’s road map.
What is UPC’s strategy for 2016?
We have been moving around the country to mobilise, raise awareness, and get the youth and women league organised. Historically, the three main UPC pillars were the youth, women, and workers. We have a new constitution and we have been moving around the country discussing it, its implications, structures and processes to make our members and leaders aware of the new constitution. We have been discussing how we will approach 2016. But we know that those efforts important as they are will come to naught if we do not have a new system for organised and managing elections. At the national level, beyond UPC, we must work with others to ensure that we have a new system for organising and managing elections. We need to achieve both.
What is your view about the opposition’s preparedness for 2016 elections?
My views have not changed since 2010. I took a position then that any election organised by the current electoral management system under Museveni – Badru Kiggundu Electoral Commission by definition inherently by design is a complete sham and that Ugandans should stand up and demand that we have genuine free and fair elections like other people elsewhere in the world. The Museveni regime should not be an exception to what has now become a worldwide trend of free and fair multiparty elections.
At that time the opposition under the Inter Party Coalition (IPC) stood together with this position until the last moment when there was a U-turn within our ranks and other opposition parties apart from UPC decided that even though we had made a demand to change the electoral management system and that Museveni had not acted on this, that they would proceed and participate in the 2011 elections. It was a big disappointment, very painful because I think we had got Museveni under siege both within the country and in key circles internationally. So we let Museveni off the hook and then escorted him to what we knew were utterly fraudulent elections. It was a tragic error; the country has paid a bigger price for it. What we are debating now we should have settled in 2010. We should have taken a firm stand then and refused to budge and resolved the issue of free and fair elections.
What should be done to ensure free and fair elections then?
I call it a basket of demands which identifies clearly the mischief, the ills which have bedeviled previous elections such as the Electoral Commission, registry boards, the role of the military, appointment of returning officers, the raid and deployment of monies to bribe votes and we propose measures to cure those ills. Then we put that to the country to say we are interested in elections but there must be free and fair elections which look like this.
We should insist that there must be a national forum to focus and to work on a consensus on a new system to manage and organise free and fair elections in Uganda. From that consensus would then emerge measures that can be enacted by parliament into laws. I have written widely since 2010 that if Museveni says I do not care, I want to organise elections the same way I have done since I came into power, which means an election is entirely controlled and organised by Museveni then Ugandans should say no. Ugandans have no business accompanying Museveni in an exercise that they know in advance is meaningless. Therefore before discussing 2016, we must first discuss what kind, manner, quality, organization and management of elections we want. When we have settled that, then we can discuss participation or otherwise in the elections in 2016.
If nothing is reformed how will you defeat NRM?
There are four ways you can effect change. We can have or wage war like Museveni did, I am opposed to it. You can effect coup d’état within the regime. I am opposed to it. There are two other ways you can effect change through free and fair elections .This is by far the preferred method. But if that is definitely blocked by Yoweri Museveni and his regime, we are left with one other option which is entirely legitimate which is using positive non-violent resistance , using the power of the people , popular uprising to remove the current regime from power. This is the most preferred method. We should absolutely mobilise for this. We are going to organise, mobilise, take matters into our own hands and take back our county from those who hijacked it. We need to redeem the country from utter distraction.
How will UPC beat NRM?
The NRM as a party does not really exist. It is a family holding company run and controlled by the family for the family. It is even not a political party. The government does not exist, no minister can deceive you that they are in control of their ministry and decide on policy and direct their sector. It is not true. Cabinet does not run the country; parliament is only there in name. Now and again they will be allowed to make some useful noises here and there but when the moment comes, Museveni will clamp down and rail road his way through. None of the institutions in the country are functioning; the judiciary is controlled, instructed by Museveni except for a few exceptional judges. We just have a presidency, Museveni and everything begins and ends with the presidency. Removing this regime is removing that edifice which is entirely privatized and personalized. It’s a private and personal state. It reminds me of King Louis XIV of France who said L’Etat, c’est moi meaning I am the State. That summarises the situation in Uganda. That edifice and structure that represents L’etat, c’est moi must be brought down. The beginning of wisdom for Ugandans is the removal of the Museveni regime.
Statistics show that NRM thrives whenever the voter turnout is low. What will you do about this?
That is abandoning the forest and beginning to focus on one or two tiny trees in the forest. So I’m not interested in voter turn up. We will discuss and be interested in mobilising the population when the system is right. But if we cannot stand in front of Uganda House or march on Kampala Road or organise rallies, how can you organise free and fair elections in those circumstances? Let us stop the Orwellian double speak, mouthing meaningless platitudes. George Orwell got this right as if he lived in Uganda where you refer to Animal Farm and go back to 1984 to understand the Museveni double speak. You find the entire population jumping about things that have got no significance to the reality.
What should an ordinary Ugandan be focusing on now?
Two things; regime change and demands for free and fair elections. It is impossible to reform this regime which on the whole is rotten, and by design is fraudulent. In that situation, you remove it. All the suffering, the malaise the country is going through whether at the state of our public education, hospitals, unbelievable plunder of national resources and impunity going on, the collapse of the rule of law, adventures beyond Uganda’s borders, our country is in a dire grave state of crisis and this regime will never be part of the solution. It created these problems over the last 30 years and benefits from the perpetuation of those problems.
Dr. Besigye says the 2016 elections are already rigged
I’m glad to hear this; he did not say this in 2010/2011. This was part of the divergence between the IPC and UPC and between him and me. He took the view then that even though there were problems within the electoral system, he knew how to beat the system. My view was that we should not compromise on that issue. Nothing has changed in the system since that time. It was a grave error to have made the u-turn in 2010/2011 elections. We should have stood our ground. I am happy to hear that my good friend Besigye now says what I have been saying that this system without over hauling it cannot produce different results. But I think that had and other opposition parties stood our ground together we would have resolved this issue in 2010.
What is your message to opposition parties and their leaders?
We should take a firm stand and should not budge or make any U-turn. It is my hope that we will remain firm and not go through the unhappy experience of 2010. This is the most important project. We should make clear cut firm demands, the demands we should have stood by in 2010, but did not.