Should opposition trust NRM promise to allow opposition meetings?
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | A meeting between leaders of government and political parties on April 25 to discuss how the Uganda Police is implementing the Public Order Management Act (POMA) went badly for the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP), Betty Aol Ochan, according to sources.
Three days before the meeting, on April 22, police claiming to be acting under POMA had fired teargas and sprayed water on supporters of rising opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine at his One Love Beach Busabala, near Kampala in Ssabagabo-Makindye sub-county of Wakiso district.
Bobi Wine who is the Kyadondo East constituency MP and a popular musician was arrested and kept under house arrest by police who barricaded his house in Magere-Gayaza on the other side of the district.
So when Ochan headed to the Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo for the meeting organised under the Inter Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD), she thought it would be the perfect opportunity to raise the issue at the highest possible level; with the Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda.
Rugunda attended the meeting together with Ministers Gen. Elly Tumwine (Security), Jeje Odongo (Internal Affairs), Mwesigwa Rukutana (Deputy Attorney General), Mary Karooro Okurut (General Duties) and Charles Engola (Minister of State for Defence).
Representing the parties was Secretary General Justine Kasule Lumumba and Women League chairperson Lydia Wanyoto for the ruling NRM, Secretary General Nandala Mafabi and his Deputy, Harold Kaija, and Salaamu Musumba, the vice president for eastern Uganda, for main opposition party FDC, and Secretary General Fred Ebil for UPC. Secretary General Gerald Blacks Siranda and Samuel Lubega attended on behalf of DP. Siranda is also the current chair of the IPOD Council. Each party delegation had other members.
Ochan who attended in her capacity as LoP reportedly attempted to bring up the issue of the incarcerated Bobi Wine but the government side cut her off. She was reportedly told the meeting was not to discuss specific cases.
Sources that attended told The Independent on condition of anonymity that the meeting got quite heated. But it appears that the government side had planned ahead for that.
Although the meeting was initially set to be at the more accessible Imperial Royale Hotel in the middle of Kampala city, it was shifted at the last minute to the more reclusive Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo, about 16km away on the edge of Lake Victoria.
Sources told The Independent that Rugunda and Lumumba decided that holding the meeting in the city would attract a lot of attention to it from journalists.
Even as Munyonyo was deemed far enough, it was also decided that any journalists who ventured out there would not be allowed to cover the proceedings. Instead, they would be locked out and given a polished communique of what supposedly was deliberated at the end of the six hour meeting.
In the end what emerged officially was that some common positions were reached and assurances made on others. It was agreed that a subcommittee comprising the attorney general and the five secretaries general of the political parties in IPOD report back to the IPOD council in 10 days with draft regulations for streamlining and smoothening the implementation of the POMA.
“I am very happy about this meeting, this is the understanding we must champion. We have agreed to set up regulations,” said Salaamu Musumba.
“I feel happy that there are no hard positions. There is a change of heart,” she told The Independent after the meeting.
Rugunda who chaired the meeting as Prime Minister did not say much in his usual style.
“We have had a vibrant, candid and productive discussion on POMA,” he said.
Frank Rusa, the executive director of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), which is behind the national dialogue process, “the main takeaway from the meeting was getting the ministers to sit and have a discussion with the opposition on the interpretation and implementation of the POMA”.
“NRM is serious this time, they are involved a lot in preparatory processes and even on the regulations of the POMA, and they have shown commitment on forging a way forward,” he said.