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Besigye gives opposition pain

But does his defiance hurt help FDC or IPOD?

Kampala, Uganda | AGATHER ATUHAIRE | Lydia Wanyoto knows how to kill boredom and keep stress away. Dance. And she did exactly that on May 20 at the Protea Hotel in Entebbe when President Yoweri Museveni kept delegates to the 2nd Summit of the Interparty Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) waiting for over 10 hours.

Wanyoto took to dancing when the summit failed to start as scheduled at 9.30am.  Most leaders of political parties represented in parliament and organisers from the IPOD secretariat arrived promptly by 8am. They included the holder of the rotational chair of the summit, Norbert Mao of the Democratic Party (DP), Jimmy Akena of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), and Kibirige Mayanja; from the Justice Forum party (JEEMA), and their delegations. Wanyoto was on Museveni’s team. But where the other delegates yawned, cursed, and loafed around, Wanyoto danced.

Eventually, President Museveni arrived past 6pm and the meeting started at 6.48pm. It ended at 11.30pm.

Museveni’s late coming has now become another headache for IPOD. The biggest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), which is next in line to hold the rotational IPOD Summit chair, is citing it as one of the reasons why holding any dialogue with Museveni and NRM is pointless.

“What does it help us, for example, to go and sit and wait for Museveni for hours?” says Patrick Oboi Amuriat.

Not that FDC would have been keen to attend the next IPOD summit if Museveni arrived promptly. The FDC had already boycotted the May 20 summit any way.  And it had boycotted the first IPOD Summit in November last year. In fact, Amuriat was trying to explain to The Independent why they keep boycotting the summits when he spoke against Museveni’s late coming.

Amuriat says FDC party officials have decided to stop wasting their time since it is clear that there is no willingness on the part of NRM to remove the sticking issues.

“We as FDC can’t go into a time wasting venture,” Amuriat says, “We get into activities that are of direct benefit to us as a party and we don’t think there can be a meaningful dialogue in this kind of environment. Our argument is why go for dialogue when there are things that need to be corrected first that the other party isn’t willing to correct.”

He adds: “You can imagine today we are teargassed and tomorrow we are expected to sit and discuss with our tormentor!”

Besigye, who is the de facto leading ideologue of FDC, while appearing on NTV’s `On the Spot Show’ on May 30 also said that IPOD is meaningless.

The conditions the FDC officials, Besigye and Amuriat talk of include the curtailing of their assemblies and arrest of its officials among others.

They point at how state security personnel have dragged FDC officials and Besigye, who is its former president, out of several radio stations in various parts of the country; including in Kabale, Jinja and Mubende.

The security agents and NRM officials routinely switch off transmitters of radios that dare host Besigye. Many radio stations are threatened with being switched off if they hosted Besigye or other FDC officials.

This is sometimes followed by arrests of Besigye and other FDC officials; including Amuriat, in various parts of the country where they have attempted to hold public allies.

FDC will not `beg’ from Museveni

The question many people ask is why FDC leaders do not use the IPOD Summit as an opportunity to sit across the table with President Museveni and pin him face-to-face on these issues?

Amuriat says that would be begging and the FDC does not need to beg for their inherent rights from Museveni. According to him, belonging to an opposition, holding a political rally, or airing political opinions are inherent rights of citizens which Museveni and NRM are trampling.

“We are not going to negotiate for our inherent rights. The NRM doesn’t give these rights to us as a favour. In any case, we have written to IPOD in respect of our concerns before the first summit meeting but no one has bothered to respond to our issues.”

Some people agree with the FDC position, among them Godber Tumushabe, the respected political pundit who is the director of an NGO; the Great Lakes Institute for studies (GLISS). Tumushabe says the FDC is right to protest the violation of its rights by the NRM government.

“I believe in dialogue but I fully understand the grievances of FDC,” he told The Independent, “What is important, to take the dialogue forward, is to address the FDC’s grievances.”

Like Amuriat, Tumushabe says compliance with the law is not something to negotiate about.

When IPOD was mooted in 2010 by the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), the idea was to promote dialogue and reduce animosity between Uganda’s political parties. The organisation had observed that the political party system in Uganda is characterised by mistrust and antagonism between the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party and the opposition parties.

But the persistent boycott of the IPOD Summit meetings by the biggest opposition political party, FDC, now threatens that agenda.

The summit meeting of May 20 was the second the FDC has shunned saying that the conditions that prevented the party from attending the first summit in December 2018 had not changed.

“My view is that IPOD is a non-starter,” says Besigye, “It will never achieve what it thought it would achieve.”

IPOD future uncertain

The future of IPOD is possibly at stake. While NIMD might not be shaken because it has programmes in 18 countries across Eastern Europe, the Arab World, South Asia, Latin America, and seven other African countries, IPOD needs FDC’s endorsement for credibility.

For example, one of the major points agreed at the Entebbe Summit is that the government of Uganda shall increase funding to political parties and IPOD from the current Shs10 billion to Shs35 billion in financial year 2019/2020.

Up to 15% of this money; about Shs5 billion, will go to IPOD. The balance will be shared by all parties in parliament. Each party will get an equal share on one portion and another portion will be distributed based on numerical strength in parliament. The leaders of opposition parties will also get a specific sum based on numerical strength in parliament. NIMD will also give parties about Shs1 billion. But IPOD does not look good to be handling this money when one of the biggest players discredits the IPOD process.

Already, the other reason FDC gives for shunning IPOD meetings is that they are not binding on any of the parties and, therefore, are a complete waste of time.

“Their resolutions lack the force of law. We don’t want to waste our time on things that will not be implemented,” says Amuriat, “If we already see that there is no goodwill to implement what is agreed upon; why should we continue wasting our time? For us as FDC we want to spend our time more meaningfully.”

Tumushabe again agrees with Amuriat that IPOD is not very helpful.

“I have reservations about IPOD too and if you want to understand how unhelpful IPOD is, you need to remember that they failed to take their electoral reform proposals to Parliament yet they constitute parliament,” he says.

But some analysts say FDC’s position is a total misconception of IPOD’s mandate and objectives. They say FDC is demanding negotiations when IPOD was set up as a platform for interparty dialogue. They cite the FDC’s insistence that there cannot be any meaningful dialogue if it excludes the issue of transition of power from Museveni to another leader as insistence on negotiation.

Frank Rusa, IPOD’s Secretary General, shares this view.

“I am afraid these parties do not understand the objectives of IPOD,” he told The Independent in an interview, “A dialogue is not a negotiation where some form of settlement is expected to be arrived at. It is just a conversation to moot ideas on how to change the political environment.”

He explained that the purpose of IPOD is to promote constructive engagement and to strengthen multipartism.

“But it seems the FDC wants to have their own agenda because I saw Besigye on TV talking about issues like who is in charge of the negotiations and things like that,” he said.

Tumushabe says Rusa’s view reinforces his view that IPOD is not really helpful. He dismisses Rusa’s explanation of IPOD’s reason to exist.

“I find this argument lazy,” he says, “that IPOD is a platform where people meet and have coffee and talk about themselves and then what?”

Such views from political analysts are weighing heavily on the future direction of IPOD.

In its internal mid-term review done in 2013, IPOD showed awareness that there are feelings of frustration over its failure to change the broader political environment. The report predicted that failure to get the political players to dialogue could make IPOD lose momentum to carry on its mission.

The report noted: “It seems unlikely that any of the political parties will leave the forum, and thus bring an end to multi-party dialogue, but there does appear to be a danger that it could lose momentum unless it can find ways of showing progress”.

With FDC persistently boycotting the IPOD Summits, pressure is mounting on IPOD to do something to change that.

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