By Haggai Matsiko
What next after Gen. Biraaro makes break through?
Calls for talks between President Yoweri Museveni and his main opposition challenger, Dr Kizza Besigye, have gained momentum since the Feb. 18 elections ended in dispute. However, despite each agreeing in principle that they are open to talks, it remains uncertain as to whether such talks will take place or, if they can yield positive results, if they take place.
Gen. Benon Biraaro, who also contested in the presidential election, is the latest among those aggressively pushing for the talks to happen. In less than two weeks after the election, he had separately met with both Museveni and Besigye.
“Both Museveni and Besigye said they are willing to talk,” Biraaro told The Independent.
He added that, at the beginning, he appeared to be the one selling the idea of dialogue but he is continuously being approached by politicians from both sides who want dialogue.
Apart from Museveni and Besigye, he said, even other party members on both sides are warm towards the idea and are now actively involved in pushing for the talks.
“On both the NRM and FDC side,” he told The Independent, “I am encourage by the attitude towards dialogue.”
He told The Independent that while a government of national unity might be one of the objectives of the dialogue he is pursuing, it is not the only issue.
“We want to chart a way forward for the future of this country where we have predictable change such that we do not hold elections again and again where no one is satisfied with the results,” he said.
Since Biraaro met the two politicians, other delegations have also met them and called for talks.
A group of women leaders, the so-called `Women Situation Room’, have visited both Museveni and Besigye, according to one of the members, Victoria Sekitoleko, a former minister in the Museveni government.
“All we want is peace,” she said, “that is why we are calling for dialogue.” Asked whether that dialogue would involve sharing power, she said, peace was what they were concerned with, “the rest is detail”. She told The Independent, however, that detail of what they agreed is still embargoed.
The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the election observer missions have also called for dialogue.
“It is our conviction that the way forward for this country requires willingness on both sides of the political divide to open up to each other for an honest and straight engagement in dialogue towards a peaceful and productive future for our country,” the Inter Religious Council of Uganda, which organised the historic presidential debates noted.
As the agitation for a negotiated post-election deal mounts, one of the former presidential candidates, Amama Mbabazi is challenging the election results in the Supreme Court.
President Museveni was declared winner of the election with 5.9 million votes representing 60.75 per cent of the vote and Besigye came in second with 3.2 million votes, representing 35.37 per cent. Mbabazi came in third with 1.4 percent of vote.
Besigye, who has been under security lockdown at his home in Kasangati, a Kampala suburb, since the election, also continues to dismiss the results and has called for defiance against Museveni’s government.
In this medley, proponents of the talks see them as the only solution to ending the tension between Besigye, Museveni, and Mbabazi.
For Biraaro, this was clear even before the elections. During his campaigns, he kept pushing for a government of national unity, which he says is what will fix Uganda’s politics. It is in that spirit that immediately after the polls, he met with Museveni and later Besigye.
Makerere Political Scientist, Sabiiti Makara, also says that the possibility of dialogue taking place depends on Besigye and Museveni.
He says it would be best if they talked and negotiated a way around whatever is blocking formal dialogue between them.
Among the issues being cited as stumbling blocks are Besigye’s reported insistence on the state’s ending the injustices being meted on him and his supporters.
But even if they held talks, very few see such talks resulting into a coalition government. Those opposed to a government of national unity say such coalition governments have failed elsewhere and the circumstances under which they emerge are different from what is obtaining in Uganda.
In Africa, coalition governments have been criticised as a means by which unpopular governments cling to power after losing elections.
Kenyan former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was named to the post in a 2008 deal with President Mwai Kibaki mediated by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in 2010, said their agreement should not be replicated.
“The Kenyan example is not a model to be followed,” Odinga told the World Economic Forum on Africa held in Dar es Salaam, “It is a compromise that has been reached as a result of a crisis. It is not an example for Africa to follow.”
He said that in Zimbabwe, it was followed because the incumbent had lost and refused to leave power, which posed a challenge of the state disintegrating.