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Can Otunnu revive UPC’s fortunes?

By Joe Powell

On Saturday evening at the Serena the UPC stalwarts turned out in their droves, resplendent in bright red ties, shirts and kitenges, often accessorised with Obote pin badges. Alongside the UPC supporters were prominent members of other opposition parties, including Prof. Latigo, Jack Sabiti, Ken Lukyamuzi, Akbar Godi MP (FDC), MP William Oketcho (IND) and diplomats from assorted embassies.

The embattled Uganda People’s Congress received a welcome boost on Saturday with the return of Olara Otunnu, ambassador to the United Nations under Obote II. The party has struggled to remain relevant during a period in which the FDC has climbed to become the number one challenger to the NRM.

However, on Saturday evening at the Serena the UPC stalwarts turned out in their droves, resplendent in bright red ties, shirts and kitenges, often accessorised with Obote pin badges. Alongside the UPC supporters were prominent members of other opposition parties, including Prof. Latigo, Jack Sabiti, Ken Lukyamuzi, Akbar Godi MP (FDC), MP William Oketcho (IND) and diplomats from assorted embassies.

After Otunnu had spent two hours meeting and greeting guest the line-up of speakers began with MP Benson Obua, who emphasised the need for cooperation in order to defeat the NRM. “For as long as our opposition parties want to go it alone we may as well forget state power for a while” he reminded the audience. Obua was followed by John Ken The Man Lukyamuzi, the Chairman of the Inter-Party Cooperation and head of the Conservative Party, who gave a typically excitable speech in which he stressed that political parties are not free in Uganda. Lukyamuzi gave perhaps the most political speech of the evening, critiquing the NRM for selling off government parastatals as if they were selling pancakes.

FDC Treasurer Jack Sabiti echoed the cooperation theme, saying that to remove Museveni, who has become âmadly in love with power, Ugandans must work together regardless of tribe. To me Otunnu is not an Acholi but a Ugandan” he said. The Independent’s Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda was next, giving a personal reflection of his time spent with Otunnu in the US and suggesting that the country needs more leaders with “in built values” if it is to succeed. There was no mention of FDC leader Besigye, although under the agreement of the IPC only one opposition candidate will stand for President against Museveni, creating a potential rift if Otunnu wants to lead the ticket.

UPC party President Miria Obote chose to give Otunnu a friendly warning after the adulation he had received from the earlier speakers. “You are not the only son and many other members of the party are also vying for the position [of party President]” she reminded him. Miria also said that the party would be wrong to forget the past during their campaigns.

Finally Otunnu took to the stage. Looking and sounding a little tired after the long physical and emotional journey he had made, he nonetheless articulated impressively his reasons for coming home. “Your son is back” he told the crowd to applause, “and the emotions I feel are too difficult to express”. He promised an end to “divide and rule” and suggested that Uganda is now “in the throws of a deep national crisis” that can only be resolved by the “spirit of cooperation”. Otunnu’s chose not to speak at length, stressing that this visit was a homecoming

The son of Maria and Milton Obote, and fellow UPC party President hopeful, Jimmy Akena, was in attendance but friends of his speaking to The Independent suggested that he may now pull out of the race and support Otunnu. Watching the speech attentively from the NRM was commentator Kajabagu Karusoke, who has in the past taken a hard-line stance against Acholi politicians.

Otunnu has returned after twenty-three years in exile, during which he forged a successful diplomatic career using an Ivorian passport. He was touted for the UN Secretary-General position on two occasions but lost out in part because he was unable to get the backing of the NRM government in Uganda. He ended up as Under-Secretary General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict from 1997-2005.

He now embarks on a two-week familiarisation tour of the country.

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