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Citizens versus politicians

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

Civil society to put political parties on the spot over citizen-centered election pledges

Political parties will come under pressure as the extent to which their election pledges reflect the aspirations of the people comes under closer scrutiny weeks before nomination of candidates to contest next years general elections kick off.

Civil society organizations will on October 15 launch what they call a Citizens Manifesto (CM), a document they say was the culmination of a nationwide process that reached five million Ugandans over two years with the view to ascertaining what citizens wish to see government address.

The Uganda National NGO Forum together with its Uganda Governance Monitoring Platform partners, on the basis of their analysis of congruence between citizens wishes and political parties election promises, intends to take a stand on which manifesto comes closest to addressing citizens aspirations.

At a breakfast at Hotel Africana on Friday, October 8, held to raise awareness about the CM process ahead of the launch, Alfred Nuwamanya declared: We shall scrutinize the manifestos of different parties and then make an informed opinion of what we think.

This is likely to catch political parties off guard, since they may not have enough time to realign their manifestos with the CM since most of them are already putting final touches to their campaign documents. The CM, coming out with very little time left to campaigns, also runs a risk of failing to inform the manifesto-making process and therefore if it has key demands that are missing in political parties manifestos, Ugandans could miss an opportunity to have such demands lined up in election manifestos due for implementation.

This is the least of Nuwamanya’s worries, however. Where there are differences (between the CM and political parties manifestos), it would be an interesting statement on what citizens are saying as opposed to what politicians say they will do, he reasons.

He adds that the CM process is not necessarily about 2011 elections; It is about the future of our country; the earliest we can see meaningful change (in citizens civic competence) is 2016.

Risking scorn from politicians who could fallout with the CM process in case it criticizes them, the process challenges the view that civil society organizations, particularly nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) should be apolitical.

We are very political; we cannot afford to be apolitical anymore, declared Nuwamanya. The CM process is premised on a quote attributed to former French President Charles de Gualle, I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians Nuwamanya argues that all civil society needs is to be impartial but not apolitical.

Civil society organizations argue that the CM process will help to boost civic consciousness and the lobbying power of citizens, barring which no meaningful citizen-based reform would be possible. Reforms arent neutral, asserted Nuwamanya, adding, Every reform is sponsored by a particular interest group.

Failure to coagulate citizens views into concrete demands that can be followed up through the political cycle, according to these civil society organizations, is the bedrock of the disconnect that exists between citizens demands and government actions.

According to the paper that guided the process, The CM seeks to reverse citizen apathy in political governance which manifests itself at all levels through their failure to demand for accountability from their leaders.

When leaders have tried to be accountable to the citizens, the paper continues, the issues around which this accountability has been undertaken have not been mutually agreed upon between the citizens and their leaders.

The CM initiative, therefore, intended to bring about a change in the way people are governed by creating a popular citizen-rooted agenda around which leaders can be called to account, the paper adds.

The CM is intended to be an organized political process aimed at mobilizing Ugandans to generate a citizen vision and demands as a basis for the social contract with elected leaders, while as an output it is meant to give rise to a citizens political agenda that outlines intentions and demands aimed at occasioning change to address injustices and inequality.

The five million respondents were selected based on Uganda’s immediate post-independence fourteen regional divisions. Also, particular focus was put on special interest groups in the collection of views  the youth, teachers, farmers, cultural groups and women.

According to a snapshot of preliminary findings that form the body of the manifesto, top eleven issues (were) raised across the board. Patronage and unequal development, widespread poverty, declining fortunes of the agricultural sector, breakdown in the health delivery system and growing unemployment were among them. Also top on the agenda were declining morality in society, systemic corruption, low levels of civic consciousness, problem with the education system and its focus, poor infrastructure and environmental degradation.

After the national launch on October 15, regional launches will follow and the views generated in the manifesto will be publicized through different media. Different political parties and other pro-democracy groups will then be called upon to participate in discussing the manifesto ideas.  The process will also entail open discussions by presidential candidates to further gauge their appreciation of the issues raised by the citizens.

The process was spearheaded by seventeen groups, working hand in hand with several other locally-based civil society organizations. The seventeen include Kabarole Research and Social Centre (KRC), the Anti-Corruption Coalition of Uganda (ACCU), Advocates Coalition in Development and Environment (ACODE) and Federation for Women Lawyers in Uganda (FIDA).

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Action Aid-Uganda, CARITAS, ISIS WICCE and the Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA) are also members. Others are Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), Uganda Womens Network (UWONET), Advocates for Public International Law in Uganda (APILU), Facilitation for Peace and Development (FAPAD), Uganda Society for Disabled Children (USDC), Uganda National NGO Forum (UNNGOF), Uganda Debt Network (UDN) and Human Rights Network (HURINET).

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