By Patrick Kagenda
The Independent’s Patrick Kagenda talked to the new UPC president Ambassador Otunnu about the party’s future.
Word around is that you are targeting the national presidency and that if you should fail, then you will return to exile. What is your position?
I decided after a long process of discussion. An approach was made to me by various leaders of different affiliations in this country, although at the end a group with which the most important discussion took place was UPC leaders appealing to me to come back to Uganda to help provide political leadership. After a period of some agonising, I made a decision to say yes I will come back; I will be part of the group challenging Museveni to bring down that regime, and to usher in a new era and transform Uganda. That has not changed, nothing will change that. Let nobody think that this is just for today or tomorrow. This is for the long haul until we transform this country.
What is your way forward?
For me it is a historic juncture in UPC’s history. It is a moment to renew and to reform and to reposition and reintroduce UPC to the people of Uganda. In particular, to let the people know again what UPC really is about; what are the core values and pre-occupations of UPC – which essentially is about serving the ordinary person. It is about doing everything to improve the standard of living, to bring development, quality education to the ordinary Ugandan. UPC is a nationalist party from the UNC days continuing into UPC properly assembling Ugandans as one people across ethnic regional, religious lines. The third thing that defines UPC is its commitment to Pan-African liberation solidarity which is why UPC was at the front of fighting apartheid in South Africa, for the liberation of Rhodesia, Portuguese colonies. Both UPC and Milton Obote paid a very stiff political price for this. It is also important for us to make clear for the Ugandan people the UPC record of contribution because many people do not remember it. The young ones especially have no idea of the incredible projects and programmes UPC put in place most of which are the only projects the country has had in post-independence Uganda whether in health, education, cooperatives and the economy.
Do you think you can win the IPC leadership? Can you beat Museveni in an election?
As agreed, the IPC is for electing a common standard bearer. UPC accepts that. Let us not begin speculating. I know that there are concerns within UPC and concerns within the Democratic Party (DP) as well, but I speak for UPC. Besides being the two oldest parties in this country, they have deep historic roots and structures. In the course of 24 years, either through destruction, or disuse, and the banning of parties, most of those structures have collapsed mostly at the grassroots. Naturally UPC and DP in particular have a legitimate concern that they want an opportunity to rebuild their bases and their structures. It is not the case of the FDC for example which is a new party. I do not see these two demands as contradictory. We must retain our distinct identity and what it consists of and our re-orientation. But all that can be done without compromising the immediate need for the opposition parties to come together in the project effecting democratic feeling, creating a genuine democratic state and beginning the process of transforming our country. That is why we need to come together as opposition parties. The two are parallel, connected but they are not contradictory.
If you became president of the country, would you form a coalition government? How would it work?
If I was the standard bearer of a collective opposition group, then by definition government formed thereafter would be a coalition government. But even supposing that each of the parties went their own way, and I went as UPC standard bearer, and won the election; I would invite other opposition parties to join a UPC government.
The Greater North has been predominantly an opposition stronghold. How will you consolidate the block vote rather than split it between yourself and Norbert Mao?
No, we don’t speak in terms of block votes; we are going to go out to get every vote one at a time all over Uganda. It’s pure coincidence that my good friend Mao and I come from what is called northern Uganda. Actually worse, we are both ethnic Acholi, and worse still we are both from one town called Gulu. Pure coincidence. It has no meaning whatsoever, politically speaking. Mao remains a leader of DP and represents what DP stands for. I am a leader of UPC and I represent what UPC stands for. We want to cooperate as political parties besides the fact that we come from the same town.
You have always maintained that whoever gets 80% of the vote will have rigged. How did you come to win all these votes?
You should ask the delegates. It is unfair to ask me. I am very grateful; I am humbled by the overwhelming mandate by the confidence that has been placed in me.
You have talked of reconciling with Buganda. How are you going to do this considering the long standing animosity between the two since the 1966 crisis?
When you have had a traumatic and difficult situation which has lasted for as long as this has lasted, it cannot be healed overnight. The most important thing is to have the goodwill, the courage, to extend a hand to say let us start a new phase.