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EALA elections a missed opportunity

By Peter Nyanzi

NRM should have exercised political maturity and used the elections to forge reconciliation

One thing that really rubs Ugandan government officials the wrong way is making comparisons between Uganda and Rwanda, especially when such comparisons show things are better in Rwanda.  This thinking is mainly rooted in the feeling that President Paul Kagame along with many of his government officials, were once in Uganda working under President Museveni.

But let truth be told; over the last 16 years, Rwanda has continued to do things that Ugandans will only continue to look at as a far off dream. Take for instance the recent elections for representatives to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). Though Rwanda only joined the East African Community (EAC) recently, the level of maturity it exhibited when electing its members belied its tender political years and left older members – including Kenya and Tanzania – reeling with embarrassment.

For example, the Rwandan Parliament elected more women (five) and four men as her representatives to EALA and observed a strict adherence to Article 50 of the Treaty by electing its members from members nominated by different political groupings that included the National Women Council, the National Federation for the Disabled and the National Youth Council.

Realising the need for her team to be all-inclusive, Rwanda made it a point to first enact a new law to govern the electoral process prior to holding the elections. The law also mandated the country’s Electoral Commission to take charge of the process.

Under the law, all parties in the country that have representatives in the House must get an EALA seat in line with Article 50 of the EA Treaty. Apparently, unlike her regional counterparts, Rwanda saw no need for an “interpretation” of the Article by the East African Court of Justice.

As if to add some icing on her well-spiced cake, Rwanda also elected the controversial former Rwandan Prime Minister Pierre Celestin Rwigema, 59, who fled into a 10-year self-imposed exile to the US after falling out with President Kagame’s government, only to return last year. This was indeed a clear sign of the spirit of reconciliation.

But most importantly, Rwanda held a real election with 18 nominated candidates – eight of them fronted by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)-led coalition though they needed to choose only four.

A comparison with Uganda’s situation is inevitable. The ruling NRM did nominate six candidates for six slots, and “cast” votes to “elect” them – a mere formality if you ask me. There was virtually no legal framework to guide the elections.

DP’s Fred Mukasa Mbidde, UPC’s Chris Okumu Opoka and Susan Nakawuki representing the Independents, were the other elected representatives.

FDC – the main opposition party with about 40 MPs – boycotted the elections in protest against NRM’s taking the lion’s share of a whopping six slots, while CP and JEEMA are not represented either though they both have MPs in the House.

The five political parties represented in Parliament had earlier demanded a literal interpretation of Article 50 of the Treaty with each of them (plus NRM) sharing the initial six slots and then build consensus on how the other three would be distributed. NRM rejected this proposal, saying the representation should reflect the ‘numerical strength’ of the NRM.

Yet, after 26 years of an uninterrupted regime, I think everyone would naturally expect Uganda to be politically more mature than Rwanda.

But had NRM borrowed a leaf from their Rwandan counterparts, they would have known that it’s Uganda that ultimately stands to lose in this EALA fiasco. If it were not because of a rotational speakership, EALA would never have elected a Ugandan for that position. But its rejection of Dora Byamukama, NRM’s favoured candidate for Speaker, is just an eye-opener. One does not have to be a prophet to foretell that more embarrassing situations for the country are yet to come.

Ahead of the proposed political federation, the region is watching and figuring out who to trust. But if I could borrow Jesus words, who will entrust us with a population of over 100 million people if we have not been faithful but utterly selfish with just nine slots?  Who loses when the local politicking and political tensions are exported to Arusha? Of course it is Uganda that loses.

Locally, NRM could have won six slots but Uganda is still the loser and not the opposition. Of course some people might be celebrating that the EALA elections have left the opposition in total disarray. But then who loses when the opposition is so weak that it cannot put the government under check? Who loses when the government can do whatever it wills with impunity because the opposition in Parliament is divided and cannot perform its political oversight functions? Of course it is Uganda that loses.

After a difficult and tumultuous first year in its new term, NRM should have exercised political maturity and used the EALA elections to forge a new strategy to accommodate and reconcile with the opposition in a gallant effort to inculcate more social stability and cohesion. While for Rwanda it was an opportunity seized, for Uganda it was clearly an opportunity missed.

I think it is high time Ugandans were spared all the acrimony and elbowing among the political class because it does not augur well for development, political stability, and the national image regionally and locally.

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