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Kaheru’s exit caps a tough year for NGOs

Outgoing CCEDU boss speaks out on political atmosphere and his legacy

Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | “Why did he quit abruptly?” is a question that was on the minds of many people when Crispin Kaheru announced two weeks ago that he was leaving his position as Coordinator of Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU).

“My retirement was not as abrupt as the public has perceived it. I planned it nine years ago,” Kaheru tells The Independent in an interview. Nine years ago was when Kaheru took up the job at the tender age of 26.

He says the CCEDU board knew that he would retire when his nine years clock. He attributes the reaction to his retirement to an absence of a culture of leaving office. “It is either one is forced out of office or their contract is terminated or not renewed; but either way, there has to be pressure on a person to leave a leadership role.”

He adds that it is worse because Uganda does not have a practice of where those in leadership positions leave peacefully.

Kaheru acknowledges that being at the helm of the largest citizens’ coalition in eastern and southern Africa attracts a lot of pressure and interest both locally and internationally.

“I think globally, NGOs- and especially those working on governance and human rights issues are under a lot of stress from various dimensions-including from governments and the people they serve,” he tells The Independent.

“This is merely a wakeup call that NGOs should organise differently under the circumstances,” Kaheru says and points out that CCEDU got fully anchored with the citizens of Uganda and puts the organisation’s reach at over 5 million citizens.

“CCEDU maintains full and regular contact with 4.9 million people spread out in all villages across the country,” Kaheru boasts and asks, “Is there any single national organisation or state institution that can rival such an elaborate human infrastructure?” He calls this number the constituency of CCEDU.

He says pressure from government on NGOs may be there but asserts that if NGOs are clear on their cause and “affixed” to their genuine constituencies, the pushback from government would never succeed.

At the time of the interview, Kaheru was in Mozambique as part of the African Union Election Observation Mission for the general elections held on Oct.15. The mission was headed by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

Hoima election debacle

Just a week before Kaheru resigned, CCEDU was caught up in the fallout from the Hoima Woman MP by-election. NRM won the hotly contested election against a joint opposition candidate. But the façade of a joint candidate had already crumbled by the time the voters cast their ballots in late September.

Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) which sponsored Asinansi Nyakato, the joint candidate, was trading barbs with People Power, MP Bobi Wine’s political machine. Apparently, Nyakato was hobnobbing with the red army of People Power at the expense of FDC, the largest political party in the opposition.

When NRM’s Harriet Businge was declared winner of the seat, there was a statement attributed to CCEDU saying the poll was a fair and transparent one. Kaheru’s colleagues in civil society and the opposition were miffed on the nature of the statement given the violence, bribery and armed forces role that rocked the election.

The District Police Commander of Hoima was transferred on the eve of the by-election, sowing more confusion and mistrust. One activist in a Facebook tirade called for the “crucifixion” of Kaheru.

A statement issued on Sept. 30 by CCEDU and signed by Kaheru read “We wish to clarify that our preliminary statement was released during polling and the vote counting exercise. The second statement was published after polling and upon the Electoral Commission (EC) announcing the results from the by-election…”

It continued, “We therefore appeal to our members and the public to review both statements in context.” Those baying for Kaheru’s blood attributed his controversial statement to an alleged Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between EC and CCEDU.

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