President Yoweri Museveni reassured the country of a peaceful election as he and his challengers gave powerful opening and closing remarks at the Presidential Debate on Saturday night.
The incumbent said, “There will be peaceful elections in Uganda. Nobody will disturb our peace. Nobody will threaten us. We cannot allow anyone to disrupt and threaten people.”
He was reacting to closing remarks by Col. Kizza Bezigye and Abed Bwanika, who said they were worried about talk of violence by some officials in the country ahead of the polls on Thursday 18th February.
The debate was organized by the Elders Forum and Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU). It was sponsored by UNDP Uganda.
Museveni, 71 faces seven challengers in the Presidential election, and had previously declined to attend the debates. His two main challengers Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi have both been drawing huge crowds during the campaign.
In the televised debate, Museveni dismissed as fiction allegations of corruption, unemployment and the poor state of healthcare. He challenged his opponents to realistic.
“I am here to talk about Uganda, not about fiction,” Museveni charged at the beginning of the show. “If you want fiction and you want a Nobel Prize for literature … then you can talk the way you want to talk.”
Oil, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and security were the issues that created most debate while questions about the candidates’ personalities and past experiences threw up some surprise stories.
Mbabazi questioned Museveni’s assertion of having restored security in the country, saying absence of war did not mean the country was stable.
“83 percent of our youth are unemployed … what security do they feel?” Mbabazi asked.
Besigye, of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party who has lost three times to Museveni, was critical of the president’s statement that the National Resistance Movement (NRM) had discovered oil. “Oil was known to exist in the Albertine Region long before independence. It was not the NRM who pointed that out,” Besigye argued.
Museveni replied, “What Besigye said is not correct. The British looked for oil and in 1956, they wrote a report that there was no oil in Uganda.”
With the debate focusing on Uganda’s foreign policy, Museveni again took the opportunity to blast the International Criminal Court (ICC). “The ICC is not serious. It is partisan. It is not balanced. It is not very serious,” he said. The Hague based court was set up in 2002 as the last resort to try war criminals and perpetrators of genocide never tried at home.
The ICC has opened probes involving eight nations: Kenya, Ivory Coast, Libya, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda and Mali.
In his closing remarks Amama Mbabazi compared himself to Tanzania’s newly elected President John Magufuli, saying he is an example of what a good leader is when given full presidential powers.
He said Magufuli had been Prime Minister for long but the day he was sworn in as president, Tanzania began to change. “I appeal to Ugandans, it is time to change,” Mbabazi said.
DEBATE HIGHLIGHTS BELOW
MUSEVENI: Thank you very much for organizing this debate. The other time I did not come because I was far away, but I also had some questions about the method of debate. But there is no harm, since there are some people who watch the TV, there is no harm in talking to them. Now…I am here to talk about Uganda, not about fiction. If you want fiction, and you want a Nobel Prize for literature and composition, then you can talk the way you want to talk.
Uganda, 1900, was a feudal country of different kingdoms. 1900.
In 1962, it was what we call an enclave economy. An enclave economy, means a small island of modernity in the midst of a sea of underdevelopment. Those professors I am sure know what we are talking about. An enclave economy.
That economy of 1962 was described as an economy of 3 CS and 3Ts. That is how they used to characterize that economy at that time. The 3Cs were Cotton, Copper, and Coffee and 3 Ts were tobacco, tourism and tea.
By 1986, the small island, the enclave, had almost disappeared, that is what we are talking about. So, it was the job of the NRM to revive that small island of modernity. We have not only revived it but we have expanded it and integrated it with the economy.
Therefore, whatever you talk about, talk about Uganda as it is, not as it should have been, because it wasn’t.
I am glad I came here this evening to talk to all of you directly when you are all here. The reason I am not sure of the debate mode, is the short time, these are big issues, these are not issues for school debate, I actually said it, but finally since I am in this debate, I am debating.
Finally about democracy, democracy means the people support you. If they don’t, you don’t win. That’s all.