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Otunnu comes with message of opposition unity

By Bob Roberts Katende

Asubo Macorious, is a strong Uganda Peoples Congress supporter. He left his home area, Arua on Friday at 9:30pm destined for Kampala then to Entebbe Airport; to welcome a person, not personally know to him, but one he believes has the ability to bring the change he says, his country so much desires.He has a lot of decency which is lacking in our leadership,Asubo says. We have come to encourage him to rescue this country, he adds.

Among those who endured the chilly Saturday morning weather to welcome Olara Otunnu at his homecoming sojourn was Harold E Acemah, who was first Secretary at the Uganda embassy in New York, in 1980. It is from here that Acemah became friends with Otunnu.

Though he left the New York post 27 years ago and the government that posted him long gone, Acemah still carries his business card with his full titles on it. With a wide smile and slightly overgrown hair with a thin line running from one side of the forehead characteristic of Obote’s hair style, Acemah says of Otunnu: He is an intelligent man and he has a lot to offer to this country.

Those were some of the sentiments expressed by UPC supporters who thronged despite Police warnings to Entebbe Airport to welcome a man, who in size and stature could not be easily indentified when he emerged from the VIP section of the airport. Decked in a black and white kitenge, he waved to the anxious supporters who replied with screams that tacitly brought airport business to stand still.

Security efforts to keep journalists at bay were futile as cameramen and radio broadcasters quickly called their stations in town to relay a live broadcast of his arrival. Microphones were all over him with journalists asking all sorts of questions. “How does it feel to be back home after 23 years?” one radio journalist asked Otunnu. Sadly the only answer the visitor would give was, “thank you, thank you.”  “Hallo that was Otunnu only saying thank you …” the journalist later spoke to the person on the other end.

From the airport, the convoy drove straight to Entebbe Botanical beach where a press conference was organized. But along the road from the airport to the beach, were policemen within every 100-200 meters.

Botanical Beach came short of turning into a political rally as the waiting supporters who never made it to the airport electrified the atmosphere with UPC’s campaign songs reminiscent of the 1980 elections. “Oh Oh mama, the congress of the people,” went the incessant chant. Of course, many of children who had accompanied their parents enjoyed this as the congress’s hey days seemed to have beckoned once again. Otunnu picked the cue from the crowd and began “tukutendereza yesu” though he tried with broken lyrics, the audience soon turned into a Saturday morning service of sorts.

The press conference was preceded with prayers and the chairman of the national steering committee of Otunnu’s homecoming, Benson Obua-Ogwal after brief introductions requested Otunnu to attend to journalists who were eagerly waiting to scribble down the day’s assignment.

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The press conference

While answering a question posed by a journalist concerning Otunnu’s earlier remarks about the government’s role in suffering of the people of northern Uganda, Otunnu answered rather vaguely that, I have talked about that issue widely and my views on that are in the public domain.”  You can look up some of them in publications such as the Foreign Affairs Magazine, Christian Century. Concerning his stay in the country he said, this is a home coming visit and he will be here for a little over a fortnight because of “some international commitments elsewhere that I need to attend to.”

Answering a question to what extent his visit is political and the political role he is likely to play, Otunnu said, “This is first and foremost a homecoming visit. It is the son of the soil returning to be reunited with his people. I will be dancing with my people, I will visit the countryside, I will visit my schools – Mvara, Kings College Budo and Makerere University. It is truly that I have been approached by a number of leaders in this country who have been urging me to get politically engaged. I am deeply concerned about the grave national crisis the country is facing, a deep malaise the country is facing and I am eager to join my compatriots, to join the people of Uganda in their yearning for a democratic change. I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ugandan people at this critical moment when they are saying enough is enough we want to take back our country, we want to take charge of our destiny and I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Uganda in that enterprise.  I have not come back to Uganda claiming any particular position or role. I have no role or position to play. But I have come to join my compatriots in the struggle I have just discussed. I understand the inter-party mechanism, and what processes they can put in place for working together…that will take its course. All those will clear. But I am here to join the people of Uganda to bring change in their country and to take charge of their destiny.Â

On visiting Obote grave

I want very much to go to Dr Obote’s burial place in Akokoro and pay my respects to him; the person who led the struggle for this country, pan-Africanist who contributed to the liberation of Africa especially Southern Africa and the founder and leader of UPC. I spoke with Mama Miria Obote concerning that, she told me that because of preparation and arrangements that have to be made before I am able to visit, it would be difficult on this visit but in the near future they will arrange that. I am looking forward very much indeed at an appropriate time in the future to go and pay my last respects.

On passport and immigration

I have not had a Ugandan passport for more than two decades. Coming home to Uganda, the most important thing is that I came and presented myself. I brought this form with me. This is the fifteenth application form I have filled out for a Ugandan passport. I fortunately came with this form so that I can have a Ugandan passport. I presented this with an identification card showing that I am whom I claim to be; namely Olara Otunnu, son of Uganda and that is the basis of which I have returned home. I cannot come back to Uganda as a thief, I cannot come back through a back door, or a refugee with some kind of emergency document, I come to Uganda as my home. I am told that I can take this document to the relevant authorities who will, finally thanks to you, be able to issue me with a passport. Because for decades I filled out forms in Nairobi, in London, New York, in Paris but they could not issue me with a passport. But your opinion, your demand and your pressure has now made it possible for me to re-enter the country and I hope soon I will be able to get a passport.Â

On taking Museveni to ICC

As a factual matter I have not taken President Museveni to the Security Council of the UN in connection to the crimes committed in northern and eastern Uganda. The Security Council is an independent organ of the UN.  Secondly I have not taken President Museveni to ICC. What I have done in the open is criticised the government of President Museveni on several issues like corruption, human rights throughput the country including the so called safe houses which are euphemism for torture chambers,  the land grabbing which has been going on. This country used to boast of national institutions and now they have been gutted and eventually destroyed systematically. I have criticized the government of President Museveni for the invasion of the DR Congo where terrible human right violations and plunder were committed. These are not my words. These are words of the ICJ that ruled against the government and has slapped reparation of US $10 billion to be paid to DR Congo. I have criticised the way Museveni has worked to divide the people of Uganda along ethnic and regional lines to gain and retain power. I have criticised Museveni for the lack of democratic principles, for the rigging of elections. These are among other issues I have criticised Museveni and in that context of a national malaise.

On the July 1985 coup

Let me make this clear. I have never ever involved in the coup took place in 1985, not in any discussion about it, in the conceiving of it, not in the prosecution of that coup. For the entire period of the Obote II government, I was not based in this country. I was based at the UN as Uganda’s ambassador. Before the coup took place, there were press reports about skirmishes and tensions in some parts of the country. I think they were called uncoordinated military movements. I read that in the press. I took up the opportunity to call up the leaders in Kampala including the minister of Foreign Affairs and prime minister to ask what was going on. I was told there was nothing to be concerned about; they were minor events. Of course like some of you, I was subsequently shocked when shortly after, the coup took place.Â

Secondly, the person who actually narrated to me exactly what happened during the coup was none other Dr Apollo Milton Obote a few weeks when I travelled to the Uganda High Commission in London and met Mr Shafiq [Arain]. I telephoned Dr Obote from London and he told me chapter and verse of what happened during the coup. He absolutely knew that I had nothing to do with it when I told him I had been summoned to Kampala he said, go and do what you can but the situation is very dangerous, be careful and stay in touch.

I came to Kampala and it was a very precarious situation. I didn’t have to be involved at all. I could have stayed in New York as ambassador. My coming to help in Kampala was not anything self-serving. The situation was very dangerous politically. The one reason why I accepted to be engaged was because of the peace process. A number of political leaders approached me including Mr Museveni who telephoned me in New York when he was in Sweden asking me to help out in the situation. So I agreed in very difficult circumstances making a major sacrifice personally to engage in the peace process in the hope to end the bloodletting and to bring a government of national unity to begin a new chapter. The entire time I was in government that was my exclusive role and as you know we did reach a peace agreement of Nairobi, December 1985.

Sadly Mr Museveni who was engaged in the process had a different agenda. He broke the agreement and was able to take over by means of force. Of course I know there are some people who know the facts but who for their political reasons are able to peddle the notion that I was involved in the coup of 1985. In fact it was the secretary-general who brought to me a very important letter from Dr Obote in Lusaka.  I visited Dr Obote in Lusaka several times. The first time was when I was minister of Foreign Affairs in government. I went to consult him as I had promised in the phone interview from London. I continued to maintain good relations with him in Lusaka. This would be completely inconsistent with somebody who participated in the coup that removed him from Lusaka.

Obote’s contribution

He was a member of the Mulungushi Club which brought together members from Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. He brought the cooperative movement and that was systematically destroyed and that is part of the poverty we are seeing. The schools in this country; every part of Uganda had quality primary, and secondary schools. Students crisscrossed the country. Somebody from Buganda went to West Nile someone from Ankole would go to the east. Where are the students of Uganda today crisscrossing the country? Now because of the divisions that have been created, people are comfortable studying within their areas.Â

And just like any other person, he made his mistakes. We cannot have a wholesale condemnation of Milton Obote. My appeal to people of Uganda, whether Museveni, Obote we must be objective, we must indicate mistakes where they made them and indicate where they made achievements. Of course UPC and Buganda have had traumatic relationship which goes back to the time of confrontation between the then prime minister [Obote] and Kabaka [Mutesa II] who was also the president. The confrontation ended with the Kabaka fleeing the country and the kingdoms being abolished. This is a very traumatic period in the country’s history. It needs to be addressed honestly, with courage; it is very important that there is healing. Buganda is a very important part of this country, UPC is very important in this country and it is not in any person’s interest that such alienation or tension should exist.

Comments on the 2011 elections

The people of Uganda, just like the people of Ghana, Serbia, and Sierra Leone deserve free and fair elections. There are now universal standards with regard to what constitutes free and fair elections and how they should be conducted. That is what the people of Uganda desire, they are not asking for a unique dispensation, they asking that Uganda should cease to be an exception. It is important that 2011 elections are free and fair. I know that in recent times the president proceeded to appoint the chairman of the Electoral Commission. All I can say is that is completely a non starter. It will not stand in any country. The commissioners and chairman have to be completely impartial, independently assembled with all political parties involved.

Challenges the country faces

The biggest challenge for the people of Uganda is to begin a consolidation process of reuniting this country. That deliberate efforts have been made to divide the country along ethnic and regional lines. The people must come together. It is also important that we work and spare no effort to reconcile and bring a healing to our country as one people with a common destiny.

On rigging elections

All the abuses have been well documented in regard to previous elections. If you look at all the reports of all election monitors for example with regard to manipulation. The monitors go a step further to ask that before we go to the next election those practices should corrected and that is why the people of Uganda who have suggested that we no longer want rigging, manipulation of elections. It is the people of Uganda who must decide that we want free and fair elections to take back our country. It has been hijacked by a tiny clique and 2011 is a wonderful opportunity to do that.

On blocking him from UN leadership

There have been two elections one in 1991 and one 1996 and on both occasions my name had been suggested with regard to the secretary generalship. Mr Museveni fought furiously, day and night to sabotage my candidature at the UN. He himself has said as much. On one occasion he referred to some of the actions that he took to sabotage me.

On alleged UPDF atrocities

The rank and file of UPDF is doing a good job, they are commendable. At particular times with regard to Congo, Sudan, the political leadership has misused them. The responsibility doesn’t fall on their door step; it falls at the doorstep of the political leadership. We should not go around naming and blaming our brothers and sisters who are in the army. We should rather ask accountability from political leadership.

Concluding remarks

This country is in a deep national crisis. The most important thing that Ugandans can do in addressing this crisis is to reunite and come together as one country, as one people with a common destiny. None of us on our own, not the people of Buganda, the people of Kigezi, not those in Acholi, not UPC, not FDC on its own will be able to accomplish what this country is yearning for. We must come together.

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