By Patrick Kagenda
On August 30, 2010 the Uganda Peoples Congress President Olara Otunnu announced his party was out of the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC). The Independent’s Patrick Kagenda talked to him about his reasons for departure .
Why did the UPC part company with the IPC?
UPC was a very big champion of the IPC project of democracy seeking opposition parties coming together. Some of the basic documents of the IPC were drafted by UPC. Some of the most important initiatives of IPC were proposed by UPC. I personally have been advocating opposition parties to come under one umbrella. Even in 2005 before I came back to Uganda I contacted Besigye, Mama Miria, I spoke and met with Ssebaana Kizito and all the opposition parties I could contact. I urged them to come under one umbrella for electoral purposes, but it didn’t work then.
I continued to champion this when I came back to Uganda even before I was UPC president. I certainly threw myself fully into IPC after becoming the UPC president. On one occasion Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, in a row we were having IPC summits and I sat through all those meetings. All this is to say that UPC believed in the project, invested heavily in it and it is a matter of particular disappointment and sadness for UPC that things have come to this. The key question is why was UPC in the IPC project? There was a reason why these parties came together under this umbrella and that central project that brought us together was our common demand to insist, to ensure genuine free and fair elections in Uganda. UPC proceeded to make this very specific in terms of our position. We said this means we need a truly new independent electoral commission. Therefore this means we reject the Museveni /Kiggundu Electoral Commission (EC) because it is so fraudulent, it is a certain integral part of the NRM regime, and it is incapable of delivering a free and fair. This was the common position by the IPC summit. I made the statement on May 17, 2010 when I arrived in the country from my trip abroad. On May 18, 2010, I proposed it to my colleagues in the IPC with hours of discussions at the end of which we unanimously adopted this position and on May 19, 2010 we announced it to the country. On August 6 the IPC summit reaffirmed the position we had taken, which were essentially three key positions: rejection of the Museveni/Kiggundu electoral commission; rejection of the current voters register on which we prepared a dossier at the IPC showing how fraudulent and manipulated it is; and we took a position collectively that the Museveni/Kiggundu EC roadmap inevitably will lead to fraudulent elections. If the EC is not independent, if the voter registry is fraudulent, how then do you build on that to free and fair elections? This was three clear cut positions we took. After a certain period, I began to sense that even though we had taken this position together and unequivocally, something seems to have changed. For example, you can check Kizza Besigye’s statement on May 19, through the week. I think he even said no election if there is no independent Electoral Commission. I think he even spoke about boycott. A few weeks ago, when we were speaking about heading to the IPC national conference, I said to the group, what we have had up until now is a courtship. It has been very well, it has been exciting but we are now proposing a marriage. Before we get into the marriage, it is important that the key things which are important to us get some clarity. The first thing and the most important is our common concept and position on free and fair elections. It was then that my suspicion got confirmed because we went around the table starting with FDC. I asked how far we were prepared to go on the positions we had taken. Besigye was there. FDC said we don’t like the Museveni/Kiggundu commission, we don’t like the voters register, it is completely fraudulent. But if this commission organises the election, and if it is done on the basis of this register, we shall participate. This was a bomb shell. It was a complete reversal, a complete retreat from what we had agreed and reconfirmed.
The other three parties also said the same thing. We realised something fundamental had happened. I told them the position of UPC remains exactly as we had agreed upon together. I said in light of what you have just said, I need to consult with the UPC leadership to see where we go from here. That was one and the most important factor what I called the deal breaker. Because suddenly the project that brought us together disappeared from the table. The glue that held us together melted. The reason for our being together collapsed. The second reason is the issue of truth telling and accountability. In UPC we feel strongly about it. And as I keep telling the nation, our preoccupation with truth telling and accountability is not about retribution and revenge. No. No amount of retribution can compensate for the unbelievable suffering visited on the Ugandan community. Our pre-occupation has to do with the fact that there is no way this country can move into an era of healing and reconciliation without going through truth telling and accountability. This is like a deep wound festering on the side of Uganda`s body politic. For this nation to be whole again, to be reunified, we have to address this truth telling and accountability. We are very concerned that throughout this period, when we have been speaking on this, insisting on it, our partners in IPC have been conspicuously silent. IPC collectively has never pronounced itself on this matter. So I brought this on table that this is very important to us, we want this issue to move to centre stage. It is my insistence on pursuing this issue that led to the response €œwe will crush you€ from [Gen. David] Tinyefuza. Museveni said €œone of these days we will arrest him.€ True, soon a raft of charges came tumbling in; criminal libel, promoting sectarianism, sedition, arrest warrants, all to do with my insistence that we must address truth telling and accountability. Our friends were nowhere to be seen. That is the second thing that brought this divergence in our path.
The last thing is to do with the identity and method of work of the IPC. IPC is not a new political party. IPC is a merger of the constituent parties. From the very beginning it was clear that IPC was an umbrella that brought together independent political parties and that these parties will retain their identity, their ideological re-orientation, their national local structures. But increasingly we got concerned because the manner IPC was being presented, introduced around the country, got very confusing. It was giving the impression that IPC is sort of a new party. They asked, why are you concentrating on building UPC structures, we are now all IPC? Why are you saying you are busy with local elections, grassroots elections of UPC? What we should now do is form an IPC branch for this district or constituency. This was a big concern to us. In relation to the method of work, we started bringing to the attention of our colleagues our concern about issues of transparency. I also had bilateral meetings with Besigye, in which I went chapter and verse with him that these are the things which have been happening, this is endangering our cooperation, this needs to be addressed and very urgently.
For months we have been talking about this we have been very discrete about it. We didn’t go public with it, our partners in the IPC know chapter and verse what these episode are. Anyhow, these are the things which brought us where we are.
The method of work, the lack of transparency, we could live with that. Even the issue of the identity of IPC which was confusing and the constituent parties, we could try to muddle through that mix- confusing IPC activity with the activities of the respective parties. But people were claiming around the country that they were now IPC chosen candidates and we would get calls of our members asking, what is this? Some X is here saying he is now the IPC chosen candidate. We can understand somebody saying I want to be the IPC candidate, but to say I am the one who has been selected was unacceptable. There are all these things going on which we shared with our colleagues. We could muddle through this. We could neglect it, but what we could not live with is that wish washy concept of election for us to say we are prepared to participate in fraudulent elections organised by the Museveni/Kiggundu commission.
What happens now that you have broken away from the pack that is willing to go with the commission you are rejecting?
The importance of this is that now Ugandans have a clear choice. We have reached a point of a fork in the road. There are two clear choices. There is a road that leads to fraudulent elections, and Ugandans have to decide. Do they want to go that road and accept rigged fraudulent elections or have they been lining up to register because their hopes are pinned on genuinely free and fair elections? UPC has made its choice; we stand for genuinely free and fair elections, the position we adopted together in IPC. It is the other members of the IPC who have drifted away from our common position, not UPC. We are going to stand firm and tell Ugandans with a choice. We must make this choice and UPC has made its choice. Secondly, we are saying in UPC that at this point in our history, in the midst of this grave national crisis and struggle to regain our freedom and dignity, what the country needs is a social movement. It’s a method of bringing together diverse political, social, religious, cultural groups focusing on one central objective. In this case the central objective would be bringing about genuine free and fair elections. Below this broad concept UPC has now proposed a specific mode of action. We are talking about a social movement called positive non-violent resistance. It was employed in India by Mahatma Gandhi and led to the collapse of the British Empire in India; Martin Luther King in the USA used the same resistance that ended systematic segregation in the USA. Ignatuius Musazi in 1949 mobilised cotton farmers in Buganda to stop selling their cotton to the British and it worked. In 2008 when Museveni wanted to sell Mabira forest a coalition was formed (Save Mabira Forest). It wasn’t a political party and it successfully saved the forest.
Should the social movement fail, does it mean UPC will not participate in the elections?
The two options we have are not between participating in the election and not participating. The word boycott is not in the UPC vocabulary. The two options we have is between participating in elections which are fraudulent and rigged on one side and participating in elections which are free and affair. We have to be the agents of the change to create a new different reality which will compel free and fair elections. Boycott suggests a passivity meaning Ugandan people will be passive bystanders watching helplessly what Museveni is doing.
It is said you opted out of the IPC because you wanted to be the president of the IPC but you were outwitted and now you are forming your own movement.
Our proposal is for a truly free and fair election. I made this proposal in May 18, 2010. The position we took on the EC was proposed by me in the IPC summit. This was before there was a timeline for the IPC flag bearer. I drafted the entire statement that was read out by Besigye on Aug 6, 2010 as chair of the summit. There was nothing on the horizon about the flag bearer for the IPC. None of what has been happening has anything to do with choosing the standard bearer of the IPC. If what happened was about the standard bearer I would have kept very quiet. We would have quietly gone to Nambole made our selection and proceeeded. In fact I have very good reasons to believe had we stayed in IPC, had I gone to Namboole, I would have been elected standard bearer of the IPC. This has nothing to do with the primary consideration which was for us a matter of principle. There are colleagues in IPC, who told me several times why don’t you stay with us until after Namboole because you are our candidate and not UPC’s.