By Patrick Kagenda
Opposition Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party president Olara Otunnu on March 04 spoke to The Independent’s Patrick Kagenda about why he was not offering himself for re-election.
You have said you do not plan to seek a second term of office. Does this mean you have resigned from UPC?
I have not resigned the presidency of UPC. I remain the president of the UPC today and tomorrow and the day after. What I did was to give notice that come the moment of renewing the national leadership of the party, I will not be seeking re-election. Those who are interested to succeed me should begin presenting themselves. I want to see a smooth, transparent, and democratic transition.
Why have you opted for only one term and have you discussed with the people who elected you?
Unfortunately it was not practical for me to consult most delegates. I shared my dreams, my plans, with some of the party leaders ahead of the announcement.
There are allegations that you’re not offering yourself for re- election because you have failed.
Many people in Uganda had completely forgotten what UPC was and what UPC stood for. So I have been able to restate, articulate, and position that in the public discourse of our country.
I have tried very much to return UPC to this tradition of a party of ideas. If you look at my manifesto in the last elections – I have a lot of respect for all the other manifestos – but I think mine comes close to presenting a systematic coherent set of ideas and programmes for our country.
I presented a day and night alternative to the Museveni NRM fraud; not just slogans, you know Ugandans are fond of sloganeering, but solid systematic ideas. That is the tradition of UPC.
The party has had a disproportionate possession of leaders and people of ideas all the way from the time of Musaazi, Milton Obote, John Kakonge and all the UPC historical.
We want to talk about ideas and programmes not personalities, slogans, or which group you come from.
During my mandate I think this has been the most tolerant UPC leadership ever with all the shenanigans being conducted by particularly the Akena/ Pulkol group. You have never heard me call a press conference or convene a meeting to denounce, demonise, or excoriate them. This is extraordinary given everything they have been saying.
During my time as leader of UPC nobody has been expelled or suspended or locked out of Uganda House. I have believed that whatever divergences or differences there may be within a political party, they should be addressed and managed politically. They cannot be managed through denunciation, press conferences, least of all courts of law.
What attracted you to Uganda`s politics yet you were more comfortable at the UN?
If Uganda had been in a normal democratic situation with a few problems here and there, I would not have been involved in Uganda politics. The only reason for me to be involved politically in Uganda is because I see our country in a very deep national crisis, and existential crisis. I see that we need to remove the regime in place and that is a political project and there is no avoiding that. Today what we have in Uganda is a state of comprehensive brokenness.
There are allegations that you have moved closer to Museveni and recently during the St. Janani Luwum celebrations at Mucwini you shook hands. What does your friendship with Museveni mean to UPC?
Ha.ha..haaa.., I can only laugh at that. I have been very deeply involved with the Janani Luwum memorial. It’s a burden, a dream I have had for several decades even before I came back to Uganda. I was always deeply pained that this world icon that God raised from our midst should be celebrated all over the world but that in the land of his birth there should be complete utter deadening silence. This was a unifying project that had no political, ethnic or religious parlance. For the first time in recent Uganda history a major national and international project has been organised and delivered by a spectrum of Ugandan leaders across the board. I am happy and proud about that and that is the way to go.
As a result of this Museveni was able to come to Mucwini and as usual he was late in arriving. As he was being led to his tent Cecilia Ogwal who is a very important member and myself got up to welcome him as members of the National Organising Committee. As we were singing `Tukutendereze Yesu’, I said to him; `Tukutendereze Yesu’ – that is what I exactly said to Museveni. It is interesting how some Ugandans are fixated by Museveni and I shaking hands. When I lived abroad Museveni and I met very many times at the UN in New York. At the UN conference in Durban at a lunch given by the UN secretary general for a number of heads of state including Fidel Castro and a number of French speaking heads of state; I was the one who was translating for Museveni from English to French.
Museveni and I have met at very many international fora and shaken hands countless times. So Museveni and I shaking hands is no big deal to me.
Here in Uganda last year, in Gulu when we were celebrating 100 years of Catholicism in Acholi, when we were wishing our neighbour peace, my next neighbour was Museveni. So I walked to him and wished him peace. So our shaking hands in Mucwini is no big deal. Besides shaking hands has nothing to do with whether you agree or disagree with that person.
Now that you are not offering yourself for a second term of office, who in your view could be your successor?
I don’t want at the moment to pre-judge that. What is very important to me is not so much who in particular. What is important to me is that the person who succeeds me should be somebody who genuinely believes in what UPC offers to this country.