By Julius Odeke
As events to commemorate 50 years of self-rule continue, Uganda People’s Congress President, Olara Otunnu spoke to The Independent’s Julius Odeke.
What is your message to Ugandans about the 50 year celebrations?
It is a very important occasion to me, Ugandans and the party. This is an occasion for us as Ugandans to reflect, assess what we got right and wrong. It’s not an occasion for jubilation. Jubilee is about celebrations over a remarkable achievement, something wonderful that people have to rejoice.
However, when you look at Uganda today, there is barely anything to rejoice about. So many people are asking me why I am not celebrating. What we saw in Kololo Uhuru Grounds on October 9th was a jamboree of NRM and President Museveni and his family. Our state is at the level of ruins, Ugandans are living in humiliating poverty; their condition is far worse than it was 50 years ago.
What do you see as the political destiny of Uganda?
There has to be reconciliation and total political accountability in this country. We cannot achieve any milestone when we do not know who killed the people in Luwero Triangle, the Ombachi Massacre, the Massacre of Muslims in Ankole, and the genocide that was in Acholiland, the inferno that killed pupils in Budo, child sacrifice. We need to rediscover our moral bearing in various ways; politically, socially, and culturally.
Are you seeking a second term as a party president?
The party presidency is elected by the Annual Delegates Conference and it runs for seven years. As Olara Otunnu, I will have to decide, my party has to decide, and then the members too have to decide. At the moment seeking another term in the party’s office is not a big issue in me.
Before you were elected UPC president, it was the second most dominant party, now nobody pays attention to it anymore. Have you killed it?
It is the opposite. When I was elected UPC’s president, I found there were very many factions in the party; there were factions loyal to Cecilia Ogwal, James Rwanyarare, Mzee Obote, and so on. It’s only UPC and the Democratic Party (DP) that have suffered a lot because of the ban imposed to them for about 20 years under Museveni’s single party system. These new parties like Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) have not suffered because its more or else one party with NRM, in other wards FDC is an offshoot and a creation of NRM so you cannot equate it to UPC. It’s only in UPC where Museveni’s biggest fear lies. The UPC that I inherited was weaker and fragmented than it’s now.
Your management of UPC has been criticised. Is it true that you barricade yourself in office in order to avoid seeing anyone?
I must put it categorically that it’s David Pulkol and his henchmen who thought they could come into UPC and disorganise the party. They were removed from the party leadership. Those saying I barricade myself in office in order to avoid seeing people are simply trying to justify and undermine the party and its constitution. When I am in Uganda House, I see everyone who comes to office. Ugandans ought to know is that this is not my first time in leadership, I have been in leadership for a long time and I have experience.
What new things do you have for the party?
I have clear policies on issues affecting the country and they are all in my 2011 manifesto. We are operationalising the manifesto and sensitising the people on the meaning of free and fair elections. We are rejuvenating the party leadership. Two months ago, we brought on board the youth and women’s leagues within the party structures. I have been moving to various districts in West Nile, Acholi and Lango regions, now I am set to go to Western, Central and then Eastern region.
On 18th February 2011, when voters turned up to vote, you, a presidential candidate, never voted. Is it because you knew that you were going to lose?
You may recall that it was my campaign that Ugandans have free and fair elections. So, I did not want to accompany Museveni in a fraudulent election. That is why while in Interparty Coalition (IPC) I was advocating for a clean voters registration, no security forces in the electoral process. Unfortunately, my colleagues in the IPC decided to summersault and participate. That marked the rupture of IPC. I fell back, and DP too did. This was the first tragic error that the opposition parties made; choosing to proceed knowing full well that elections were not going to be free and fair. UPC had a choice of remaining outside or reluctantly going along with elections. However, I am happy that I used it as a platform to raise the issue of truth telling and national cohesion.
Come voting day and it did not take an hour before we got information that there was massive voter bribery, the sham was more horrendous than we had anticipated. Now with all that, I said to myself, `I am not going to vote in order to tell the world that the exercise is utterly a sham?’ That is the reason I did not cast my vote in order to underscore that this exercise was meaningless and fraudulent.
There some many land grabbing issues being raised in Uganda. What is your say on this pertinent issue that is affecting almost all regions?
Oh yes! Everywhere in Uganda, people are crying but nobody seems to be concerned about it. Our land is under a big threat. There is a scheme that is being orchestrated by President Museveni and his family and those around him to confiscate and grab land all over the country. When you go to Palongo, Acholi Pii, Amuru, Lango there is open confrontation by the locals. You see, after the genocide in northern Uganda, all the social amenities such as public health, education, road network, culture and so forth have been deliberately destroyed and now the only asset that people in the northern and the country at large have is land. If Museveni succeeds in grabbing land in Acholi, he will proceed to the rest of the country. But Ugandans should say no to that scheme. Right now, this problem is affecting the people of West Nile, Bunyoro, Buganda, Lango, Teso and Karamoja, but I urge Ugandans to resolve, defend, and protect their land from this clique of persons who want to plunder the entire country.