The Independent Team
Forum for Democratic Change mobiliser Anne Mugisha who recently returned from exile in the United States talked to The Independent’s Bob Roberts Katende about her plans in the forthcoming general elect ions. Below are excerpts.
What incident triggered your fleeing from the country and how did you leave?
It was not a single incident but a series of incidents that led to my fleeing. All incidents included intimidation and threats of some kind like phone calls from angry strangers that threatened me with arrest or some undefined danger to my person. Information from people I knew and from complete strangers that I was being watched and followed and at an opportune time I would be arrested. All because I participated in a hotly contested presidential election in 2001.
You have been away for 9 years. How has the situation changed since you left?
That is a contradiction. In some ways the situation has changed in that opposition activists have increased and they are bolder. But at the same time I still witness the violence that was threatened and implemented in the 2001 campaigns still present.
You have said the reason for your return is to mobilise women to engage in politics. But in the midst of mounting police brutality against the opposition, how do you intend to achieve your objectives?
In spite of increasing intimidation from Police, Kiboko Squad and even official statements from the army commander I believe there is still space to mobilise for change and we shall use whatever space is available. My party president was recently physically assaulted by Kiboko squad and I saw the women activists who were recently brutalised by the police. Yet these victims of brutality are ready to participate in another demonstration to demand the resignation of Badru Kiggundu and a revamped Electoral Commission in spite of the pain that was physically inflicted on them by the state. That is quite surprising and empowering. So one would think that I would hesitate to return and work in such circumstances. But the work that needs to be done for change right now is at the grassroots and I am here to add my voice and effort.
Away from police intolerance, women are perceived to be a NRM constituency because of the many things it claims to have done for them. What strategies do you intend to employ to break into this solid support?
Women are as affected by NRM’s failed policies and misrule as men. Because they have as much sense as men and are capable of making independent decisions like men they are a constituency that is open to change. It is wrong to suggest that women follow a certain leader or political party blindly. Our role as activists is to equip them with information to enable them make informed decisions. Without going into the details of strategy I can say that we have to go to the women. They will not come to our traditional meetings and rallies. We have to find the women where they are and take our message to them.
During your stay in the US what do you regard as your greatest achievements for the opposition?
When I arrived in Washington D.C in 2002, it was difficult to even get one US diplomat to think of Uganda as an undemocratic chiefdom €” which it has become. It took meetings, petitions, demonstrations, seminars, speeches in different forums to start moving the information pendulum. The government has an overpaid and sometimes effective PR system made up of professionals in the UK and the US. It took very determined individuals in UK, US and Europe to get policy makers to pay closer attention to Uganda. When Johnnie Carson was not at the State Department he participated in a debate with Ruhakana Rugunda at a Washington think-tank giving a scathing account of the deteriorating democratic credentials of Uganda. We cannot measure our success by the amount of funds that still flow to the government because those funds are not for the NRM but all Ugandans even if they are sometimes misused by those in authority.
What made you leave the World Bank job for political activism in the US?
I was self employed at the time I joined political activism and I have never worked for the World Bank. I joined political activism because my conscience demanded that I become a part of the solution to the political problems facing Uganda. I have no regrets.
Do you intend to take part in the coming elections by standing for any post?
I am still consulting with party leaders but ideally I would rather play a supporting role for IPC candidates.
You have been away for a long time. How will you overcome challenges of being out of touch with the electorate?
I may have been away for a long time but I was never out of touch with the electorate. My physical absence was a disadvantage but I continued to use available communication technologies and my writing through different media to communicate with the electorate.
Do you have any other issues that you may wish to talk about?
Only that it is critical that we (the opposition) waste no time in going to the grassroots with our message of change. There is already some commendable activity like the rallies by political leaders and the Ekiganiiro that I attended yesterday (June 18) in Mbarara. But the people are asking us to go deeper into the villages and take the message of change.