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Interview: Frank Rusa: National Dialogue Not Designed to Cause Power-sharing

Discussions among Uganda’s political leaders on various issues of national interest have kicked off with moderates hailing the process as a step forward in healing old wounds and reuniting the country.

The Inter Party Organization for Dialogue, commonly referred to as IPOD, started with talks held at a resort in the outskirts of Kampala during which President Museveni engaged opposition figures on issues of constitutional reforms among other important issues.

FDC, Uganda’s leading opposition party, chose to snub the function. While democrats have condemned FDC’s action, the hardliners say it was the right thing to do as IPOD would not deliver the change they need.

However, Frank Rusa, The Executive secretary of IPOD and country representative of Netherlands Institute of multiparty democracy, says during the dialogue at the resort, he got the “sense that we could be witnessing a new and interesting chapter in Uganda’s politics.”

He maintains the dialogue is not meant to facilitate power-sharing or regime change but deepening multiparty democracy in the country.

ChimpReports interviewed Rusa this week. Excerpts:

How and who generated the idea of IPOD?

IPOD is an acronym of the Inter Party Organization for Dialogue. It was founded by six Political Parties that were represented in the 9th Parliament of Uganda namely: The Conservative Party (CP). The Democratic Party (DP), the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the Justice Forum (JEEMA), the National Resistance Movement (NRM) and the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC).

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These Political Parties approached the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), a Hague-based NGO that is renowned for facilitating interparty dialogues in many different parts of the world and supporting multiparty democracy to help them set up an inter party dialogue platform to foster a minimum agenda of cooperation on issues of common interest like strengthening the multiparty system.

In 2009 the above listed Political Parties signed a Memorandum of understanding to have the dialogue process. This Memorandum of Understanding was renewed in 2017 with the 4 Political parties that were represented in the 10th Parliament i.e. DP, FDC, NRM and UPC.

 What does IPOD intend to achieve?

Dialogue between Political Parties is important for Democracy. IPOD was set up to create a forum where political parties can iron out their differences in a safe, impartial space instead of fomenting divisions and polarization in their supporters.

It is founded on the philosophy that is possible to have a degree of cooperation even in the midst of stiff multiparty competition. The interparty dialogue process is designed to promote a degree of tolerance among different political actors in the spirit of “putting Uganda First”

Is the situation so serious that it requires Political Parties to talk?

The Dialogue process must be distinguished from peace talks.

It is not designed to cause power-sharing or peace settlements as many may think.

Dialogue platforms are a common feature of healthy multiparty systems to provide spaces for political actors across the Political spectrum to interact from time to time to diffuse unnecessary tensions, working on cross cutting issues of interest and build trust and confidence within the Political class.

What Guarantees does IPOD have that the Political Parties will make good on their promises?

The interparty dialogue process is built around the political good will of its members. It is a voluntary undertaking by Political Party leaders borne out of a sense of Patriotism and the realization of the need of a political consensus on some pertinent issues instead of just relying on winner-take-all politics.

Therefore, there is nothing like an external guarantor or indeed legal sanctions to enforce implementation.

The interparty platform is built around and survives upon the goodwill of members to put national interests above the narrow interests of individual political actors and Political Parties.

What is the source of funding for IPOD?

The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) a Netherlands based international NGO working in over 25 countries around the world has continued to provide a secretariat for IPOD since its inception in 2009.

NIMD gets funds to run the IPOD secretariat from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

Other IPOD activities like the Political Party capacity strengthening project are implemented with the support of other donors like the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF). IPOD does not receive any government funding or contributions from the Political Parties

How different is IPOD from previous political talks?

Most political talks we have had in Uganda are bilateral talks. Talks between two parties i.e. Kony and the Government of Uganda or NRA and the Okello Junta. IPOD is a multilateral platform.

It brings together all Political parties represented in Parliament to develop a joint agenda for engagement. In that way it is more inclusive and representative.

IPOD is an ongoing platform. It exists as a space for regular interactions between Political parties on a wide range of issues. The issues discussed in the IPOD platform are not necessarily about resolving conflicts or sharing power.

They include but are not limited to discussions on improving the multiparty system, protection of human rights, promotion of the rule of law and many other topics.

IPOD seeks to promote a culture of cooperation in the Political Class. To mitigate against the idea of do or die politics that seems to be taking root in our society. It aims at exploring ways in which politics can be more responsive to the needs of the Ugandan society.

What were your observations in terms of attitude of the Politicians during the talks?

I think that there was a very warm atmosphere at the talks especially during the closed summit of the leaders.

All the Leaders present discussed freely and candidly about the different agenda items.

The Chairman of the ruling Party and President showed a great willingness to accommodate the concerns of the Opposition leaders and also called upon them to exercise mature approaches to politics for the sake of the betterment of all the citizens of Uganda.

I got the sense that we could be witnessing a new and interesting chapter in Uganda’s politics. A new chapter of tolerance and a willingness to make concessions by the different political parties for the common good.

What were the decisions of the Party Principals?

They adopted the agenda for dialogue that had been proposed by the IPOD council composed of the Secretaries General of the member Parties which in essence was highlighting the need to reflect on electoral and constitutional reforms to strengthen the multiparty political system, strengthening of  Political Parties through increased public funding and more equitable modalities of appropriating the public funding, exploring ways of having a more inclusive political system that takes special note of women and youth and making concrete proposals to stem impunity by state agencies.

They agreed to meet again for the next summit in May 2019 to take final resolutions on these issues.

What next after the Munyonyo meeting?

A number of issues were referred to the IPOD council for further discussions with a view to evolving recommendations that will be forwarded to the next summit of leaders in May 2019.

So, the IPOD secretariat will arrange for a number of cross party meetings with the technical support to enable the IPOD council reach meaningful positions on the different issues.

It is hoped that by the end of April, the IPOD council will have made a number of clear, tangible recommendations to the next summit of leaders so that they can take final positions on them.

After this process, we believe the next 18 months from June 2019 till December 2020 will be sufficient for the member political parties to work through their respective caucuses to propose necessary Constitutional and legislative amendments or as the case may be for the respective political parties to institute internal reform mechanisms within their political parties to reflect the agreed upon positions at IPOD.

Why should Ugandans support IPOD?

 For a long time, a number of Ugandans have called upon our leaders to put Uganda first and talk to each other respectfully to resolve a number of challenges that continue to affect our country.

An opportunity has now come up with the leaders agreeing to meet and discuss a wide range of issues with a view to adopting reforms that may improve the quality of life of ordinary Ugandans.

I think even though, there are good reasons for some Ugandans to be skeptic about this process in light of the past behavior of politicians, it is important that they give this process a chance because it is being facilitated professionally and manage

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