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Special Report: Room for Optimism Amid Uganda’s Turbulent National Dialogue Process

The hugely anticipated Uganda National Dialogue (UDN) process has hit turbulence after government expressed concerns on its source of funding and main objectives as the country prepares for the next general elections.

The process is expected to see Ugandans develop consensus on pertinent and contentious issues that affect society today with the view of forging a new path that would lead to the country’s sustainable development.

The opposition has since set stringent terms for the dialogue, saying it must include the transition of power from President Museveni.

ChimpReports understands the Deputy Attorney General Hon Mwesigwa Rukutana on November 7 met with the Working Group of Six on UDN, questioning the viability of the entire process pushed by elder citizens, church leaders and activists.

Rukutana asked clarifications on the following: Who are the exact parties to the Dialogue? Who are the financiers of the Dialogue Process? What are the rules of engagement? How will decisions be arrived at and what form will they take?

Who are the participants and why? How will the decisions and deliberations rank with what the other government structures of the state are doing? What will be the time frame, since the electoral process preparations will be commencing next year?

How will the organizers make sure that the process does not interfere with the electoral process?

The briefing session was a follow up of an earlier meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office on 31 July 2018.

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Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda designated Deputy Attorney General, Hon. Mwesigwa Rukutana, to represent him in the Uganda National Dialogue Process.

On September 13, 2018, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda sent official communication to the Attorney General requesting an opportunity to provide a brief on the progress of the process.

The briefing was convened with the help of Ms. Dorothy Kisaka, Governance Advisor to Rugunda.

The briefing was attended by Rukutana, Kisaka; and Julius Mucunguzi, Communications Advisor (OPM).

The Working Group of Six included Archbishop John Baptist Odama, Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU); Can. Justice James Ogoola, The Elders Forum of Uganda (TEFU); Sheikh Muhammed Ali Waiswa (IRCU); Dr. Dick Odur, National Consultative Forum (NCF); Ms. Rita Aciro-Lakor, Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET); Mr. Crispin Kaheru- Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU); Mr. Joshua Kitakule (IRCU); Ms. Nalubwama Julie (IRCU); and Ms. Jenipher Iraguha (IRCU).

This website understands the government is very uncomfortable with the process.

A government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Museveni believes the process is aimed at undermining his government.

“On our part, we see increased public confidence in government as demonstrated by our victory in most MP by-elections and Local Council elections. Our economy is growing and we have developed the capacity to deal with both internal and external threats,” said the official who is not authorised to speak to the media.

“So, when you talk of national dialogue; we don’t get you. Are we South Sudan? Every country has its problems but I don’t think we need these things (dialogue).”

Justice James Ogoola is among the eminent elders spearheading the process

UDN Speaks out

The Secretary General of UDN, Joshua Kitakule told ChimpReports on Saturday that Rukutana’s concerns have been addressed.

He said UDN is both a platform and process.

“As a platform, the UND is organized as an all-inclusive, citizen-owned and citizen-led process. The Working Group of Six are only shepherds of the process. As a process, the UND is a structured mechanism through which citizens reassert citizen agency as embedded in Article 1 of our Constitution. The UND represents our collective commitment to take responsibility for shaping the future of our country,” he says.

Kitakule says the process enables Ugandans to support continuously Government by ensuring the emergence of a national consensus on fundamental and sometimes contentious issues that are important for the governance, development and transformation of the country.

He further states the process is a dialogue, and not a traditional negotiation process and that in negotiation processes, there are “parties” or protagonists who enter into negotiations sometimes with prior positions or pre-conditions.

“The Uganda National Dialogue Process is a process attended by Ugandan citizens representing different stakeholder groups as set out in the National Dialogue Framework Paper. These stakeholder groups are the owners of Uganda.  They hail from political, religious, civic, professional, business, traditional and cultural formations. It is expected that the representatives of these formations will discuss the themes of the dialogue as Ugandans their respective formations notwithstanding,” says Kitakule.

Opposition

On social media, the opposition have raised fears about the composition of the UND working group.

“The Conveners of the so called National Dialogue, I have repeatedly stated, are as Oppressed as the rest of us Ugandans. The Oppressed can never be neutral arbiters between the Oppressor (Museveni) and the Oppressed (Ugandans),” said Ronald Muhinda, an aide of opposition ironman, Dr Kizza Besigye.

“They should stop falling in Museveni’s traps because he is a Chameleon. And by the way, all Museveni asked them to do is to get Besigye on the table. He only needs Besigye on the table. Justice James Ogoola knows that very well.”

Such comments reflect the deep resentment among opposition figures as church leaders and activists push for a process they say will be a step forward in healing the country’s divisions.

The opposition recently said in a joint statement that the ‘agenda’ for the national dialogue; composition of participants; modalities for convening and facilitating the function and source of funding must be clear.

They further said it was necessary to agree beforehand on arrangements for guarantors of the outcome of the national dialogue.

“In view of recent ugly developments in the country, it is absolutely necessary for the government to demonstrate its good faith through immediate and guaranteed end to all acts of political repression, persecution and immunity; these include intimidation, arbitrary arrest and detention and all forms of brutality,” the opposition said in a document.

Prepared from Kampala Protea Hotel, the document was signed by FDC Leader Patrick Amuriat, Kizza Besigye, Norbert Mao (DP), Olara Otunnu, Mugisha Muntu, Dick Odur (PPP) and Joseph Bbosa (UPC).

Such perceptions are at the heart of the national dialogue’s turbulence.

Museveni in September wondered why his government needed to participate in the dialogue yet he had “enough numbers”, having won the presidential and MP elections.

“We don’t need a coalition,” said Museveni, adding, “But we can discuss.”

Finance

Kitakule said financing arrangements for the Uganda National Dialogue Process are designed to ensure the ‘Ugandanness’ of the process.

The funding is expected from the national budget through appropriate parliamentary appropriation and individual citizen contributions.

Kitakule said during the informal consultations, citizens demanded that they should be given opportunity to contribute to the financing of the Dialogue and that appropriate mechanisms are being developed to facilitate such contributions in a manner that is transparent and ensures strict accountability for such contributions.

Other sources of financing include Ugandan business community through corporate contributions and development partners.

It’s understood during the informal consultations, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The Royal Danish Embassy, and Dan Church 5 Aid provided modest support towards research and convening of informal consultations.

Rules of engagement

During a series of preparatory engagements with President Museveni and political leaders who participated in the February 2016 general elections, said Kitakule, there was unanimity that a national dialogue would constitute an important mechanism for addressing a wide range of issues that affect the country.

The preparatory work resulted into the first draft of the National Dialogue Framework Paper which was considered and adopted by the Working Group of Six meeting chaired by Rugunda on 17 January 2017.

Upon the adoption of the draft framework paper, the Working Group commended a phase of informal consultations with citizens, political parties under the framework of NCF and IPOD, and bilateral negotiations between FDC and the NRM.

However, a proposal for a constitutional review commission as communicated by the Right Hon. Prime Minister never materialized.

he next phase of the process is the launch of the formal dialogue process, which is scheduled for 21-22 November 2018 by President Museveni.

Kitakule said dialogue on the respective themes take place in the thematic working groups.

“The work of the thematic working six groups will be informed by outcomes of the citizens’ consultation conversations across the country. The consensus arrived at in thematic working groups will be discussed and adopted by the second National Dialogue Plenary,” said Kitakule.

“It will then be presented for final adoption at the National Conference. – All decisions will be arrived by way of consensus. Where stakeholders fail to agree on particular matters, those issues will be adopted by the National Conference as matters to be taken forward in the subsequent meetings of National Dialogue Process,” he emphasised.

But how will the decisions and deliberations rank with what the other government structures of the state are doing?

Kitakule said the Dialogue is a platform that provides opportunities for citizens to reach a consensus on a wide range of issues that affect the development and governance of the country.

“Through the Dialogue, citizens are mobilized to support Government to pursue a shared transformative agenda. Citizens hold themselves, government, religious leaders, and all other segments of our society, accountable to ensure that the agreed agenda is accurately implemented. Therefore, we envisage that the decisions adopted are only complementary; hence, they may not be subjected to ranking,” he observed.

Elections

Regarding possible interference in the upcoming general elections, Kitakule said it is envisaged the formal phase of the Uganda National Dialogue Process will be capped with National Conference by October 2019.

“In our considered opinion, we cannot envisage how a National Dialogue Process would interfere with the elections, which is a time-bound event. Therefore, we envisage that the two processes can proceed together since they address different goals and objectives,” said Kitakule.

The opposition’s leverage in the talks remains unclear considering the NRM dominates parliament and recently swept the Local Council elections.

Museveni interest

Unlike in the past when armed movements ably negotiated for positions in government as a condition to lay down weapons, this time round UPDF is in control of the country’s security.

With foreign direct investments growing and donors pouring more funds in the economy, Museveni’s appetite for dialogue with opposition must be at its lowest.

Instead, Museveni is likely to appoint opposition members such as Beatrice Anywar among others in Cabinet to weaken his rivals and undermine the proposed ‘national dialogue’ which some believe is aimed at securing a power sharing agreement.

But the opposition, according to their document, believe the country is “in the grip of a grave national crisis” and that the “situation has become highly toxic and explosive” hence the need for a “serious, genuine and well-prepared national dialogue to address the crisis.”

Opposition protests that spread to cities across the world following the Arua Municipality by-elections shook the country’s leadership and underscores the divisions in our society today.

Researcher and political commentator, Morrison Rwakakamba said “Every formation is trying to take advantage of the dialogue process” including Museveni.

He said the likes of Rukutana are “naïve” as the dialogue “is about Uganda and not about government… government can’t stop people from talking.”

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