BY TIMOTHY CHEMONGES
For long I had been a strong supporter for a national dialogue in Uganda as a means through which we can realise peaceful political transition. My optimism was replaced by despondency when a few days ago the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) and The Elders Forum of Uganda (TEFU) selected and chose President Museveni to officially launch the Uganda National Dialogue Process due to take place on November 21, 2018. This begs the question at what point and how do IRCU and TEFU ensure that there is no conflict of interest among the stakeholders?
I strongly agree that National Dialogue ought to aim at consolidating peace, enhancing democracy and promoting inclusive development with an aim of achieving equal opportunity for all. However, am also of the view that there ought to be mutual respect among the stakeholders , equality, political will from all actors and above all a clear and guaranteed criteria of how the outcome of the dialogue will be implemented in order to create a platform for Ugandans, in all their diversity, to agree on a shared transformative and development agenda that accelerates the consolidation of peace and justice, sustainable development and shared prosperity.
In light to the current political context in Uganda, the political landscape overwhelmingly empowers the President who is also the head of state to the extent that any matter discussed, done or implemented requires His “blessings.”
Clearly it’s true that “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” and in fact others have said that quite often, any matter where the head of state has interest it has always been either “his way or the highway” and therefore all efforts ought to be emphasized on addressing the key concerns raised by the stakeholders, ensuring that the stakeholders come to the table on equal status and there is an audience granted equally to all.
A clear example to refer to would be the recent age limit debate which despite the overwhelming rejection of removal of age limit from the Constitution, it still went through, thus a strong indicator in that regard. This is a huge advantage that we must leverage by putting our act together and choosing political actions that will eventually deliver political change in our land. Two key questions I ask though, how do we ensure every stakeholder gets a meaningful say on the matters on the table? And how do we ensure that the outcomes of the dialogue are fully implemented and they serve their aspired purpose?
Experiences from prior negotiations
We’ve had in the past, different forms of engagements and consensus building processes aimed at addressing the persistent national challenges that that characterized our history. Most of these processes were triggered by extraordinary situations including the struggle for independence (the Lancaster Conference), conventional war (Moshi Conference), military coups (Nairobi Peace Process) and the armed rebellions (Northern Uganda peace process) on the most recently contested elections. No matter the imperfections of these processes, they enabled our country to overcome numerous challenges and continue on the painful path towards security and stability.
Key to note on the above dialogues however, the outcomes were sincerely implemented with considerable success. If we are to have a successful national dialogue, we must consider the need to address these discussions in a more sober and neutral manner as opposed to a partisan kind of dialogue among the stakeholders.
To fully realize the benefits of the aforementioned National Dialogue, it’s key to note that the power dynamics in Uganda’s Political landscape has a major effect on the success of these dialogues. Therefore there is a need to address the issue of the head of state and be able to answer the question of how we shall be able to balance the powers the president holds visa vie that of other stakeholders, and the likely impact it has on the results of the dialogue. It is therefore important to understand that the reason for holding the dialogue is not about the political leaders fighting, neither should it be a ceremonial event to go down in history, but rather to see and to agree on a new national consensus to consolidate peace, democracy and inclusive development to achieve equal opportunity for all.