Uganda’s biggest Opposition parties, the National Unity Platform (NUP) and the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), have put a caveat for any dialogue with the Museveni administration.The parties say they are outrightly opposed to the dialogue talks being held on terms set by Uganda’s President since 1986. However, the stand has elicited an angry response from Mr Emmanuel Dombo, the director for communication at the secretariat of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.
Mr Dombo accused the two parties of politicking and operating in a way that is aimed at embarrassing Mr Museveni and the NRM. He argued that the duo should borrow a leaf from Ukraine and Russia, which continue to hold talks behind the scenes as artillery pieces continue to fly.“If people who are exchanging bullets are talking, what is difficult for [Mr Patrick] Amuriat or [Mr Robert] Kyagulanyi to look up President Museveni and raise any issues instead of inflaming society in order to turn the issue of a dialogue into a political war?” Mr Dombo wondered.
NUP positionMr David Lewis Rubongoya, NUP’s secretary general, told Monitor that—whereas they are suspicious of the NRM—they just might be able to engage it in a dialogue if government ceases harassment of its supporters. He also said the dialogue “should be among equals”, adding that “you don’t put your boot on my neck and then you say: ‘let us talk.’”
NUP has over the last couple of years accused the government of killing and abducting its supporters. At least 54 people, most of them believed to have been NUP supporters, were killed and others sustained serious injuries as security forces worked to end two days of protests that followed Mr Kyagulanyi’s November 18, 2020, arrest in Luuka District.In March 2021, NUP released a list of 458 missing people believed to be its supporters. The 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which was published by the United States’ State Department’s website, accused security forces of involvement in abductions of Opposition supporters and politically motivated killings.
FDC positionIn early 2017, efforts by the government of Sweden to take President Museveni and former FDC president Col Dr Kizza Besigye to the negotiating table failed. In February 2018, the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS), the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) and the Elders Forum (TEFU) attempted to organise a national dialogue. The parties involved hoped this would be a way through which the citizenry would chart out ways of solving the most contentious, political, social and economic issues of the time, but that initiative also failed.
Whereas the reasons for the failure of the planned talks remain scanty, Mr Dombo, speaking in a previous interview, laid the blame on Dr Besigye, who he accused of setting impossible conditions. Mr Oboi, the FDC president, was, however, quick to blame the poor outcome on the NRMs’ failure to meet “a few very simple conditions.”“For us to dialogue, we needed a clear agenda for the dialogue, a neutral convener. We wanted to know who the participants in the dialogue would be and we needed a guarantor to guarantee the outcome of any dialogue. Those are very simple conditions and fairly standard when it comes to meaningful dialogue, but the NRM did not agree,” Mr Amuriat revealed.
Mr Rubongoya told this publication that NUP “can only have a dialogue if …they … stop abducting our people, release all those who were arrested for supporting us, and release our MPs who have been in prison for over a year now.” It was partly because of the NRM’s failure to fulfill the aforesaid conditions that the leading Opposition party declined to join the Inter Political Organisations Dialogue (Ipod).“We do not want a dialogue that is a way of sanitising a criminal regime,” Mr Rubongoya said.
NRM methods queriedSources within both parties also raised issues with the methods that Mr Museveni and the NRM have been employing while engaging the Opposition. They accuse the NRM of attempting to arm-twist them into a dialogue.In the run-up to last year’s East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) polls, Mr Museveni labelled the two parties “hostile” and encouraged NRM MPs to only vote for candidates aligned to the Uganda Peoples Congress, the Democratic Party (DP) and the Justice Forum (Jeema), which he described as “responsible political parties which are not disruptive.”NUP did not field official candidates in the Eala race, having earlier announced that it was boycotting the poll. FDC fielded its deputy secretary general—Mr Harold Kaija—who was unsuccessful in the poll.
Individual agreementsWhereas there have always been questions about the NRM’s rigidity, Mr Amuriat also questioned why the NRM chooses to negotiate with individuals in the Opposition as opposed to parties as institutions.“What Museveni is interested in is doing what [Mr Norbert] Mao has done to DP. That thing of swallowing political parties using a carrot and stick. Or even just outright favouritism,” he said.Last July, the DP faction led by Mr Norbert Mao signed a cooperation agreement with the NRM. This paved the way for Mr Mao’s appointment to the Cabinet and the election of Mr Gerald Siranda, DP’s secretary general, as one of Uganda’s representatives to Eala.“I think FDC is a deeply rooted political party. That approach can only work for individuals in the party, but not the institution (FDC),” Mr Amuriat said, adding that “individuals can go if they wish to dialogue with Mr Museveni, but we can never ever sell our party to anybody, least of all Mr Museveni.”
Mr Dombo, however, defended Mr Museveni’s preferred method of reaching out to individuals in the Opposition.“NRM is a political party, but it is also the party in government. It has a dual responsibility of creating harmony between it and other parties and ensuring Uganda stabilises for economic development,” Mr Dombo reasoned, adding, “So there may be talks with either individuals or leaders of political parties on the fundamental issues while the general dialogue is being negotiated.”