Renew national dialogue effort

©Monitor Publications Ltd.

A couple of years ago or so, different groups led by the Elders Council of Uganda and the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda floated the idea of holding a national dialogue.

They made some progress and involved the government, Opposition players and civil society, among others.

But at a time when it appeared that the talks about talks were set to begin, the exercise went quiet.

The government side had its reasons for not wanting the talks to proceed, chief among them being the argument that the National Resistance Movement had won a five-year mandate and had a right to govern. They added that in any case there would be no time for the dialogue since the 2021 election was fast approaching.

The Opposition side, on the other hand, has always had reservations about proposed talks, saying that they don’t trust President Museveni and his government to take the talks seriously and implement the outcomes.

They have demanded, as a result, that a respected and neutral arbiter has to be in place, with a clear agenda for talks and guarantees that the results of the talks will be represented for them to participate in such talks.

As the opposing political sides remain deadlocked on the need for talks, however, it is apparent that there is an urgent and clear need for Ugandans to talk about the issues that bind them together. If anyone needed any more proof as to the need for such talks, the events of last week removed all doubt.

The National Unity Platform party presidential candidate, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, was arrested over a disagreement on how election campaigns should be conducted.

He favours open rallies because he needs to meet Ugandans, in most places for the very first time. The authorities say gatherings must be restricted because of the threat posed by Covid-19.

The opposing sides failed to hammer out an agreement on how to do campaigns, just like they never get agree on any ground rules about elections, including the appointment and composition of the Electoral Commission itself.

As a result of the fallout, at least 46 Ugandans were killed in violent protests last week, and the standoff continues.

There are genuine fears that such incidents could be repeated in the near future.

The country must seek an alternative way to avert more catastrophe. Having a national dialogue seems to be the only viable option.