Museveni: A Bit Talkative Lately
Museveni is in talking mood: Museveni addresses Acholi leaders.

Museveni: A Bit Talkative Lately

Is he making his critics bite their tongue or is this another clever strategy?

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: July 25, 2006

In what some have called an uncharacteristic move, President Yoweri Museveni has invited leaders of opposition parties that competed with him in the February 2006 elections, for "talks". This has come at a time when government is engaged in peace talks with Lords Resistance Army rebels with whom they have fought for the last 20 years.

The proposed July 28 meeting between Museveni and the political party leaders including the Forum for Democratic Change's (FDC) Col. (rtd) Dr. Kizza Besigye, Uganda People's Congress's Miria Obote, the Democratic Party's Ssebaana Kizito and Abed Bwanika (an independent) is on the lips of most Ugandans today.

It is not only unexpected and unprecedented; the proposed talks are leaving waves of suspicion of what the intention of Museveni or the response of the opposition might be.

Although Museveni will be meeting all the opposition leaders, many people have pin pointed possible talks with Dr. Besigye, Museveni's former personal doctor, bush war comrade and minister as the most significant take on this unusual July meeting.

The two political rivals, who have both said they don't see anything to discuss with each other will ill meet for the first time in more than five years since their acrimonious political fallout in 1999 when Besigye published a scathing article criticizing Museveni of abandoning the NRM's original ideals. But whatever your take is, President Museveni is having his day in the hall of fame as the man in the mood of talking to political foes.

People who have been referring to Museveni as a man who does not consult people with alternative opinions, a man who is militaristic and not interested in dialogue settlements etc are struggling on how to describe the Museveni of the last one or two months.

A man who has fended off pressure from the International Criminal Court which had indicted Joseph Kony and four other LRA rebel leaders, to not only have peace talks with the LRA but granted Kony and all LRA amnesty, despite being opposed to it at first.

After all the swear words and names such as bandits, liars, jiggers, useless people, dreamers, etc which Museveni has used to refer to his political opponents, the President has invited all political opponents for talks with him on Friday July 28.

This change in demeanor for the self-assured and all-controlling Museveni is certainly confusing many people, especially his political opponents. For the last few days since he invited the opposition, many of the opposition leaders have been incoherent in their replies on the matter, with strong indication of not being sure what to say.

But some political analysts had always known that this talk with other opposition leaders was bound to take place. Talk has been doing rounds in Kampala on how the government can agree to talk to and give amnesty to Kony and other LRA rebels who have allegedly committed grievous atrocities on Ugandans and continue to prosecute Dr. Besigye, a man who has not even killed any fly. Dr. Besigye is currently facing treason charges in the High Court, after government failed to prove a rape case they said he had allegedly committed in 1997.

There are those saying that Besigye's prosecution could pose legal problems given that the bulk of the evidence against him in the treason case mainly concerns his alleged links with the LRA. The Government sometime back announced an offer of total amnesty to the five of the LRA's top officials who were indicted by the ICC, in an effort to expedite the ongoing peace talks. If the Government succeeds in signing a peace agreement with the rebels, carrying on with Besigye's case could present a moral dilemma, as it would be seen to be unfair to the popular hoarse voiced colonel.

Therefore, while talking to the LRA could have been a reasonable solution to end the 20-year-old war in northern Uganda, it did place a lot of political pressure on Museveni's government, especially on how to deal with current political opponents.

But not everyone is seeing the proposed talks in that line of a necessary or an unavoidable happening.

Munini Mulera, a prominent political columnist says that President Yoweri Museveni's invitation to the leaders of Ugandan opposition parties to report for "talks" at the palace at 10:00 a.m. on Friday July 28, "is as patronising as it is insulting to his political opponents". He urges the leaders of political parties to ignore the invitation for the "talks" because there is no agreed agenda for the talks.

According to Robert Kabushenga, the Director of the Media Centre, President Museveni's agenda for the meeting is "to take the opportunity of that forum to congratulate the leaders for participating in the [recent] election process; to appreciate his opponents' participation because their participation contributed to the advancement of democracy in Uganda; to share with them his vision for Uganda's transformation; to exchange views on the way forward for Uganda especially now that the country has moved to a multiparty democracy".

"How cynical! The president has unilaterally decided on the date, the time and the agenda of the meeting. All that is expected of the opposition leaders, including FDC President Dr Kizza Besigye, is their obedient fulfillment of the Ssabagabe's command to report to the palace and watch him rub salt-pepper in the wounds he has inflicted on democracy and on the country," Munini said on Monday.

Kabushenga however says people criticizing the President' gesture for talks with the opostion are selfish and are ignorant of the fact that President Yoweri Museveni is the one the majority of Ugandans elected to lead the country. Kabushenga promised early today that he would distribute a comprehensive agenda for the talks from President Musevenin by the end of the day.

Some Political observers insist the Government is keen on reaching out to the opposition to avert any conflicts to derail the anticipated socio-economic benefits of the November 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala, the discovery of oil and the return to peace after a settlement is reached with the LRA.

The President's press secretary, Onapito Ekomoloit, says the President is determined to reach out to all members of the opposition in the interest of national unity and reconciliation. He points at the Government's decision last year to accord a state funeral to former UPC leader Apollo Milton Obote as a demonstration of this commitment.

But some people insist that Museveni is a beneficiary of a stolen election and by meeting him as president; leaders of the opposition will be legitimizing Meseveni's leadership.

"The president's real agenda in inviting Dr Besigye and other opposition leaders for "talks" is to continue with his conjuror's tricks that he unfurls before the international donors whenever he is in trouble or whenever he is seeking a favour from them. The "talks" are about ensuring that the Commonwealth summit takes place in Kampala, not about enhancing democratisation in Uganda. The "talks" are about photo-opportunities and public relations, not about a serious commitment to resolving the deepening crisis in the country. The "talks" are about hoodwinking and appeasing the international donor community, not about serving the interests of Ugandan citizens."

"Museveni is a very clever man. He is a master survivor, once again seeking to use the classic guerrilla tactic of buying time and lulling "the enemy" into letting down their guard. If Besigye, the man who should be president, shows up for these precipitate "talks" whose agenda has been set by Museveni to consolidate the illusion that there is democracy in Uganda, he will have handed the president a blank cheque with a priceless propaganda value," insists Munini.

Many members of the FDC are unclear about whether it is okay to talk to the President though they emphasize meaningful talks with Museveni are a welcome idea.

"We don't want him to call us for a photo opportunity and then use that to convince the donors that he is reconciling with the opposition," FDC Secretary General Alice Alaso said in an interview.

"If the meeting is about the issues affecting the nation, it will be a good opportunity for the opposition to contribute to the discussion and suggest key reforms, which would be very good for our democracy," says Aswa Country MP Reagan Okumu, who is the opposition's minister for foreign relations.

There are those who see the President's invitation for talks as a ploy to weaken the opposition parties, or even to cause defection. It has been reported that some supporters of FDC have urged their leader not to attend the "talks" with Museveni.

Their worry mainly comes of what may happen as recent developments show that Museveni can win over even his most swearing enemy.

Former First Deputy Prime Minister Eriya Kategaya, who broke ranks with Museveni over the lifting of term limits and has until recently been an FDC envoy, is back in good terms with Museveni who appointed him as 3rd Deputy Primate Minister and Minister of East Africa Affairs. Similarly Omara Atubo, a Uganda People's Congress member (but an independent MP for Otuke County) is now serving as a minister of Lands and Housing. The same is the case of former UPC stalwart, Stephen Malinga who is now the Minister of Health. These are pointers to what is likely to underline Museveni's reign in the next five years.

Dr. James Nsaba Buturo, the Minister of Ethics and Integrity however says that the opposition leaders like Dr. Besigye should ignore such worries and agitations and meet the President, who has shown a good gesture in agreeing to meet his opponents.

It remains to be seen whether the proposed talks will take place at the date and time proposed, and especially what will be discussed. Because all parties know they could face a strong turning point depending on the nature of talks and what is discussed.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: July 25, 2006
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Gerald Rulekere is a Journalist and member of Ultimate Media Consult. He has written and published extensively on business and gender issues and been writing for Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd for the last two years. A professional and graduate journalist, Rulekere is always looking for an opportunity to better his writing especially for international media.