November 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting: Is Uganda Prepared?
One of the hotels being constructed in preparation for CHOGM

November 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting: Is Uganda Prepared?

What the summitt means to different Ugandans... Who Benefits?

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: May 11, 2006

The clock is ticking and despite the opposition to President Yoweri Museveni's government hosting of the November 2007 Uganda Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the Uganda government says it is on course and has budgeted over 50 million dollars (about shs 90 billion) to make the summit a success.

In collaboration with the private sector, especially investors in the hotel industry, the government is doing all that is possible to ensure that over 4,000 delegates expected at the meeting get "Very Very Important People" (VVIP) accommodation among other things.

Because of CHOGM, government is to put some of its programs on hold to realize enough money to host the meeting. Ministries are already being threatened with budget cuts in favor of hosting the CHOGM, which will be solely financed by the government of Uganda.

While the government has many activities, its revenue collection has reduced. Appearing before Parliament, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ezra Suruma also said that the government is going to lose over shs 20 billion through tax waivers due to CHOGM. These came from cutting taxes on imported materials for hotels under construction. The exemptions, said Dr Suruma, resulted from pressures from the hotels for petroleum problems in Kenya, which have been solved, and from power shortages. He said that the government had no choice.

Because of this heavy investment in the meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister, Sam Kutesa is working around the clock to ensure that all Ugandans rally behind the government as it hosts the meeting that is supposed to boost to the image of the host country. It is hoped that the meeting will result in increased Foreign Direct Investment into the country and open up opportunities in the tourism sector of the economy.

"I appeal to the public to embrace this golden chance. If we lose it, we may not have another opportunity to host CHOGM in the next 108 years. This government will not be in power for 108 years but the country will benefit in the long run," said Kutesa.

Although his party has maintained their opposition to the meeting, Kassiano Wadri, the FDC Deputy Secretary General has supported the Minister on the CHOGM meeting and the coming of the Queen of England, Elizabeth II who will preside over the opening.

"We welcome any activity that brings money to the country and the queen's visit is one of them," says Wadri, who was reportedly on the team that had gone to the United Kingdom to lobby the Queen not to attend the meeting.

But other party members and particularly those close to the party president like Anne Mugisha and Beti Kamya (all Special Envoy in FDC President's office) are still opposed to the plans for what they term as "president Museveni's illegitimate government" to host the summit.

"It would be political negligence for the opposition to sit back as Museveni's illegitimate government basks in the glory of hosting CHOGM without taking action. The opposition will seek interventions to increase pressure on (President Yoweri) Museveni's government to undertake democratic reforms ahead of the summit," says Anne Mugisha.

Mugisha says that if the government fails to implement such reforms, the heads of states and government leaders should consider withdrawing their attendance or significantly lowering their representation so that they do not lend credence to the government.

"If it takes the cancellation of the queen's visit to create awareness of the dictatorship in Uganda, it is a sacrifice worth making, after all, how much did Museveni ask us to sacrifice to get him into power?" says Beti Kamya, another FDC Envoy.

The government is also faced with the challenge of convincing Ugandans that the summit will benefit the country and whether it is a wise decision to spend over shs 90 billion on the meeting and in the manner the government is planning for the meeting.

There has been pressure from parents and the general public on the government to revert its decision to displace Shimon Demonstration School in the heart of Kampala in order to build a hotel in preparation for CHOGM. The government has also been criticized for giving land where the President's office and the national TV, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation are located, to a Sudanese investor to construct a modern multi-million dollar hotel.

Nakasero President's, home of Uganda Television- given to investors to construct a hotel: Click to Enlarge
Nakasero President's, home of Uganda Television- given to investors to construct a hotel: Click to Enlarge.

"We must always evaluate the opportunity cost of foreign investment and in my laywoman's calculation, Ugandans have not received value for the money and we may in fact lose a lot to CHOGM 2007," says Anne Mugisha.

Eron White, a Brit working in Uganda says that the CHOGM is likely to be riddled with corruption. "Anyone who believes that all Ugandans are going to benefit from CHOGM is either dreaming or not updated with the current politics of Uganda."

White says that Ugandans should remember that the billions of Global Fund money only ended up in the pockets of a few individuals. "As long as we still have corrupt people in government, it is only a few Ugandans who are going to benefit. Even if the Queen brings in billions of pounds, a few individuals will only eat it," she says.

President Museveni has however reiterated that he intends to root out corruption in his government, and urged the opposition to join his government in fighting the vice.

There is no doubt that there is massive corruption in Uganda, but the government is working even harder to clean up its tainted image by ensuring that for example the city is clean and the roads are renovated.

Clock Tower round about being reworked in preparation for a Commonwealth summitt hotel: Click to Enlarge
Clock Tower round about being reworked in preparation for a Commonwealth summitt hotel:Click to Enlarge.

It is hoped that such plans will not only benefit the government bureaucrats, the hotel owners and those employed to manage the meeting, but also the people using the roads and facilities that are under improvement.

The government is also having the pressure of handling demonstrations during the Commonwealth meeting. Many groups including people from Bunyoro Kingdom, the FDC and the Democratic Party have all hinted on a demonstration.

The Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Solomon Gafabusa Iguru, on April 22, asked his subjects both in his Kingdom and in the Diaspora to organize a demonstration when Queen Elizabeth visits Uganda.

"This will be a sign of protest to the queen by the Banyoro over the atrocities and genocide the British servants caused to Bunyoro 100 years ago," said Iguru, who has been talking of filing a case against the Queen of England over the atrocities allegedly committed by the British in Bunyoro during the colonial era.

Both the FDC (after failing to stop the meeting) and the Democratic Party say they will organize their supporters to demonstrate to the whole world that things are not well in Uganda.

FDC Spokesperson, Wafula Oguttu told the press that the Queen will jump over dead bodies' on Entebbe road on her way to open the Commonwealth meeting in Kampala.

As things stand now, the government is doing all it can to host the Commonwealth meeting, but a lot of challenges stand in their way. If these challenges are not prepared for with a lot of thinking, Uganda may require prayers during and after the meeting.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: May 11, 2006
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.