Uganda Elections 2006: Bwanika Shines at Africa's First Presidential Debate
But does he stand a chance?
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First published: February 18, 2005
Opposition political parties in Uganda on Wednesday revealed their strategy on a number of national issues including corruption, the northern Uganda question, the current electric power load shedding, education, health care as well as the economy and Gender issues.
This was during the joint Presidential candidates debate organized by the United States of America based International Republican Institute, a non-partisan, non profit making organization whose aim is to promote democracy around the world.
Independent candidate Dr. Abed Bwanika, Uganda Peoples Congress candidate, Mama Miria Kalule Obote attended in person the first ever-Presidential candidates debate in Africa that was broadcast live on Uganda Broadcasting Corporation Television.
Incumbent and National Resistance Movement candidate President Yoweri Museveni and his main rival, Forum for Democratic Change President, Dr. Kizza Besigye sent representatives. Democratic Party candidate, Sebaana Kizito did not appear because he was campaigning in Adjuman in the northwestern part of the country and had just survived an accident there.
Independent Presidential candidate, Dr. Abed Bwanika warned that should Ugandans vote him on February 23, he will not only arrest and imprison the culprits but will also sell off their property to recover money stolen.
He said that the money got from the sale of property belonging to the corrupt officials would go a long way in benefiting the rest of the people, as it will be channeled in people benefiting programs.
Bwanika, a former Makerere University Veterinary Medicine lecturer attacked government officials including former vice president, Specioza Kazibwe over corruption and other Ministers for living a luxurious lifestyle. Bwanika looking angry did not heed to the calls from the moderator not to attack personalities and said that Kazibwe, who is now doing her PhD at Harvard University joined politics with almost nothing but now has a lot of property and money.
Betty Kamya who represented the Forum for Democratic Change presidential candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye said that his party is emphasizing zero tolerance to corruption. Kamya, who is FDC Presidents Special Envoy, said that her party will strengthen institutions like the police and the office of the Inspector General of Government by making them independent with no state interference. She says that FDC will ensure that the opposition heads graft-fighting agencies like the Inspectorate of Government because they have more interest in checking all tendencies of corruption. UPCs Miria Obote, a wife to former Uganda President Dr. Milton Obote also said her party will ensure that there is zero tolerance to corruption.
The northern Uganda question:
On the over a decade war in northern Uganda between the rebels Lords Resistance Army and the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces, all opposition candidates blamed the insurgency on the NRM government. Bwanika, UPC and FDC blamed the continued war in northern Uganda to lack of political will to end the conflict.
They concurred that the war in the northern part of the country can only be solved through negotiations. They blamed the ruling government for using both dialogue and war against the rebels.
According to the government, the strategy is effective because gun power forces the rebels into negotiations. The director of the governments media center, Robert Kabushenga, who represented President Museveni, said that the war in northern Uganda was almost over and that people were free to return home.
But Mrs. Obote said that one cannot talk about returning people back to their homes when there is no resettlement plan. Miria Obote said that people cannot return home when there are actually no homes to go to. There are no homes. You can only tell that there used to be a home when you find a mango tree in some sort of compound, she said.
Electricity power load shedding:
The most challenging to all candidates was the short-term measure to the load shedding in the country. Electricity power load shedding currently goes on for 24 hours, something that has affected businesses and increased power expenditures as people go for other power alternatives that are in most cases more expensive.
Kabushenga said that the government has already finalized plans to build a power station at Bujagali falls and another one at Karuma falls. He said that as a short-term measure, government was to produce 100 mega watts using thermo generation. Kabushenga downplayed claims that the decrease in the water levels was as a result of constructing two power stations at Owen falls dam, saying one is just a water channel.
However, Bwanika described Kabushengas claims as lies. Mr. Kabushenga forgets that he is talking to people whose understanding is above average. How can he says that there is only one dam at Owen falls dam, Bwanika asked, prompting the observers to cheer him. Dr. Bwanika said that he will take a bold decision and close one of the dams to ensure that there is reduced loss of water. He said that by doing this, there will be increased water to run the turbines and be able to increase power generation. He also attacked Kabushenga for saying that the current power load shedding is due to increased development brought about by the NRM government. Kabushenga had described the power crisis as not a crisis but a sign of development.
Bwanika wondered how the government could deceive people when the dam, which was meant to produce 360 mega watts, and is now producing about 170 mega watts as a result of the technical error of constructing a new dam. How can a reduction in power generation from 360 to 170 mega watts be a sign of development, he wondered.
FDC representative, Beti Kamya and UPC presidential candidate, Kalule Obote said that the NRM government had 20 years uninterrupted but failed to build even a single dam.
Kamya said that FDCs short-term strategy was to encourage the use of solar panels by subsiding them such that they are affordable to the majority of Ugandans while Obote said she will consult experts on the short-term measure. Both gave the building of new dams as their long-term strategy.
All candidates supported Universal Primary Education, which was introduced by the NRM but added that although it is a good program, it is not well managed.
UPCs Kalule said that the NRM stole their program but failed to implement it. She said that in 1980s, the Uganda Peoples Congress has started preparing the ground for UPE only for them to be overthrown.
UPC started by building Teacher Training Colleges to produce enough teachers for the UPE program. However, the NRM came and closed some when it was also introducing UPE, she said. Kalule promised to build more Primary Schools and reduce the student pupil ratio to 1 teacher to about 35 students.
For FDC, the UPE program will be improved by increasing pay for the teachers and fighting corruption in the school construction program and remove ghost UPE pupils from the roll. Kamya said that the figures by government do not rhyme with the total number of pupils finishing primary seven. She says there must be forgery involved.
Independent candidate, Bwanika said that he will improve the nutrition of the pupils by providing meals to pupils at school.
The NRM noted that the problem of the health care system lies in the doctors who steal drugs meant for patients and take them to private clinics. Kabushenga said that the government has therefore banned doctors who operate private clinics from working in government health centers. He said that this will reduce on the number of doctors in these facilities and in the long run will lead to increase in pay for those who remain.
But Kamya said that the reason why the doctors do part time work and steal drugs from hospitals was that they do not get adequate pay. She said that FDC was going to increase the pay for doctors and increase medicine in the hospitals, noting that today, in many government health centers, one is required to buy a razor blade that costs only 50 shillings.
Miria Kalule said that whereas UPC managed to build tens of hospitals in the country, the NRM government has built none. However, Kabushenga interjected, saying the NRM government has been able to build health centers at sub county level.
Bwanika said that his government if elected will transform Uganda into a world food basket. He said that Uganda has a competitive advantage in terms of producing organic agricultural products, adding that the country has the sweetest pineapple in the whole world. Dr. Bwanika said that there is no way a country like South Africa can refuse Uganda from selling its products there when over 40 companies from South Africa are doing business in Uganda. He said that he would make it a condition that in exchange, South Africa and other countries accept Ugandan products if they are to do business in Uganda.
As for FDC, their strategy lies in the taxation system. Kamya said that FDC would reduce taxes in order to encourage more production and consumption of goods produced locally. She said that by encouraging consumption and production, government would have a bigger tax base, which will lead to increased revenue that would be used to fund other government programs.
If we were to go by the articulation of issues, come February 23, many Ugandans who have attended Dr. Bwanika rally, or listened, or attended the debate would vote for the Independent Presidential candidate. We wait for Election Day!
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First published: February 18, 2005
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.
Alfred Odong is a member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd with more than five years experience in broadcast and print media.