President Museveni’s call for political dialogue with the opposition party’ leaders which hit the headlines of most local Ugandan media outlets this week reminded me of Winston Churchill’s famous quote: "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities." Putting this in perspective, Ugandans too can always be counted on to do the right thing after they have exhausted all other possibilities.
When the opposition decided to go to the 2011 polls, the initial mood was greeted with the feeling that all opposition political parties were going to field a single candidate under the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC). Essentially, this would have been one of the wittiest ways that the opposition would have strengthened its competitive position for the 2011 elections. As seen in some countries such as Kenya, a broad spectrum of opposition groups have adopted the initiative of coalitions by forming a common front with a unified programme to successfully run as one bloc for presidential and legislative elections.
Months before the just concluded general elections, Uganda witnessed some of the political parties under the IPC excusing themselves from the Cooperation for reasons of course best known to each of them. Partly because of this disintegration, we had seven opposition presidential candidates competing against NRM’s incumbent presidential candidate – Yoweri Museveni. Notwithstanding the sort of election that we could have gone through, the conditions prevailing on the opposition divide definitely split the opposition vote and thus could partly account for the result from that election. Very interestingly, a few days after the election result was declared in favour of the NRM presidential candidate, the opposition leaders re-ignited their cooperation as they rejected the results as fraudulent – a position they all unanimously agreed upon.
When the heated debate on the high fuel and food prices begun a few weeks ago, the government appeared hell-bent on a ‘no intervention’ sort of strategy to salvage the situation. Even when the Activists for Change launched the mighty walk-to-work campaign to demonstrate against the unmanageable cost of living, the government seemed not to heed the call. Actually one would imagine that the immediate step that government should have taken to quell the walk-to-work demos would have been to seek for dialogue with the leadership of the demonstrators. The leaders of the walk-to-work were instead greeted with an unexpected reception of teargas and arrests.
Despite renewed calls by civil society for dialogue between government and the demonstrators on these critical economic issues, government’s responses only served to reinforce earlier positions of how the hard economic conditions were a function of external factors and therefore government could NOT offer a substantial ‘solution’ to the problem at hand. Such un-empathetic feedback from the government drew a lot of discontent from the demonstrators who have stepped up the demonstrations to a nationwide scale in the last two or so weeks.
The headline carried by this week’s Sunday Vision brought a sigh of relief to many – the President calling upon the opposition to dialogue on the issues at hand. Of course one would imagine that this should have been government’s immediate reaction when the opposition raised critical concerns on the state of affairs in the country. Had this been government’s initial retort even before the demonstrations, we wouldn’t have lost lives, property, resources and some of the demonstrators wouldn’t be held in prisons as is the case.
Anyhow, the news on resort to dialogue is invigorating and dialogue should have been the first step strategy to avert the state of affairs. Nevertheless as earlier on observed, Ugandans will always do the right thing after they have exhausted all other possibilities!