Thursday, August 20, 2009



BY Geoffrey Obiny
Daily Monitor
Kampala, Uganda

I have earnestly followed the rumbling debate since word came through that Ambassador Olara Otunnu was interested in contesting the UPC leadership come next Delegates Conference.

First, as a disinterested party supporter, and lately as a keen and interested activist, I have come to think Otunnu will be more of a liability to UPC. This has nothing to do with some biases which have driven a deep wedge between ‘enemies’ and ‘bootlickers’ of Otunnu, but my focus more on the future of Uganda Peoples Congress. I have nothing directly against Otunnu.

I am one of the most impressed about Otunnu’s pedigree and flashy CV, international exposure and world connections that can be compared to none in UPC, and even nationally. He is an accomplished diplomat and planner, very succinct and shrewd with his political and diplomatic dealings. I have read a line or two from him about ongoing debates about his candidature for UPC, and I am overly impressed. His participation in the next presidential elections would surely make it look like nothing we have seen before.

This fact is shaking the NRMO to the bones, and prompting them to issue un-coordinated short messages about his welcome and the list of questions in waiting. This is because Otunnu’s participation would bring back to the party fold, not only the regional Acholi block that has drifted to FDC over time, but also those who fell out with late President Milton Obote.

I am certain that Cecilia Ogwal, Omara Atubo, Stephen Malinga, and Aggrey Awori would all begin to have second thoughts. This would most likely boost UPC to Official Opposition, at the very least. This scenario would shock those who have been preaching, ‘UPC is dead’ messages, and bring President Museveni face to face with the ‘enemy’ and possible political successor political party that he started fighting way back in 1979.

However, I still remain a doubting Tom about Otunnu, and this is why. The rank and file across the country still harbour misgivings about his role in the 1985 military junta administration. By hurrying to participate with his elderly uncles, Tito and Bazilio Okello, Otunnu did grave damage to his political career, and this will haunt him for a long time. This may be why he desperately needs to step on the stage now. When the junta was over-run by Museveni, Otunnu stayed aloof from the party programmes, and was detached from the UPC foreign bureaux. Truth be told, the rank and file both internally and externally doubt Otunnu’s commitment to UPC.

Matters have not been helped by recent reports that he is ‘talking’ with FDC President Dr Kizza Besigye, about a common electoral platform - an issue flatly rejected by the UPC National Conference just last April. As party president, will he be willing to over-turn a resolution by the party’s parliament? Furthermore, the murky revelation that he has proposed to change the name of UPC to Congress of the People (COP) is equally troubling. As this debate continues, Otunnu and George Okurapa keep denying, yet Yoga Adhola insists he has proof of that suggestion, a general feeling of unease and doubt about Otunnu as president is deeply cast. When all this is added to the 1985 mis-step, it sets Otunnu on a slippery slope.

The second area of concern is the regional balance which UPC is traditionally known for. The Presidency has been late Dr A.M Obote (Lango-Northern), Miria Obote (wife of Lango-Northern). And, now we go Otunnu (Acholi–Northern). This move from North to North is making me very uncomfortable.

The other regions have waited long enough to part-take in the things of the UPC Presidency. When UPC was created, it was very clear this was for all Ugandans. The practice, however, if we go north again will be that it is for the northerners, a situation I loathe to see happen. Otunnu here is a victim of circumstance, just like Jimmy Akena would have been if he continued to insist on trying.

The possible scenario here would be for the other regions to rally and throw out the north from the corridors of UPC. I appeal to UPC zealots from northern Uganda to play their card most carefully. Any ungainly and not-carefully thought-through alliances may turn sour on us.

I think Otunnu and his handlers can save party supporters from Northern Uganda from this.
The risk factors associated with an Otunnu UPC presidency are just too high. Otunnu, as a person, has a running political fight with Museveni and NRMO.

Some of their disagreements stem from the 1985 Nairobi talks.
He is alleged to have ‘committed’ some offences and to have some links with the LRA rebels whose leadership is being sought by the ICC. Already a minister has indicated Otunnu has cases to answer.

Otunnu may be looking at UPC as a cushion against such threats, but Museveni is not known to handle political opponents with kid’s gloves. He can only relent when he notices that the opponent is no longer a threat. Tito joked, when he travelled from Nairobi talks of 1985 that he had ‘de-toothed the deadly snake’, meaning he had neutralised Museveni. Paradoxically, Museveni now apparently uses the same strategy -- only when he is sure his enemy is ‘de-toothed’ will he relax.

Now, supposing Otunnu makes it to the UPC presidency with all this baggage, it will be a perfect opportunity for Museveni to embroil him in unending criminal court processes on whatever concocted charges, some may be jointly with Kony at the ICC. Indirectly, Museveni will have another opportunity to go after UPC which has so far been very elusive and obstinate.

By then it would be too late for UPC to do what they did in Oyam South -choosing another candidate in crisis - and the Party will be reduced to running from court room to court room in defence of its president, instead of combing the countryside convincing youth to vote for UPC.

Otunnu’s best approach would be to return and offer unreserved apologies for whatever damage his role in 1985 may have caused to UPC, proceed to Mucwini and use the Kitgum base to mobilise for the party the entire Acholi region, occasionally appearing in other regions at UPC rallies, contest for Chua County constituency in 2011, and use the five years in Parliament as a ‘rehabilitation’ phase before launching his bid five years after.

By then a lot of water would have passed under the bridge and he would have studied the political surrounding long enough to, not only contest for UPC presidency, but to take a good shot at the Ugandan presidency.

I hope those at the party conference later this year use reason rather than passion to take final decision.
Sheila Naturinda

At Uganda House’s Sixth Floor, which houses the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) head office in the centre of Kampala, excitement is high.
Part of the team organising the return of former UN under secretary for children’s affairs, Dr Olara Otunnu, has been operating from outside, partly because they can’t work very well with the party establishment.

But the general mood is upbeat. Some of Dr Otunnu’s likely opponents in the party elections are already crying foul over the disproportionate media attention being paid him.

But both UPC activists and the other opposition parties say that should Dr Otunnu touch down on August 22, then his return in the face of the current excitement over the Bunyoro Question and the reappointed Electoral Commission will effectively change to a higher gear the journey to the next general election.

A peep at Dr Otunnu’s itinerary shows a full throttle launch into national politics which both the UPC and other opposition parties hope to seize.
“For now, we are not thinking of Dr Otunnu’s return as political.

We are viewing it as purely a homecoming. He is not coming to immediately declare his political intentions but if the atmosphere is good, and because we have asked him to, then he will definitely be part of the 2011 general elections,”

Mr Benson Obua [Moroto County and chairman of the Otunnu Return Steering Committee, says.
FDC’s vice president, Salamu Musumba, also says Dr Otunnu’s return shouldn’t only be seen as political scheming but a homecoming for a real Ugandan who has been locked out for too long.
Both the UPC and FDC indicate signs of working towards a joint ticket.

But inside the UPC, the race got tighter on Thursday with the arrival of another long time exile, Mr Sam Frederick Luwero, who voluntarily returned from a London exile and declared he would vie for the seat.

Opposition calculations
Political commentators are trying to draw parallels with the October 2005 return of Dr Besigye who had lived in exile for four years from August 2001 following his failed bid earlier that year.

Like Dr Besigye’s return, Otunu’s handlers, mainly in the UPC, have lined up several engagements, some of which will take him to critical areas of the emotions associated with the two decade war in northern Uganda.

It will be some sort of pilgrimage in what Dr Otunnu has described as genocide by Museveni’s government. Some anticipate that and hope that the government will give him similar treatment including harassment it gave to Dr Besigye. They believe this will be key in mobilising and sustaining media attention in favour of Dr Otunnu.

Officially, Dr Otunnu’s handlers insist the return will be a quiete affair. But Like Dr Besigye, Dr Otunnu plans a press briefing on arrival at Entebbe Airport and the committee handling his return is planning a procession to Kampala.

“He will gather a media briefing immediately he sets foot at the airport and all such issues will be asked of him,” Mr Obua says.

It is expected that whatever step Dr Otunnu takes and whatever word he says, will be making news on its own form because he is a force that the opposition political parties have made people believe will shake the ruling NRM.

Mr Obua says Dr Otunnu will have a few days in Uganda - not more than two months - before he goes back to his New York home to “pack and return for good.”

On Sunday 23, Mr Otunnu will visit church before he embarks on countrywide tour. The committee is, however, organising for a public dialogue to be held in Makerere University, where Dr Otunnu is an alumni. He will also visit Kings College Budo, his former secondary school.

And like Dr Besigye, who conducted a countrywide tour when he arrived, visiting many important historical institutions like Bulange in Buganda, Mr Otunnu will also pay homage to many areas especially in his northern region home.

Mr Obua says Dr Otunnu will on his way to the north; go to Akokoro and pay tribute to the Milton Obote (RIP).

“The way Mr Museveni handles Dr Otunnu’s short stay here could land him in trouble because Dr Otunnu is a well recognised person internationally. A keen regime ought to be mindful of that,” Mr Obua says.
“He is just coming at the beginning of a political season and it will no longer be a two-man race come 2011 but a three-man race,” says Ms Musumba.

Mr Obua says Dr Otunnu’s fourth day in Uganda will begin with his roller coaster journey to the Lango region via east. He will later go to Apac, Lira Acholi, via his home Kitgum. Through Masindi, then he will get to the western region and lastly get to central as he prepares to return to New York.

“He will before return visit all political parties, we shall write to all parties including the NRM. He needs to dialogue with all the parties,” Mr Obua says.

Some UPC officials have indicated that Dr Otunnu is widely expected to preach reconciliation, the Uganda we want and share all his international experience. He will also tell Ugandans issues surrounding his citizenship.


Abdul said at 08/10/2009

Pretty insightful piece. If Otunnu has these many shortcomings then can there ever be a realistic alternative? Can we have something about Geofrey the author?

Thompson said at 08/10/2009

I agree very much with your advise to Mr. Otunu. Please keep up the good work.

David said at 08/14/2009

If you cannot forgive Dr. Otunnu after two decades, what makes you think you will after the so called five years representing Mucwini? regards... Olara..Keep up the good work...

Patrick said at 08/15/2009

I do agree with the observations. However, these are points to note, but not to hinder Dr. Otunnu from running UPC and even National presidency. The regional and tribal politics is not new to Ugandans: The NRM and the DP parties have manifested these traits. FDC tried hard to fight it, but they have lost steam, and possibly direction as well.

No politician, or any man at that, is a saint: Museveni has perpetraited more atrocities that Obote, Amin and Otunnu combined, yet he is a sitting president of the country. And no one has displayed more tribalism in government than Museveni, and still, we live with it.

Shania kamia said at 08/19/2009

It's now and today that Uganda might live longer for our children to enjoy. Dr Olala Otunnu is a man who we need to help our country comeback to mordernity, human rights, and children rights and this Dr Otunnu will bring it to this country. the man have learned so much from his former work, and he knows all top dipromats, and our children will surely enjoy all their rights Keep it up Mr Otunnu

karuganda said at 08/19/2009

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