KAMPALA. Opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye yesterday poked fun at the battle for East African Parliament as a “diversionary ” tactic of the ruling NRM party. He also dismissed the contest for East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) as a gimmick to divert public attention from pressing national issues in the country.
Speaking at his Katonga Road offices in Kampala, the former four-time presidential candidate, who was flanked by officials, including the people he calls ‘ministers of the peoples’ government’, said there were serious political, economic and social issues that should be occupying the minds of Ugandans but were being swept under the carpet.
“I want to express our concern on how our country is being treated to diversionary and minor issues that engage the political discourse in the country at the expense of very grave and important matters that are not being attended to and this is very clear, the strategy of the NRM regime. It is to divert the country from the most pressing issues,” he said.
Dr Besigye cited the debate on selecting Uganda’s representatives to the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) which has dominated headlines this week as one of such “diversionary” tactics.
“You hear people saying Eala, Eala. What is Eala?” Dr Besigye asked. “The whole country is now Eala, there is a war in State House….” Dr Besigye said, shaking his head and laughing.
On Tuesday night, the NRM party parliamentary caucus meeting that had been convened by President Museveni to choose the party flag-bearers for Eala descended into war of words and threats of fist fights as the members disputed the voting format and tallying of the votes cast.
Dr Besigye appealed to the media not to be drawn into such diversionary strategy. The former FDC party presidential candidate particularly accused President Museveni of engaging in “obscurantism”— the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or full details of something from becoming known.
“The moment you hear Mr Museveni criticise anything, know that it is what he is doing. You may have heard him criticising corruption in the elections saying ‘how can you pay people?’; just know that is what he is exactly doing,” Dr Besigye said.
On Wednesday, President Museveni warned against the monetisation of the electoral process, especially through bribery. The incumbent was addressing the NRM party parliamentary caucus at State House Entebbe, which had met to elect Eala representatives from the NRM party.
The aim of masking the critical issues affecting the country, Dr Besigye said, is to divert people’s minds from paying attention to such issues and to cause confusion among those who stick to the issues.
“The intention is also to blackmail some of us. I am sure you have been seeing a very focused attack on my person from very many directions that are clearly choreographed to try and isolate our leadership, divide us and weaken the national agenda of recovering our country,” he added.
Dr Besigye said such campaigns had been, to some extent, successful because whatever is thrown about, the media picks up and runs with it.
“The Fourth Estate owes the country a duty to maintain a sharp focus on the issues in the country and ignore those that are thrown about for the purposes of obscuring the critical issues,” he said.
Some of the “diversionary” things he cited include a story run by NTV on Wednesday night which indicated that there were plans to amend the FDC constitution to allow former leaders such as him to run for party offices. Dr Besigye said the country’s focus should be on such issues as the legitimacy of the ruling government, the collapsing economy (closure of banks such as Crane Bank, businesses stuck without credit facilities, unmet recurrent expenditure, enforced cutbacks on budget), “oil giveaway on contracts that are scandalously inflated” and the “collapse of the health and education sectors”.
The other issue he cited included “unprecedented massacre in Kasese”, which he said President Museveni’s government was “doing everything to sweep under the carpet” by “negotiating and intimidating the people of Kasese.”
“This is not a Kasese matter; it is not even a Ugandan matter. This is an international matter of great significance,” Dr Besigye said.
Dr Besigye added that debate in the country must also be focused on regional security issues such as an influx of refugees from neighbouring countries such as Burundi, South Sudan, and the DR Congo.
Besigye’s views on other matters
On government’s announced plans to set up a Constitutional Review Commission, which both Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and Justice minister Kahinda Otafiire, have confirmed on separate occasions.
“I think it is grossly ill-advised to do so amid the kind of legitimacy issues I have been talking about. The constitution is our basic law; it must enjoy the full support and buy-in by the population. Amending the Constitution must be treated with utmost seriousness. It is the supreme law, it embodies our spirit. To set up such a commission requires a consensus that Mr Otaffire cannot achieve by just saying I am going to set up a commission. There is an urgent need of reassessing the whole political question in the country and how it is managed.
On President Museveni declaring that he is not a servant of Ugandans
“You cannot be a freedom fighter in government. Freedom fighters fight to get into government. Once they get in government, they become servants by necessity. Clearly, what we have is someone who was not a freedom fighter in the first place and, therefore, cannot be a servant. Servant leadership is a philosophy and it is a set of practices where you must put the needs of others first and that is what a freedom fighter must become – a servant.”
New campaign on land
Dr Besigye yesterday, announced a new campaign by the ‘peoples’ government’ to raise awareness on land issues across the country.
President Museveni recently appointed Court of Appeal judge Catherine Bamugemereire to lead a commission of inquiry into land matters in the country. The commission appointed last year, is yet to start work. Dr Besigye says it cannot deliver much given the appointing authority and the predatory nature of the regime. He said both the government and people working in it had fraudulently acquired land leaving many Ugandans totally landless in “jobless” Kampala.
He cited examples of Butabika Hospital land, Shimoni school land and the Prisons land but said the worst forms of land grabbing were in the countryside mainly in Karamoja, Bunyoro, Acholi, parts of Buganda and Busoga.
“We are going to launch a national campaign to educate our people not only to understand the law and their rights but to defend them.”
The former presidential candidate said a programme for the campaign was in the final stages and would be issued soon.
Six points on land
Reject outright any attempt at amending Article 26 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to property and provides that no person shall be deprived of their property without prompt and adequate compensation.
A moratorium on large scale land acquisition.
Legal analysis of laws relating to land to establish clear proposals on how to stem corruption in the land sector.
A formal inquiry into large scale land grabs that have already taken place
A screening process of investors seeking to access land bearing in mind the UN guidelines on land.
Raising land law and rights awareness so that people are knowledgeable when making transactions.