The government and the largest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), have reportedly agreed on a foreign mediator and blueprint for expected talks to resolve the country’s intractable political problems.
Both principals – President Yoweri Museveni and former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye – have blessed and bought into the process, our sources revealed.
The historic development is expected to be announced soon by the mediator who was agreed on only last week. The talks are expected to last six months and will involve the government on the one hand, political parties, religious leaders and civil society on the other hand.
The parties have spent the last several months behind the scenes discussing the modalities of the talks in a highly controlled process involving the prime minister’s office on the one side and a technical committee of FDC party on the other hand. All the sticking issues of the agenda, who participates, a neutral venue and an acceptable mediator have been agreed on. The legal framework to ensure implementation is still being thrashed out.
Attempts by different actors to get President Museveni and Dr Besigye, a four-time presidential contestant, to the negotiating table, following some false starts over the years, began soon after the February 2016 elections when several emissaries went to Besigye’s home. He was also visited by a retired judge in his prison cell in Luzira with a message of dialogue.
The three-pronged efforts that have culminated into the latest development involved religious leaders and elders, Women’s Situation Room that monitored last year’s elections and some NRM leaders.
All these efforts have converged and seem close to bearing fruit. Uganda’s new Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Adonia Ayebare, is one of those involved in the shuttle diplomacy.
The other is Ms Yvette Chesson-Wureh, a Liberain national who is leveraging her country’s experience after the fall of dictator Charles Taylor.
Ambassador Ayebare declined to comment when contacted by this newspaper. We were unable to reach Ms Chesson-Wureh.
However, a source close to the presidency said: “The government is committed to dialogue. There are many initiatives going on, if one of them succeeds, the government will go with that.”
A source in FDC who is familiar with the discussion said: “We believe that the solution to Uganda’s problem will be through dialogue where we will discuss the future, including the transition. We don’t believe in the armed struggle and violence. That is why we are engaging in peaceful civil disobedience and dialogue.”
Individuals familiar with the ongoing preparations, technically referred to as “talk about talks”, are cautiously optimistic because the consensus by the President and Dr Besigye on a mediator and, in principle the agenda, is considered an unprecedented progress, which in theory, places them closer to actual dialogue.
At the height of the post-election walk-to-work protests in 2011, the Elders’ Forum and a parallel initiative led by journalists Andrew Mwenda and Conrad Nkutu to get the duo talking flopped.
That year’s excessive election spending, double-digit inflation and opposition-led demonstrations and heavy-handed police crackdown dented foreign investor confidence and Uganda’s image internationally, plunging its economy into a tailspin from which the country is struggling to recover.
The push for clarity on Uganda’s political direction, a campaign involving political parties and civil society actors, has gained urgency due to concerns about transition from President Museveni to the next leader since the incumbent, under the current constitutional arrangement, would, on account of age, be ineligible to seek re-election when his tenure lapses in 2021.
As such, initiators of the revived talks are persuading and hoping that both Mr Museveni and Dr Besigye do not stymie the revived plans but act in the interest of the country.
At the core of the background conversation is how to restore trust among the former allies-turned-political-foes and their respective political vehicles, NRM and FDC, said individuals familiar with the preparations who sought anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Dr Besigye, who claims he won the 2016 election but was cheated of victory, last month told a press conference that he was open to political dialogue but that such talks should be mediated by a respected foreign mediator with capacity to enforce implementation of agreed terms.
The envisaged dialogue, he demanded, should be formal and within a properly structured framework; have a clear agenda; put in place a mechanism to guarantee implementation of outcomes; and, parties be treated as equal.
This newspaper understands that a suitable foreign negotiator, who has the backing of their country, has been selected and the principals tentatively endorsed the broad agenda this month.
The initial arrangements are in a delicate phase and information regarding it is restricted mostly to the principals’ most trusted lieutenants.
In an interview last Thursday before flying out of the country, Dr Besigye, without commenting specifically on whether or not they had agreed on a foreign mediator and agenda, said that “what needs to be done [for the talks] isn’t in place to the best of my knowledge”.
He, however, added: “There are a myriad of people undertaking initiatives about talks and none of them has, to the best of my knowledge, [materialised] yet. At an appropriate time, if there’s anything significant, it will be communicated to you.”
Multiple sources told Daily Monitor that the Opposition leader, to avoid being misunderstood, a few weeks ago briefed selected FDC party leaders and top aides about the new initiative.
One senior member, upon receiving the briefing, is said to have jumped the gun by contacting the mediator, whose identity is being kept secret pending further progress in the arrangements, to convey his gratefulness to them for offering to be guarantors.
If this initiative succeeds and the President and Dr Besigye meet, it will be their first one-on-one meeting since their fall-out 18 years ago, in 1999, when the latter in a dossier warned that the then Movement had veered off course from the original ideas that justified the destructive five-year National Resistance Army (NRA) guerilla war. The duo met only and publicly shook hands at Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo during the Pope’s visit in November 2015 and during the 2016 presidential debate at Kampala Serena Hotel in the run-up to the February 18 elections.
The reported Museveni-Besigye planned talks comes a month after this newspaper broke the news that the President and former premier and presidential candidate, Amama Mbabazi, were in preliminary talks with the latter’s eldest daughter Rachael Ciconco playing go-between.
Leaders of the Women Situation Room, which monitored last year’s presidential and general elections and initiated a parallel dialogue initiative, are expected to meet President Museveni soon.
Ms Chesson-Wureh served as member of the Supreme Court of the United States, member of the association of Liberia Women Advocates and, previously, as a judge in-charge of elections in the State of Maryland in the US. She came to the limelight in 2009 when she founded the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security, together with Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the Finish Head of State TarjaHalonen.