Televised debate sets tone for Thursday polls:
It may have lacked the razzmatazz that accompanies a typical American presidential debate. But if the first ever, incident-free, televised debate between three rival candidates in Uganda is any guide, it could reshape and sanitize the conduct of political election campaigns in the country.
On a chilly Monday afternoon, the three rival FDC candidates alongside droves of their supporters drove to WBS television, perched on Naguru hill. Once in the well-lit auditorium, Geoffrey Ekanya, Nandala Mafabi and Mugisha Muntu exchanged pleasantries. To many before the debate kicked off, the race was between the leader of opposition, Mafabi, a politician who has weathered the fads and whims a high political office and the FDC mobilization chief, Muntu who can melt even the harshest of his critics with his allure.
But by the end of the debate, Tororo county MP, Geoffrey Ekanya, who has been mocked as the bridesmaid in the contest, had injected a fresh breath in the race, which before had been peppered by tribal overtones and nitpicking. Though many agree that coming two to the polls, the debate will barely sway the outcome of the election, it at least changed the narrative of a mundane campaign.
From questions ranging from the economy to foreign policy, donor aid and corruption, the hosts Peter Kibazo and Charles Mwanguhya set the tone of the debate.
"I believe that we need to build strong institutions, it's only a strong FDC behind a flag bearer who would be elected in 2015 that would enable us to capture power in this country...," said Muntu in his opening remarks.
"Therefore, it's critical that from now onwards for the next three years, the party president will have spent 24-seven doing nothing but building the party because the party is simply a vehicle. It's not an end in itself. We will need to hasten the exit," said Muntu amidst applause.
On his part, Mafabi said, "...the systems have broken down, institutions are down, this country needs somebody determined to move the country to the next level by building systems. It is not a matter of words and singing. The party which everybody has hope in, is FDC and it can only take power if it could mobilize from the grassroots," he argued.
However Mafabi, who often exchanged sharp barbs with his closest rival Muntu, tried to draw parallels with his rivals.
"I am the one who has the skill and experience because I have done it," Mafabi, who orchestrated the defeat of the ruling party MPs and councillors in his birthplace of Sironko district, said.
Appearing to take his criticism a notch higher, Mafabi said he has the political gravitas to face a hostile regime unlike his opponent Muntu.
"If there is a bullet here, Gen. Muntu would be the first to disappear because soldiers fear bullets," said Mafabi.
Ekanya's trump card, according to the Tororo county MP, is his youthfulness.
"I have travelled around the world; I know how to run and manage a political country; I am tested; I have won four elections in Tororo county; I have councilors; I have moved in every sub-county in this country; I know what it means," argued Ekanya.
Though they agree ideologically, Muntu and Mafabi sharply clashed on a number of issues. For example, on the question of the UPDF peace-keeping efforts in Somalia, Muntu said, "Uganda has done its duty in Somalia. There needs to be more work to ensure the countries that made pledges move in now. It will be disastrous for Uganda and Burundi to leave without adequate replacement."
In response, Mafabi said: "Parliament never authorized troops to go to Somalia. We don't even know how many soldiers went to Somalia and we don't know how families of soldiers who die in battle would be compensated."
According to some who attended the debate, Muntu sometimes appeared repetitive while Mafabi made a few gaffes like referring to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which indicted Uganda over the DR Congo plunder as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and claiming the military junta of Tito Okello sponsored 6,000 students under the government scheme at Makerere University, a figure which is much higher.