14 February 2013

Uganda: Lessons From Debate


The Kenyan election due in two weeks' time has a large following in Uganda, and it was, therefore, not surprising that many Ugandans watched the televised presidential debate this week with keen interest.

Indeed many Ugandans were left impressed by the groundbreaking debate that brought all of Kenya's presidential candidates under one roof, one stage, to field questions about their various stands on critical issues and plans for the East African country once elected.

Given the events of 2007, when the last Kenyan election ended in violence that claimed more than one thousand lives and disrupted business in the region, there has been justifiable anxiety over the coming election.

However, the successful presidential debate will have eased some nerves and endeared many Ugandans to the Kenyan electoral process. It's now up to the Kenyans to follow that up with a flawless voting day and aftermath.

Being the first of its kind in East Africa, the presidential debate's organisers and participants deserve our praise. Particularly noteworthy was the civil manner in which the candidates carried themselves. The kind of courtesy and respect exhibited towards one another has a calming political effect on the country, and yet is so often absent in African politics.

In so doing, the debate was able to send a clear message to the Kenyan people, that disagreement on political grounds doesn't have to degenerate into enmity.

For a country keen to put the violence that marred the last election behind it, that message was very important.

In other words, if feuding politicians can share the same platform, debate and shake hands thereafter, why must the voters get divided to the point of killing one other?

In Uganda, those in power don't always regard those in the opposition as legitimate political players who deserve some respect. That is why a debate of the type we watched on our TV screens is quite unlikely because some of our leaders feel superior to others, and thus wouldn't accept to share a stage with them.

But as the Kenyans learnt the hard way five years ago, political arrogance can be very costly. Uganda must avoid it.

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