8 January 2016

Uganda: All Eight Candidates Set for Presidential Debate

All eight presidential candidates have confirmed that they will face off in a debate scheduled for 15th January at the Kampala Serena hotel.

The debate, organised by the Inter-Religious Council Uganda (IRCU) and The Elders Forum of Uganda (TEFU), will be the first of its kind in the country and is expected to be broadcast live on television.

"We held a meeting with the different candidates' representatives during which we all agreed that all candidates will come in person rather than by surrogate," TEFU chairman James Ogoola told journalists at the IRCU offices in Namirembe yesterday.

Doubts have lingered especially over whether President Museveni would attend such a debate. Speaking in Kabale on Wednesday, Museveni said he would attend the debate. But significantly, NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba added that if Museveni cannot attend, he will be represented. Should this happen, it could affect the debate as other candidates might also send representatives.

The optimistic Justice Ogoola said that the debate will be a good platform for the candidates to address issues such as alleged manifesto copying.

"Each candidate will interrogate the others and they will have to prove their allegations before the people of Uganda. If anyone fails to defend himself satisfactorily, then the people will know he is a [liar]. There will be intellectual clashes, not physical clashes," he said.

According to Joshua Kitakule, the IRCU secretary general, at least 1,000 people, representing the Ugandan citizenry, are expected to attend as part of a live audience.

These will include students, the transport fraternity, election observers, diplomats, people living with disabilities as well as representatives of the different political parties.

The debate is set to be moderated by BBC's Allan Kasujja and KTN's Nancy Kacungira. The pair will be backed by a team of researchers who will ensure that issue-based and probing questions are asked the candidates.

Analysts from academia, professionals and civil society will provide a running commentary and analysis shortly before and after the debate. Sheikh Shaban Mubajje, the Mufti of Uganda, refuted media reports that incumbent president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni had refused to take part in the debate since he will be busy campaigning at the time.

"Museveni is actually the first candidate we told about this debate and he seconded the idea. We had a meeting with representatives of all the candidates, including those of Museveni and they said that all candidates are ready, willing, eager and able to take part in the debate. If any of them doesn't turn up, then it will be the people of Uganda to decide if they can put such a candidate in power," Mubajje said.

This will be followed by a second debate expected to take place later in early February. These debates will enable members of the public, especially the middle class who rarely attend public rallies, to be able to critically assess the different candidates' strengths and weaknesses.

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