14 February 2016

Uganda: Veteran Leader Museveni Takes Part in Live Election Debate

Photo: Dominic Bukenya/Monitor
Presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi, right, chats with Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, second from left, after the second round of the debate between the eight presidential candidates.

Uganda's incumbent president Yoweri Museveni took part in a live televised election debate on Saturday evening, after shunning the first debate between presidential candidates. The debate focused on foreign affairs and covered issues such as security, regional integration, trade and international justice.

"Deploying must be to support a political process," said Kizza Besigye, the leading opposition candidate, referring to Uganda's military intervention in Somalia and South Sudan. As a matter of principle, it is not a bad thing to send troops to deal with regional problems, he said.

But the Forum for Democratic Change party leader said Uganda had "not been prudent in the deployment" of its troops and questioned the legality of previous military intervention such as in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Besigye was critical of Museveni's decision to send Ugandan soldiers to the DRC in 1998, highlighting the International Court of Justice's ruling on reparations owed by Uganda. Museveni countered that Uganda intervened in the DRC to defend itself.

Radio report

Museveni said he was in favour of Uganda withdrawing from the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court (ICC), in another question from moderators on international law.

"We are against impunity, that's why we supported this ICC," said Museveni. "But it is not serious, it is partisan, it is biased," he added, saying that he was in favour of setting up an African court because the ICC focused too heavily on African cases.

Future oil production featured on the agenda with the long-time opposition figure Besigye calling the country's petroleum resources a "curse in the hands of a corrupt regime". The incumbent, who has been in power since 1986, replied saying oil revenue would be used for investment and infrastructure.

Former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, who controversially split from the ruling National Resistance Movement party, likened his candidacy to recently elected Tanzanian President John Magafuli.

Magafuli has been credited with taking several initiatives since the start of his presidency and Mbabazi made comparisons with his own political life, saying it was time for change in Uganda as had taken place in Tanzania.

The debate, which continued until midnight, remained orderly with three moderators keeping the eight candidates to allotted times for responses. Museveni did not show up for the first live televised debate and several times during Saturday's event he was critical of not having enough time to expand on his ideas.

Many comments invariably returned to domestic affairs and the atmosphere surrounding the 2016 vote.

"The signs are not good with all these Crime Preventers being armed and uniformed," Besigye said, discussing the controversial volunteer community policing programme which is largely seen as the enforcer of the ruling NRM party. Rights groups say the Crime Preventers are not accountable and have carried out brutal attacks.

Museveni did not respond directly to criticism of the Crime Preventers, but insisted that Thursday's polls would pass peacefully. "Nobody can disturb our peace," said the veteran leader. "We cannot allow anybody to disrupt, to threaten our people."

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