UG Decides 2016 | Ugandans Watch Their First Televised Presidential Debate As Museveni Campaigns In The West.

Posted January 16, 2016 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in UG Presidential Debate 2016 ~ 4,557 views



By Ronnie Mayanja — The first ever televised Presidential Debate, meant to create a level playing field in this year’s electoral process, was held in Uganda on January 15th at Kampala Serena Hotel’s Victoria Ballroom. Organised by the elders of Uganda, Inter-Religious Council of Uganda and sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) under the theme – “Working Together for Peaceful and Violence- Free 2016 Elections.”  

The debate was a sign of the growing political maturity in the nation even though the President and his minders chose to stay away, yet it was his best moment to defend his policies in-front of his critics and win over undecided voters as opposed to the rhetoric we hear at every press conferences. It was interesting to note that while such a debate was ongoing the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) owned and funded by the Uganda tax payers did not even think it important to carry this historical event that affected all Ugandans perhaps in part because it’s assumed to serve the incumbent and his NRM party. Equally noteworthy was the absence of Independent Electoral Commission that is supposed to oversee this election. This election is and should be a referendum on President Museveni’s performance over the last 30 years.


The evening starting off with a red carpet event before guests were ushered into the main auditorium. The Mcee of the night a one Samson Kasumba did well introducing the former Principle Judge James Ogoole who used Poetry to set the stage for the debate — as a market place of ideas that would impact future political engagements. Although he had assured us the President would come in his earlier Press Conference, he did not express his public disappointment in the President and his campaign team skipping the debate.
In front on an audience of about 1000 delegates that included diplomats and civil society, each candidate made a case for their Presidential bid starting with former Makerere University Vice Chancellor – Vanensius Baryamureba. He reminded his audience of his achievements in Makerere and how he would ride on that success to fix Uganda using technology as computer scientist.  Next was a lawyer, social worker and a former Presidential adviser who noted that though she was a candidate her colleagues on stage were equally capable to lead the nation. She later gaffed calling some of the ladies in senior roles of government as simply dummies and even telling Besigye he was related to the first family mentioning Winnie Byanyima by name. As the only lady candidate and a lawyer her performance left much to be desired as the debate progressed. She too started trending on social media after a number of inconsistencies on stage.
 Next on stage was Forum for Democratic Change President –  Dr. Kiiza Besigye who is making a fourth attempt to unseat the incumbent. It was clear that he was among the crowd favorites based on the applause he got whenever he spoke. His message was for a democratic transition without the forceful transfer of power that we have witnessed in our 54 turbulent history. He also talked about the need for change since the State and government are now fused into one under President Museveni’s leadership. He seemed a little calmer and quite measured in his responses not the usual firebrand politician we have grown accustomed to seeing on the campaign trail.
On his part Mr. Joseph Mabirizi running as an independent reminded us that he was there to ask the rest of the candidates to join his campaign. I was left dump-founded at how he had even been vetted by the Electoral Commission to contest for the highest office in the land when seasoned politicians like Norbert Mao were denied access by this electoral body on mere technicalities. His classic guff was when he told his audience that women needed empowerment from up to down there…. In summary he was the comedian of the night who seemed a little lost in translation most of the time and based on the responses he kept giving moderators. At some point he was the most trending candidate on twitter of-course for obvious reasons.
Next on stage came Rtd. Gen. Benon Biraaro of the Farmers Party of Uganda who reminded us that the country had been built by farmers. He also pushed his Maputo agreement and the need for a unity government as the only way to address the polarized state of affairs in the nation. His ideas on how to boost the Agricultural sectors worn him many admirers and a place among the top 3 winners of the debate.
The Former Prime Minister Hon. Amama Mbabazi another crowd favorite in the room took to the stage with an opening statement that asked the audience and those watching if they wanted more of the same or accelerated progress and not just steady progress. He gave some grim statistics on how 19 women die giving birth in Uganda every day. He also mentioned a man who had cut his wife’s stomach because he did not have the 150,000 shillings needed to pay for the procedure in a healthcare facility resulting in the death of the mother and child. He sounded and looked Presidential, articulate but in some responses he came across as inconsistent regarding teachers, Homosexuality and Safe Houses which was a missed opportunity to win over those still doubtful of his candidacy. However he tackled the Temangalo saga with great detail that should have put the issue to rest.
 Last but certainly not least, the man who carried the debate based on his policy ideas was Dr. Abed Bwanika, another 3 time contender from the Central Region and the only Muganda to stand for the President. Dr. Bwanika standing on the ticket of the People’s Development Party talked about Leadership and Vision as what is needed to put Uganda back on track. He also touched on his Agricultural development policies and how he would reduce the size of cabinet, government and also fight corruption.He addressed the issue of high interest rates in banks and the need for government to have affordable loan schemes for farmers and businesses. He came well armed with stats and reminded his viewers that as an example the allocation of funds in the State House budget was much higher than the allocation to Agriculture.  Based on the feedback we saw on social media he seemed to have carried the debate although to our development partners his views on homosexuality might cost him some donor funding if not erode his entire support.
For starters I felt the moderators did well in selecting BBC’s Alan Kasujja and KTN Nancy Kakungire given their international exposure and experience, however my disappointment was registered when it appeared that rather than moderate the debate there was an attempt to prosecute some candidates and even cut off others before they had fully articulated their cases.  There was little effort devoted to the key policy issues and the salient terms in each manifesto – In this type of setting you needed summarized questions and summarized responses. Both Alan and Nancy exhibited great diction and oratory skills. But in a way candidates were not accorded enough time to articulate their visions especially the front runners in the campaign. The interruptions some sounding more like interrogations, somewhat threw some candidates off balance even as they attempted to make their submissions. There was an element of ‘Gotcha Journalism’ that has somewhat defined western media.
Sectors like Tourism were totally left untouched yet they account for some of the biggest sources revenue for this government.  The unemployment concerns were not adequately addressed by all candidates and Although Dr. Abed Bwanika and Maj. General Biraaro made a case for investing and growing the Agricultural sector. Healthcare too was left hanging even though Besigye touched on the need for preventive healthcare services to reduce the burden on the Abim hospitals and other related healthcare services. We all know the high interest rates in the banking sector and how it is quite difficult for businesses to access credit. We needed more practical questions that would move Uganda away from a consumption based economy that imports more than it exports. I would have loved to hear more on how some candidates hope to revive the cooperative movements that this regime killed off many years ago. Other areas included Police brutality, investment, foreign policy and affordable housing for all among others
Questions like Debt Management were quite broad to be fully comprehended in the time allotted and frankly among the issues we are facing as Dr. Bwanika rightly put it,  this debt or the constant borrowing has been exacerbated by a regime that feels it has a clear majority in Parliament with no fiscal discipline. We needed to debate economic policies and also figure out a way to revive the sectors that were abused and killed off. Dr. Besigye attempted to bring up the failed privatization policies that saw major parastatals killed and sold off for peanuts.
There are number of constitutional electoral concerns that could also have been addressed. Of-course candidates were asked for their views on terms limits but not age limits.  They should have been allowed to expound on their positions. In regards to Education Besigye did put it into perspective that AMUDAT a district in Northern Uganda that had produced only one first grader in the whole country, here UPE should have come into full view as a failed policy. Was this an indication of how bad our education system has degenerated. Of-course some candidates were keen to change the education system to address a more holistic approach in child development.
Another missed opportunity was the build up question on reduced government size addressed to Dr. Bwanika.  The follow up question to other candidates would have been the cost and size of big government and perhaps how Magufuli has done it in Tanzania. On Corruption which has been the biggest cancer eating away at this regime and now permeates our entire society some candidates provided nationalization of ill gotten wealth as an immediate solution. I would have loved to hear a more radical Amin like approach to stump out corruption in Uganda and ensure that pensioners are paid their dues. Another aspect that needed addressing was the military adventures and some of our engagements in DRC, Rwanda and now South Sudan who pays for this expenditure and how does Uganda and widows benefit from these wars.
Overall the debate was a good thing for Uganda being the first that creates a level playing field and prevents the monetized approach to elective politics that has now characterized this campaign season. It also helps in addressing the real issues as each candidate is given a chance to present his approach and solution for fixing Uganda as opposed to reliance on rented crowds we have become accustomed to see at some rallies. I therefore think it was a missed opportunity and quite disrespectful of the President to ignore an invitation to tell Uganda in front of his opponents why he wants another 5 years in office.
However having read quotes ATTRIBUTED to him like my Oil, my Forest and Revolutionaries don’t retire you would wonder if indeed this will be Mzee’s final term. I would have been equally surprised if the President had appeared for a debate having skipped the previous ones in away he did well since none of the candidates went after his record. But the government spokesman Mr. Ofwono Opondo did his part in justifying his absence and attending on behalf of the NRM party. Now that the next debate is slated for February 10th and Dr. Shaka Ssali of Straight Talk Africa has been floated as a would be moderator lets wait and see what the NRM Campaign team will tell the nation! To NTV and NBS news teams well done on the pre and post coverage. I loved the NBS television aerial drone shots.
To all those behind the scenes you made Uganda proud. Below is the complete gallery of the kodak moments as captured by our Diaspora lens.

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Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

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