Prof. Ogenga Otunnu, a younger brother to UPC presidential candidate, Olara Otunnu, and former guild president at Makerere University, says in an interview with a correspondent in Chicago, USA.
He says that the IPC under Dr Kizza Besigye is the most credible opposition to President Museveni’s regime. He says that when Olara Otunnu left the IPC, he weakened the opposition, the UPC and his message of change.
How do you assess your brother Olara Otunnu’s campaign?
I respect my brother a lot. He is one of the brightest, most competent and most dedicated minds anybody will ever encounter. His decision to return to politics in Uganda was a personal decision. It was not a family decision.
Although some of us had published on the genocide in Acholiland and raised the issue with policy makers, humanitarian and human rights organizations, scholars and the public in the Western democracies for over a decade, Olara, given his outstanding international credentials, has, since 2001, been one of the most credible and eloquent voices on the issue. As well, he has successfully, together with Dr. Besigye and others, exposed the myths of the NRM democracy.
His close focus on the Museveni corruption and reign of terror has forced the international community to openly entertain discussions on a post-Museveni Uganda. His singular demand on truth-telling, naming and shaming, and national reconciliation, is another huge contribution to the country.
My own view, which he knows, is that he should operate under the IPC. By leaving the IPC, he has weakened the opposition, the UPC and his message of change.
So, which political party do you support in the forthcoming elections?
I support the FDC and the IPC, under Dr Besigye, as the most credible and most principled opposition to the Museveni regime. The IPC stands for all the things that UPC, DP, UFA, and PPP claim to stand for. There is no inherent contradiction between each party promoting its interests and working together under the IPC and Dr Besigye.
So you are choosing Dr. Besigye over your brother?
This is the problem of Uganda where the current regime has driven us and the way we think. You do not support someone just because he/she is your kin. There is a multitude of issues to consider.
I maintain that the IPC, the coming together of all opposition groups, is the only way to uproot the diabolic system established in Uganda for the last 24 years.
When you were the guild president some people claimed you were UPC. Yet, during the guild elections and your presidency you enjoyed very close ties with the leadership of the DP. So, which political party did you support then?
When I declared my intention to run for the guild, I received a note inviting me to the UPC Secretariat at the Uganda House. Upon arrival, I was received by Cecilia Ogwal and the late Dent Lakidi. I was taken to a conference room, where seven other students from Makerere were seated.
We were asked to vote for a candidate for the party. I told Ogwal and Lakidi that I was standing as an independent candidate and did not need the anointment or support of any political party. When Ogwal and Lakidi realized that I was not willing to abide by the decision of the secretariat, they took me to an office and tried to “persuade” me by telling me that my decision would affect Olara Otunnu’s position at the UN.
However, I stood by my decision and left for Makerere. That same evening, the UPC branch at Makerere, which was divided into two warring factions: the progressive and democratic faction (“forces of light”) and the undemocratic and violent faction (“forces of darkness”), met to pick a candidate for the party.
After a prolonged deliberation, the “forces of light”, which constituted the majority of the leadership of the party at Makerere, endorsed me as their candidate. Although I was running as an independent, the support of the progressive wing of the party created the appearance that I was a member of the UPC.
This appearance was reinforced by the fact that I met regularly with the progressive wing of the UPC national leadership, including Dr Adonia Tiberonda, Dr Picho Owiny, Prof Isaac Ojok, Dr J.J. Otim, Vice President Paulo Muwanga, and Prime Minister Otema Alimadi.
Our meetings focused on students’ needs and security, and human rights issues in Buganda, western Uganda and West Nile. I raised the same issues in my meetings with President Obote.
In fact, it was during one of my meetings with President Obote that he endorsed my proposal to raise these issues nationally during our tour of the country. Dr Obote personally directed all DCs and security officers to facilitate our national tour.
Although most of our criticism during the tour targeted the Obote government, because it had the sole responsibility to protect every member of our country, we criticized the NRA for the atrocities it committed against unarmed civilians in the Luwero Triangle and in western Uganda.
In fact, the NRA responded to our criticism by trying to disrupt our rallies in Hoima and Kisoro.
The claim that I was a DP member was first popularized by the “forces of darkness’ at Makerere on the eve of the guild elections.
The claim received new life when some leaders of the DP at Makerere, including [professor] Ebil Otto’s campaign manager, Oruni Oloya (brother of the former guild president, Dr Opiyo Oloya), actively campaigned for me.
The appearance that I was a DP member was reinforced by the fact that I travelled to two campaign venues in the same car with my opponent, Ebil Otto. A number of other developments tended to support the claim as well:
- When the “forces of darkness” learnt that we were planning a strike against them and the university administration, the university outlawed public assembly. We responded by organizing my “birthday party,” which was addressed by the most visible leader of DP: Ebil Otto.
- I held a number of meetings with the DP national leadership on the situation in the country and the role the guild could play in challenging violations of human rights, especially violations of the rights of our people in the Luwero Triangle, West Nile and western Uganda.
- We appealed to embassies of Western governments to exert pressure on the government to protect and promote human rights in the country. In fact, a number of governments responded by withholding or withdrawing financial support to the government.
- During our national tour, which took the leadership of the guild to every district in the country, we publicly named and shamed those government ministers, security organizations and administrators who were terrorizing people.
- When we went on strike (and three of us spent nearly a week in detention at the CPS), some government supporters erroneously declared that I was a member of DP and that I was collaborating with Gen. Basilio Okello to overthrow the government.
The day I completed my final paper at Makerere, I fled the country on the same flight with Dr Adonia Tiberondwa and Mrs Tiberondwa. I sought refuge in Oxford, where my brother, Professor Amii-Omara Otunnu, resided.
When my uncle Gen. Tito “seized” power, his ADC, Col. Kapuchu, called me and said that the leadership of DP had approached my uncle to invite me to return and work with them on an important project.
However, when I returned to Uganda and met with the late Evaristo Nyanzi and some DP leaders, I declined the request to facilitate the demobilization and reintegration of DP leaning armed groups. I told the leadership of the DP and Gen.
Tito that I did not want to work for the government. My uncle supported my decision not to work for the government. I spent a few months in Uganda with my cousin [minister] Oryem Henry Okello and then returned to the UK two months before the NRA seized power.
Why did you flee the country?
Our campaign against the abuse of human rights did not endear me and some of my colleagues at Makerere to the Obote regime. We were very critical of the government conduct in the country which led to disappearances of people.
We were concerned about the civilians that were caught in the crossfire between the rebels and the government forces. Those in government thought that we would only condemn the rebels; we blamed both for the plight of the masses, because both sides failed to adhere to the international rules of war and attacked civilian targets.
So you have never been a member of DP or UPC?
I thought my answer was clear on this; I have never been a member of UPC or DP. I might have sympathized with DP, but this was purely because of its stand on issues of human rights in Uganda. I personally think that there is need for us now to come together and deal with those abusing people’s rights and institute a government that cares about the people of Uganda. I think IPC is one viable vehicle we can effectively utilize to achieve this goal.