On August 18, DR ABED BWANIKA, 48, the president of the People’s Development Party (PDP) picked nomination forms for the 2016 presidential contest. This will be Dr Bwanika’s third attempt at the presidency, despite his dismal performance in the last two elections. Benon Herbert Oluka spoke to Dr Bwanika on what motivates him to stand and his take on recent developments across the political divide:
You picked forms yet again to contest the presidency. How come you are not part of the opposition political parties’ alliance?
At first we were in support of the alliance; we thought that was the most viable entity to remove President Museveni and bring change in this nation, [and] we kept our voice very clear on this.
But the people who were putting the blocks of the alliance together, I think they didn’t believe that we were worth being included. They never invited us into their meetings.
Are there some demands that you had made to The Democratic Alliance, which were not fulfilled? What prevented the meeting of minds between you and them?
They kept on not inviting us to their meetings. The last meeting that I knew about was at Hotel Africana when they were going to announce the alliance. I said, ‘I don’t want to keep listening [from the sidelines]. Let me go in.’
But when I talked to Bishop [Zac] Niringiye and Mr Godber Tumushabe outside the [meeting] room, they told me they didn’t invite us but if we want to be in the alliance we could be observers. But everyone knows that the People’s Development Party (PDP) and Dr Abed Bwanika are not observers in the politics of this nation.
So, we made up our mind as a political party that since our friends never welcomed us, we will continue with our agenda of changing this nation by our participation.
And recently, we are hearing voices from the media – not even from them directly – they seem to be trying to turn back on their original decision.
They think they need us now but it is too late because we already picked forms and we are already in the field. Our supporters and our membership have already made up their mind that we must front a presidential candidate, and that is what we are working on now.
Given that background of some parties feeling excluded from the alliance, how do you rate TDA’s chances in 2016?
I just believe it is a serious mistake for anyone who has a serious agenda to change this country to think that you can sideline PDP, Dr Abed Bwanika and other political parties. As long as it is a political party, which wants change, they should have a policy of inclusion.
If you want to win an election, your policy must be to bring in as many entities as possible because each vote counts. When you start to discriminate against votes, then you are in trouble.
The other thing is that the electorate in this country is segmented; we have the rural and urban voters, the youth, women and religious communities. All those have an impact on how people vote; so, that alliance needs to be very careful about the candidate they choose. The candidate for president is the one on which the whole project is centred.
If you select a wrong one, then you lose lots of people. They might have trouble in that area because they don’t have a huge spectrum of people to choose from. So far, the kind of candidates they are talking about have been on the scene already. Hopefully, some won’t run away because of the candidate.
So, in other words, you think a single opposition candidate could actually turn some people away?
For us what we believe is that we need more than one candidate in the opposition so that we capture all the minds and sentiments of Ugandans. If they come up with a candidate in their alliance and there are other sections of Ugandans who think that that’s not their candidate, maybe they think Dr Bwanika is their candidate, so they will support him.
For instance, if Dr Kizza Besigye is the candidate of TDA, there are people who will never, never give Dr Besigye their vote. He is not their candidate yet those people want to see change. Those people can see change in Dr Bwanika, so they must be given an opportunity to express their aspirations.
Then at a later stage, the other possibilities can come into play, but at this stage, every Ugandan must be given an opportunity to express their aspirations through different presidential candidates.
So, I want to call upon TDA to put their energies on removing President Museveni just as I am putting my energies on removing the president. It should not be TDA against Dr Bwanika or Dr Bwanika against TDA because we have worked together and all of us want a new Uganda freed from the bondage of President Museveni.
I am not an enemy of TDA. Let them do their part and let me do my part. All of us are moving to the same destination. I know we will converge at a certain point, but at this level, let them move forward and allow us to move forward. We are not enemies. TDA are not my opponents. My opponent is President Museveni. So, we should give each other space to operate.
You have run two times as presidential candidate now and are going for a third run. What motivates your decision to run this time round?
The first time I ran as an independent and there was no preparation. The second time I ran as a candidate sponsored by PDP, which was quite a new party. It had been in existence for only two years. Right now, we have been around for seven years; we have built the structures. We have built a network of supporters, so it is a little bit very different.
And we have had an opportunity to try some of our manifesto ideas with the people of Uganda. We have tested them and it has helped us to push our agenda a little bit strongly. We have very good support nationwide and it gives us a great opportunity to be a formidable candidate and also to be a formidable party.
This time, unlike the previous elections, as a party, we are sponsoring more than one candidate. We have people who are standing for MP, local council positions; all those are crucial if we are going to win an election at the national level.
You have seen the internal fights within the NRM, most recently between Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza and President Museveni’s son-in-law Odrek Rwabwogo. What do these wrangles portend for the future of NRM and Uganda?
The fact that NRM has failed to live beyond President Museveni is self-destruction. Any system must have a method within itself of re-generation. They must be able to bring forth new leadership. When you fail to do that, you just send yourself into oblivion.
Everyone is tired of President Museveni and it leaves him very weak; it leaves the party very weak. Now, when you talk about Rwabwogo, he is the son-in-law of President Museveni.
Some people have started to come to terms with the fact that this party is a family party, and there are many people who don’t want to put their efforts in serving the family of President Museveni. That one alone will send very many people out of the NRM and it will leave them very weak. So, going into 2016, NRM is at its weakest.
You have expressed a belief that the 2016 election will go into a second round. Why do you think this is likely to happen?
The Constitution of Uganda is very clear that for anyone to win the presidency, they must have the majority – that is 50+1 per cent [of the votes cast] – so I do believe that the way we are moving right now, there are maybe 70 per cent chances that we will have more than one round of elections.
Since 2011, there are many things that have happened within the NRM which have left it fragmented. In 2011, Prof Bukenya was part of their team but currently he is in the opposition and he thinks Uganda needs change. Gen. [Benon] Biraaro was part of their team but he now thinks Uganda needs change.
The former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was not only part of their team but was central in giving them an edge. Right now, he thinks President Museveni must rest. Gen Sejusa was running security and was supporting President Museveni. All those, and many others that I have mentioned, are not small people. These are a huge block [that has left the NRM] and that leaves President Museveni very weakened. There is no way President Museveni can garner 50 per cent of the votes cast.
Probably the best he can do is 30 per cent.
So, the most likely thing, especially if Mbabazi runs, is a re-run; that is the worst case scenario. But there is even a huge opportunity for the opposition to win. And even if there is a re-run, there is no way President Museveni can win. So, his chances of being President of Uganda in 2016 are very limited, and everyone around him knows that – except himself.
The NRM may be at its weakest, in your view, but President Museveni still holds many of the aces. He appoints virtually every government official involved with the electoral process, especially in the Electoral Commission. The opposition didn’t get the electoral reforms it was pushing for. What makes you confident that the opposition can win?
We don’t have a lot of confidence in the Electoral Commission because of the obvious reasons. It is appointed by President Museveni and their [commissioners] existence and survival is down to him. But we can put systems to go around that.
How will you do that?
First of all, we know what they do to rig elections so we will mitigate against that. We know what they do on the register and DR [Declaration of Results] forms. We know what they do within the Electoral Commission itself, so, I believe that at the right time, the candidates that will come out after [the nomination process at] Namboole will sit together and get a mitigation strategy.
We know that they are pro-Museveni but we don’t want to give them a free run; so, we will find what to do because what they are doing [to skew the electoral process] is not rocket science. For instance, in all the last elections, for us who have been opposing President Museveni have not had representatives at [all] the polling stations and that has been a weakness.
If you don’t watch the ballot papers and ballot box, then you go into Namboole [tally centre] for nothing. So, we are going to work on those other weaknesses and I believe we will force a fair election.
Many Ugandans are worried about the training of crime preventers so close to elections, which some believe are militia that could be unleashed to cause mayhem. Is it something that worries you?
Of course everyone is worried about the militia groups that Mr [Kale] Kayihura, the police boss, and President Museveni are calling crime preventers. Those who have been around for sometime, on the face of the earth are very aware that in nations where there have been genocides, those were the precursors.
In Rwanda before 1994, the late President Habyarimana had organised the entire population into militia groups and what resulted was the loss of almost a million people – and we are seeing the same trend all over this country and we are worried that 2016 might end up being bloody because of what President Museveni is doing. That’s unfortunate.
However, we have also warned that despite those militia trainings, we who are involved, and every other Ugandan, we cannot just keep watching. Should we be attacked, should we be treated unfairly by those groups, we will respond. We have made it known to everyone that let President Museveni expect that he will not go on abusing us with his groups and we keep watching quietly, no.
We are not fearful. If it is guns, we will handle. We have told our people to be bold. We have ownership in this nation – it is not President Museveni who gives us ownership – and we will respond accordingly.
As a presidential candidate, why should someone in Kabale or Moroto choose to vote Dr Bwanika? What issues do you stand for in this election?
First of all, you know leadership is generational and every leader will come with remedies for every generation and whatever is prevailing. President Museveni and his contemporaries have served their part.
This is now our opportunity. I am 48 years old and I rhyme properly with what is obtaining right now, and all Ugandans who have listened or had an opportunity to read my manifesto in the last two presidential campaigns agree that it is Dr Bwanika who has the best political platform that will take Uganda to the desired future.
What is desired in this nation? We need to expand our economy so that we can create jobs. So that Ugandans can get a better standard of living. We have 83 per cent of our youth without formal jobs. So, just standing on a political podium does not bring jobs. President Museveni has tried it. He has said whatever he could say for the last 30 years but there are no jobs.
You can’t create jobs in a contracted economy; so, ours is a strategy, an economic design that will expand our economy by increasing the exports. And if we are going to increase exports, we must look for areas where we have the advantage. One of them is agriculture where 80 per cent of our people earn their livelihood. We want to pump in money – 20 per cent of our budget for the next five years – and that will revamp agriculture.
We want to put in place systems and bodies that will ensure that our farmers get markets both within and internationally. We want to improve our agricultural standards and seeds and breeds, and also pump money into agro-based industries. When we do that, agriculture will improve and our people in the rural areas will create jobs.
We want to use our position as being in the middle of the Great Lakes region and must position ourselves appropriately as a nation to benefit out of that. We need to build the required infrastructure like roads to the borders. In a nutshell, we want to make Uganda a regional shopping hub, and we can do that.
The other thing we want to harness in order to grow our economy is the Ugandan Diaspora. Uganda has 1.5 million people outside the country. These are people with resources, with technical know-how, and with the best practices. There is no way you will develop this country without them.
I have argued, and I still argue, that in our time, we will put a full minister in charge of the Diaspora and have a full directorate. We must know these Ugandans, where they are, what their capacities are and ensure that we integrate them into Uganda’s economy. Every year they send $1 billion to this economy but they are not integrated; they are not known, nobody knows their capacities, and they are not even going to vote.
But they are still Ugandans despite the fact that they are in the Diaspora. So, for us, they are going to be central to what we want to do if we are going to develop our economy.
The other sector is tourism, which we want to develop beyond wildlife. When you talk about tourism in Uganda, everyone’s head goes to wildlife, but we have so many other things we can develop like the cultural diversity.
Then education; what we have in Uganda is a job-seeking education. We want to overhaul education and ensure that the product we get out of education is a product which can innovate and create jobs.
And that must be right from kindergarten up to university. What we have now is what the colonial masters left for us and it was purposely to serve them to grow their economies in Europe. We must get an education that will grow the economies on the African continent. So, those are some of the few things we want to do, but the details of the manifesto, we will avail them to the people of Uganda.
What is your final message to Ugandans….
My final message will be to appeal to every Ugandan that 2016 will be a huge opportunity for us not only to change government but to bring Uganda into the desired future. The participation of every Ugandan is very paramount. As a voter, ensure that you go and vote. Don’t be overshadowed by the voter apathy. Don’t say we can’t change government with a ballot paper. Go and be counted as a voter.
I want also to caution Ugandans not to sell their right. Don’t vote because of money. Don’t sell your vote. Your vote is a self-determination instrument; so, you can take people’s money, Museveni has a lot of money, it’s our money anyway, but make your own decision – don’t be intimidated – and we decide the destiny of Uganda.
I also want to appeal to those people who have gone to school that go and stand. You know in Uganda good people don’t avail themselves for leadership and then they give opportunity to people who are going to destroy this nation. Go and stand in those villages and provide leadership.