Politics

Otunnu: Political schemer or arbiter?

Olara Otunnu, dressed in his distinctive African cloth, spoke out strongly against sectarianism, which he believes will undermine the country’s multiparty system.

The former Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) president made the statements while meeting with elders of Acholi Chiefdom in Gulu District on Saturday, flanked by other political heavyweights, particularly from the National Unity Platform (NUP).

Otunnu accused some politicians of attempting to prevent NUP and its members from crossing into the Acholi Sub-region without identifying names.

Let me state unequivocally that an Acholi land remains an equal opportunity zone for all political parties to come, mobilize, organize, and canvass for support.

Individually and collectively, the people of Acholi will determine who they want to support. “It is unacceptable to establish some limits someplace and say a political party cannot transcend this line,” he remarked.

“If we remain silent when we hear the kind of speech and talk that we have been hearing among our people, we are allowing evil, divisionism, and sectarianism to triumph in our society, so we must speak out and say no,” he continued.

NUP was represented at the meeting by its president, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, nicknamed Bobi Wine.

In a closed-door meeting, Mr Kyagulanyi and other leaders met with chiefdom officials. Ambrose Olaa, the chiefdom’s prime minister, later assured the media that the meeting was private and non-political.

Mr Kyagulanyi went in Gulu to pay his respects to the late Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah, who died last Friday.

However, given that he slept at Mr Otunnu’s house for at least two days, his close contact with him has sparked controversy about the duo’s political move.

“I am grateful to my elder Olara Otunnu because he has introduced me to many people, most notably the late Oulanyah’s family,” Mr Kyagulanyi said.

Mr Kyagulanyi lost the northern region of the presidential elections in 2021 to Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM).

Political watchers think that Mr Kyagulanyi is gaining political clout in Acholi by socializing with senior political and opinion leaders.

Otunnu accompanied Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo to Mengo two weeks ago to heal ties after the latter made contentious statements about the kingdom.

Members of the inter-religious council also attended the meeting.

Although some have suggested that Otunnu’s attendance at the two main ceremonies was a gesture of peace and healing, others believe he is making a comeback as a politician.

The former Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations has been enjoying a tranquil life since he hung up his gloves and boots as UPC’s president in 2015.

Reactions

Otunnu’s recent symbolic utterances, according to former Housing Minister Francis Babu, lead to his political comeback.

While Mr Babu believes Otunnu’s message of reconciliation is a noble one, he believes it is limited to political parties.

“He’s trying to be politically relevant, but he’s making a huge mistake.” Parties are being reconciled. “Reconcile Ugandans,” he continued, “since parties are vehicles for people with diverse views to appeal for votes.”

Mr Babu went on to say that the decision is anti-democratic.

Prof Ogenga Morris Latigo, a former Agago North County Legislator, said Otunnu knows the dynamics of leadership because of his diplomatic status and experience as a former party president.

“I don’t believe Otunnu is pursuing a political comeback, and I can almost surely state that.”

However, given where we have come as a country, the voices of older people like ourselves and other elders must be heard. Even at a personal level, I feel forced to acknowledge that the challenges that this country faces will necessitate utter maturity and a clear sense of moderation in dealing with situations, and Otunnu is precisely filling that role,” Prof Latigo added.

For example, following the 2021 General Election, the NUP accused the NRM administration of torturing and imprisoning its followers.

Former inmates have told horrifying stories of suspected abuse, which NRM disputes as unfounded.

Prof. Latigo believes that maintaining togetherness is critical in dealing with violence, rage, and insensitivity toward people of other political viewpoints.

Love must be rekindled.

Dr Daniel Matte, the president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Uganda and a member of Uganda’s Inter-religious Council, said that while he does not know Otunnu’s interests, he agrees with his message of political peace.

According to Dr. Matte, a multiparty system should not be based on division and violence.

“As religious leaders, we are passionate about promoting peace in the country because the Bible instructs us to make peace with all people.”

Peace, on the other hand, is not a religious concept because everyone benefits from it. As a result, we congratulate him on his efforts to promote peace and develop bridges for coexistence,” he stated.

Mr. Otuunu was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

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