KAMPALA - Heads of Uganda's political parties have gathered to address growing criticism among opponents of longtime President Yoweri Museveni and growing political repression in the country. The roundtable discussion - known as the Inter Party Organization for Dialogue - served as a forum for leaders who are voicing concerns on whether Uganda's 2021 elections will be free and fair.
Uganda's opposition political parties used the Inter Party organization for dialogue summit to push for constitutional reforms, improved governance, stop electoral fraud and bring an end to torture and other human rights abuses.
Among those attending was President Yoweri Museveni. The 74-year-old leader's mandate began in 1986 and was extended to a fifth term in 2016 elections that were marred by widespread reports of fraud and intimidation.
The next elections are set for 2021 and Mr. Museveni has shown signs he may not relinquish power, telling attendees he has no plans to retire.
"You're talking about only election, elections for what, to do what? To have new members of Parliament, so they do what? To have a new President, so that he does what? Me, I am in politics because of the prosperity of our people. Number two, strategic security," he said.
Human rights violations
As the world marked the International Human Rights Day, December 10, with the theme, "Get up, stand up for Rights," both Ugandan and International human rights activists called attention to human rights violations in the country.
Amnesty International in its 2017-2018 Report on Uganda noted that rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly were restricted. The report said journalists and others who criticized the president or his family were arrested, detained and harassed.
Asuman Basalirwa, a local party head, demanded that these injustices stop.
"That from today onwards no activity, meeting, rally or event organized by registered political party shall ever be blocked by Police or any other agency. We are here to get assurance and commitment that political opponents shall not be treated as enemies and their activities should never be criminalized," said Basalirwa.
Norbert Mao, head of the opposition Democratic Party, voiced concerns about what he and other critics say is growing repression despite the government's pledges to improve governance.
"We have amplified our disappointments, over the many broken promises. The instances when we have moved further away from the path of constitutionalism and rule of law and respect for fundamental rights," said Mao.
The next Inter Party Organization for Dialogue set for May 2019 and it is not clear, if it will be fruitful -- especially for Ugandans yearning for change in the 2021 general elections.