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Uganda Presidential Debate to Proceed, Organizer Says

  • Peter Clottey

FILE - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

FILE - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

The organizer of the Ugandan presidential debate scheduled for Friday says the debate will proceed as planned, despite reports that President Yoweri Museveni may pull out.

Joshua Kitakule, secretary general of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), says his group is ready to hold the debate after publicly announcing the names of the moderators.

"We are just reading it in the media, so we would regard that as speculation," Kitakule tells VOA of the possibility of Museveni not participating. "Unless we get an official communication from the candidates — [that] is when we would be sure that they would not come."

He said that as of now, all eight candidates have confirmed their attendance at the event in Kampala.

The candidates have intensified their campaigns as the February 18 election draws near. The debate is aimed at giving Ugandan voters the chance to hear directly from the people who would be the country's president.

But, local media reports this week said Museveni is likely to pull out of the debate.

FILE - Kizza Besigye

FILE - Kizza Besigye

Supporters of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), led by three-time presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, say they would not be surprised if Museveni backs out.

They contend the president would be exposed for poor leadership during his three decades in power, which they said has led to worsening economic conditions in the East African nation.

Kitakule says handlers of Museveni were facing challenges regarding the president's schedule, but those have been resolved.

"His assistants have been attending our meetings and they have confirmed his attendance," Kitakule said.

"[Ugandans] need to tune in to all televisions, all radios and listen to their candidates and what they want to do for them,” he added. “It's the moment when their candidates would be talking about their visions for the country. ... So we want to invite all Ugandans to listen in, to be attentive, and to come and attend the presidential debate. We are ready and we are waiting for Friday to come."

Harassment, intimidation

Meanwhile, supporters of Besigye and independent candidate Patrick Amama Mbabazi say the government is using state institutions like the police and the army to harass their campaigns and intimidate their supporters.

FILE - Patrick Amama Mbabazi

FILE - Patrick Amama Mbabazi

The accusation comes after Museveni ordered the deployment of soldiers across the country, citing alleged intelligence reports that opposition supporters are planning to destabilize the country if they fail to win the presidential poll.

Kitakule says the deployment of soldiers during elections is the "normal culture" in Uganda to help the police provide security to ensure a peaceful environment for the elections.

"We always speak to the police to be professional, to stick to the rules of the game,” Kitakule said, “but, you would have isolated incidents because the situation is heightened with expectations and so many things. … The population is charged and so you have isolated incidents here and there, but by and large, the country is peaceful and we hope that we come out these elections peacefully."

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