Uganda this week hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). For the past two to three years, the government of President Yoweri Museveni has been preparing for the event which will bring together the Queen of England and 53 heads of government.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe will not be attending because Zimbabwe pulled out of the Commonwealth after it was suspended following the country’s 2002 flawed elections.
The opposition Forum for Democratic Change says Uganda should not host the meeting because of its questionable record on human rights and democracy. Other Ugandans have also questioned the enormous cost (about $600 million) of hosting the Commonwealth heads of government meeting.
Sam Kutesa is Uganda’s foreign minister. From the capital, Kampala he told Uganda is all ready for the Commonwealth big dance.
“Uganda is very ready to host CHOGM. We’ve done a lots of improvement in our city. We have hotel capacity; we have created the facility for civil society talks. We have had the youth conference, which was opened on the 14th, and it was attended by 48 members out of the 53 countries that constitute CHOGM. Tomorrow we are having the People’s Forum and 50 member countries will be attended from civil society all over” he said.
Kutesa said hosting the Commonwealth conference is important not only to Uganda but to all members because it constitutes a third of the world population and also multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious, and it is a forum where major world issues can be discussed, including climate change.
The opposition Forum for Democratic Change has raised the issue of the opportunity cost for hosting CHOGM. In stead it said the money could best be spent to resettle over a million internally displaced people from Uganda’s over 20 years of civil war or finding employment for thousands of unemployed university graduates.
Kutesa said the money for hosting CHOGM is being spent in Uganda for the country’s development.
“First of all this money is being spent in Uganda. It’s developing the infrastructure of Uganda and making Uganda more capable of hosting more conferences. But two, I think that the issues that are being discussed here are global. And increasingly what I have seen is that the Ugandans who were little skeptical before are increasingly embracing this opportunity and are beginning to see it as a national event rather than a parochial or partisan event,” Kutesa said.
The opposition has also said Uganda should not have hosted CHOGM because President Museveni has failed to create the climate for free and fair elections to take place. Kutesa disagreed with the opposition.
“First of all I think that we have a very good human rights record. So I disagree with them. But let me say one other thing that the leader of the opposition in parliament attended the opening of the Commonwealth youth forum; all the leaders have been invited to the opening of CHOGM. So I don’t know what you call democracy or human rights. If they want to opt out it would be really an individual decision,” he said.
Kutesa said Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe will be attending the Kampala Commonwealth heads of state meeting because Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth.
“Of course Uganda cares who attends, but you see it is a meeting of members of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe not Mugabe, and Zimbabwe made a national decision to pull out of the Commonwealth. So if you are having a meeting of the Commonwealth it can only be that of members,” Kutesa said.