Uganda Peoples Congress

From THE MONITOR Inside Politics January 18, 2006

We can never work with NRM - Obote

EMMANUEL GYEZAHO spoke to Uganda People's Congress President, Miria Kalule Obote, on the party's attempts to restore its past glory in Northern Uganda.

You received a heroes' welcome in Lango and Acholi. What does this symbolise for the UPC?

That symbolises that UPC is still alive; it is still a strong party. It is not dead as most people thought. And what impressed me in Pakwach is that the people still appreciate that the late President of UPC and Uganda did something good. The people of this area have not forgotten that it was Mzee [Milton] Obote's government that built the Pakwach Bridge. It seems to be weak and somebody needs to look at it. For the last 20 years, I highly doubt if anybody has come to look at it and see if it is still in a good condition.

Your had large crowds at your rallies in Acholi. Is UPC rejuvenated in the area?

First of all in Acholi, you drive through the land and there is nothing until you come to the IDP camps. It is just one IDP camp after another.

Otherwise the countryside is empty. There are no people. Everything has been destroyed. But at Puranga, there were so many people who came to meet us and the impressive thing is that although these people are suffering in the IDPs, they were all very cheerful and happy to see us.

They really gave us a warm welcome. The old UPC spirit is still alive and the rally we had in Kitgum was the best we've had so far. It brought back very good memories of the past especially the way UPC used to run its rallies. The Kitgum rally was typical of the old UPC. You see we have got a lot of young people and they are yet to learn how to organise the old type of UPC rally. The one in Kitgum was simply good. The feeling you got was that UPC was back. And the people were very happy they came in big numbers.

It was great.

Does this mean you have mended fences with Acholi politicians who masterminded the downfall of your late husband's second government?

The reception we got in Kitgum is not what we expected. But I came to the conclusion that the people were not part of those leaders who turned against our government in 1985. The leaders did it but it looks as if the ordinary UPC people in Kitgum did not change and are still UPC now. But the leaders, those generals are the ones who tried to change and influence the people of Kitgum to turn against the government. This is the impression I got.

You laid a wreath at Barlonyo and seemed so sorrowful. What was it like?

Barlonyo was a very sad occasion. There were even very few people at the site. The mass graves we saw there, ahh, I don't know how to describe it but I felt very bad and I felt so sorry for the people who lost their lives at that time. We were told how people who were wearing army uniform surrounded them. They were killed by people who came and told them to get into their houses.

First of all they told them that rebels were coming, so they should get into their houses. After getting into the houses, they came and torched those houses. Others were shot and the whole place was littered with dead bodies.

We were told that even dogs ate some of the people until they got tired because the bodies were too many. It was a gory site. Although the placard at the memorial says only 121 people died, most people say it was more than 300 people killed.

When entering Gulu, at the River Aswa Bridge, you were given a bouquet of flowers plus some greens leaves. What was that about?

That was a traditional ceremony to bless me. They gave me those green leaves as part of their blessing. They are called Oboke Olwedo leaves of blessings.

Elders in Gulu give you these leaves when you are going into battle.

Do you think, from the crowds, that UPC is going to win in the North?

Yes and no. There were some areas where you thought there were some mixed feelings. In some areas, I am sure were are going to sweep all but in some others, you simply cant tell.

Like where?

A place like Gulu, you know it has a lot of people including outsiders who are working there. I don't know. But we got the feeling that we have support but also there are others we are not quite sure about.

People have been living in despicable situations in Northern Uganda for the last 20 years. What does UPC promise to do about the situation?

My first priority when we take over government is to restore peace. That is the most important thing in this part of Uganda. The people in this area have suffered. There is nothing in some areas apart from IDP camps. The countryside is empty, no homes, no gardens, nothing. This is not the way people in the North should live. I want them to go back to their own homes, live normal lives instead of being herded together like animals.

If you see the children in these camps, they are just too many and most of them are not going to school. They don't know anything else but IDP camps.

No. This is unacceptable. My message to the people of the North is have peace and then everything else will follow. Once we have peace, they will be able to go back home.

This is a major exercise and it is going to be a challenge to the government because these people have nothing to go back to. We have to make special arrangement to help them rebuild their homes. It's going to be a big challenge but we are going to face it.

The second UPC government has been accused of committing atrocities in West Nile 25 years ago. What is your response?

The chaos in that place was not UPC. It was the government before the 1980 elections. It was the Military Commission headed by Paulo Muwanga where President Museveni was the Vice Chairman and Minister of Defence. UPC was not in power. But all the same, we are going to treat them the same way. We want peace in the whole country. So West Nile will also be affected. The people who are living in IDP camps will also be helped to go back home, the same way we are going to help the people in Acholi, Teso and Lango.

Polls show strong support for an opposition coalition against the NRM. What is UPC's stand on this?

We will talk when the time comes. At the moment, we are going it alone. We have not been operating for 20 years. We don't know our strength. We are just finding out now as we move around the country. We want to know whether we are still as strong as we used to be. The young people don't know what happened 20 years ago.

We have got to educate them and convince them that UPC was a good party and that it can still perform well. So we can't tell until we have had an election. We want to go it alone and find out our strengths and weaknesses before we can think of a coalition with another party.

Is there any possibility of the UPC forging an alliance with the NRM?

No, no, no. We can't go there. UPC cannot work with the NRM. Their policies are different from ours. NRM is a party that fought the UPC during our second government. I can't see UPC working together with the NRM.

We are now in the opposition and we are telling the whole country the numerous mistakes that the NRM has made. We have agreed to form a coalition with other members of the opposition if there is a re-run. But joining the NRM is simply out of the question. We can't work together and there is no possibility of us working with them.

Some UPC officials who lost in the party's primaries are campaigning for FDC President Dr Kizza Besigye. What is going on?

I have told our supporters that we are not supporting the FDC. Some members of the FDC have tried to confuse our supporters saying we are working together and I am supporting Besigye. We are not supporting Besigye. We are on our own as UPC. After the first election, UPC will sit down and decide whether to join other G6 members in a coalition or not. That is a decision I cannot take alone. I have to sit down with the national executive committee and discuss it.