Mama Miria Speaks to Weekly Observer
Power belongs to UPC in 2006
MIRIA OBOTE, 69, is the President of Uganda people's Congress (UPC). She took on this mantle following the death of her husband Milton Obote who was the party president. She told EDRIS KIGGUNDU why she is determined to rule Uganda.
Two weeks in the job so far, how is it going?
I have been very, very busy. It is very challenging.
We have got to organise the party, organise the elections in a very short period. It is now less than two months that we have to do everything and as you know we have not been operating as a party for the last 20 years. We don't have enough resources; we have to deal with wrangling in the party because we have got some people who are not very happy and I wouldn't want to lose them. I want everybody on board.
So what are you doing to bring them back on board?
I am trying to talk to them. In some cases, some people are talking to them on my behalf to see how we can bring them on board.
Some claim the delegates' conference was rigged and they were locked out?
The people who were elected were called one by one. There were district registers. No one was left out. I understand people like [Omara] Atubo (Otuke County MP) were there but they did not want to enter.
Why didn't you include some of them in your cabinet?
This is a committee of 12 people; you can't get everybody on board. We are not throwing them away. We need them and they are going to play a part.
When? Because people like [Dr. James] Rwanyarare have taken you to court?
I have been asking all of them to come on board. But you can't call somebody to come when they are still in court. Let's wait until the court process ends.
Museveni is against his wife contesting for Parliament saying he does not want to be like UPC, which has become a family affair. What can you say about the appointment of your son Jimmy Akena?
Jimmy is very hard-working and he was the one helping out my late husband. He is my personal assistant, which is not a big post. But this is for a short time. If someone is vital, irrespective of family ties, why leave him out?
What vision do you have for the party?
The new ideas…the party is still very strong. I am really surprised that we still have support in many parts of the country. From there we have got to encourage more people to come and join us. We have a very difficult job ahead of us. We believe the time has come to change the leadership and governance of this country. The people have suffered over the last 20 years.
What programme does UPC have for the country?
I have got a lot of programmes but everything has been put down in our manifesto. Our party manifesto is going to come out next Wednesday. All the programmes will be there.
What will you do to improve the economy?
The economy is in a very bad shape. I have been here for a while but the people who come to see me, even those who used to come and see me when I was still in exile, tell me that poverty in the country is just too much.
So what is it that you want to do about poverty that Museveni has failed to do in the last 20 years?
President Museveni has destroyed what was already there. For example, the co-operatives were helping the ordinary person to do something, to produce something, sell something and be independent. But now everything has collapsed…
UPC's rating in Buganda has not been very good. What are you going to do to change the negative view?
We are going to campaign vigorously in Buganda and try to convince Baganda that Buganda alone cannot stand on its own.
Have you talked to some people in Mengo?
Not yet but I am on the way. When I get a chance I will be very happy to meet them.
Buganda's discontent with UPC is that the party [leaders] have refused to acknowledge that it was a blunder to attack the Lubiri in 1966…they want a formal apology
What do you want me to apologise about? I am going to talk to Baganda and I want them to see the other side of the coin. But before they say I must apologise, I want them to listen to me and I want them to find out what really happened. Because a lot of the young people in Buganda don't know what happened. Some were born and grew up in homes where nothing good is talked about Obote. They tell them Obote is bad, Obote attacked Lubiri, Obote killed Kabaka… and some of these young people grow up not knowing exactly what happened. Most of them are educated and they must learn the history of Uganda, both the bad and good things. Why do we talk of the martyrs at Namugongo? This is part of our history. We accept they were killed by the Kabaka, but we are not saying the Kabaka is bad. We are saying it is part of our history.
These people were working together; they formed the government together at the time of independence because they wanted co-operation. My late husband did not want to leave any part of Uganda out. That is why they had that compromise. And he wanted everything to continue in that same spirit. Something went wrong. What? This is where we have to sit down, talk. After we have discussed all these things and we have issues from both sides, then we come to a stage where we can now say, alright, probably that was not the best way to handle the situation and I am very sorry about what happened. But I would be apologising on behalf of my husband because I was not in government. This was not a one-sided thing. My late husband did not wake up one morning and say, now I am going to attack Lubiri. Some things went wrong when the army used maximum force, they could have handled it differently. Those are the things we cannot reverse and we are sorry about it.
Have you always had political ambitions to replace your husband?
I have never had any political ambition to lead UPC or the government. I have just been a loyal supporter of my husband and the party. I am UPC through and through. It has not been easy because I come from Buganda where most people hate UPC and my late husband.
What inspired you to stand?
I was asked by party supporters to stand. After listening to the people and hearing some of the problems they have been through in the last 20 years, plus the support of the party, I decided that the best thing is for me to join and see if I can bring about positive change.
Who is your political idol locally or internationally?
Internationally, I admire Mrs Corazon Aquino (former president) of the Philippines. She was more or less in the same situation like me. The husband returned from exile and before he could get out of the airport, he was shot dead. Her husband's supporters supported her and asked her if she could step into her late husband's shoes. She accepted, they won the elections, took over the government until she left. I feel that I am going to do more or less the same thing.
Does UPC have any plans to join the coalition if opposition parties moot such an idea?
Yes, but what we are saying is that we must go to the elections as independent parties. If one party does not win outright, if we have to go for a re-run, then we can work with other parties.
How do you rate UPC's chances?
They are high. We want to take power in 2006.
There are allegations that your academic qualifications are not equivalent to A-level?
Let me tell you, I went to Buloba College for my primary school, then to Gayaza High School for my secondary level. From Gayaza I went to Makerere University after passing the Cambridge School Certificate. In those days, after Cambridge School Certificate, the equivalent of O-level, you went to Makerere for two years.
Did you complete your two years at Makerere?
I did. I passed my intermediate course, that is equivalent to A-level.
What kind of family did you grow up in?
I grew up in a very humble family. My father was working for the railways. We had all the basics at home. My father had eleven children, so far I have lost two brothers. We are nine alive.
I want Ugandans to know that UPC is the right party for them to join. We are going to bring about change and bring hope to all people who have suffered in the last 20 years.