A very reliable source at State House has confirmed that President Yoweri Museveni, the NRM presidential candidate, will attend the second debate. The president has communicated to the organizers in Kampala that he will attend on condition that the debate is moved from Saturday February 13, 2016 to Wednesday February 10, 2016.
Whereas Museveni’s presence at the debate would be a good thing for him, his attempt to move the debate to a date that suits him raises the question of respect for the other candidates and the organizers.
There are compelling reasons for the organizers to politely decline the president’s request.
First, the president snubbed the organizers, the other candidates and the country by refusing to attend the first debate that was held on January 15, 2016. He described the debate as an activity for school children.
Second, he left his confirmation of attendance at the second debate so late that the organizers had gone ahead to make arrangements to hold it without him.
Third, the other candidates, who are as busy as Museveni is with tight campaign schedules far from Kampala, made necessary changes to be able to be in Kampala on February 13. A source in the debate organizing team told us that former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who is an independent presidential candidate, would have preferred that the debate be held on February 16 in order not to disrupt his schedule. However, he graciously yielded to the wishes of the organizers and confirmed his attendance at the February 13 debate.
Fourth, Dr. Shaka Ssali, one of the debate’s co-moderators who is travelling from his base in Washington DC, is expected to arrive in Uganda on the evening of Tuesday February 9, 2016. A debate on February 10 would not allow him time to recover from the jetlag and to undertake the necessary preparations to ensure a successful event.
Museveni’s request for this change is a major test for the independence and impartiality of the debate organizers. It is also a test for the other 7 candidates. Will they yield to Museveni’s attempt to disrupt their campaign agendas?
It is my considered view that the debate date should be kept as already scheduled, on Saturday February 13, 2016. It is good that Mr. Museveni has chosen to attend. It is in his interest to do so. He should accept the organizers’ plans and respect the majority of the candidates.
By Muniini K. Mulera In Toronto