It was a week of prayer and talking peace in the Busoga District of Bugiiri, when religious leaders from different faiths and political candidates from the neighboring Districts of Namayingo, Tororo, Busia and Iganga, all gathered at Hindoncha Primary school- Bugiiri to pray for peaceful and stable general elections. The prayer week started on Monday 1st February and ended on Friday 5th February 2016.
According to the organizer of the prayers, Pastor Mwandabi Fredrick, who was also a secretary to the reconciliation committee that arbitrated warring facts in Bugiiri after the 2011 elections, Bugiiri has been a hot spot area, that is why they came up with the idea of praying and dialoguing with politicians to avert any possibilities of further violence during the forth-coming elections.
Speaking at the close of the prayers on Friday, the District Khadhi of Iganga, Sheikh Sinani Muwanika urged religious leaders and candidates in all positions from Busoga region to be examples of peace during and after the electoral period.
Sheikh Muwanika who expressed concern over the chaos that happened during party primaries early in the year, urged the public not to have high expectations which might result into denying results if they did not turn out in their favor.
“Ugandans should accept whoever God will choose as a leader in all positions starting from LC1. Everyone should relax after voting and wait for the Electoral Commission to announce the results. If staying at the polling station will cause chaos and tense emotions, please go back home and wait for the official results on your televisions and radios,” he said.
The leader of opposition, Hon. Wafula Oguttu who was also present at the prayers said that it is an indicator that every is concerned about having peaceful and violent free elections when politicians, religious leaders and the locals from the community gather in large numbers to pray for peace.
“It is very important to talk about peace but we need to be responsible citizens who come out to do those things that will ensure that we actually have this peace and stability,” Oguttu said.
Other leaders who attended the prayers were Justice James Ogoola, Msgr. Charlse Kasiibante, the Vicar General of Kampala Arch Diocese also chair of the Inter-religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) board, Bishop of Bukedi Biocese, Samuel Egessa, who is also the chair of IRCU’s Eastern Uganda Peace and Stability Forum, Dr. Dick Odur, a representative from the National Consultative Forum (NCF), also the Vice Chairperson of Bidandi Ssali’s People’s Progressive Party, and the Bugiiri RDC, Margret Mwanaweiza.
“We are all brothers and sisters and should project that in the electiions. Political orientation should never divide us. Voting does not cause violence, we should hav a peaceful attitude as we engage in these forth-coming elections,” Msgr. Kasiibante said.
Justice Ogoola also called upon the public to carry forward the symbol of harmony brought by the Pope when he visited the Country in November. He noted that the Pope ushered in the first political handshake after a long time of some politicians not crossing paths, and also left behind seven trees of unity which have been planted in several parts of the country ever since.
He noted that the trees of unity have since been planted at the Church of Uganda in Munyonyo, the Orthodox headquarters in Namungoona and at the Anglican and Catholic Martyrs shrines in Namugongo.
Justice Ogoola called upon Ugandans to propmote harmony, unity and peace during this period and not let Uganda get into another war, which he called an abomination.
Bishop Egessa in his closing remarks also urged the people of Busoga to live together in peace and unity as brothers and sisters despite their political affiliations.
“As Chairman of the IRCU Eastern Uganda Peace and Stability Forum, I call upon the people of Busoga to promote peace so that we can live together in peace and unity. Everyone is free to vote for a candidate of their choice but please be do that in peace. Let us all be agents of peace,” he said.
Under the umbrella of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), we, the senior religious leaders, convening at the Secretariat of the Inter-religious Council of Uganda, this 5th day of February 2016 would like to address the nation on the ongoing electoral process.
Our attention is drawn to some of the challenges that have in the past brought this would-be democratic process to disrepute. For example, inadequate internal democracy within political parties, credibility of the Electoral Commission, vote buying, voter apathy, intolerance and violence, militia groups, intimidation, use of abusive language and ballot stuffing. A few weeks to the polling day, these issues remain the key concerns of many people both within and outside Uganda.
Although relative calm has prevailed during the ongoing campaigns, for which we thank the Uganda Police and other security agencies, the candidates, voters and the Electoral Commission, we have however observed the following issues which we think need urgent action by all concerned stakeholders:
We have continued to receive reports of intimidation by some supporters of candidates and elements within the security agencies, characterized by interference with campaigns, defacing of posters and verbal threats. On a number of occasions, such behavior has degenerated into confrontation between supporters of rival camps, and between police and supporters of candidates.
We appeal to all actors to follow the law and provide a conducive environment for campaigns. We encourage the use of a peaceful language that recognizes and preserves our divine motto “For God and my Country”. In this way, we will guarantee the credibility and acceptability of the outcomes of the polls.
We would like to repeat our concern about the use of money by some politicians during both the campaigns and elections to influence the will of the people. This is not only a sin, but illegal, but also immoral and unethical. As we said in our pastoral letter, it is an indication that such candidates do not have confidence in themselves or the support of the people. We call upon all political players to desist from such practices and, instead, allow voters to decide in a free environment who they should vote to political office.
Voters are the most important actors in any electoral process because they are the ones who determine who should become a leader. Our national Constitution, under Article 1, begins by emphasizing the power of the people and Chapter Four variously defines rights and freedoms of citizens, among them freedom of speech, of thought, freedom to assemble and to associate (Article 29 (1), and to register and vote (Article 59). The duties are outlined under Article 17 and include respect of rights and freedoms of others.
It is, therefore, clear that acts of hooliganism, disruptions and violence, sometimes sponsored by politicians, that has characterized campaigns and political activities in some areas are unconstitutional and against faith values. We urge voters and politicians to focus on their mandate as defined in the constitution and do all it takes to make the campaigns and elections peaceful, free and fair. Furthermore, we call on you to refuse gifts intended to influence your decision to belong to a political group or vote for a candidate of your choice. In addition, we encourage all Ugandans of voting age to go and cast their votes come 18th February 2016.
Another concern we are getting from the ground is limited awareness among voters on some important aspects of the elections. We understand the law mandates the Electoral Commission to provide such information in a timely and adequate manner.
We have also observed that candidates themselves are not addressing to this very critical aspect of the elections. Our appeal is to the Electoral Commission to intensify voter education to avoid last-minute confusion.
We have been following attentively debates regarding recruitment of crime preventers by the Police and creation of vigilante groups by some opposition leaders and groups. Our position on this matter is well spelt out in our pastoral letter and remains the same even today; namely, while it is not bad for the Police to solicit support of civilians in neighborhood watch, this must be done in a transparent manner.
Our concern is the way crime preventers are being viewed by various actors as partisan. This is an indication that their role is not clear to many Ugandans. This calls for a proper legal framework for recruitment of such groups in order to make them accountable to the people. In a similar vein, we condemn attempts by any politician or political groups, for whatever reason, to create vigilante groups. Such act should be considered a threat to peace and security before, during and after the elections.
We still believe the institutions mandated with maintaining peace and managing the elections will dispense their duties in the best interest of all Ugandans.
We are concerned by the kind of language political candidates use against one another. Often the language is vulgar, abusive and derogatory which heightens the incidence of violence. A political candidate is a leaders or an aspiring leader who should be exemplary to the people he/she wishes to lead. Therefore, it is incumbent on him/her to use a type language that promotes the values and principles of peaceful coexistence, reconciliation, national unity and stability.
The Council of Presidents has set aside the weekend of 12th through 14th February, 2016, to conduct national prayers: i.e;
The Council has also written the second Pastoral Letter on peaceful and violence-free elections to be disseminated in all worship places country-wide during the weekend of prayer.
It is important that every eligible voter exercises his/her civic right to vote in a free, secure and peaceful environment that is conducive for a harmonious and thriving nation. Therefore, we call upon all peace loving Ugandans to attend the prayers and pray for the nation.
On behalf of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, The Elders’ Forum of Uganda, and the National Consultative Forum, I wish to express our gratitude to all the Presidential candidates, the stakeholders, and indeed the UNDP who supported the first ever Presidential Debate in Uganda.
Judging from public opinion, the debate registered a resounding victory as it was a timely and indispensable intervention for building a peaceful, stable and democratic society in Uganda. We have earnestly embarked on preparations for the second and final debate scheduled on Saturday 13th February, 2016, at the Serena Hotel to be held from 6:00p.m. To 12:00 midnight.
We encourage all our Presidential candidates to participate in this very important engagement. It will specifically focus on the following topics: Peace and Security; Governance and the Rule of Law; Regional Integration; International Trade and Investment; and Foreign Policy.
For God and my Country!
HIS GRACE THE MOST REV STANLEY NTAGALI
ARCHBISHOP OF THE PROVINCE OF THE CHURCH OF UGANDA
AG. CHAIRPERSON IRCU COUNCIL OF PRESIDENTS