Church still has role in the polls

TIMIt is now over a month since the February 18 presidential and parliamentary elections.

The Inter Religious Council (IRC), which was at the centre of the first-ever presidential debate, is now largely quiet.

Before the debate, there was tension among supporters and several clashes during campaigns, with tragic incidences in Ntungamo District where over 20 supporters of candidate Yoweri Museveni were allegedly assaulted by candidate Amama Mbabazi’s supporters.

So, seeing presidential candidates on the same stage, shaking hands went a long way in diffusing the volatile situation.

The church wields respect in this country—at least the numerical strength says so.

If the mission of getting involved in the presidential elections by creating a debate was to encourage political dialogue, then the church has more work to do even now after the elections.

The nation is divided, hurting and deeply polarised. It is divided along political lines: “us” against “them”.

Recently, several people were reported to have died because of famine in Karamoja. It was heartbreaking to see the unpalatable comments made on social media accusing the Karimojong of being perpetrators of the crisis by voting for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).

On its heels was an incident in which the NRM secretary general Kasule Lumumba’s convoy got involved in an accident.

The comments that followed were hateful and downright malicious. One comment read: “I wish she dies. God, take one by one. God please heal the car because it’s our money and kill the people inside.” “I pray they die slowly so that they can feel the pain we have felt for 30 years,” read another.

It is important to note that usually, on social media, people speak their mind. And their minds and hearts right now are not in the right place. So the above comments clearly show that many feel aggrieved and need intervention.

Leaders in the country are not helping the situation as they have taken to name-calling and displaying open contempt for those in dissenting camps.

For example, the Forum for Democratic Change has embarked on a controversial campaign to boycott those who supported the NRM; while President Museveni has previosuly blamed poor service delivery on being sent the wrong people (opposition leaders) to work with.

It is important for religious leaders to continually call on all to remain peaceful. The words “Our political disagreements must be tempered with tolerance, and let our words spread peace rather than fear” are a healing balm. Those words are from the UCU vice-chancellor, Dr John Senyonyi.

And the peace rally needs to go hand in hand with addressing what could upset order. The Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) in their poll report read by the chairperson of the UJCC’s National Election Steering Committee, Bishop Wilberforce Kityo Luwalira, expressed concern over the prevailing mood.

They were worried about malpractice, Kizza Besigye’s (FDC presidential flag-bearer) house arrest and the heavy security presence at his home. These tell-tale signs ought to have been explored further.

Rev. Medard Birungibyayesu, while preaching at All Saints Church Nakasero on February 28 warned against “treating symptoms” through “beating people who are rioting”, instead of dealing with the root cause of the problem. So, all involved need to find a lasting and peaceful solution to the issues being raised.

I suggest that religious leaders hold talks with the presidential candidates again, and also engage Ugandans, to allay their fears or even better, resolve the cause of the simmering unrest.

The same effort that was put into delivering the televised debates should now be channelled into creating dialogue among the presidential candidates, in a bid to ease tension among their supporters.

The writer is a journalist, working with New Vision as a sub-editor