Presidential Debate in Uganda under Auspices of Religious Leaders Postponed Indefinitely

The presidential debate in Uganda organized under the auspices of religious leaders that had been scheduled to take place early December ahead of the 14 January 2021 general elections has been postponed indefinitely.

In a statement circulated Wednesday, December 2, the leadership of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), which is the organizing body, says the decision to postpone the first of the two-part debate has been occasioned by “unforeseen constraints.”

“Due to unforeseen constraints, including limited resources and the COVID 19 pandemic situations, the convening organizations regret to inform the general public that the presidential and constituency debates are for now indefinitely postponed,” IRCU’s leadership says, making reference to the first debate that had been slated for December 4 and 5.

The second presidential debate had been planned for sometimes in January 2021. Additionally, the religious leaders had hinted at organizing similar forums for parliamentary candidates in constituencies and cities considered “hotspot areas.”

The series of debates organized in partnership with The Elders Forum Uganda (TEFU), the Inter-Party Organization for Dialogue (IPOD), the National Consultative Forum (NCF) and the Independent Electoral Commission are meant to offer a balanced space for all presidential candidates to sell their agenda to all Ugandans, share their manifestos, IRCU officials say in the statement dated November 30.

The debates are also meant to provide the candidates with a fair opportunity to share their visions, address key pertinent issues arising from the electorate and make a commitment to free, fair and violence free 2020/21 general elections, the faith leaders say in the one-page statement signed by the Chairperson of IRCU’s Council of Presidents, Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje.

The representatives of the seven-member interreligious entity also say that they envisioned that the debates would “provide an open and inclusive platform to enable citizens engage their prospective candidates on the vision and development processes they have for the country.”

With the indefinite postponement of the debates, the religious leaders who include representatives from the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) “call upon the candidates and the entire electorate to continue engaging in a peaceful manner as we prepare for the forthcoming 2021 elections.” 

The indefinite deferment comes amid rising tensions in the landlocked East African nation because of the rivalry between two main presidential candidates, the incumbent, 76-year-old Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who has been in power since 1986 and his key rival, 38-year-old Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu popularly known by his stage name, Bobi Wine.

The November 18 arrest of Bobi Wine and another candidate, Patrick Oboi Amuriat led to countrywide protests as a section of their supporters took to the streets to vent their anger. The ensuing face-off with security officers left at least 45 people dead.  

The unrest attracted the attention of religious leaders in the country who condemned the arrest of the two presidential candidates, calling on the security officers “to uphold the Ugandan Constitution.” 

On his part, the Catholic Archbishop of Kampala Archdiocese, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga decried the political unrest, calling for restraint and the cultivation of “a peaceful relationship with God our creator.”

On Tuesday, December 1, Bobi Wine announced his decision to suspend his campaign after his car was shot at and some officials of his campaign team were injured during a clash between security officers and his supporters. 

The postponed debates would have been the second set of their kind ever organized in the landlocked East African country, with IRCU and TEFU having organized the first-ever presidential debate in January 2016. IRCU leadership partnered with UNDP to realize the 2016 debates. 

Established in 2001, the mission of IRCU is to promote peace, reconciliation, good governance, and holistic human development through interfaith action and collaboration, advocating for the empowerment of member bodies for the common good. 

The entity, which has governance as one of its key pillars through which good governance and independent, free and fair polls are fostered is among 46 civil society organizations (CSOs) accredited by Uganda’s electoral body to carry out voter education ahead of the 2021 elections.


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Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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