In July this year, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) embarked on the launch of Regional Peace and Stability Forums in the Eastern, Western, Northern and Central regions of the country, to create a non-partisan, impartial and independent space to mobilize and rally Ugandans for peace and unity before, during and after the 2016 general elections.
During the launch of the forums that ended on September 18th in Buganda region, this year; Committees of youth, women of faith and religious leaders were formed and mandated to facilitate internal dialogue, consensus building, mediation and reconciliation at the community, district, and regional levels, using the influence of religious leadership.
Following this background, with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), IRCU, in partnership with The Elders’ Forum (TEFU) and the National Consultative Forum (NCF) organized dialogues and training meetings in the Western, Eastern, Northern and Central regions of Uganda starting on November 24th, and concluding on December 17th.
The training in the Eastern region was held in Mbarara on November 24th and 25th, this was followed by the Eastern dialogue in Mbale on December 4th and 5th, the religious leaders in Northern part of the country met in Arua on December 8th and 9th, and the Buganda region dialogue was held on December 17th.
Held under the theme “working together for peaceful and violence free 2016 general elections”, the training was attended by about 300 participants in each region.
The Western and Eastern region meetings were facilitated by Rev. Canon Grace Kaiso, a theologian and Anglican priest, who is currently the Secretary General of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), and former Executive Secretary of the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC).
The IRCU Secretary General, Mr. Joshua Kitakule, together with the IRCU Peace, Justice and Governance specialist, Ms. Julie Nalubwama.
Amongst the programmes in which the participants were trained was; ethical values and morality, Inter-religious dialogue, peace-building and conflict transformation, duties and responsibilities of religious leaders in the electoral process, and peace and tolerance in a multiparty political system.
“Our work aims at empowering the people so that they can vote into power good leaders at all levels and reject those peddling token handouts. The Uganda we want must be built on a strong foundation of empowered citizens,” Mr. Kitakule said.
Mr. Kitakule also said it is the work of religious leaders to ensure that the citizens are sensitized about the values of peace, unity, accountability and stability as a recipe for democratic governance and prosperity.
After each training session, Religious leaders engaged in a live dialogue between the religious leaders, women of faith, youth, Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), Regional Police Commanders (RPCs) and candidates contesting for Member of Parliament positions.
They spoke about issues that they feared could lead to violence during the electoral period and suggested solutions to them. Amongst the fears raised by the participants was low levels of civic education, high level of voter apathy, the perception amongst some people that the national identity cards were made to rig elections and the commercialization of politics.
Other issues raised was the perception that the Electoral Commission is partisan, electoral malpractices, the use of abusive language by candidates, defacing posters of other candidates, crime preventers, ethnic conflicts and the militarization of politics, amongst others.
The Bishop of Masaka Diocese, Rt. Rev. John Baptist Kaggwa, noted the rising trend in election related violence, both physical and verbal, as the electoral process continues to gather momentum.
“The language candidates use to describe their political rivals is unbecoming, to say the least. The spirit of tolerance is rapidly waning as some candidates crisscross the demarcated campaign grounds of their rivals,” Bishop Kaggwa said.
According to the chairperson of TEFU, Hon. Justice James Ogoola, the existence of violence in any country is an indicator of immaturity and irresponsibility.
“We should not let a fire to erupt,” Justice Ogoola said, in reference to the elections violence that happened during the NRM primaries.
“In the backdrop of the election related violence, I am comforted by the fact that this training, among others is intended to equip us with basic skills to proactively and impartially engage with the personalities involved in electoral skirmishes,” Bishop Kaggwa said.