Since 2011 to-date, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) has made a significant contribution to the previous and present 2016 electoral processes to ensure that peace and stability prevails before, during and after the elections.

Most importantly, in 2011, IRCU set up the National Elders’ Forum, the National Task Force for Peace and Conflict Transformation as well as Regional and District Task Forces to promote peace and transform conflicts that would arise among candidates during the electoral process. On a number of occasions the organization strategically organized several meetings to interface with key stakeholders in the electoral processes.

The purpose of the meetings was – and still is- to foster dialogue and consensus building between and among key stakeholders in the electoral processes and share critical information.

In particular, different stakeholders were met including all Presidential Candidates, the incumbent President, Electoral Commission, the judiciary, media, business community, Human Rights Commission, Civil Society, security agencies, political parties and development partners. A similar work plan to promote peace and non-violence is being replicated for the present 2016 general elections.

However, political candidates of all cadres, especially presidential flag-bearers, have not lived to the true spirit of peace, tolerance, and reconciliation which are essential ingredients of stable democratic governance.

In Uganda, political campaigns dwell more on pecuniary needs of the population than regional and/or national issues. Political candidates- consciously or otherwise- hardly attempt to articulate substantial issues situated in their party manifestoes.

By engaging into trivial matters, and sometimes personalized attacks, the electorate is denied the opportunity to understand national core issues that are likely to impact their socio-economic livelihoods and promote civic competence.

Therefore, it is due to lack of a rational basis to make informed choices that the electorate demands for inconsequential ‘handouts’ such as soap, salt, sugar, alcohol etc. In turn, political candidates dishing out such items no longer consider themselves accountable to the electorate, since they feel that their part of the bargain has been met.

IRCU and other stakeholders have researched into regional and national issues that are likely to trigger conflict and raise tensions if not adequately addressed.

Thus, the use of joint debates to objectively articulate issues of regional/national import is considered a key strategy to promote peace and tolerance between and among rival political candidates.

with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), IRCU together with The Elders’ Forum of Uganda (TEFU), held a national debate for all presidential candidates at the Serena Hotel, Kampala, on 15th January 2016.

The joint debate aimed at encouraging presidential candidates to unpack their manifestoes by addressing key national issues with a bearing to the lives of the majority of the citizens.

Besides, it aims at promoting peaceful campaigns and support conflict prevention by ensuring that political differences and debates do not lead to hostility and/or escalate into conflict levels.

The main objective of the debate is to promote the spirit of tolerance and consensus-building between candidates, strengthen the individual/party cooperation and statesmanship despite political differences, promote issue-based discussions between candidates and the citizens.

A debate can be defined as a focused discussion between two or more individuals or parties. Therefore, an open debate is an appropriate avenue for the audience to gauge objectivity, commitment and mental steadfastness of the political candidates. Such a discussion compels the contestants to stick to the major issues, spelt out in their manifestoes and demonstrate their relevance to the electorate.

Moreover, by its nature, a debate is an organized forum with a moderator and a well-laid out format to guide and regulate the direction and flow of the discussion. In these circumstances, there is hardly any room for a candidate to stray into trivial or irrelevant arguments.

In addition, a debate exposes to a candidate a code of conduct and social etiquette that engender the value of humility and respect for the ‘other’. Further, unlike in an open political campaign, the audience in an organized debate is more sophisticated, controllable and least likely to descend into an emotional verbal exchange. Most importantly, a joint debate is an ideal forum to seek the candidates’ commitment to an agenda of peace, stability and national unity.

This debate produced an increased sense of national unity and peaceful coexistence, a more enlightened electorate more focused on key issues than political ‘handouts’, and an increased sense of tolerance, love and patriotism.

The live audience at the debate comprised of  political parties and independents, Civil Society, Religious leaders, Electoral observers, Academia, Private sector, Ambassadors, Development partners, the UN family in Uganda, the East African Community, Cultural leaders, retired leaders, the Chair of the Electoral Commission and the 7 Commissioners, debate societies in selected secondary schools, representatives from University Students’ Guilds, representatives of persons with disability, business com-munity, women representatives, and youth representatives.

The tentative date for the second debate is 12th February 2016.

The second debate will be confirmed in consultation with the presidential candidates and their agents. Issues of the first debate majorly focused on the economy, social service delivery, governance, peace and security.

The Second debate is envisaged to focus on trade and investment, foreign policy, regional integration, rule of law, currency and foreign reserves, population and demographic issues.

Each candidate shall be allocated specific time to make an opening and closing statements. Prepared statements shall be allowed to increase clarity of issues.

As it was with the first debate, questions will not be shown to anyone outside the organizing team in advance of the debate. Candidates shall be given specific time for answers and rebuttals.

The debate will be run on the principal of equity and equality, making care to give equal opportunity to all candidates to give their views and answer questions put to them.

The debate will last 3- 4 hours starting at 7:00pm to 11:00 midnight, and time will be shared equally by all candidates.

TEFU and IRCU would like to appreciate the decision of all the seven presidential candidates to take time out of their busy schedule to attend what was an important milestone in the history of Uganda’s electoral process.

Once again, TEFU and IRCU would like to thank the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for their support that saw the debate happen.

We also thank the public who have continued to engage through the mainstream media and social media, talking about the ideas raised by the candidates during the debate.