Thursday, February 17, 2011


Norbert Mao was elected president of the Democratic Party (DP) on Saturday February 20, 2010 and now set to run for president of Uganda in the 2011 general elections. His party (DP) faced a lot of challenges that led to a split and deep polarization at the height of 2011 presidential elections. Mao speaks Luo, Luganda, Runyankole and English fluently.

We’ve just been at Makarere University for the last rally in Kampala, how have you found the campaign trail in this election?

For me it has been very exciting, it’s an opportunity to learn more about the people. It has also given me an opportunity to share with the people some of my thoughts and my plans. It has been an opportunity to mobilize the party. It has been an opportunity to get questions. And also I have had to come face to face with ghosts of the past. In the Luweero Triangle I was asked by someone about the killings by government troops, many of whom were from northern Uganda. So this was an opportunity to help Ugandans to come to terms with the past, and also to rise above it. So the campaign trail has been fantastic.

And how do you feel things have changed politically, particularly in Northern Uganda, since the last election?

Right now the population is more dispersed. People were in IDP camps, and candidates would patrol the camps and find voters. President Museveni has made some concessions about northern Uganda. So the political landscape has changed a little bit. I believe he expects a little more support. But he has not dealt with the substantive issues of national reconciliation; he has not dealt with the reparations, paying war debt. And because the expectations of the people are higher during peace, President Museveni may not actually reap any dividends. We are now called upon to be more substantive, not just denouncing war and conflict and displacement. So in many ways it is not 2006, at least it is not 2001.

The north has a very large young population, as does the rest of the country, and I’ve seen and heard a lot of people referring to you as Obama. How do you feel about that nickname?

I feel flattered to be associated with a great leader like President Barack Obama, but it’s more about my ethnic mix. My mother is from Ankole, where Museveni comes from, and my father is from Acholi, in Northern Uganda. The same way that Obama has been a bridge between black people and white people in America, many people believe that my ethnic mix gives me a better advantage in being a bridge to unite the north and the south, to heal that long divide that we have been having. Obama challenges us to aspire to a greater future and I am also challenging Ugandans by telling them that we can’t do anything about the past, but we can change the future.

One of your talking points is “UB40”, Ugandans Below 40. Do you think that your party has policies that attract young people?

The Democratic Party has the most vibrant youth movement. Our programs for job creation, for support entrepreneurship amongst the young, of supporting education through more funding, providing for student loans and providing scholarships for students to pursue degrees science and technology overseas, and our program for reforming the education system so that students can have real skills instead of just a piece of paper, these ideas are so appealing to the youth. And by being a candidate whose online presence is very strong, young people relate to me. They know that we have a shared past. They don’t share any past with Museveni. They relate to the demand for jobs and better education.

Young people are always known for having more progressive ideas. Uganda has been criticized internationally for its stance on gay rights and apparent toleration of homophobia. What are your thoughts on this issue?

All ideas must progress through time before they are accepted. Uganda is going through the effects of globalization, and while in the West gay people declare themselves openly and have clubs and publish magazines, our society has not yet reached that point. There was a piece of drama named “The Vagina Monologues”, and it was thrown out of Uganda. There was no outcry over that. I supported the women who wanted to show that piece of drama. The prejudice being felt by homosexuals in Uganda has been felt by other societies. I believe that homosexuals are human beings and that they are entitled to their human rights, but I think the world should understand when we take precautions to protect vulnerable parts of our society. But also I think the world has been unfair to Uganda. There are so many Ugandans who are in jail unfairly, but President Obama has never said a word about them. I think human rights should be like the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t matter which one you break, you go to hell. When I become president I will encourage the western world to understand why this is a sensitive debate.

It should be noted that the bill, which called for the death penalty for certain homosexual behavior, resulted partly from a tour by some evangelical ministers from the US.

Well this cuts both ways. I am a sinner, and am taught to hate the sin but love the sinner, and I think we have no right to judge. People should accept the culture shock, but also we must take precautions against the manipulations by those who are sitting on moral high horses. People will exploit [the gay rights movement], but I think that Uganda is big enough to accommodate people of all sexual orientations, because we cannot have a moral police going round putting cameras in people’s bedrooms. There would be many things going on.

What are the most important changes you think Uganda needs with its next government?

Uganda is still too caught up with the “big man” politics. President Museveni is in the mold of Mugabe and Said Barra, leaders whose departures signal chaos, and they use that threat to cling on to power. I believe that we need to put power back into the hands of the people. Our elections are meaningless because they are based on bribery and the state machinery is used heavily to undermine opponents. I think the number one agenda is genuine democracy. We need to fight corruption. The president and his cronies use government funds like loose change. I think we need leaders who lead by personal example. We also need to deal with social injustices- the gap between the rich and poor is too high. The price of basic necessities is too high, the government needs to intervene. Even the education sector discriminates against the poor; even health services discriminate against the poor. So my most urgent set of reforms would be to restore term limits, that’s very healthy for a democracy. People get used to arrivals and departures. Museveni has overstayed his welcome and he needs to go. And we don’t need his permission for us to tell him that he needs to go, and to make him go. We need to deal with economic reforms, and also to support the strategic sectors such as agriculture. But most of that will not be done if we have a kleptocrat and his cronies in power. Fighting corruption is a key agenda for me.

You have spoken about Kenyan elections in your rallies and about the tribal coalitions it uses. What do you think Uganda can learn from Kenya’s successes and failures?

Firstly I think that the Kenyans have learned that no community can totally dominate the country, and that forces compromise. I think that compromise is good in politics we must learn the culture of give and take, and I think the Kenyans have learned the hard way. We don’t have to learn the hard way. Secondly I think we have learned that if you are marginalized because of your tribe, then you should not apologize for organizing on the basis of your tribe. That’s why women organize as women, because if your gender is the basis for your marginalization then you should organize on the basis of that marginalization. Thirdly, we should learn from Kenya that you need to talk. In Uganda the political classes don’t talk. The main political leaders have never sat in the same room and talked. But also the Kenyan politics has totally disenfranchised the ordinary people, because the people are used as bargaining chips. The wheeling and dealing turns the people into pawns that are used to gain political mileage, and that is something we should avoid in Uganda.

What can be learned from the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt?

What we have learned is that no dictator is invincible. Every tyrant has their Achilles heel; you just have to find it. But we also have to study the societies. Egypt and Tunisia have very high literacy rates, the societies are culturally homogenous, and they speak Arabic, which unites them. But otherwise I think that the Tunisian and Egyptian experience is applicable to Uganda.

Do you think that the events in Tunisia and Egypt have had an effect on the way Ugandan voters view these elections?

Yes. It’s like a giant who has been sleeping realizing its strength. Because of the power of the media, you say Tunisia every Ugandans may not be able to locate it on a map but they know that there was a long-serving dictator who was kicked out by angry masses. It is a good precedent for those who desire democracy, and a bad precedent for despots. Uganda is not like Egypt and Tunisia, but Museveni is like Mubarak and Ben Ali.

And finally, the election is in two days. If you don’t win how will you and your family be relaxing after these grueling months of campaigning?

It’s not so much about relaxing. I will take a few days off to catch up on sleep, maybe do some travelling, compile my diary and generally get back to the work of preparing for the next offensive. That is if the result is acceptable. If we have reasons to challenge the results we will not be reluctant. We will be in the trenches, challenging the results and asserting the power of the people. If I win I will be naming a cabinet, touring the country and forming a governing alliance. We have run a strong race and surprised even ourselves. The party is energized and no matter the results, the exertions will not be in vain.

Tags 2011 presidential elections, 2011 uganda, democratic party, elections in uganda, Government, Mao, mao uganda, Norbert Mao, uganda democratic party, Ugandan elections, Voting, Candidate, Election, Parliament, Party Politics, Politics

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