Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Can Museveni do a McCain in 2011?
The US presidential race is now on the home-stretch , with 22 days to the polling day on November 4. The Americans will decide whether to continue with George Bush’s policies by electing the ‘maverick’ Republican candidate John McCain or embrace change which has been proclaimed by the Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

But there is a lot about America’s elections that developing nations like Uganda can learn from . Take for instance the role of women in national politics. For the first time in the US presidential campaigns four amazing women- Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Cindy McCain and Sarah Palin have made their mark and elevated the women’s role in national politics to a level that has never been witnessed anywhere in the world before.

These women have demonstrated that they too are smart and can hold their own on a level political playing field. They have debated the issues with the same intellectual intensity and stamina just like their male counterparts.

That’s why a Washington veteran the Democratic VP nominee , Mr Joe Biden (65)– tried so much not to appear to be disrespectful when he came up against a far less experienced Republican VP pick ,Ms Sarah Palin (44) during the Vice Presidential debate watched by a record 69 million global audience.

Although we are yet to have a serious woman presidential candidate in Uganda, if one chooses to exercise their constitutional right- to have a shot at the presidency, they should be accorded the same respect given to women in the US presidential campaigns.

The other important lesson for us has got to do with disabusing our national and local politics of any manner of personal attacks and have our politics cleaned up to focus on the issues that are matter to the Ugandan people. The McCain campaign has unleashed a barrage of nasty attacks on his main challenger Obama. But the polls show that such smear campaign doesn’t work in a civilised political society.

An election dominated, at its inception, by the war in Iraq is now overwhelmingly focused on the country’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s- that’s what concerns the people and not whether Obama is a Muslim or McCain is a Christian. Because Obama is doing well on issues, the polls are favouring him with double digit leads among voters on who can fix the US and global economy.

It’s not surprising therefore that at a Town Hall event on Friday in Minnesota, McCain took the microphone from a woman who had called Obama an Arab. McCain said, “No, ma’am,” and he called Obama “a decent, family man.” McCain also drew boos at the same event when he told a supporter who expressed fear at the prospect of Obama’s election that the Democrat is a “person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.”

This is the kind of tolerance that we should demand of our leaders in Uganda. Can our politicians borrow a leaf from McCain’s rejection of the politics of fear and hate mongering ? Can President Museveni make similar, respectful remarks or compliments about his formidable opponents such as Dr Kizza Besigye? Only time will tell. But that’s what civilised leaders do.

One thing for sure though is that there has been too much name calling and hatred in our national politics. Now is the time for the Ugandan voters to say no to such divisive tactics in our body politic. The US campaigns have also demonstrated that everyone can be president including forks who come from modest means like Obama if they are well prepared and focused to address people’s needs.

But perhaps the most significant lesson from the US elections is that of our civil duty to take our national politics seriously. We, as citizens, must be vigilante and exercise our constitutional right of electing democratic leaders who can take our country forward. Ugandans must pay attention to issues of governance because they directly impact on our lives. We can disagree without being disagreeable or without demonising one another.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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