MAY 20, 2010: Obama's Man Flies in Over Polls

Obama's Man Flies in Over Polls
SOURCE: The Monitor
By Henry Ochieng & Isaac Khisa
Kampala — The US government has sent its highest ranking diplomat on Africa to Uganda a month after a report highly critical of Kampala's perceived failure to move on electoral reforms was submitted to the American Congress, Daily Monitor can reveal.
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jonnie Carson should have landed at Entebbe Airport just after midnight yesterday, according to American embassy sources here. The sources also said this was an unplanned, but "official visit to allow [him] address a broad range of bilateral and regional issues with President Museveni and civil society leaders". "It was not a scheduled trip ... I believe the secretary of state (Hilary Clinton) had a conversation with President Museveni a few weeks ago and the President invited him," Ms Joann Lockard, the public affairs officer at the US embassy, said yesterday.

Ms Lockard said Mr Carson, who was in Kampala last October, will "stress the US government's commitment to democracy, a free and independent media, good governance, regional security and stability." She could not, however, say whether Mr Carson's trip has anything to do with a report issued in April by Ms Clinton.

Yesterday, some Opposition politicians suggested that Mr Carson's visit is connected to the Clinton report issued in April that observed that the Uganda government has done nothing to further the independence of the Electoral Commission, guarantee the sanctity of the voters' register, ensure free movement of opposition politicians, and that the government continues to impose restrictions on local media.

Museveni's views

Days after newspapers here reported on the existence of that document, President Museveni said the American leadership had no right "to lecture" Uganda on democracy. In a telephone interview, Mr Robert Kanusu, press secretary to Uganda People's Congress leader, Olara Otunnu, confirmed that his party boss will be meeting Mr Carson together with other opposition leaders. "I am sure they will discuss the disbanding of the Electoral Commission (EC) and how a new EC can be constituted. No amount of intervention by President Museveni can stop the momentum now," Mr Kanusu said.

Also on Wednesday, Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao confirmed the planned Friday lunchtime meeting to take place with Mr Carson at the American embassy. "We (opposition leaders) will amplify the Clinton report since we know the US State Department is interested in the road to 2011 as a key partner of Uganda. We shall put several footnotes to that report. For example, we shall show how the current voter registration exercise is proving to be a sham," Mr Mao said.

Mr Carson's visit comes hours after the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) demanded an immediate disbanding of the EC presently headed by Eng. Badru Kiggundu. The IPC (see full statement) leaders at a press conference in Kampala yesterday said the EC is partisan and could not conduct free and fair polls in a multi-party system. Last evening, Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi said, "The opposition has just presented a Bill today (Wednesday) on the floor of the House on constitutional amendment and they lost it."