URI-Great Lakes leads non-violent elections campaign in Uganda

9 February 2011
a man and women both speaking on the microphone

On January 4th, in a hotel conference room in Kampala, Uganda, youth political leaders and leaders of Uganda’s security forces came face to face for a highly unusual meeting: a national consultation called by URI’s Great Lakes region to prevent violence in the upcoming elections on February 18. 

In previous years, elections have been marred by deadly clashes between youth and security forces, resulting in mutual distrust and popular disaffection with the electoral process. Complicating matters this year is the formation of ad hoc youth “security” forces that have no clear purpose or uniform code of conduct.

This breakthrough meeting in Kampala was part of an ongoing campaign by the URI-Great Lakes regional office with support from the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa. It capped a series of local district meetings aimed at building trust and finding ways for the two groups to work together.

Speaking before their interfaith hosts and the chair of the country’s electoral commission, each group aired its grievances: Youth felt sidelined, targeted and treated unfairly; the police and army saw the youth as pawns of politicians, forceful, unpredictable and provocative.

“Allowing the groups to be heard by one another was a very big step in clearing up misconceptions and overcoming prejudices,” said URI Regional Coordinator Despina Namwembe.

And by the time the meeting was over, the two groups had come to an agreement, committing to disbanding the youth brigades and other related militia groups; promoting balanced media coverage; instituting community policing; and educating the public about the role of security agencies.

In the final weeks before the election, URI Great Lakes is stepping up the campaign, sending peace ambassadors—youth, police and religious leaders—to violence-prone areas; reaching out through the radio and other media with messages of peace; and spreading hope that February 18 will begin a new era of civility.

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View the full February 2011 issue of InterAction