On 9th August 2010, Alert convened business leaders from Acholi and Lango sub-regions of Northern Uganda for a meeting titled “Business and Peace in Uganda: Lessons from Sri Lanka and Kenya” aimed at exploring the role of the private sector in ensuring a peaceful electoral process in the 2011 presidential and parliamentary election in Uganda. Alert’s South Asia Programme Manager Markus Mayer also participated, accompanying one representative of the Sri Lankan business community, as did James Shikwati, director of the Inter-Regional Economic Network (IREN) based in Nairobi, all sharing their respective experiences of private sector involvement in peace initiatives.
The timing of the electoral discussion and the inspiration taken from the Sri Lankan and Kenyan case studies galvanised the group, which decided to formalise its membership. At a subsequent meeting in November, the group adopted the name of Northern Uganda Business Forum for Peace (NUBFP). NUBFP then formulated core peace messages concerning the upcoming elections for different stakeholders, leading to a strong communiqué that was sent to the press, and which also formed the basis of a 12-week radio campaign in Luo language aired on the major FM stations in the north of Uganda, all supported by Alert. A high volume of call-in feedback and discussion indicated that listening communities appreciated the campaign, which filled a gap in available information about the upcoming election.
A follow-up meeting under the banner ”Raising a Private Sector Voice for Peaceful Elections” took place on 3rd February 2001 at the Pope Paul VI Memorial Hotel in Kampala. The meeting, organised by NUBFP in partnership with Alert and the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UNCCI), was aimed at taking the work of the northern group to the national level. Ahead of this event, IREN and Alert co-published James Shikwati’s case study of Kenyan business leaders’ involvement in promoting peace after the Kenyan national elections led to widespread violence in 2007-08. With the support of the Deepening Democracy programme and the Swedish International Development Agency, the event convened over 100 small and medium enterprises representatives from all over Uganda to hear and discuss updates from the Inspector General of Police, the chairperson of the Electoral Commission, the Citizens Coalition on Electoral Democracy in Uganda, the Inter Religious Council of Uganda and the Electoral Commission.
At the end of the meeting, a working group volunteered to adapt the NUBFP message for peaceful elections for a national audience, coming up with a common position that would be delivered to the public through the media. This piece appeared in Uganda’s main newspapers, the Daily Monitor and the New Vision and regional The East African – and was symbolic of the sentiments expressed during the meeting.
Unfortunately key messages developed by the business community through this work, such as the importance of appropriate policing of the elections and a free and fair process, were not observed. While the elections were largely “peaceful”, this was largely due to a massive police and military deployment country-wide, sending a clear signal to anyone who may have felt differently – as well as the enormous sums of public money spent by the ruling party on their own campaign that is widely seen to have distorted the process. The impact of Alert’s intervention is instead to be found in the groundwork for future work in building private-sector sensitivity to and activism on the governance challenges faced by Uganda.