Opinion: At the opening of the month of May in the year of 2012, President Yoweri Museveni was hosted on the NTV popular Spot On program. The moderator of the day, Patrick Kamara posed intriguing questions to the Head of State.
The questions ranged from issues to do with the economy as well as the removal of term limits from the 1995 Uganda Constitution that saw Museveni ruling beyond two terms that had been set by the framers of the country’s constitution during the constituent assembly.
But of specific interest among all topics discussed at that show was the issue of age limit. Kamara must have posed the question on the age limit well aware that a good number of Ugandans were concerned that the ruling NRM party members were harboring ideas of tinkering with the constitution yet again with the view of removing that last hurdle in order to grant their candidate Yoweri Museveni the unfeterred right to rule Uganda for life.
The framers of the Ugandan Supreme Law set the date of 75 years after which no person can be eligible to stand for the office of the president. Going by his own admission that he was born around 1944, Museveni would therefore not be eligible to stand for the highest office in the land after his current term expires in the year of 2021.
The man of the hat has been the Head of State since 1986 when he took power from the junta of Gen Okello Lutwa by means of arms. Thereafter, he banned political parties and with it, competitive politics save for elections at the constituency and LC levels.
With agitation from within and without the country for opening up of political space gaining currency, Museveni agreed in 1995 to flee political parties. He thereafter offered himself to compete with other political actors for power. He has won all elections starting 1996 when the political party dispensation was reintroduced albeit with grumblings that some of his victories have been courtesy of trickery.
That was the background. We now return to the hot topic. It’s the topic about the need, or lack of it, to open the constitution again with the view of removing the clause that bars any person aged 75 and above from contesting for the office of president.
A number of MPs, some even from the NRM, have come forward and expressed their support as far as removing the above clause is concerned. While others, majority from the opposition, but without negating the sounds of disapproval from some of the ruling party MPs, are swearing that the clause will be removed over their dead bodies.
The biggest beneficiary of the removal of the clause has not been in the mood of telling the country on which side of the debate he falls. To confuse the public even the more, Kaguta has since labeled those making noise about the clause as people who lack what to do. Interestingly, such idlers include high ranking officials of his party who have been telling all and sundry how Kaguta is the only visionary guy around whom the country should not lose on account of a constitutional clause. Viola!
Asked by Kamara to justify why a country without term limits should again have a constitution clause on age limit, the president stated, “That one I think we had ignored. We had not discussed it, but it can be discussed. But I think after the age of 75 there is some scientific idea that may be the vigour is not as much as before.”
The president went even one step further, “So that one I wouldn’t quarrel so much, I know there are some leaders who have been leading even beyond the age of 75 but I think if you want very active leaders it is good to have ones below the age of 75”.
As if to keep his word on record for posterity on this point, the moderator posed a more specific question to the president, “Are you saying you wouldn’t go beyond the age of 75? Kaguta cleared his voice and retorted, “Not at all. Certainly not. That is in the Constitution now. And I will not involve myself in wanting to change that. Because I think there is some scientific logic behind it.”
But even then, can Kaguta the politician’s word be trusted? More so in a situation where he finds his word to be the roadblock between him and power? In his historical address after attaining power in 1986, Museveni suggested that he would not stay on for long.
His mission had been to take out fascists and murderers. And now that he was done with that he would be around State House for a few years, in order to put a few things to normal, before handing over power to politicians and then return to his farm to tend to his animals.
But he knew there were doubting Thomas’ among people listening to his speech. Those who doubted what he was talking about knew of many African revolutionaries who had spoken like him before, only to superglue to power later.
To these doubting people Museveni stated that Africa’s problems had been leaders who overstay in power of which he was not one. Everyone clapped in awe of the president’s commitment to leave power soon including even members of the opposition who had joined him.
Contrary to Museveni’s assurance above, he has since not only stayed in power close to three decades now , but also sponsored the amendment that finally did away with term limits. Or at least—has benefitted from the clause’s removal and for more than once.
He has even gone ahead and rubbished the clause: “My view is that it is a lot of nonsense because as long as there is election the people should elect. And there are some good examples. And indeed all European countries do not have term limits. Except US, but all the others—Britain, I think even France, certainly I know Israel. So as long as people are electing that will be the limit. And, if the people don’t want you that will be the end of the story. So, it is a diversion and not a serious issue in my opinion.”
He has also abandoned his own 1986 diagnosis of Africa’s problem being leaders who stay long in power. He now contends “Not at all. What I said is staying in power without the mandate of the people. Because the people of Uganda have never expired. Haven’t you heard of a population called Ugandans?”
They are there and they are the owners of this country. They have the power according to our Constitution to, every five years; change whoever they want to change. So, why do you want to usurp their role? He lecturers further, “What I was saying that time was leaders who stay in power without the mandate of the people that is what I was said.”
What’s more? At one election time, I think 2001; Museveni pleaded with the masses to give him one more chance in order to professionalize the army. He stated in broad day light that was going to be his last time returning to Ugandans for votes. He even put it in black and white. Ugandans granted his request. But he was still right there when the subsequent election arrived.
On yet another electioneering time we were sold the idea of the need to groom a successor as another reason why Museveni deserved another term. We were told that a certain John Patrick Amama Mbabazi was such successor. But that he required grooming from the visionary man himself prior to taking over the reins of power.
The man from Kigezi knows very well now that such talk was just hot air. The intention was to keep Patrick in slumber. The manner in which he was handled when he came forward to lay claim to his ‘thrown’ has since taught Patrick never to count his chicks till their hatched.
And much as the Head of State is saying he is not interested in the idea of doing away with the age limit, he has not given an express order stopping members of his party from selling it. As the president lambasted debate about the age limit as diversionary, his political strategist David Mafabi was elsewhere drumming support for the need to do away with the clause on age limit and announcing a countrywide campaign to sell the idea to the masses. Is that not ironical?
A cabinet minister has drawn up the relevant constitutional amendment bill already. He is even raring to print it in the national gazette. I for one cannot be deceived that the president is not privy to meetings that sat to discuss the amendment bill. I cannot believe talk that government knows nothing about the amendments being worked on by its own minister.
But above all, the president is on record telling us that what is important is ideology (what one can offer the country) as opposed to biology (his age). Enough said. Ciao!