UGANDA, Opinion: In the last one week, the nation has been in shock and pain following the sudden news that the NRM Parliamentary caucus had decided to approve the tabling of a private member’s bill pushing for the amendment of article 102(b) of the Constitution to remove the age limit imposed on Presidential candidates.
The nation is clearly divided with those against saying that the whole thing stinks and is aimed at benefiting the person of President Museveni by way of removing the last blockade to his 2021 candidature while those in support claim that it also opens up the Presidency to candidates that are below the age of 35!
Whatever the case, the former camp cannot know the plans of God, as to whether President Museveni will be alive and stand in 2021, likewise, the latter camp cannot also show us any Ugandan below 35 who is ready and prepared to challenge and defeat President Museveni and his machinery in the 2021 elections were he to stand!
The above uncertainty notwithstanding, in carrying on with the removal of age limit on the Presidency, President Museveni will be completing the circle of a zero-sum game that will be recorded as his political career. Weak as they may be, the opposition has managed to make President Museveni undo ALL his earlier achievements and he is now left with none to write home about if the last safeguard for peaceful transition is erased from the Constitution!
Political pundits and scientists have opined from time immemorial that the best way to defeat a revolutionary is to force them to undo all their achievements. I will take you down the memory lane and show you how the ‘weak’ opposition has achieved this; By 1996 elections, President Museveni was a darling of the ‘civilized and democratic’ world in the West.
In 10 years, he had overseen the elections of a truly national constituent assembly, which made and passed ‘one of the best’ Constitutions in the World. He had also shed off his military credentials, presented himself as a civilian for elections and ‘won by landslide’. President Museveni and his NRM/Movement system had liberalized the media and allowed Ugandans a chance to enjoy freedom of speech.
In the first 10 years, the NRM had tried its best to revive the economy and even went to the extent of using barter trade in a bid to practice frugality. He vehemently fought against HIV/AIDS scourge from the front. President Museveni had also introduced to the country a decentralized system of Governance that was a form of quasi-devolution of power. This system of Local/Resistance Councils served to calm down the political temperatures and helped to boost President Museveni’s democratic credentials in addition to guaranteeing citizen participation in leadership.
The posters of NRM candidates in 1996 had the following words, “For Peace, Unity, Democracy and Modernization”. The NRM campaign rhetoric of 1996 was largely centred on the return of peace and stability for much of Uganda, with the exception of Northern Uganda that was still plagued with the LRA rebellion.
For much of eastern, southern, central and western Uganda, security of persons and property was good. At this point, I must mention that in 1996 elections, I was a die-hard NRM child supporter. We sang our lungs out and chanted slogans such as, “Ani yabagamba nti abaana ba Museveni mubasobola, musobola bali ab’omukyalo ab’ambala empale ez’ebikooyi…”
Fast forward to the period of 2006-2017. In this period, we saw a less tolerant President Museveni, who jailed political opponents, raided media houses and muzzled freedom of speech. We have seen a President Museveni that seems to be riding a mad tiger in the form of a deeply corrupt system, whose existence and sophistication he also acknowledges.
We have seen a President that is reluctant to allow the Local Council elections be held. We have seen a President that has tinkered with sections of the Constitution that threatened the extension of his reign. We have seen an NRM system that enacts archaic laws such as the Public Order Management Act meant to curtail opposition mobilization.
We have seen a President and ruling party that can only boast of the National Army & National Water & Sewerage Corporation as the only functional and effective institutions of the State. We have seen a President and ruling party that have presided over a bloated Government expenditure, obscenely expanded Parliament, and created unnecessary Government agencies in stark contrast to the frugal Museveni of the 1980s and 1990s.
In the last 5 years, we have also seen a rise in extra-judicial killings in which the murderers are yet to be brought to justice. This is a sharp reversal of the gains of the Museveni-led NRM that took pride in bringing peace, security and stability in this our motherland. The people in support of the Constitutional amendment claim that they are interested in helping young people against discrimination in relation to accessing the Presidency.
These same people are reasoning with only one side of their brain because most jobs and positions of leadership have qualifications. Are these requirements and qualifications for positions such as Member of Parliament or Judge of the Supreme Court not discriminatory? Isn’t Parliamentary democracy itself discriminatory and exclusive when compared with direct democracy?
Why should these fellows believe that it is okay to allow qualifications for the position of MP and not for President? Why do they think that it is fine to retain age-limits for civil servants and judges and not for President? Is the Presidency not the most important position in this country? If it is, why do we want to set lower standards for the highest and most important position in the country than for the other lower positions? The opposition to the amendment is not anchored in law. It is a position that is consistent with common decency and morality. You cannot be a father that gives a child food and then when they are ready to start eating, you remove it and eat it yourself on top of gloating at them that you have all the rights.
You will definitely have the rights, but the salivating child will take it in bad faith especially if they know that you had just had a full meal a few minutes ago. This act of amending the Constitution displays an ugly truth about the 31 years of NRM rule, which is the Supremacy of the Presidency over every other institution or law in the land.
If President Museveni had left power in 1996 or 2006, he would have entrenched the Supremacy of the Constitution in the Ugandan fabric for many generations to come. The ‘Holy spirit’ guided him otherwise and Uganda moved on. We are unfortunately where we are. Some of the proponents of the amendment opine that morals have no place in politics, but I disagree because that would ideally mean disrespect to the national Constitution, religious teachings, and the citizens of this country. It is immoral in the first place to overthrow a National Constitution in pursuit of satisfying one individual’s quest for power.
For whatever achievements the nation has realized during the reign of President Museveni, the 1995 Constitution was always going to remain on top for many decades to come. With this latest move, subsequent Governments will not respect it and might actually push for a repeat of the Constitution-writing process. In a nutshell, President Museveni has run his race full circle, undone all his achievements and is now destined to go down in history as just another long-serving President in an African country.
The antics of some NRM Members of Parliament to rape the National Constitution by removing age limits has presented Ugandans and our leaders at all levels, from all shades of political, religious and ethnic background with a clear choice between immorality and morality, between decent politics and indecent politics, between progression and regression, between goodwill and ill-will, between patriotism and treason, between frugality and greed, between hypermetropia and myopia, between intelligence and imbecility, between selflessness and selfishness. Let us all make the choice for the good of our country and not otherwise, for history shall be harsh on all of us.