14 August 2017

Uganda: The New Museveni Age-Limit Plan

Photo: Daily Monitor
President Yoweri Museveni

Kampala — No bill seeking to remove the 75-year age limit on the presidency has been tabled but the head-butting around the issue is intense. When, on Aug. 07, President Yoweri Museveni's staff posted a photo on his Face Book page mentioning him and a date in 1947, opponents to lifting the age-limit sprung into a Twitter frenzy.

That is a ploy by the president to amend his birth date from 1944 to 1947, many of them claimed, thereby reducing his age by a solid three years, which would then make him legible to contest in 2021 without having to amend the constitution. In reality, they were calling in the fire brigade to switch off a light bulb.

The picture shown was, in fact, showing that President Museveni had discovered documents showing when exactly he was baptized and the documents affirmed what Museveni had already written in his book; 'Sowing the Mustard Seed' that he was baptized in 1947.

The President's Spokesperson, Don Wanyama, made this point to The Independent.

"The President has previously written about it in his memoirs. Why then would it change a thing?" Wanyama said, "The baptism date is not a new thing".

Wanyama dismissed the claims as the handiwork of the "idle" opposition, who he said were the ones "behind this necessary hullabaloo". If true, then it would be the second time that the opposition's propaganda machine is putting Museveni team under pressure over the lifting of the presidential age limit. The first time was when they forced it to become a major issue in parliament even before any Bill is tabled.

In any case, for most observers, it all has to do with State House's timing of the release of the images. They come at a time when Museveni's government is expected to fiddle with Article 102 of the constitution which places the presidential age-limit at 75 years.

It is almost a public secret that Museveni's strategists are plotting several approaches to ensuring the planned age limit amendment has a soft landing in parliament and have now crafted the perfect plan to "trap" MPs.

Museveni will be 76 years old at the next election in 2021 and, since Article 102 (B) of the constitution sets the age range for president at 35 to 75 years of age, he cannot run for the presidency again - unless the constitution is amended by the MPs.

According to sources close to Museveni's planning team, the move is prompted by earlier reports that MPs will demand a huge monetary ransom from the President as the price for passing the amendment. Museveni will be 76 years old at the next election in 2021 and, since Article 102 (B) of the constitution sets the age range for president at 35 to 75 years of age, he cannot run for the presidency again - unless the constitution is amended.

Insiders say, some of the legislators who have considered voting for the lifting of the age limit had already proposed that the President gives each a cash package of between Shs300 million and Shs500 million for the job. Museveni's ruling NRM party has 293 MP and is expected to court some of the 66 independent MPs and a few low hanging opposition MPs. At that rate, the lifting of the age-limit would cost Museveni between Shs100 billion and Shs175 billion. That is a hefty package but the MPs apparently do not want to share the same fate as the previous cohort of MPs who remove the two-term limit for a paltry Shs5 million each. Unfortunately, for the current group, Museveni does not appear will to cough the billions. Instead, according to insiders, he is offering the MPs bait they must bite and he gets his wish. The bait is a proposal to extend the term of parliament from the current five-year term to seven. Of course the presidential term would also be equally extended.

"We are looking at extending the term to seven years," said one of Museveni's handlers on conditions of anonymity, "and the proposal enjoys a lot of support from parliament for obvious reasons, which should make mobilisation easier."

In an attempt to show further that the amendment is not designed to favour Museveni alone, the strategists want even the lower bar of 35 to be removed so that anyone aged 18 years and above can run for both parliament and the presidency.

Legislators support the seven-year extension because, partly, an extension of two years means more time in parliament before facing constituents for votes, and more cash. At an average of Shs. 25 million per month, each MP would earn Shs600 million over the two years. This is almost double what some legislators have demanded for the vote on the matter.

It is not the first time these proposals are being fronted. For instance, the plot to extend the term of office was first mooted in 2001 before the constitutional review commission. Later in 2011, Kabula County MP, James Kakooza, who also led the campaign to lift term limits and is now one of the central figures in another to lift the age limit, also pushed it.

Kakooza told The Independent that it is good the idea of extending a term in office has come up again.

"I don't want to pre-empt the debate because it is government that brings constitutional amendments and they haven't," Kakooza said, "But if they do, I will support and the argument is simple; five years is too short for a leader to serve people."

Kakooza explained that every term, the president spends the first year in office selecting cabinet and the last year campaigning.

"So, in effect," Kakooza told The Independent, "you have only three years to serve people. What can you achieve in three years when just procurement for a road takes years?"

Apart from the seven year term, Kakooza is also an ardent supporter of lifting the age limit.

"And for me it is not about Museveni," he told The Independent, "I am opposed to article 102 because it contradicts our constitution."

He argued that Article 1 of the constitution says that people shall express their will and consent on who shall govern them and article 21 that all persons are equal before and under the law, yet article 102 caps the age limit at 75.

"That is discriminatory," he said, "it says that people who are beyond 75 are senile and useless yet every day we see international organisations hiring people who are above 75, we see presidents who are above 75 and are still serving there people. That is why I am opposed to the article."

But critics insist that while many politicians across the political divide stand to benefit from extension of the term of office, all this is meant to benefit Museveni as the biggest beneficially. Ever since reports emerged that Museveni is planning to push through parliament a raft of parliamentary reforms with the amendment of the age limit being at the centre, every move is heavily scrutinised for potential of early signs.

At the heart of these plans are members of Museveni's inner circle like Lt.Col. Micheal Katungi, who coordinates Museveni's party office and works closely with Molly Kamukama, President Museveni's current Principle Private Secretary (PPS) who before the 2016 elections headed the Mbuya office--which was the hub of mobilisation for Museveni's 2016 campaign. Kamukama was Museveni's de facto campaign manager.

Katungi, who has handled many special assignments for Museveni is working with David Mafabi, the President's Private Assistant for Political Affairs, Stephen Othieno, a personal assistant to the president's son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, among others.

These officials are aware they have to wade through even deeper controversy than what has already been thrown up but see that as a small price to pay given the immense potential to get legislators invested.

The article revealed how Katungi, is working with Mafabi, Othieno and others including; Nyombi Thembo, the former state minister for ICT, legislators like Simeo Nsubuga and Col. Fred Mwesigye, RO 27 or the 27th guerrilla to join Museveni's 1981 war, who is the MP for Nyabushozi, Juliet Kinyamatama (Rakai), Micheal Tusiime (Mbarara Municipality), Peter Ogwang (Eastern Youth MP), Kenneth Omona (Keberamaido), James Kakooza (Kabula) and Ibrahim Abiriga (Arua).

Most of these attended a symposium at Kati Kati restaurant located along the Lugogo bypass in Kampala and launched what is being seen as the roadmap for the campaign.

The meeting passed several resolutions, top of which was about the issue of age limits. This was read by Phoebe Namulindwa, an NRM youth. The implicit stamp of approval was all over the meeting; including on the lunch coupons, which bore a State House stamp.

The event was marketed as political counter mobilisation against those opposing the campaign. It came hardly a week after July 12 when police arrested NRM youth leader, Robert Rutaro and others under their group UB40 (Ugandans Under40) for organizing a press conference at Makerere University where they lambasted the move to lift the age limit.

Most of the youths at Kati Kati have gone through inductions in Kyankwanzi. Sources say while at the institute, these youths were promised jobs, which have never come. The age limit campaign, appeared a perfect opportunity for them to remind the authorities about their plight. Indeed, at the Kati Kati conference, over 60 percent of those in attendance were these Kyankwanzi recruits.

In a sign of increasing public displays, about 20 proponents of lifting the debate, mostly women, recently marched across Lira town in northern Uganda carrying placards reading "General YK Museveni Paka last, We support the removal of term limit". These were not molested.

Yet when some youths in Mbarara attempted to march through town carrying a casket with a portrait of the president with an inscription reading; "Rest in peace Museveni," they were arrested and jailed for it.

But President Museveni continues to feign indifference to the plot to amend shift the presidential age-limit. "I hear there is a debate about age limit and I do not know what, what are you debating, who has brought a proposal?" Museveni had asked during a press briefing at State House Entebbe on July 19, just days before Katungi's meeting in Mbuya.

Some people, like opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party President, Gen. Mugisha Muntu, who know Museveni well, are not fooled.

"He is a crafty operator," Muntu, who worked as army commander under Museveni told The Independent. Muntu was commenting about President Museveni machinations since he captured power in 1986, always promising to relinquish power in a few years, only to stay on until now when he has made three decades in office and is even looking to extend his rule to the fourth.

Muntu argues that what allows Museveni to keep playing these games, is the low levels of political consciousness and courage amongst society.

"If leaders were firm and stood up against him," Muntu who later left the NRM said, "if only 100 members of the National Council or the High Command stood up against him, even discreetly, and said you cannot do that, we don't support it, he can't do it."

But ardent supporters of President Museveni see things differently. Nsubuga, the Kasanda South legislator, who is a renowned proponent of the campaign was recently in his constituency and solved a land dispute and was rewarded with a cow.

"They are appreciating our work," he told The Independent, "and they said they gave me that cow so I can drink milk, such that by the time the age limit debate comes up, I am strong enough to debate well and push their interests.".



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