20 September 2017

Uganda: The Church Can Stop Life Presidency

opinion

There is something important our revolutionary leader, Gen Yoweri Museveni, has skipped this year - celebrating his birthday.

This is something he has religiously done annually since 2014 when he turned 70. On his 70th birthday celebrated on August 15, he revealed that he was born "around September 15, 1944."

Skipping this annual family fete tells you how cautious Gen Museveni has become with his age. He doesn't want to be reminded when he was born. Reminding him, I think, is about to be declared an offence.

The truth of the matter is that even after all the alleged editing has been factored in, Museveni will be 76 in 2020 and, therefore, ineligible to appear on the 2021 presidential elections ballot paper.

That is why fortune-hunters have seized the moment to help him change the Constitution so he can realize his dream of dying in the presidential office.

I don't intend to dwell much on the demerits of life presidency. This is something more qualified people dealt with starting in 2003, again when Museveni shamelessly started mooting the idea of removing the presidential two-term limit.

I assume that everybody in Uganda appreciates the danger of a life presidency including those parochial NRM MPs who want to become its champion.

What we must not forget is that there are personal rewards for pushing for it. MPs Peter Ogwang from Katakwi and Evelyn Anite from Koboko, who are part of the gang pushing for the constitutional change, will never feel for Museveni like Eriya Kategaya, Mugisha Muntu or Augustine Ruzindana [all NRM veterans] did. And Museveni knows it.

They are just hunting for fortunes. That is why those of us fighting to stop them must avoid looking like them. We must avoid presenting ourselves as publicity-seeking politicians who have seized on this campaign to make names for ourselves.

Seeking personal heroism and manoeuvres has, in the past, cost us some battles. That is why we must be as cautious as Museveni is with his age.

In Zambia, the population was able to stop President Fredrick Chiluba in 2001 from changing the Constitution to remove presidential term limits because it allowed the Church to lead the campaign.

Unlike ours, the Church in Zambia took up the fight to safeguard presidential term limits as a Godly project. First, the Christian Council of Zambia, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia and the Zambia Episcopal Conference drafted a declaration pleading with Chiluba not to change the Constitution.

It urged him to "exercise statesmanship by unambiguously pledging to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of Zambia and not contest the 2001 presidential elections." It also appealed to the Zambians (the likes of Ogwang, Anite, Adolf Mwesige, etc) to protect democracy.

The Church organized and even led demonstrations. The Church had played a similar role to end Kenneth Kaunda's life presidency project. In fact, the pulpit became the main platform against Kaunda's hold onto power.

The Church played the same role in stopping Malawi's Bakili Muluzi. Muluzi threatened the Church not to interfere with politics but they didn't relent.

Again, the Church had played the same role during dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda's era. Kamuzu Banda, at one time, sentenced eight Catholic bishops to death for attempting to remove his government, but they didn't waver.

For us in Uganda, the Church looked the other side as the revolutionary changed the constitution. Rwanda soon followed suit and Burundi was taking note.

An opportunity has availed itself to us again and we must cautiously seize it. Let the Church and maybe the Ummah lead or at least join the campaign to stop the life presidency.

The traditional leaders must also not only speak out, but actively participate in this campaign. If we don't stop Museveni, he is willing to go down with our country. It is today or never.

The author is Kira Municipality MP and spokesperson of the Forum for Democratic Change.

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