Former Democratic Party leader Paul Ssemogerere speaks...
What is your take on the political developments we have experienced lately?
When you critically look at someone, you discover a certain natural way he does things. You can look at a driver and classify him as a very careful driver; you can classify him as a very fast driver; and you can also say he is reckless.
When I look at the current leadership and I look at the leaderships I have known in this country and other countries, I discover that the current leadership has a strong inclination to rule through orders, commands. Its natural inclination of conducting business is to do so in an authoritarian way. Once it perceives a problem and a solution; that is it. It does not worry about what the other person thinks about the issue. This inclination is what leads to authoritarian administration.
The leader thinks he is right and he has the right to be right. Those who stand in the way, the leadership condemns; it does away with. Under such circumstances you use whatever it takes to get people in order. When you do that, there is a temptation to put in place structures which create no problem for you as a leader.
There came a time in South Africa when there was pressure for African emancipation, even from strong partners of the apartheid leadership - the business community. They thought it was in their interest to expand their reach within and beyond South Africa. They knew once the Africans were empowered economically, this would serve the interests of the powerful business community. So the Apartheid leaders all of a sudden granted a status of statehood to the Africans - they had a flag, they had an office, they were paid well by the central government, etc.
But they were not by themselves viable. They did not control resources, the security forces, and so on. For some of the agitators, the leaders, it was good enough that they would also be driven around and had good salaries. So South Africa was fragmented that way and this helped the regime to legitimise itself in power. But it resisted actual devolution of power to the Africans. Power actually remained at the centre.
This was as we have seen here in Uganda. It happened under Obote I. There was resistance against federal status, although Buganda managed to achieve something at Lancaster before Independence. But once there were political problems in the country, Obote jumped on that and straight away overthrew the Constitution to remove this power from Mengo.
It was to remove the king yes, but also to take away the power and take the land - the 9,000 square miles which was held in trust by the colonial government and at independence was restored back to Buganda. In 1966, it was one of the targets and was taken by the central government under the Uganda Land Commission. And you can see the land issue now; this question of amending the Constitution on the pretext of promoting developments.
They say they are supposed to compensate you if your land is compulsorily acquired, but that if you don't agree on the price then they (government) can deposit some money in the court and take the land. This can be used on any other occasion anywhere.
So I think it is the ideological orientation for authoritarian rule which is at the centre of all these problems. It has got to be examined with courage. It did not do well for Uganda under Obote, it did not do well for Uganda under Amin, it has not done well for Uganda under Museveni.
By removing the term limit, a mistake was made. It undermined the whole conception of the concept of democracy. That was a terrible mistake. Now to remove the age limit is a continuation of the mistake. Of course it doesn't mean that when you are 75 years old you lose all senses. You can still be fine. But it is a limit so that the playing field is open all the time.
An argument has been made that age limit is discriminatory...
It is not discriminatory at all. It is a law that was accepted and it is part of the Constitution. It is just like civil servants.
There are many civil servants I have known who are forced to retire after they reach the compulsory retirement age when they are still alright. It is a way to run administration so that others can come in.
Discrimination comes when it is applied to you alone and others are benefitting. If they pass a law that I, Ssemogerere cannot go beyond 75 years of age when others are benefitting, that would be discrimination. But in this case we are given the same chance.
You can aspire to be a political leader, or to be a professor at university, but when you reach 75 or 65, whatever it is, you stop there. And this is for you and other people. That is not discrimination.
Some people, including religious leaders, are calling for a referendum on the matter of age limit. What do you say to that?
I read carefully what (Daily) Monitor reported about religious leaders calling for referendum. But the point is that it is not a question of whether the majority would want the age limit to be removed or maintained. It (going beyond 75) is condemned.
On what they (religious leaders) report happened to Uganda when Obote and Amin tried to rule indefinitely, if that historical record is anything to go by, then lesson is that this is to be condemned. It is like a religious leader will say stealing is bad. If you condemn it, then don't say that unless people want it (then it can be tolerated), we are talking about sins here ... if the religious leaders feel something is bad before God, then they cannot turn around and say if people want it, we can live with it.
The Church of Uganda has an age limit for Bishops (65 years); the Catholic Church has its administrators retiring at 75 years. We have a good example of Cardinal (Emmanuel) Wamala. He was such a good administrator but he retired as an administrator. The temptation is avoided that you don't say that he has been doing a good job and so let us get the catechists to vote on whether he stays on beyond 75 years of age. But that is on the good side.
On the bad side (in case a leader is bad) it is even more necessary to resist the temptation. Experience shows that there is a very big risk to let someone go on forever. But this is not good for democracy. Society moved away from monarchy to democracy to ensure that it is managed better. So the referendum can only work when you were not faced by that argument that you are doing away with a matter of principle.
The argument is that let President Museveni stand again if he wants and defeat him at the polls...
In this case, and especially when we know that the incumbent has unfair advantage over his challengers, by using public resources, the military, the police, the public service, it is untenable.
Even now you can see those who are protesting against the removal of the age limit; how they are being treated. The army and the police feel they have a duty to protect the President's interests. By structure you know that the President as Museveni is the head of the military. He appoints and promotes them. It would be expecting too much to expect them to remain neutral and not interfere in favour of the incumbent.
I feel that when you remove the age limit, as they removed the term limit, you are really hurting the democratic framework of the Constitution on which the Constitution was based. Limits have done very well wherever they were put. Even in China it seems to be working well having seen what happened under Mao...
It is said that the age limit was put in the Constitution in 1995 to prevent Obote from returning to vie for the presidency...
That is possible; and that was a good decision. It is possible that the Obote factor influenced that decision. But it was a good decision.
Do you think it would be a good safeguard if someone was 75 or 78 and is running for the presidency for the first time?
You have gone back to why you think the age limit was introduced. You have speculated, and I think rightly, that they were thinking about Obote because there were reasons not to allow Obote to come back. And I can say that thinking can still come back, not for Obote but for Museveni.
I think that what is at issue now, why the age limit is being removed, is not for academic purposes. Those who want it removed want Museveni to continue after serving 35 years in office by 2021. It is not for good reasons. And those who are very strongly opposed to its removal are doing so because they don't want Museveni to continue.
There are many people who are accusing Museveni as a leader that he has done so many things which they think are bad for the country and they see the removal of the age limit as a door for Museveni to perpetuate these bad things. It now becomes personal.
If you transfer the question of the introduction of the age limit from Obote to the current situation, those who are saying no to the removal may be justified. The Besigyes and others who have been struggling to get into power and feel frustrated by the resources Museveni deploys, some of them State resources and some may be foreign, and the circumstances favouring the incumbent, if you don't find a solution to that one, you will find that people get frustrated and you push people into criminal activities like going to the bush (to wage war).
So you have got to limit the temptations to violence and resort to criminal behaviour to achieve political goals. But on a neutral basis, I have known people who have ruled beyond 75 years of age, but I have also known countries which restrict the age of leaders.
Once it becomes a norm, it is perfect. Of course having a term limit is a stronger safeguard, and if the age limit had not been removed, we wouldn't be having this current debate.
The promoters of removing age limit are talking about using a private member's Bill to amend the Constitution. Some people think there is a problem with this and suggest the Executive should be the one bringing the Bill. What do you say?
I think there is deception here. And it should be criticised strongly. As it was the case to ring-fence President Museveni to be the sole presidential candidate for NRM (in the 2016 elections) when they used this (Evelyn) Anite, a young girl from West Nile, to table a motion on her knees (laughs).
Certainly she was not the originator; the idea was sold to her. In her innocence I suppose she thought it was a great earner. But this was something from the top, and you can judge this by the reaction when this whole thing was being challenged by Amama Mbabazi when he decided to stand against Museveni.
I don't know how to put it, but that is how I see it; that the leadership desired at that time that it be so, that President Museveni, having realised that he could get a challenge, and serious one, from within, the young girl was drafted in to play the part.
Ms Anite is by the way the State minister for Investment and she is a strong anti-age limit crusader
Yes, she got rewarded and even now she is in the game on removing age limit. A constituency (Koboko Municipality) was created for her. And this is the problem with authoritarian tendencies. When you have people like that as your ministers, and they are many in that category, you deny yourself an opportunity for constructive criticism.
They just want to find out what you want to do and they champion that. No one will tell you strongly that what you are planning to do is not right.
So like Anite at that time, I see the same tendency even this time. How come that the Cabinet sits and endorses a private member's Bill with the Government Chief Whip bringing up the matter in Cabinet. You asked me about my experience and I will tell you that I never saw such a game being played and I have no knowledge of that kind of game being played in a respectable democracy or respectable parliament.
You refer to "respectable parliaments". Are you one of those who feel our parliament is not respectable?
I don't discourage anyone from going to Parliament; I am just saying that there are parliaments which are highly respectable.
But many people ridicule our Parliament...
Well, let us take it in isolation. This Parliament is first of all too big for a country like Uganda given our economic situation and other challenges. How many MPs are there in the UK or even in India? Why do we have so many MPs? It is just like you will say, why do we have so many districts? The objective is to water down the seriousness of Parliament.
When you have a big Parliament like it is now, and you have watched some of the debates, how much time does an MP have to make his point? The Speaker is at a loss to accommodate the wishes of all the MPs due to the time constraint. Maybe a maximum of five minutes!
If you look at the Hansard of today and compare it to the Hansard of 20 years ago or that of our time, you will find that the earlier MPs had more time to make their case and therefore were forced to do research and prepare to enable that.
But these days I really think it is a show. I respect many MPs; they are really up to standard. But they don't have enough time to articulate issues. Except that I respect some of the committees, probably because the numbers there are relatively small and MPs have time to do research. They have done some good investigations and so on.
I think this was a good initiative. But the Parliament if too big; too expensive, and again when you talk about the general quality, I think, and I say it with some pain, there is no control on the financing of elections for MPs and many of them go there under sponsorship by political interests and have no opportunity to be independent.
For example, if the RDC has been encouraging people to vote for you, or if the President has been campaigning for you, even financing your campaign, how can you take a stand against your own interest? So the work of Parliament becomes compromised.
If you met President Museveni today, what would you tell him?
I would ask him not to seek to amend the age limit; I would advise him to retire. It is in his interest; it is in the country's interest.