20 October 2017

Uganda: MP Kakooza - We'll Remove Age Limits Despite Opposition Noise

Photo: Robert Muhereza/Daily Monitor
Police officers block Kizza Besigye's car shortly after he was intercepted on his way to Kabale on October 19, 2017. Inset is Dr Besigye.
interview

As debate for or against scrapping the 75-year age cap for presidential candidates rages on, and despite recently being accosted by some people, Kabula MP JAMES KAKOOZA insists voters support the removal of age limits. Speaking to Baker Batte Lule last week, Kakooza said despite the opposition's resistance, article 102(b) of the constitution will be amended.

Is Uganda better 12 years after you spearheaded the removal of presidential term limits?

Democracy has grown; now people understand who they want to vote for. Since the final verdict is the choice of the people, I don't think there was any problem lifting the term limits.

I also don't regret the role I played in lifting term limits. By then people didn't think that the constitution can be amended. Now people are enlightened, the other time it was a taboo. Even now 12 years after, they have realised that there are other things which need to be aligned in the constitution.

Before, people didn't have that mindset; they were very hard to convince...People never wanted to hear about changing the constitution, but now they are yearning for it. They are saying, 'yes, we made the constitution but it grows; it must move with the prevailing environment'.

When I started saying this in 2003, people were saying 'no way.'

Was it an oversight in 2005 not to amend article 102 (b); or you never thought Museveni would want to stand beyond 75 years?

No, a constitution doesn't have time. Whenever there is need, Ugandans will decide how to amend it. It is cowardice to say, why didn't you amend it then?

Once you put an enabling article on how the constitution can be amended, anytime people can choose to amend it so long as the need arises.

So, has that need arisen now?

Yes, people are saying you can't discriminate against us using provisions of the constitution. People are saying we are Ugandans who have the right to vote but can't be voted for because we have reached or are below a certain age. People are correct.

Which people are you talking about?

It doesn't matter which people, the bottom line is it [article 102b] is discriminating. What people in the opposition and those opposed to this amendment should know is: politics goes with environment.

That is the nature of democracy. If people choose who they want, that is the end of the story; you can't gag people and deprive them of what they want.

They say beyond 75 [years of age] we want people to contest. So long as there is a process of regular elections, I have no problem letting people exercise their rights.

I'm consistent, I always defend my opinion and I wish to send a message to those who say it is not correct; they should convince us. But their argument is, we are amending the constitution for one person. That is not the reason.

We are saying that people are free to choose the people they want and there is a system for choosing their leaders. So, the opposition should stop being arrogant and intimidating people... That kind of politics can't work. We are in the politics of free choice and free will.

Don't you think you have a low opinion of Ugandans by telling us that you are not amending this constitution for President Museveni?

Well, that is for you. For us we are saying this amendment is not targeting an individual; we are opening up for everybody who this constitution had locked out. We, in the NRM, still think that Museveni is very useful to our party and the country. Many members would wish to see him stand again.

Why is the opposition afraid of Museveni being in the race? It's like in football, Arsenal [cannot] begin to say we don't want this and this player in Manchester United. Let them organise their team and we meet for the match. Let them not choose who of our players we should bring and who we shouldn't.

You say that every position is competed for in NRM but we have seen cases where people have been stampeded out of the race. Remember the [Museveni] sole candidate resolution?

In NRM, we arrive at everything by consensus and where we have disagreed we go for elections. But in any case, if majority of the NRM people say they want Museveni, it is your loss for those of you who don't want him.

How far are you willing to go with this amendment? We have witnessed unprecedented episodes in parliament...

What you saw in parliament is a clear case of indiscipline on the part of a few members who after losing the debate decided to resort to rioting. But I can assure you the greatest number of our people support this amendment and it will go through despite the loud noise from the minority.

But do you justify the invading of the house by Special Forces Command soldiers?

I don't know whether they were SFC or not, what I can say is that the speaker ordered the sergeant-at-arms to evict members she had suspended. By the way, the sergeant-at-arms is a well-trained officer and has other well-trained officers who work under him.

Some people say when you amend article 102(b) nothing will be left in that 1995 constitution. Those people making noise never appended their signatures on that constitution because they said the constitution had gaps. People are coming up to fill these gaps and they are saying no whereas they never agreed with it.

But the gaps you say you want to fill are not the gaps they pointed out then; they say you are introducing more gaps.

But they didn't believe in that constitution; then what are they defending? If you don't believe in a document, then what are you defending? Isn't that a contradiction?

There is talk that many of you support this constitutional amendment for selfish reasons. Remember when you vigorously defended [former premier] Amama Mbabazi and you were rewarded with a ministerial position.

For Museveni to appoint you in any position, he must have done a lot of background checks. He spies on you for almost six months or one year. Some of us don't reveal these things but we know.

For Museveni to appoint you a minister, he must have made thorough investigations. You remember he said one of the toughest jobs for him is to appoint people. He doesn't appoint people anyhow. I was invited by President Museveni who told me he had work for me to do. Him being the fountain of honour, I said fine and I waited for it and it came.

The general view is that you people are looking for money or other favours from Museveni.

But I have been a minister, I have been around. Go and ask Museveni if he has never given me a single coin. I repeat it; he has never given me a single coin to support him. No way.

Some of us have been around and we know the history of this country. We know what we want. I have been around since the [dictator Idi] Amin times, I participated in the revolution. I know what I'm doing because I'm alive to the history of this country.

Many people are resisting this amendment. We saw what happened to you in Masaka. Why are you pushing ahead with it?

First of all I was never assaulted. [Masaka municipality MP Mathias] Mpuuga is my friend, I went for his father's burial and left without incident.

Second, I'm not a Constituent Assembly delegate; I'm a member of parliament. As an MP, I'm supposed to use my intellectual capacity to make good decisions for the country.

Are you sure removing age limits is a good decision when almost everybody in the country believes it's a wrong decision?

What yardstick are you using to determine that this proposal is unpopular all over the country? Haven't you seen districts making resolutions in favour of this amendment?

Haven't you seen other people demonstrating in favour of this amendment? It's you journalists saying that everybody is against this bill. But even in your newspapers, I have seen people writing in favour of the bill.

If Kabula people tell you they don't need this amendment, would you still support it?

I have been leading my constituency for 20 years and my people have been approaching me to support that amendment although there are some few who are yet to understand why we still need President Museveni.

But the majority, even if you take a referendum there, will tell you they still need to have choice every time we have an election. Don't disenfranchise people because of their age. Let the people choose whether they want to be governed by an 80-year-old or a 20-year-old president.

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