27 December 2017

Uganda: 2017 Year of Togikwatako

opinion

Kampala — One of the enduring sights from the Dec.18 session of parliament to debate amending Article 102 (b) will be that of Allan Ssewanyana, placing his buttocks on the table of parliament and stretching his hand across to grab a report that the Chairman of Parliament's Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, West Budama South legislator Jacob Oboth Oboth, was presenting. Why did Sewanyana do that? We will never know.

However, it was a clear that Sewanyana's grabbing of that sheet of paper could not change the course of what was about to take place. His antics were mere publicity grabbers; that resulted in his expulsion from the chamber together with five of his colleagues. In effect, opposition to the tabled Bill was reduced by 6 crucial votes. It was a clear case of someone sacrificing long-term gain for short-term reward.

And, because the tendency of the brain to sacrifice long-term gain for short-term reward is universally human, Sewanyana was not alone in succumbing.

Take the case of the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga. Parliamentary debates usually happen in the afternoon of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. But this time Kadaga convened the seating as early as 9am on a Monday.

Secondly, the anticipated Constitutional Amendment Bill 2017 was due for second reading, and later a third reading, before debate of it could commence. Instead, Kadaga guided the House into knocking down every safeguard to informed and cautious debates of an important topic.

Constitutional lawyer Yusuf Nsibambi, who like many Ugandans says he tensely watched the proceedings in parliament on television, says the Speaker's body language spoke volumes.

"The Speaker is in a hurry to pass it," he says, "And she wasn't in control."

Nsibambi says President Yoweri Museveni is orchestrating every move in the constitution amendment process by taking advantage of legislators' incompetence.

"What happened exposed the nature of parliament we have," he said of the events that took place on December 18 as the bill was presented for second reading, "MPs swore to uphold and protect the constitution but they have no competence to understand what they are supposed to protect".

For Nsibambi, who now proposes that parliament should be divided into two chambers; the upper one composed of competent members to discuss sensitive matters as constitutional amendments and the one of the majority to discuss general issues, said those supporting the amendment should know that "the constitution is now left with no protection" and that "it's a big problem".

For him, the constitution had three safe guards; the smooth transition of power which has already been violated, the power of voters to recall MPs from parliament incase voters lose confidence in them, which he says ended with the Movement System, and now the final one; the 75 year age-limit on the presidency which is now going.

When discussing the motivations of the legislators, Makerere University-based political science professor Sabiti Makara is blunter.

The MPs are trading important national issues for cash, he says, echoing information circulating that the MPs in support of the amendments have already pocketed up to Shs300million each.

Makara says "most legislators are not exposed" and cites it as "the reason why they tend to be brokering deals all the time".

When President Museveni met members of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee headed by West Budama South legislator Jacob Oboth Oboth on Dec. 05, and agreed to support extending the term of MPs from five years to seven, it was seen as adding more bait to the already hooked MPs.

Oboth-Oboth's committee was on its last leg of gathering views on the amendment from key stakeholders. To the MPs, it is just another deal to earn more cash and more time to strategize on how to win back their voters for more terms.

While many politicians across the political divide stand to benefit from this proposal of extension of the term of office, pundits say all this is meant to benefit Museveni as the biggest beneficiary.

That's why even before Sept.27, when Igara West's Raphael Magyezi was officially granted leave of parliament to draft the bill, those who held demonstrations against amending the constitution were arrested yet those who supported it were given security and never molested.

This gave the opposition and observers a hint and they started scrutinizing every move for potential early signs. That's why some keen observers say Museveni started strategising to remove the age-limit as early as immediately after elections in February 2016.

Sources familiar with the planning told The Independent that Museveni invited top NRM party-leaning lawyers in the country to brainstorm on avenues the party could use to ensure key judges were on their side since most of his cadre judges were soon retiring. It is alleged that Museveni who felt he has full control of the Executive and the legislature, with most members being either NRM flag bearers or Independent leaning towards NRM, now he wanted to dominate the judiciary also. He was preparing for any legal battle ahead; including on lifting the age-limit.

NRM insiders say Museveni also assigned his confidants role to ensure the Bill goes through. One of them, Micheal Katungi, was mobilising colleagues for the amendment as early as July.

At the time, Museveni was still posturing and branding those involved in the campaign to remove the age-limit 'redundant'. Then-Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party president Gen. Mugisha Muntu warned people not to be fooled by the president's comments.

He said in an interview with The Independent that Museveni was "a crafty operator who has mastered the art of playing on people's intelligence".

He cited a 1986 meeting of the army High Command, the top organ of the army that met to discuss how long they would stay in power before handing over to private authority.

Muntu says when a question came up about the period of time that the military establishment needed to re-organise the country before handing over to an elected civilian government, one of the attendees suggested four years. But, Muntu said, Museveni quickly interrupted him saying they only needed two years.

"But, silently, Museveni turned around and used other individuals to push his agenda and ended up staying in power for eight years without an election," Muntu said.

So it came as no surprise that on July 24, Katungi had called a special meeting of Museveni's trusted staffers and party loyalists like former ICT Minister Nyombi Thembo, President's Private Assistant for Political Affairs David Mafabi and Kasanda legislator Simeo Nsubuga among others at a discreet ruling party facility in a Kampala suburb of Mbuya to draw plans of how they could easily have the amendment sail through.

Sensing the coming onslaught, the opposition Democratic Party (DP) had on July 20 launched the K'ogikwatako campaign and a road map on how the activists would traverse the country rallying the populace to show opposition to the amendment.

The usual suspects like Minister Evelyne Anite, Arua legislator Ibrahim Abiriga, and Nsubuga who were already donning yellow and justifying why it was okay for the constitution to be amended and making signals and usual noises during talk shows and in the corridors of parliament.

Sensing this tendency, in September 2016, Nakifuuma legislator Robert Kafeero Sekitoleko sought leave of parliament to table an amendment of the age-limit provision for judges in the Constitution. Immediately, many read into it the start of a process by President Museveni who will be 77 years and ineligible to stand at the next election in 2021 to amend the constitution so he can consolidate himself in power.

Then little known Sekitoleko made three proposals; to remove limits on the tenure of members of the Electoral Commission, the other was to permit any other person, apart from the candidate to file a presidential election petition, and the third was to raise the retirement age of judges of the High Court, Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal to 75 years.

Innocent as it looked, MPs especially from the opposition, vehemently rejected it suspecting it was intentioned to smuggle amendments to Article 102(b) to lift the presidential age limit. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga flatly threw it out.

But exactly a year later, on Sept.21, the Bill that was thrown out re-appeared. To show determination to proceed this time, the government deployed heavily outside parliament. Anti-riot and anti-terrorism police and the Special Forces Group that protects the President were deployed within the precincts of parliament. Still, when Igara West Legislator Raphael Magyezi presented his motion to seek leave so he can introduce the contentious Bill, chaos erupted in parliament.

It all started when Opposition Chief Whip Ibrahim Semujju Nganda pointed out that the Minister of State for Water, Ronald Kibuule, had illegally entered the parliamentary chambers with a gun. The speaker had no choice but to adjourn the house.

A week later, on Sept.27, is when hell broke loose and history was made in Uganda's parliament. It marked the climax of three days of 'legislative violence' when MPs brawled over a decision by the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to suspend 25 of their colleagues from the House so that the process to remove the presidential age-limit from the constitution could start.

The suspended MPs refused to leave and security personnel, including soldiers from President Museveni's SFG physically and forcefully dragged them out. A melee that ensued left some MPs collapsing in shock and some ended up in hospital for months from the kicks and punches from soldiers. When the Bill returned on October 3, there was no protest because opposition MPs had boycotted. When on December 18, the minority and main report on the constitutional amendment were presented in parliament; there was only a whimper of opposition and Ssewanyana's antics. The opposition's back was broken. The constitutional age-limit was gone. Museveni, was once again getting his way. But what does Museveni, who has been in power for 31 years; hope to gain by staying in power a few more years? When he met the Oboth-Oboth's committee which was scrutinising the Bill to remove age-limits and the MPs suggested an extension of their term from five years to seven, Museveni hinted on why he believes in staying longer in power. According to him, there is still a lot to do.

"It took America more than a century and a half while developing their economy and political class to put presidential term limits in their constitution. When they finally did so in 1947, everything they wanted had happened. They had developed, the colonies had integrated," he said. "But here; what has happened? In Africa you behave like we are running countries and yet we are creating countries." It is an issue of egos; a feeling that only Museveni can do it.

Key Highlights

September 14, 2016 - MP Sekitoleko denied leave to move motion for amendment of the constitution to extend retirement age of judges.

July 20 - Opposition Democratic Party launches the now Togikwatako campaign

July 24 - Key NRM loyalists meet to discuss campaign to counter the opposition campaign

August 07 - President Yoweri Museveni's staff posted a photo on his Facebook page mentioning him and a date in 1947, opponents to lifting the age-limit sprung into Twitter frenzy

September 12 - NRM caucus meeting votes to support age limit amendment

September 21 - opposition MPs fail Raphael Magyezi from moving motion to seek leave to introduce the bill

September 25 - A group of NRM members opposing the bill draft three motions to fail age limit

September 27 - MPs engage in a scuffle in protest of Kadaga's move to suspend chaotic MPs.

October 03 - Age limit bill read for the first time

October 05 - MPs sent on recess to consult their voters over age limit

October 23 - Parliament releases Shs29million for each MP to consult their voters

October 31 - Committee on legal and parliamentary affairs starts hearing on the age limit

November 28 - MPs return from Recess

December 05 - Members of legal committee consult Museveni on age limit after which they went to Serena Kigo to compile their report

December 18 - Minority and main report on the constitutional amendment presented in parliament

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