8 March 2018

Uganda: Museveni 'Stops' Foreign Travel Over Referendum

Photo: The Observer
President Yoweri Museveni boards a plane.

President Museveni will be limiting his foreign travel until the planned referendum on Article 105(1) of the Constitution is concluded, sources say. The scaling down on external trips comes after the ruling party, on February 25, launched a campaign, Align and Arrive, ahead of the plebiscite to decide whether to extend Museveni's term by two years.

"Museveni has frozen all his international trips [because] he wants to be in the country, move around all the constituencies on tours ...'monitoring the progress of Operation Wealth Creation [OWC] but also engaging MPs on the referendum campaign," a well-placed source said at the weekend.

Under Article 105(1), the presidential term is fixed at five years. It is one of the entrenched constitutional provisions under Article 260 whose amendment can only be achieved through a referendum. As such, it was excluded from the amendments passed on December 20, 2017 as part of the controversial 'age limit bill'.

The bill's passing lifted the 75-year age limit for president, removing the last barrier to Museveni's quest to stretch his 32-year hold onto power.

It also extended the term of parliament and local governments from five to seven years. The Align and Arrive launch ceremony was in Kiboga where government chief whip, Ruth Nankabirwa, was in expansive mood.

"We are celebrating the 317 heroes (MPs who voted for the bill), but also beginning on a campaign that will take us to all the constituencies to explain what we passed as we also mobilise for the referendum," she said.

"We are going to the villages and bombard them with messages as to why we need to align all the terms of our leaders."

The 317 MPs have been asked to find any reason to host Museveni in their constituencies. The instruction to the MPs is that they should organise victory or thanksgiving parties to gather people. Museveni's first stop after Kiboga was Buyende district last Saturday where a thanksgiving was organised by area Woman MP Veronica Kadogo.

A fundraising ceremony for women's Sacco organised by Budiope MP Geoffrey Dhamuzungu was part of this itinerary.

The executive director of the Uganda Media Centre, Ofwono Opondo, told The Observer this week that a number of MPs were afraid to return to their constituencies because they supported [the removal of age limits].

"So, if the president comes and explains the controversies around the amendment, it helps the MPs to build confidence," he said.

Opondo said while some of their MPs have been intimidated by the opposition, the hostility others are facing can be explained by local rivalries.

"We believe that by the time the Electoral Commission fixes the date for the referendum, maybe at the end of the year, the president will have made the ground more receptive to the MPs who claim that their constituents are hostile," Opondo said.

Nankabirwa said on Saturday: "We will be using every gathering to reach to the people because we don't have money to organise separate rallies."

While she claimed that the ruling party is cash-strapped, over the past few weeks, MPs who supported the age limit removal have been quietly receiving cash from an office on 8th floor of the Office of the President near Parliament.

"We are not being paid at once; they are paying in phases, and until you receive a phone call, you can't go there," an MP from one of the Buganda districts said.

The MPs first received Shs 500,000 to travel to Kiboga even though the party hired executive buses from Uganda Wildlife Authority to transport them.


Government is expected to table a referendum bill before parliament in May. However, the NRM still has to beat off a legal challenge against the Constitutional Amendment Act 2017 filed by opposition and civil society groups, challenging the December 20, 2017 lifting of age limits.

Given these circumstances, lawyer Yusuf Nsibambi observes that the NRM's referendum campaign is irregular and illegal because the EC has not issued guidelines for it.

"It is prejudicial to the cases before the Constitutional court. Although NRM as a political party is not a party to the proceedings, it is the party in power and, therefore, part of government [which is a respondent]. They are, therefore, acting in prejudice to court process," Nsibambi said.

Forum for Democratic Change party president Patrick Amuriat Oboi has recently also said "it is wrong for NRM to campaign on a matter that is still under contention, we have to pressurise court to determine it, and then, we will determine the next course of action."


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