23 July 2017

Uganda: 1995 Constitution Makers Speak Out On Age Limit

Mwesigwa Rukutana, Deputy AG

"At the time, people thought at 75, a person is frail, his mind is no longer robust and he shouldn't lead a nation. My argument was that there are always exceptions; one could be 80 and his brain is more robust than that of a 35-year-old. There are so many examples where people have ruled up to 102, 110 and when you talk to them, you really find that they are still alert. Secondly, a person could have extraordinary qualities of a leader even in old age and is beneficial to the country. Given the fact that some times our country is failed because of poor leadership, and when you have a good person, then you say he should be disqualified because of age does not make sense. As long as there is democracy, if a person is so frail and even the voters see that he cannot manage the duties of state, they vote him out. When I was minister of State for Labour, the elderly had brought a petition to say that that article is discriminatory against them. In CA, my reasoning was that even the lower age, I argued that even the minimum age of 35 should not be there as long as the person is an adult, he should be qualified. The electorate should be able to decide."

Miria Matembe, former Ethics minister

"When we were going around collecting views, people expressed the desire on the qualification of the President and they said that he should be mature enough to be a leader and then should also have a limit beyond which he cannot continue. They brought those views among the views from the people and then we placed them there; when you have the minimum age, let us also have the maximum age. I have heard people argue that it is discriminatory to put the age limit at 35 and then 75, when you read that article, which they say makes age limits discriminatory, you will find that it says anything brought in other proposals in this Constitution will not be discriminatory. You know, there is also what you call retirement age, you know people are putting retirement age for judges and public servants and, therefore, retirement age for President."

Charles Rwomushana, social critic

"You know I have a recollection of that debate. But it was largely to prevent Obote; they were scared of Obote, they feared that he would come back and contest. On the lower age of 35, I think there was also fear of youth groups and it was around the same time that they created positions for the youth and women. I think by then, I was one of the youthful delegates. There were leaders who ascended to power at that time and, therefore, the view that there could be a youth movement that had to be tamed."

Prof Frederick Ssempebwa, lawyer

"It is not isolated, it was part and parcel of a compost that is to ensure that the powers of the President are checked and in drafting the Constitution, we put in a lot of checks and balances and that the President would not do this or that without approval (of Parliament). Then it came to how old should the President be, under the Odoki commission, we debated it and said we should have a limit, we shouldn't be like other countries such as the US where they have no limit in age because our systems are different and people over the time they reach the age of 60 and they are tired."

Augustine Ruzindana, former IGG

"I think the historical aspect is not relevant, the relevancy is now; at that time, there were other voices that didn't see the reason of age and held that it is the fundamental rights of the individual to participate. But currently, there is the factor of the age group of this country; this is a country of majorly young people and even in the CA, majority were young people. How has it suddenly become discriminatory and whom does it discriminate against? Who is complaining about discrimination? Even the 30 for LCs or indeed the 18 years voting age is discriminatory; why wouldn't a 16-year-old vote? The issue now is that there is a particular individual affected, there is no principle involved."

Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, FDC party president

"Largely, it was because of the recognition of a fact that our history has been turbulent and the turbulence was rooted in the abuse of power by leaders. So there was a focus on how we could put a safety valve in the Constitution. Ours was a country which was still grappling with the politics of leaders who are selfish, short sighted, who tend to abuse power, and, therefore, we knew it is the laws that would be embedded in the Constitution so that leaders could not abuse power. That is why the term limits were put in and the age limit. When we were doing that, we never even imagined that there would be a possibility of anybody attempting to change it."

Absolom Bwanika Bbaale, Luweero FDC chairperson

"There were no submissions on the memorandum received, we did not get the memorandum about the upper age limit. Nobody proposed the upper age limit, what they proposed was term limits because this upper limit thing came after we had approved the term limits. Then by calculation, Museveni knew that Obote would by the time he completes his two years, have passed 75 years, so that article was put in very bad faith to lock out Obote, nobody else. That was introduced by the Movement to lock out the possibility of Obote coming back. It went through the caucus so when it came through the floor, everybody was in support, but it was done in bad faith."

Wandera Ogalo, lawyer

"My recollection is that it really wasn't a big issue; it was based on the fact that if somebody is going to come in at the age of say 74, and he is going to run for 10 years, then he will be in office at 84. This is a very difficult office which requires a lot of attention and at that age, somebody may not be strong enough to manage the affairs of the country because you need somebody whose faculties are strong. It was just a consensus, we agreed not to entrust the affairs of the country to someone who is frail and tired."

Cecilia Ogwal, Dokolo Woman MP

"Situations were already clear that the proper management of the State had become rather difficult for President Museveni. There was war continuing in the north, poverty had deepened, the currency had lost value; the politics of the country had become very chaotic and there was a lot of segregation of some section of Ugandans. That was bound to be a recipe for the acceptance of [former president] Obote, whose government was tested. Apart from what Ugandans felt was his failure to manage the military, in the management of the State, he was generally good.

There was the agenda to put the age limit in the Constitution and at that time, Obote was advanced in age and they wanted to block him."


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