20 September 2017

Uganda: Mao - Land Bill a Trick to Remove Age Limit

Photo: Alex Esagala/Daily Monitor
Security officers deployed at the main gate of Parliament.

On September 18, national leaders of the Democratic Party (DP) held a breakfast meeting at Sheraton Kampala hotel to discuss a draft policy brief on land reform.

Uganda's oldest party hopes its MPs will now have a better appreciation of the Constitution Amendment Bill 2017, which seeks to give government powers to take possession of private land without prior compensation of the owner.

DP officials feel that this bill was designed to divert attention away from the planned amendment of Article 102(b) to scrap the age limits for presidential aspirants.

On the sidelines of Monday's meeting, DP president NORBERT MAO spoke to Sadab Kitatta Kaaya about these fears.

Why does DP think that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2017 on land is diversionary?

That is typical of President Museveni; it has every hallmark of Museveni. He knows how to deceive and to confound and to confuse.

In this case, his main target is to mobilise for the removal of the constitutional [presidential] age limit but he knows that there is another issue of land.

You can see that now, he has said he will soften on land but while softening on the amendment on land, he is hardening on the age limit. He is now giving money to youth groups to go around orchestrating support for the lifting of the age limit.

As DP, we saw through that and that is why from the beginning, we launched a campaign of K'ogikwatako [Should you dare touch it], meaning, in protecting Article 102, you will have also protected land because the major enemy to land is Museveni and his NRM power structure.

I believe that events coming in the future will actually validate the fears that were expressed here; namely that, the amendment on land was just a red herring.

The activities you launched against the amendments stopped. Why?

Public vigilance requires us to work together as political parties. We have been having conversations with other political parties to see how we can have a united front.

As DP, we have been having what I would call "popcorn protests." You pop up in Mbarara, you pop up in Kabarole, in Busia, in Jinja, etc. Those are simply for testing the local feeling. For instance, I was in Bushenyi and I was surprised to find people there opposed to the lifting of the age limit.

I wish to assure the public that, over the next few weeks, we are going to intensify [our campaign] more systematically. Above all, we don't gain much when our activities are stopped by the police. We actually want to address massive rallies and give our messages to the people.

But DP itself seems to be disjointed. Some members are in support and others opposed to your K'ogikwatako campaign. How are you dealing with that?

We have not heard that officially and as far as I am concerned, there is nobody in DP who supports the lifting of the presidential age limit.

I don't think there is anything wrong with other people bringing their approaches. What we want is innovative approaches, we want what works. So far, we are focussed on distributing stickers to boda boda cyclists, we have leaflets that we are going to distribute in all the urban centres, we want to start holding rallies...

I am not one of those who spend time criticising other people's approaches. The decision was made in the national executive committee and anybody who thinks that there is something we can do differently, is welcome to suggest.

As you plan all these, the age limit removal group is preparing to table its motion on Thursday. Do you have any plans of stopping them?

The good thing is that 2021 is not tomorrow, it is some years ahead. So, even if as a plan B they succeed in amending the Constitution, then it will be up to Museveni to sign the amendment in which case, he will now have identified himself with it fully.

As president, a bill does not become law unless he signs it. So, parliament is only one aspect but also, when an amendment is tabled, it goes to committee stage. So, it is not like it is going to be tabled in the morning, passed in the afternoon and signed at night.

It will first of all go to the [Legal and Parliamentary Affairs] committee where we shall all go and make presentations. So, the intention of those goons in the caucus is simply to create an artificial emergency to create panic.

But those of us who know cannot panic even if, God forbid, Museveni signs it into law, we are still in a position to mobilise for the required signatures to subject it to a referendum in which case, the amendment will again undergo an amendment.

But Article 102(b) is not among the entrenched articles that require a referendum for amendment. Citizens are free to demand for a referendum by signing [a petition] and the moment the signatures are verified by the Electoral Commission, it has to happen.

One of your former colleagues in the opposition tried mobilising for a referendum but her campaign collapsed along the way. Do you expect Ugandans to trust and support you on that path?

I will not speak for the Honourable Beti Kamya. We signed [her petition for a referendum], why she didn't take the petition to the Electoral Commission is up to her to answer.

As far as I am concerned, the signatures [she got] were enough. So, I have no further comment on that. For me what I know is that Ugandans need to know that we have many arrows in our quiver for defending the Constitution.

By calling a breakfast meeting to discuss a land policy, aren't you moving away from the core principle of K'ogikwatako?

K'ogikwatako does not require any in-depth debate. For instance, do you expect us to have a policy breakfast on whether God exists or not?

The K'ogikwatako campaign is already a shared position but the issue of land is technical. There is nothing technical about the age limit removal. In fact, our MPs are briefed about K'ogikwatako, we have met them and like you heard me say [at the breakfast meeting], every month, we have one interface between the management committee of the party and our 15 members of parliament.

The next policy breakfast meeting will be discussing constitutionalism, mainly centred on proportional representation but I believe we shall also discuss Article 102(b).

What do you intend to achieve in this land policy that you have drafted because previously, the opposition has made suggestions which the government ignored?

They haven't been ignored. Actually, it is the suggestions we made that forced the NRM to appoint [the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire judicial commission of inquiry on land] to study the issue further.

This one [the draft policy on land] is broader than even the amendment on Article 26 [which proposes compulsory acquisition of private land by government for public works without prior compensation of the owner].

As you can see, we are evaluating the political economy of land policy and practice in Uganda. We are not just looking at compensating people when government compulsorily acquires land; we are looking at the entire implications of the successive legal regimes that Uganda has been going through.

So, it is broader. In other words, we are equipping our members of parliament for any debate beyond the amendment of Article 26.

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