Uganda: Experts Warn - Uganda in Trouble With No Age Limits

Ugandan MPs debate the age limit bill.
27 December 2017

It had been hoped that Article 102(b) of the 1995 Constitution would guarantee a peaceful transition of power from President Museveni but now that it is gone, observers warn "the future doesn't look good."

The 75-year cap for presidential hopefuls was removed last week, much as consultations by MPs showed its scrapping was hugely unpopular amongst Ugandans.

An academic at Makerere University fears that Uganda's standing in East Africa has also been compromised.

Speaking to The Observer days after the bill was passed, Dr Isaac Shinyekwa, a senior research fellow on regional integration at Makerere's Economic Policy Research Centre, said it is "going to increase suspicion and discomfort among the partner states."

"Lifting the age limit is not an issue, but how long you have been ruling," he said. "Museveni has been pushing for political integration but it cannot take place where we are not homogeneous."

The other two traditional EAC states, Kenya and Tanzania, have had regular, peaceful transitions from one president to another in the six-country bloc during President Museveni's 31-year rule.

A similar tone was echoed by Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director at Foundation for Human Rights Initiative. Sewanyana told The Observer that Ugandans should brace for a state in reversal where citizens' views and aspirations don't matter.

He said Uganda could witness "political instability, disorder and more human rights abuses."

Political programmes on TV and radio drew the same conclusions.

"Uganda is carrying forward with a very sick constitution," Israel Mayengo, a lawyer and former MP, said on NBS TV's morning programme.

Another lawyer who made his mark in parliament and the Constituent Assembly (CA) said the idea that the supreme law should not be amended on a whim is now history.

"It looks as if so long as the president wants something removed, it will be done. Constitutions should be respected. Maybe as CA, we should have made these articles hard to amend," Ben Wacha said.

Wacha said what the ruling party did in parliament was made even more selfish by the parachuting of an extension of the life of parliament and presidency (to be determined in a referendum).

"I have been wondering where the issue of term limits comes from. It seems to have come out of the blue," Wacha said.

"Where you have a bill to deal with the constitutional amendment, it deals with only that particular amendment. Areas introduced later are completely foreign to the regular bill. It even becomes more foreign when you introduce things like local government," he added.

To Dr Gerald Kagambirwe Karyeija, a public administration academic at Uganda Management Institute, genuine constitutional reforms must follow.

"The need for that is needed now more than ever before," Karyeija said. "After this circus, we need to examine the merits and demerits of the decisions that have been taken."

Karyeija said "there is need for sober reflection to evaluate what it means in terms of governance and democracy... We should look at how we prepare for [Museveni's] exit or that whoever comes after him doesn't behave the same way."

Constitutional lawyer Dan Wandera Ogalo lamented: "What we observed is that the country was against the amendment. For the first time, Ugandans said no in a consensus".

"... These consultations were a referendum on President Museveni and people understood it to mean: 'you want President Museveni to continue ruling or not?' People said no," he said.

Ogalo warned that the president is likely to become less accountable because "he knows he is there not because of you".

"The police clearly took sides and we can expect more repression in future as people get more annoyed. On the horizon, it doesn't look good," Ogalo said.

As MPs fanned out into the countryside, police issued a controversial directive against them addressing meetings outside of their respective constituencies. Opposition MPs, whose rallies repeatedly came under brutal police attack, denounced the directive as targeting their group meetings.

Dr Moses Khisa, a Ugandan political science don at North Carolina State University, said: "The process was full of fraud and manipulation".

"For now, nobody can say what the future will really be but it doesn't look good at all."

The amendment has been costly. Finance Minister Matia Kasaija said the bill had no dire financial implication. At least Shs 13 billion was spent on MPs' consultations, amongst other expenditures.

The longer-term costs may threaten the very existence of Uganda. Some MPs from northern Uganda warned that amendments resurrected debate about secession.

Feeling marginalised by an unaccountable government, the north has toyed with forming the 'Nile Republic'.

Prof Ogenga Latigo, the MP for Agago North; Reagan Okumu (Aswa), and DP president Norbert Mao have all said that northern Uganda is ready to break away.

Winnie Kiiza, the leader of opposition in parliament, said such calls can't be ignored. Indeed, Wacha said when you look at the voting pattern, the majority of those who voted against the bill were from the north, revealing a persisting unease with Museveni's leadership.

Northern Uganda remains by far the least developed region, partly due to the two-decade-long rebellion that ravaged the area when Museveni shot his way to power in 1986.

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