The East African Court of Justice has declined to stop a case challenging the constitutionality of changes in Uganda's presidential term and age limits. This is a fresh blow to President Yoweri Museveni's bid to remain in power when the country goes to the polls in 2021.
The case filed by a Kampala-based lawyer, Male Mabirizi Kiwanuka, will now be heard and determined in the Arusha-based court. In his application, Mr Mabirizi wants the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) to halt the implementation of the Uganda Electoral Commission Strategic Plan and Road Map for the 2020/2021 electoral period.
He argues that Uganda has violated the EAC Treaty on the principles of good governance, failed to adhere to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, social justice and the maintenance of universally accepted standards of human rights.
However, Uganda's Attorney -General William Byaruhanga, his deputy Mwesigwa Rukutana, Solicitor-General Francis Atoke, acting Director of Litigation Christine Kahwa and more than nine lawyers including George Karemera (Principal State Attorney) have asked the EACJ to dismiss the case with costs.
President Museveni, through AG Byaruhanga, terms the application "frivolous and vexatious."
The EACJ has ruled that it has jurisdiction over the matter, paving the way for another clash between Mr Mabirizi and AG Byaruhanga. The court will determine whether Uganda violated the EAC Treaty.
The EACJ, however, declined to issue an injunction stopping preparations for the Uganda elections.
"The question of the court's jurisdiction has been raised in the response by the Attorney General of Uganda. It is thus an issue for determination at trial," said Lady Justice Monica Mugenyi, Principal Judge at the EACJ.
Justice Mugenyi leads a five-judge bench comprising Deputy Principal Judge Justice Faustin Ntezilayo, Justice Audace Ngiye, Justice Charles Nyawello and Justice Charles Nyachae.
Mr Mabirizi moved to the Arusha-based court to contest the amendment of the Constitution by the Ugandan parliament, which saw, among others, the presidential age limit scrapped, presidential and parliamentary tenures extended from five to seven years. The bone of contention is President Museveni's signing of a Bill into law that removed the presidential age limit of 75 years.
The move allows the 73-year-old president to run for a sixth term in 2021. President Museveni is one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, having ruled Uganda for 34 years.
The Constitution, enacted in 1995, previously prohibited anyone younger than 35 or older than 75 from serving as president. The move allows the 73-year-old president to run for a sixth term in 2021.
Uganda's Attorney General Brayuhanga faulted the case when he argued that the EACJ had no jurisdiction over an internal constitutional matter of a partner state.
He further argues that a decision against Uganda would prevent the holding of elections resulting in "anarchy".
The court did rule that it was clear that the electoral timetable was a constraint, and to halt any part of it for any length of time would certainly throw the electoral cycle into disarray, with obvious political, social and economic not to mention constitutional ramifications.
- Uganda's Parliament voted overwhelmingly in December 2017 to scrap an age limit of 75 years for presidential candidates.
- The original legislation would have effectively barred 74-year-old President Museveni from running in 2021.
- Uganda is preparing for presidential elections next year.
- Male Mabirizi Kiwanuka has sued Uganda at the EACJ after failing in similar attempts at home.