Opinion | The Age Limit Debate, How will History Judge Us and Why not Call for Referendum Instead! By Ronnie Mayanja

Posted September 23, 2017 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Editorial ~ 5,320 views


Dear Readers,

Recent developments at home oblige me to voice an opinion on the age limit debate –we are setting a bad precedent if we don’t build and protect our institutions. A constitution is the supreme law of the land allowing it to be tested while protecting and defending it should be cardinal.

In 1962 Uganda gained independence and enacted its first constitution which allowed for a quasi-federal form of government. In April 1966, following the Prime Minister’s fall out with Buganda, the 1962 constitution was suspended and replaced with a new constitution without debate in October 1966. The pigeon hole constitution of 1967 cemented Obote’s hold on power, centralized government and buried the federal form of government for good.

At a time like this we need to revisit our history in order to appreciate our current situation. After collecting views that were enshrined in the Odoki Constitutional Commission — some of which addressed forms of governance, multi-partyism and restricted Uganda’s political space to a movement system, our 4th constitution was promulgated in 1995 and presided over by Hon. James Wapakhabulo.

Several days before he died in 2004, Wapakhabulo, a long-time friend of Museveni, wrote to the President, opposing the lifting of term limits outside those prescribed by the Constitution. It has been said that it is one thing to have a constitution; it is another to practice constitutionalism, especially if those in leadership do not believe or respect constitutional rule.

Today what started as rumor has slowly gained traction to the point that indeed there is a move afoot to remove the age limit from the Constitution — which of course would favor the incumbent and his party’s hold on power. What is wrong with the process is that this approach was used to remove the term limits in 2005 after bribing members of the august house, in what will go down as the lowest moments for Uganda’s Parliament. With the looming debate to lift the age limit in high gear, similar sentiments have been aired that money may have already exchanged hands to have the majority NRM legislators again tinker with the Constitution. With a divided opposition that is totally outnumbered, we the people need to speak up in defense of the supreme law of the land. What is the role of our army MPs in parliament if not to defend this constitutional order — hearing from them at a time like this would help justify their presence if not independence at a time when we as country seems divided.

It has been said that passion and action are two things that can help shape a generation. The words of a Protestant pastor, Martin Niemöller, who lived through the era of Adolf Hitler having supported him in his early years and now displayed at a Holocaust Museum in the US capital, sum it up and perhaps will put things into perspective for us….

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

My fellow countrymen, it’s time for all of us to stand up and be counted. Lets speak up now or forever hold our peace. Subjecting the motion of the age limit debate to a few MPs in a Parliament whose members are largely from one party does not fairly represent the views of all the 40 million Ugandans, hence the need for a referendum to end this contentious debate if we must carry on with this unprecedented scheme.

Here is a story carried in the Washington Post that helps put the danger of tempering with the constitution into perspective — Burkina Faso’s strongman Blaise Compaoré, saw an abrupt end to his 27 years in power, one year before elections, when he attempted to modify the Constitution and remove the presidential term limits so that he could run again in 2015. Before Compaoré resigned from the presidency, some analysts mistakenly predicted “Compaoré will have his way.” The determination of citizens hungry for democratic change prevented the vote in the National Assembly on Compaoré’s constitutional reform in 2014. Angry citizens burned the Parliament and other government buildings, and the army took over, forcing Compaoré to seek refuge in Cote d’Ivoire.

While I appreciate President Museveni and what he has done for Uganda, I feel that the failure to groom a successor to move his vision for the country forward will be his Achilles’ heel. While Uganda has enjoyed stability under President Museveni, there is a danger of undoing all the gains of his administration if we fail to have a peaceful transition. Arguments for and against lifting the age limit have been made, with some asking why discriminate against a man for his age–Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew made progress for the 30 years he was in power — Zimbabwe under Mugabe has largely become a shadow of its former self. I say it is the culture of impunity, the personalization of State and the failure to build lasting institutions that has partly destroyed this great republic, whose GDP was comparable to that of the emerging Asian tiger economies back in the day. With a weak and comical opposition it matters little whether this change comes from within the President’s own party — change is long overdue!

Nyerere showed the way for Tanzania and Moi for Kenya–surely we can do it for Uganda. The politics of patronage and nepotism in a country with one of youngest populations is creating a pressure cooker environment that could lead to our Republic imploding if cool heads do not prevail in the august house!

Abraham Lincoln once said in the bid to preserve the unity of the United States of America during civil war, the people — are the rightful masters of both congress, and courts — not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it.

Uganda as a Republic needs to avoid unnecessary constitutional amendments. Let’s subject the debate to a referendum if we must rather than rely on a few legislators in Parliament, some of whom could be for sale to the highest bidder, to decide for all of us. It is time for all us to call and petition our legislators not to sacrifice us the way some did in 2005. As FDR once said — The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Otherwise singing kumbaya and expecting God to perform miracles that will transform our nation is a tall order. Middle-class Ugandans and those of the so-called intellectual class, how long will you simply look on while things fall apart?

Oh Uganda may God surely uphold thee!!

The author is a Communication Specialist, Blogger and Media Consultant based in the US

Ronnie Mayanja 
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About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

One Comment

    Ron Mbowa

    A referendum is not practical in a country where elections are phony, stolen season after season. All effortstaff must be concentrated to deter Mr Museveni and his fanatics in parliament from tinkering with the constitution.

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