Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) Statement on the Proposed Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 and the Campaign to remove the 75-year age limit for presidential candidates in Uganda

Date: 21st July 2017

Type:For Immediate Release

Aware of the political instability that Uganda has gone through and the need to foster economic, political stability and peace, we the CSOs assembled here, make the following observations and call for action:

On the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 that seeks to amend Article 26 of the Constitution in accordance with articles 259 and 262 of the Constitution:

1        That the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 is brought in bad faith considering that it seeks to permit government to compulsorily acquire private property of a person before prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation, prior to the taking of possession or acquisition of the property. Such government action would be misdirected and inconsistent and in contravention with Article 26 (2) (b) (i) which makes it mandatory for such a law to provide prior to the compulsory taking of possession or acquisition of such property for prompt, fair and adequate compensation to have been effected;

2        That where acquisition of property has been met with resistance from the owner, the legitimate action would be for government to establish a tribunal to arbitrate among the aggrieved parties; which is not envisaged under the Bill;

3        That if enacted into law, the Bill would contravene Article 92 of the Constitution that restricts Parliament from passing any law that seeks to alter the decision or judgment of any court as between the parties to the decision or judgment. In Constitutional Appeal No. 02 of 2014 in the Supreme Court of Uganda between Uganda National Roads Authority vs Irumba Asumani and Peter Majelah, court declared that acts of taking possession of land prior to payment of compensation contravened the right to property as enshrined in Article 26(2) of the 1995 Constitution;

4        Besides, the Bill is discriminatory and if passed would create land ownership insecurity, landlessness, poverty since beyond the state and the land owner, there exists other vested interests such as spouses, banks and purchasers for value.


On the potential amendment of Article 102(b) with respect to the age limitations for presidential candidates, we wish to observe the following:

1        That the framers of the 1995 Constitution were mindful of Uganda’s history characterized by forces of tyranny, oppression and exploitation; and therefore envisaged that Article 102(b) prescribing the age limit for president of not being less than 35 years and not more than 75 years of age, and Article 105 (2) before it was amended, for a maximum of two-five year terms as important safeguards towards securing peaceful transfer of power; avoiding dictatorship, absolute hold on power and imperial life presidency;

2        That in view of Uganda’s fragile democracy and weak state institutions, the need to provide checks and balances on absolute power is key in ensuring political and economic stability of Uganda;

3        That amending Article 102(b) of the Constitution would open the floodgates for life presidency and absolute dictatorship;

Call for Action:

Aware of the negative and disastrous consequences that would arise from effecting both Constitutional amendments, we call upon MPs and Ugandans in general to exercise vigilance and reject these proposals with the contempt they deserve.


Civil Society Organisations include:

ACTION AID UGANDA
AKINA MAMA WA AFRIKA (AMWA)
CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNANCE (CCG)
CENTER FOR WOMEN IN GOVERNANCE (CEWIGO)
CITIZENS WATCH UGANDA (CEW-IT)
CITIZENS’ COALITION FOR ELECTORAL DEMOCRACY IN UGANDA (CCEDU)
COALITION FOR ACTION ON 1325 (COACT)
EAST AFRICAN SUB REGIONAL SUPPORT INTIATIVES FOR ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN (EASSI)
FORUM FOR WOMEN IN DEMOCRACY (FOWODE)
FOUNDATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVE (FHRI)
GREAT LAKES INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES (GLISS)
HUMAN RIGHTS NETWORK UGANDA (HURINET)
INVOLVE UGANDA
INSTITUTTE FOR SOCIAL TRANSFORMATON (IST)
LEGAL AID SERVICE PROVIDERS’ NETWORK (LASPNET)
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN ORGANISATIONS IN UGANDA (NAWOU)
OXFAM UGANDA
PARTICPATORY ECOLOGICAL LAND USE MANAGEMENT (PELUM UGANDA)
THE UGANDA ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN LAWYERS (FIDA)
UGANDA NATIONAL NGO FORUM (UNNGOF)
UGANDA WOMEN'S NETWORK (UWONET)

By Crispin Kaheru

Mr Kaheru, Coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda.

The recent move by government to gazette a Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 has prompted a fiery debate specifically on the potential of amending of Article 102(b) of the 1995 Constitution to remove the 75 years age-limit for one to run for presidency. In Uganda’s circumstance, if such an amendment was made, it would inadvertently mean that as a country, we would now be hurtling towards establishing a life presidency.


Within the current political context, amending the Constitution to eliminate the upper age limit for presidential candidates would only mean seeking to safeguard just an individual in power. Not only is it morally wrong to legislate for a single individual, it places our fragile democratic path on the edge of a cliff.


In fact, it borders on the personalisation not only of the Constitution, but also the State. Limitations on the tenure and age were inserted in the 1995 Constitution as safety valves to guarantee organised transition at presidential level – especially given the history that Uganda has never enjoyed a smooth transition from one leader to another since independence in 1962. In 2005, Parliament unfortunately voted for the removal of one of those safe guards – presidential term limits. Twelve years later, there is widespread speculation of a possible injudicious manoeuvre to remove the age limit cap for presidential candidates – when the Constitution is reviewed.


President Museveni will be above the current constitutional 75-year age-limit for one to run for presidency in 2021 when Uganda goes to the polls. The timing and vibes around the amendment(s) could be interpreted as attempts to remove any legal hurdles that would deter Mr Museveni (as an individual who will be above 75 years) from running for presidency in 2021.


A research conducted by the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda and the National Democratic Institute at the end of last year, indicated that 73 per cent of MPs in the 10th Parliament would not support a constitutional amendment eliminating the age limit for presidential candidates. This goes to show that any machinations to amend Article 102(b) of the Constitution will most likely attract a firm and coherent opposition stance from various quotas, including citizens.


As citizens, we will not continue lamenting and crying betrayal at nonchalant compromises. We are determined to inspire an inclusive and logical debate on the question of age limitations for presidential candidates in Uganda. All Ugandans must have a say. And as we stimulate that discourse, we will do so, mindful of our history, our current malaise and the future that would be good for our country. As a starter, we will tell our respective Members of Parliament what we (as their constituency members) expect of them should the age-limit Bill be among the amendments to be considered by the house.


In Uganda’s current context, the proposal to lift the age limit for presidential candidates will undoubtedly draw the line between the struggle for citizen-responsive democratic leadership and the potentials of imperial life presidency. As citizens, we take matters that touch on our Constitution very seriously and we will certainly deal with such political innuendos with the profound pressure and rigour required. While citizens remain extremely worried and concerned about the course of their country’s democratic path, I sense a renewed sway of duty among the wanainchi to stage a valiant fight for what is right against what is wrong. Citizens seem committed to be vigilant against the imperial and life presidency mindset that is seeking to drive from the corners. Of course, this tendency must be exposed and fought. There is no doubt that moves to remove the upper limit of the presidential age cap are cynical and will further compromise rather than strengthen the Constitution.


Uganda has seen countless political coups. The time is now to sacrifice everything to stop yet another looming “constitutional coup” – through peaceful, organised and effective citizen democratic pressure. This time round, citizens are determined to vehemently resist a reversal of the outcome of a very expensive and painful 1995 Constitution-making process. The energy to struggle against democratic reversals is palpable; the passion to contest elements that impede peaceful democratic leadership transition is profound. We can make it happen.

Mr Kaheru, Coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)
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Published by: Daily Monitor

At global level and more recently, sentiments of independent popular movements have handed political triumphs to politicians including Donald Trump in the US, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines with the latest being Emmanuel Macron in France.

CRISPIN KAHERU

In all instances, the victors mobilized their political support either outside traditional political parties or with little anchoring in political party structures.

The recent French dynamic offers a classic example of a wave of political organizing that transcends traditional political parties. Emmanuel Macron mobilized his support through En Marche, a new movement that beat old traditional political forms of organizing.  If you want to, you can throw in Barack Obama who was largely seen as an independent-minded figure, resoundingly voted by “independent voters” in both 2008 and 2012.

There seems to be an observable trend relating to the rebirth of popular individual merit movements and the gradual death of political parties. For Uganda’s case, it may be fair enough to eulogize the rise of independents and ‘independent movements’ but we must do it within context. Uganda’s history has not furthered political parties.

First, the country has had a record of discouraging political parties and their activities. Immediately after NRM took power, it banned political parties; it did so through Legal Notice No.1 of 1986 and subsequently through the June 29, 2000 referendum on multiparty. Even when multiparty politics was reintroduced in 2005, little was done to embolden political parties as strong institutions. 

The ‘Movement’ system has continued to strongly colour the political landscape in Uganda since its advent. Actually, political parties in Uganda are akin to icing sugar on a cake; they have been used to merely decorate the political topography.  

The trend of events in the recent Kyadondo East constituency by-election could signal a swing (back) from institutional to purely individual merit politics. In many ways, that election made a resounding statement – there is an ‘institutional confidence crisis’. 

The public seems to feel safer trusting individuals rather than institutions. While that may not necessarily be a bad thing, we need to reflect further on the implications of devolving power or responsibility from political institutions to individuals – who may not represent any form of political, social and economic organization or orientation.

The Kyadondo East by-election exemplified the trend that it is more about the capabilities and persuasions of individuals than the institutions they represent.
Ugandans seem to be losing confidence in the traditional political system(s) as well as traditional institutions of political organizing.

The gradual rise of independents bespeaks weaknesses in conventional political party organizing; but could also signal the rise of a ‘third political force’ in Uganda. This has both negative and positive implications.

Positive in the sense that any eligible person can stand for elective office without necessarily being bogged down by the complexities of running through a political party platform, but also, voters have more choices from which to choose. 

This trend could, however, be negative because there may not be adequate mechanisms to hold independent candidates accountable. But also, an elected independent candidate can cross to a political party anytime without any serious repercussions – and thus denigrating their electorate.

That said, Robert Kyagulanyi a.k.a Bobi Wine ran independently against the political party establishment and did it successfully in very simple ways.

In an unprecedented way, he drew fervent enthusiasm not just in Kyadondo East constituency but also from across the country and beyond. He drove the political conversation and drew the biggest crowds that later translated into actual votes. 

The experiences from Kyadondo East offer instructive guidance, especially for our fledgling political parties. It is time for them to read the times. Uganda has one of the biggest youth populations globally.

Young people today are identifying less and less with institutions, be it political or otherwise, and more with causes and their champions. The overwhelming backing of younger voters was a critical factor in Robert Kyagulanyi’s victory. 

My two cents: It’s time for political parties to deeply reflect on how to posture themselves amidst very dynamic political times.

The author is the coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (Ccedu).

Writen by: CRISPIN KAHERU

This article was published by: The Observer

The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2017, which carries, among other clauses, a proposal to remove the upper age-limit for presidential candidates, has stoked controversy and to manage the fallout, government has appointed retired Major General Kahinda Otafiire to be its sole spokesman on the issue.

The bill proposes the deletion of Article 102(b) to allow President Museveni, who will make 75 years in 2019, to seek re-election in 2021. Otafiire’s appointment as spokesman for the controversial bill, according to sources close to cabinet, is intended to stem the flow of uncoordinated statements from different government officials.

“He is the Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, and the amendment is a constitutional matter. That is why we decided that he should be the only one to speak to the media about it,” Attorney General William Byaruhanga told The Observer on Friday.

While some government officials have tried to suggest that the upcoming constitutional amendment bill does not necessarily touch on Article 102(b), which caps the upper age for presidential candidates at 75, Attorney General Byaruhanga told us that the entire constitution is up for review.

“When we talk of a constitutional review, it means that anything in that constitution is up for amendment; because it is a constitutional review; anybody can suggest an amendment at any stage,” Byaruhanga explained.

Byaruhanga spoke to The Observer a day after Otafiire told parliament that Ugandans were free to suggest any changes to the constitution.

The Constitution is not my property but the property of the people of Uganda, it is not a commandment of God and all the articles of the Constitution are up for amendment [if] the people of Uganda so choose…” Otafiire said on July 6 during a special sitting of parliament to pay tribute to the fallen former DP president general John Ssebaana Kizito.

Fierce debate has ensued about the bill’s intentions since this newspaper broke the story of its gazetting (See: Age limit bill now gazetted, The Observer, July 3).

Ssebaana’s burial in Luweero district on Saturday offered yet another platform for the debate, with FDC strongman Kizza Besigye accusing Otafiire of doing someone else’s bidding.

“President Museveni has turned himself into the Constitution; what he wants is what will be in it, and what he doesn’t want will not be included in the Constitution. Even Gen Otafiire here is not acting on his own but on what Museveni wants him to do,” Besigye said, as he pointed at Otafiire who represented government at the burial.

When it was his turn to speak, Otafiire said Besigye and former DP president Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere were part of the framers of the Constitution who inserted a clause allowing for its amendment.

“You are blaming me for nothing because I did not put that [amendment] clause,” said Otafiire who was himself a member of the Constituent Assembly.

“My duty now is to institute a constitutional review commission to gather public views. Its report and what parliament will decide is what will matter,” Otafiire said.

Otafiire cautioned opposition politicians not to waste time threatening to mobilize for a rebellion. He said Uganda has outgrown that era.

“Besigye and I know this place [Mpande] very well because we fought from here during the war [that brought NRM to power], but we have gone past the era of armed rebellion,” Otafiire said. “What we need now is to sit on a roundtable and talk for the good of our country,” Otafiire said.

He said Buganda’s demands for a federal status will be achieved through dialogue as well.

TIMING

During the NRM caucus meeting on Monday, Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa told members that the government wishes to see controversial business in parliament dealt with in this second year of the 10th parliament.

“The second year of this parliament is the best time to pass the seemingly controversial issues in parliament because we still have time for damage control,” Nankabirwa said.

The caucus meeting had been called to discuss the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012, popularly known as the GMO bill. While Nankabirwa might have been referring to the GMO bill and the Marriage bill, both of which have their own share of controversy, some MPs The Observer spoke to had the age limit amendment on their mind.

The government is also under pressure to pass election-related laws well before the next election cycle, following criticism that this often comes too late, and a recommendation of the Supreme court to that effect.

ACTIVISM

Meanwhile, activists have launched a campaign against the proposed amendment of Article 102(b). Through various platforms on social media, the activists are circulating telephone contacts and e-mail addresses of all the 431 MPs, urging their electorate to call them and ask them to vote against the amendment.

“Start engaging them. We are aware some may not be familiar with Article 102 (b), which says that for one to be president of Uganda he should be not less than 35 years and not more that 75yrs,” the message that has been circulating on WhatsApp states.

“Tell them we [want] the clause to remain intact. That one call, that email [and] that text message may be key in defining the destiny of our country.”

A separate message makes a similar appeal thus:

“Please call your area MP and engage them to trash the proposal of amending the age limit for the president as stipulated under article 102 (b) of the constitution.”

Published by The Observer 

Asked in separate interviews whether they will support the soon-to-be gazetted Constitutional Amendment Bill, which seeks largely to remove the upper presidential age limit, many NRM MPs were non-committal, a few said yes and no.

Once Article 102 (b) is amended and the presidential age limit is removed, President Museveni’s last remaining hurdle to re-election in 2021 will be removed.

A total of 38 NRM MPs were interviewed. Twenty one remained undecided, eight said they would oppose the proposal, while 10 said they would support it.

The views of NRM MPs on this matter are particularly crucial because they constitute an overwhelming majority in the 10th parliament. On Monday, The Observer reported that the Constitutional Amendment Bill, which contains a clause for the removal of the age limit, had been lined up to be published in The Uganda Gazette, the official government newspaper.

The Constitution requires that a bill must be gazetted at least 30 days before it is tabled in parliament. Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, told The Observer last week that all articles, including 102, will be up for possible amendment.

The minister said a Constitutional Review Commission through which the public can express itself on the bill will soon be constituted. Some NRM MPs said that much as they appreciate President Museveni’s immense contribution to the country, lifting the age limit, which in the short term is intended to benefit him, will be a step backwards in Uganda’s democratization process.

“I am happy with what the president has done for this country and I take him as my hero. But I think it is not right to change the Constitution for the benefit of one individual. The last time it was term limits; so, why didn’t they remove the age limit clause then? It is not right for this country,” said Lowila

Oketayot, Woman MP for Pader. Speaking anonymously, an NRM MP from Busoga sub-region said President Museveni should go down in the history books as the first Ugandan president to oversee a peaceful transition of power.

“While he has good plans for the country, he needs to know that democratic values need to be respected. A good leader must prepare a successor; that is why I am not supporting this amendment,” the MP said.

Another NRM legislator from Ankole said his voters are opposed to the lifting of the presidential age limit. But the MP added that he might be forced to go along with his party’s position if the NRM caucus agrees to support the proposal.

“My voters have made it clear to me that they don’t support the lifting of the age limit. I also don’t support it. But given how our NRM party operates, the top echelon of our caucus already supports this. Once we take a position, then that will be a majority decision we have to agree upon,” the legislator said.

John Baptist Nambeshe, an NRM MP representing Manjiya, told The Observer on Monday that President Museveni needs to consider handing over power very soon.

“Ugandans have appreciated him enough for liberating this country. It wouldn’t be him again to impose himself on the people. On the part of the ones instigating the removal of the presidential age limit, it is very abnormal and greedy. I’ve seen his supporters celebrating because they anticipate huge sums of money,” Nambeshe said.

Patrick Nsamba Oshabe, the Kassanda North MP, said he does not support the idea.

“We have been waiting for it [amendment bill] to make our contributions. I just hope that the Constitutional Review Commission, which is set up is impartial and works in the interest of Ugandans, and not a few people. On the issue of the age limit removal, I am not for it. I prefer the Constitution to stay the way it is. But if the people of Uganda say we should lift the age limit, I will respect their decision,” Oshabe said.

THOSE IN FAVOUR

Some MPs, including NRM-leaning independents, however, said they will give their full backing to the proposal. One of them is the Kabula MP, James Kakooza.

“You must understand that the NRM party has majority of MPs in parliament and the two-thirds requirement to make these amendments will be gotten. We don’t need to waste a lot of time on this. What is important, though, is that if the age limit is lifted, it should not give opportunity to those with power to suppress or suffocate democracy or anyone’s ability to stand for the presidency,” said Kakooza, an independent MP.

In 2005, Kakooza was one of the architects of the lifting of presidential term limits from the Constitution. For his efforts, he was later rewarded with a ministerial position. Ibrahim Abiriga, the eccentric MP for Arua municipality, said he is the number-one supporter of the proposal.

“We were the first people to support this. Museveni should rule until he dies. Some people were talking of a referendum and we said no; we want a shortcut. A referendum is a very long process, and some wanted it (decision on the proposal) in Kyankwanzi but we want it done here in parliament,” Abiriga said.

Simeo Nsubuga, the Kassanda South NRM MP, said his voters are happy with Museveni’s leadership.

“The question is not about his age but whether he is capable of serving this country. Let us wait for the process and when it comes to parliament, I will support it. By the way I am one of the authors,” Nsubuga proudly said.

At least 21 MPs told The Observer that they are still undecided (see table). These include Hamson Obua (Ajuri), Jovah Kamateeka (Woman MP, Mitooma) and Jalia Bintu (Woman MP, Masindi).

Bintu said she will first consult her people before she can take a position on the matter. Some civil society activists and opposition supporters have vowed to oppose the amendment.

We have been told that Karoli Ssemogerere, a prominent lawyer, is planning to challenge the bill in court once it has been officially tabled. Crispy Kaheru, the coordinator of the Citizen’s Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (Ccedu), said lifting of the age limit would put the country in a precarious position.

Every word in defence of the removal of the age-limit rings hollow as we all know that it is intended to safeguard just an individual in power. Not only is it wrong to legislate for a single individual, it places our fragile democratic path on the edge of a cliff,” Kaheru said.

The Observer will continue to sample more MPs for their views on this proposal in subsequent editions.

NRM/Independent MPs Yes/No/Undecided
James Kakooza (Indep NRM leaning) Yes
Isaac Etuka (Upper Madi Okollo) Undecided
Catherine Doreen Oketayot (Pader Woman) No
Geoffrey Dhamuzungu (Budiope East) Undecided
Simeo Nsubuga (Kassanda South) Yes
Patrick Nsamba Oshabe (Kassanda North) No
John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya) No
Moses Angundru (Terego West) Undecided
Gordon Bafaki (Kazo) Yes
Paul Amoru (Dokolo North) Yes
Fred Baseke (Ntenjeru South) Undecided
James Waluswaka (Bunyole East) Yes
Rosemary Nauwat (Amudat Woman) Undecided
Hellen Adoa (Soroti Woman) Undecided
Fred Baseke (Ntenjeru South) Undecided
MP Ankole sub region No
MP Busoga sub region No
Christine Achen (Alebtong Woman) Undecided
Silas Aogon (Kumi Municipality) Undecided
John Bosco Lubyayi (Mawokota South) No
Abraham Byandala (Katikamu North) Undecided
Amos Lugoloobi (Ntenjeru North) Undecided
Jovah Kamateeka (Mitooma Woman) Undecided
Hillary Lokwang (Ik) Yes
Ibrahim Abiriga (Arua Municipality) Yes
Jalia Bintu (Masindi Woman) Undecided
Mohammed Nsereko (Kampala Central-Ind) No
Juliet Kyinyamatama (Rakai Woman) Yes
Ashraf Olega (Aringa) Yes
Godfrey Onzima (Aringa North) Undecided
OnesmusTwinamatsiko (Bugangaizi East-Ind) Undecided
Peter Mugema Panadol (Iganga Municipality) Undecided
Aston Kajara (Mwenge South) Undecided
John Baptist Lokii (Matheniko) Undecided
Veronica Kadogo (Buyende Woman) Undecided
Godfrey Kiwanda (Mityana North) Undecided
Mbwatekamwa Gaffa  (Kasambya) No
Denis Hamson Obua (Ajuri) Undecided

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