I will address two issues: the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 that government has already tabled before parliament and the current public debate about the potential of amending the Constitution to remove age limitations for presidential candidates.
Let me begin with the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017. In my simple understanding, the bill seeks to permit government to take over private property before prompt payment of a fair compensation. Not only is such a law unfair, it breeds insecurity among landowners and is recipe for landlessness.
Secondly, people in Karamoja are eating raw mangos to cure hunger; in Teso, locals are eating termites to survive famine; in Isingiro, residents are cooking pawpaws for dinner; in northern Uganda, communities are surviving on one meal a day.
Children and the elderly are dying every day in different parts of the country because of hunger. At a time when people would expect empathy, we are seeing a rude gesture in form of government introducing a law that would take away the last source of livelihood for these already-tormented people.
Let me briefly turn to the question of the of the age limitations for presidential candidates in Uganda. Anyone talking of amending the Constitution to eliminate the 75-year age limit for presidential candidates sounds like they are directly talking about safeguarding in perpetuity an individual in power. Not only is it morally wrong to legislate for an individual, it also places Uganda’s fragile democratic path on the edge of a cliff.
The framers of our Constitution inserted three key pillars to guarantee smooth and peaceful leadership transition: 1) regular free and fair elections; 2) a maximum of two five-year terms for presidents; and 3) age limitations for presidential candidates.
Our elections have been tampered with and no longer give that much confidence to citizens. Term limitations on presidential tenure were easily removed from the Constitution in 2005 after legislators were bribed with a mere Shs 5m. Therefore, there is only one safeguard left – the age limitations for presidential candidates. That is why salvaging Article 102(b) of the Constitution is a matter of life and death.
In 1986, Yoweri Museveni came to power as a freedom fighter; he came to power promising democracy and prosperity. Those who have launched the campaign to remove the age limit don’t mean well for Museveni. Some years back, Mr Museveni categorically announced that after 75, one has no vigor, one is tired. What is bound to happen if you force a bus driver to drive passengers when he or she is weak, tired or dizzy?
Threats to democratic rule in Uganda are increasing too fast. It is time for all the citizens to act; it is time for young people to act. It is time-up for any leader who is not listening to the voice of the masses. Soon, very soon, bad leadership is going to be history in this Pearl of Africa!
There is no any other time to act than this time when some of those in power are coming out full circle to take away people’s source of life on the one hand and acting indifferently towards younger generations on the other.
We will stand with each other in solidarity and hold our leaders accountable for their actions or inactions. We are going to watch the movements and language of our Members of Parliament (MPs) and other leaders on these issues. Should they not play ball to the wishes and in the interest of the citizens, we will pounce on them in a very unprecedented way.
This is not a war of guns. It is a battle where tear gas will be rendered useless; it is a battle where intimidation, threats and manipulation will not work. This is going to be a peaceful battle where the people will speak, and demand to be listened to. If the voice of reason of the people is not acted upon, there will be dire consequences.
The author is the coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (Ccedu).