By Sebhat Ayele MCCJ
The age limit controversy has caught the attention of the International media in recent weeks. It is provoking hot arguments mixed with promises and threats from both the ruling party and the opposition. Human right activists and prominent figures are expressing their worries about the consequences if and when the proposed amendment goes into effect. The Incumbent has been in power for 30 years since he took over power through the bush war of Luwero district in 1986 after defeating the army of General Tito Okello. One of the first public statements President Museveni uttered about power upon taking over power in his own words “The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power”. This powerful and compromising quote is still ringing in the ears of the opposition and other citizens who wish to see genuine democracy in Uganda and in Africa.
In 1990, Museveni asked the nation to give him 5 more years in order to enact a “durable constitution” and managed to prolong his stay in power. By then, the majority accepted him as a man of vision, though some reactions were emerging. In 2001, the president asked the nation to renew his last constitutional term, after which he would hand over power. With this, he managed to stretch his power for the second consecutive time. Meanwhile, the resistance was gaining momentum.
In 2005, he changed the tune and watered down the initial promise of 1986. After the polls, he stated without hesitation “Longevity without democracy was what I meant … if the people are renewing my mandate in a free election, then I wouldn’t put it in that category. I was talking about dictatorship”. This year marked a huge blow to the democracy in Uganda. On September 30th, 2005, the 7th Parliament passed an amendment removing presidential term limits, Article 105(2) of the 1955 constitution, amidst several opposing petitions and submissions by various civil society groups.
In the consequent years, the role of the president and his ruling party shifted to create channels of convincing the voters for support tainted by contradictions and betrayals of their hopes. The respect for the incumbent once conceived to be “patriotic and a man of vision” drastically faded away. He diverged from the ideals of democracy and openly blamed the West for the crisis in African countries. Museveni rejected criticism ahead of the presidential election in Feb. 2006. “We, the freedom fighters of Africa, lost confidence long ago in the international community. If the international community has lost confidence in us, then that is a compliment because they are habitually wrong.” He actually prepared the ground during a rare visit to Zimbabwe in October 2004. “I don’t see how anybody in Europe or outside Africa can demonize the leader of a liberation movement … These are the founding fathers of Africa, you can’t demonize these people.” The so called freedom fighter who gained popularity from their people and the international community are still clinging to power. Among those who were praised as “New Generation” of African leaders by President Bill Clinton include; Isayas Afeworki of Eritrea (1991), Paul Kagame of Rwanda (2000). Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, died in 2012 after toppling the dictator of Ethiopia Menghistu Hailemariam in 1991.
These freedom fighters are now breeding problems for their citizens. Eritrea is losing all its young generation due to unlimited national and military service. The youth are crossing in thousands every month to neighboring countries looking for a better future. The same is happening in Ethiopia with bleak future to the tribes who are outside the Tigray ethnic group, the ruling party founded by Meles Zenawi. The Amahara and Oromia regions are constantly plagued by violent strikes and demonstrations demanding equal share in the polices. Rwanda is a silent country, but the people who live there know what is happening behind the curtains. In these countries and many other African countries, people are badly in need of change. The restlessness will continue until the voters have leaders of their choice. As the Ugandan proverb goes, “Without a leader, black ants are confused”.
The drama Continues in Uganda
Museveni, now 71, would be ineligible to seek re-election in 2021 because the constitution bars anyone older than 75 to serve. He has been president since 1986. But the Kyankwanzi National Resistance Movement passed a resolution calling for the amendment of the Constitution by parliament to lift the age ban, the office of the president announced in a release by press time. According to the communiqué, the district leaders told Museveni that they want the age limit removed from the constitution. Museveni said that he would consult with the NRM Central Executive Committee and the NRM leadership. It is to be recalled that in 2016, Museveni said a leader does not have the required vigor to run a country after 75. Some critics are asking which scientific research increased the potentiality 75 years and beyond. According to some political analysts, if the president has to respect his previous multiple pledges, there is no need to consult the NRM Central committee. He should reject the proposal right away to be true to his own words of 2016.
If the Constitution is amended and he wins re-election, his rule would be extended to 40 years. Museveni was declared the winner of the previous election in February with 60 percent of the vote. Kizza Besigye, the FDC flag bearer came second with 35 percent of the vote. Many international observers said the election’s integrity was undermined by rigging, voter bribery and intimidation by security personnel.Several opposition leaders and concerned citizens are strongly opposing the amendment of the age limit. The country is already witnessing violent clashes with the NRM supporters and the security. Some are curiously asking why all the hurry if the next elections are in 2021! Some observers believe that these are tactical moves to assess the ground in order to act in the proper time. While the lower MPs are pushing for it, high people in authority are reluctant to pronounce themselves. According to some insiders, this too is a tactical move of pretence to temporarily calm the public unrest.
Among the prominent groups who are expressing concern about the Age Limit is the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda. In a press release signed on the 18th of September, the religious leaders express apprehension due to its “gravity and potential ramifications”. The press release signed by seven religious leaders caution that the removal of the presidential age limit is not a one-party issue to be manipulated by politicians and/or MPs. The religious leaders propose National Dialogue or a
Referendum. As one reads, there are two inserts on this article, the US embassy and the European Union also expressing their views. By press time, September 21st, the day the parliament table the bill, Kampala is surrounded by police and other security agents. The Police Chief issued a letter forbidding demonstration pro or against the Age Limit bill. If the warning goes unheeded, the police chief threatens to take tough action against any unlawful gathering. The Age Limit debate was postponed by one week due to several demonstrations within and outside the parliament. Due to this turmoil, the MPs refused to debate and cast votes when they are surrounded by guns. In a parallel development, the US Embassy and the Europeans Union expressed their grave concerns on the way the situation is unfolding in the country. One can read their communiqué in the inserts of this script. In addition, by press time, Leadership Magazine got confidential scripts of NRM party members who strongly oppose the Age Limit bill. Some of them are collecting signatures for a national referendum of the controversial bill.
What about Kenya?
Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election win last month as unconstitutional and called for new elections within 60 days, shocking a country that had been braced for further protests by opposition supporters. Kenya’s chief justice, David Maraga, asked the Kenyan police for protection for the judiciary because of the continuing protests and tension over its decision to annul the 2017 elections. Opposition members danced in the streets, marveling at the setback for Kenyatta, the son of the country’s first president, in the long rivalry between Kenya’s leading political families. Uhuru Kenyatta strongly criticized the Judiciary but said he respects the ruling. September 20th the Judiciary gave a detailed report of why it invalidated the election results. They blame the Electoral Commission for providing incomplete results and for forbidding the Judiciary to probe their equipments. The electoral commission fixed next elections on October 17th. Many observers believe that it may be too early to set ready all the necessary documentation.
No presidential election in the East African economic hub has ever been nullified. For the first time in the history of African democratization, a ruling has been made by a court nullifying irregular election of a president. It is too early to give the last verdict because there are still several issues at stake. However, this is a precedent-setting ruling. As the famous quote of John W. Gardner says “life is the art of drawing without an eraser”. Our African leaders and all in important positions have to be careful while taking any small decisions about valuable pages of life. The sufferings created by African dictators like Menghistu, Mobutu and Gaddafi will never be erased from the annals of history. Every generation will live to remember them as the dark agents of African history.
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