Uganda is currently locked in a passionate debate on the presidential age limit. During this period we have witnessed the restriction and arrest of those opposed to the amendment of Article 102(b) of the Constitution. What does this say about our democracy?
The current stand on lifting the presidential age limit is regrettable because the framers of the Constitution, having consulted widely and taking into account what Uganda had previously gone through, found it prudent to put two major articles to safeguard the country from descending into turmoil. One was Article 105(2) of the presidential term limits and the second one is Article 102(b) of the presidential age limit.
Given the fact that the transfer of power in Uganda wasn’t easy, there was a general appreciation that putting the limit on the age of presidency would guarantee a peaceful transition hence political stability.
Of course there are people who have argued that there are countries that are democratic and stable yet they don’t have age and presidential term limits, but every country must be looked at on its own merits. Uganda with its turbulent history needs these safeguards to avoid going back to the dark ages.
In my view, the contestation over age limit speaks volumes of our democracy. What exactly are the priorities? Would one imagine that with our Vision 2040, government’s priority would be lifting the presidential age limit yet there are issues affecting us like unemployment, limping economy, issues of industrialisation, famine, climate change, among others? The attempt to remove the age limit is selfish and is orchestrated by people who don’t have the country at heart.
We have also seen the raid on NGOs by police. What do you make of that development?
In this age limit contestation, there are many voices that have come up to speak against removing the age limit. Previously, there used to be a notion that NGO’s don’t speak but this time round, a consortium of NGO’s have spoken about safeguarding our Constitution through a unified approach.
The police in its partisan way of handling issues have been seeking to stifle any independent voice that comes up to oppose the age limit deal. The attacks on NGO’s aren’t new, as of June last year, 17 NGO’s had their offices broken into and to date, and there has never been any report by police. What we are seeing now is an effort by government using State agents to silence us on this very matter, claiming that we are against the government.
But these arguments are baseless in our view. NGO’s have been a core of our society through their myriad intervention; they have offered many services such as health, education and good governance where the State has failed. It’s unfortunate now that because of the government’s selfish agenda of age limit, we have seen a crusade against NGO’s.
We saw a similar situation in Kenya when government closed down NGOs after elections. What does it say about democracy in our region?
Democracy in the East African region is at its worst as we are experiencing a democratic backlash because the whole region is in a state of denial whether you talk about Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi.
Following the raid by police on Action Aid and GLISS, the Uganda Media Centre issued a statement saying NGOs and CSOs are the new fronts of imperialism. What do you make of that statement?
I am not shocked by that utterance because the Uganda Media Centre itself is largely ignorant and they speak on matters they don’t understand. They don’t understand the genesis of NGO’s and their value addition. I think their missiles are misdirected and they should, therefore, be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.
What is the civil society’s role in this age limit debate?
Our role is to build consciousness among the public, and also we are duty bound to take a very clear and informed position on the same. The civil society having participated in the formulation of the Constitution, we have to take a firm position by saying no to the removal of the presidential age limit and if we are being punished and ridiculed for defending the Constitution, we are not ready to apologise!
And what has been the government’s reaction to your position?
We receive calls and threats every other day and we are told that we are the enemy of the State, but I don’t think we shall apologise for that because we are citizens of this country and we have really contributed so much to the development of this country and our people deserve the truth.
As CSOs, we really feel that Mr Museveni shouldn’t be misdirected but he should retire and keep his legacy.