What is your reading of the current political situation in Uganda?
I think we have come to a situation where we are challenged as a country to work for a peaceful, constitutional and democratic termination of President Museveni’s administration.
I think if we don’t have the courage or vision to do so, there is a danger of this country ending up as some other countries like Libya ended up, with a disastrous termination of administration. That is one challenge.
Second, we all have to face to the reality that the constitutional foundation of our country is shaky. First, when the 1995 Constitution was enacted, even some of us who participated realised that there was some work not done as we felt was necessary.
There are cases, for instance, the form of government, many of us felt strongly that given the experience we had had since independence and lessons learnt from other countries, it was necessary for a peaceful, harmonious Uganda to have a federal setting. We tried hard to achieve that but we failed to achieve it.
Why is a federal setting very important?
Because of the heterogeneity of the people of Uganda – we have diverse cultures and aspirations – and also to control the power better. If we centralise all the powers of a country, especially as diverse as Uganda is, we run the risk of that power being misused, and even losing efficiency in administration of that power. This is a lesson from other countries and a lesson from this country.
Also, we did not in the CA [Constituent Assembly] succeed to lay a firm foundation for multiparty democracy, and that is why some of us proceeded to work towards that, first through the 1996 elections, then thereafter we went to the judicial process and made some gains to provide for a constitutional basis for multiparty democracy.
More work still needs to be done on this front because the NRM is still dominant administratively, but at least there is room to form and legalise other parties. They now only need to be strengthened.
Many say the transition to multiparty in 2005/2006 was half-hearted; that NRM just adjusted to remain the dominant force. What needs to be done?
First of all there is the Movement Act of 1997. That Movement Act should be scrapped. Secondly, in the Constitution itself, there is some ambiguity; it is either Movement or whatever. I think it should be very categorical and say that the political system of Uganda provided for constitutionally is a democratic multiparty system, like it is in the constitution of South Africa, Ghana and other democratic countries. There should not be ambiguity.
So, some work has got to be done to remove this ambiguity and also to remove that Act that provides for the Movement system. Besides that, in actual practice much must be done particularly in administration to end this culture of treating NRM cadres as necessarily part and parcel of government. You have seen this, for instance, the appointment of RDCs [Resident District Commissioners].
It is a secret condition that an RDC must be an NRM cadre and is given powers which undermine the proper functioning of local governments, and the proper function of the police establishment.
Wherever they are, the RDC is made the chairman of the security committee, and this is because there is that hangover that NRM is in charge everywhere. So a cleansing exercise must be made to draw a line between party politics and administration.
The President himself almost every time he addresses the nation and whatever he does, he is always talking in terms of NRM as if NRM is the same thing as government. That area has to be investigated to make sure that this country is on a multiparty basis and administration is conducted in a nonpartisan way, more so in regard to the security agencies and the police.
In the CA we did not go far enough to ensure that the national army is a nonpartisan army ready and willing to serve whichever administration is democratically in place. The army, particularly when you examine the UPDF Act, you see that there is a structural bias, for instance, the High Command as it was in the 1986 persists to this day and that was entirely sectarian, entirely politically NRM. So this should be scrapped and ensure that the UPDF Act, like the Constitution, provides for an army which should serve under any administration whether it is led by NRM as a party or DP, or UPC or whatever name it may be. This is critical in a democracy under multiparty dispensation.
There is talk about the army in Parliament, the 10 MPs
Yes, I think they should be retired. I think it is not even fair to them. I suppose there will be even occasions when they have a conflict as an individual MP, one is supposed to be free to vote, to speak as one thinks. But they are structurally obliged to always follow the High Command structure; whatever they are told by the President whenever he speaks as head of military. It is criminal to go against what the President has said in his capacity as head of the military.
You have referred to things that you think have been undone from 1995
Just to give examples, the RDC we provided for in the 1995 Constitution was deemed to be very much like a senior civil servant at the level of an undersecretary to oversee government projects in a district, but subsequent modifications, amendments changed that. The RDC now is purely an NRM cadre. Some of them stand for elections, when they lose they are made RDCs. They are made chairmen of security committees and in that way, the district administration is undermined, the police administration is undermined. That is one thing that has been undone.
The other thing which is topical these days is the removal of the term limits. This was a matter on which there was general consensus in the CA to impose two term limit as maximum. It was undone and it has caused a lot of problems. In addition to that, there has been the removal of the age limit. These are two serious issues which make the Constitution much weaker in terms of controlling power.
I have heard people arguing that Uganda doesn’t need to reform this Constitution, it just needs to write a fresh Constitution. What do you think?
No, I think there are certain things which are still in place that should be maintained. But obviously we should have an open mind and look beyond what we had there and what has been undone and look beyond to see what are the new things that must be brought into the Constitution.
Personally I am inclined to re-examine the office and the powers constitutionally and administratively of the President of this country, and when I compare him to fellow presidents in more developed democracies, say in Europe, I find that those countries were much wiser in this regard and made the head of state less controversial to leave some of these hot decisions to elected people who can easily be challenged in courts of law and who can be removed without the nature of problems which one has in removing the president of the country.
I think that post should be re-examined, first in the context of the country as diverse as Uganda, but also given the experience we have had ever since we adopted this executive presidency.
You started by talking about a peaceful, democratic termination of Museveni’s presidency and you have also referred to the role of the elite in doing that. What is your assessment of how the elite are doing in this regard?
I can only emphasise it that in the interest of this country, in the interest of the incumbent, in the interest of the future generation, Uganda should terminate any administration when it is very necessary to terminate peacefully, constitutionally and democratically. And I think it is possible to do so, rather than leaving it to chance. If you don’t plan for a peaceful change, you can get a violent change. It has happened in many countries and as you know even in this country itself.
If you don’t do it constitutionally, it can go unconstitutionally and then you cannot even control the outcome. You have the examples of countries like Libya, Egypt and so on.
Leaders were removed unconstitutionally and the fallout is still felt to this day. And this is an area I would encourage the elite class in this country to put our heads together and find a way to bring this end of administration peacefully.
There has been a conversation led by a group called the Elders’ Forum and the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, and they are talking about a possibility of a national dialogue to see how Uganda moves forward…
Yes, I am not against a national dialogue, but a national dialogue should be guided by concrete objectives, and I am making my contribution.
I think we should identify the areas which should be focused on and go to the extent of suggesting how they should be handled. I don’t think it will be fruitful to have a national dialogue without termination of this administration. We should focus on how to terminate this administration in whatever way, whether it is a dialogue or whatever peaceful, democratic and constitutional way you can think of.
I am saying yes [to dialogue], but this [termination of President Museveni’s administration] must be the objective. How do we have it peacefully? How do we ensure that we have a professional, nonpartisan military in this country?
What kind or form of government should we have? And I am suggesting that given the experience we have had in this country since independence, given the experience of many other countries, we should focus on achieving a viable federal setting for this country.
And we should have a dialogue on how to achieve that. And we have many examples, like Malaysia, which as a developing country we were more or less at the same level with at independence time.
By going federal, they solved very many problems which we have not been able to solve, like the land question. You see, land administration in Malaysia is done by the separate federal states, and that would solve so many problems which have sprung up because of the over-centralisation of land management in this country.
What do you see as the role of President Museveni in all this?
I think he should buy my idea; he should call it a day. He should play a role in the endeavor to find a peaceful termination of his administration.
This is the role I can see him play now; not all of a sudden thinking of militarising the whole country by arming more and more people including those who are totally uneducated. Some have been failures in life and you arm them!
These are adventures he should not embark upon anymore. And he has got many examples to see that when a leader decides to call it a day and plays kind of caretaker to encourage the move to work out a peaceful, constitutional and democratic termination of his administration, things turn out well. And that should be good for him personally and his family, his ministers and many of his political appointees. He should think about all that.
Uganda is a very young country and the youth are speaking out loudly, and recently they raised Bobi Wine. What is your reading of where we are headed with the youth movement?
Well, first of all I am not surprised. These are things which inevitably come up. Just like water, if it is not given passage, it finds where to pass. When the youth explode under the current circumstances, for me I think it is quite understandable.
But the youth must also understand that even the old people are there and they must also not forget that even amongst them, not everybody has agreed on everything because they are of the same age group. It would be a mistake.
Just like when we were fighting for independence in each country, there were certain people who thought that because we were fighting for independence, everybody should be together and after getting independence as a young country, we should spend our energies in developing the country; we shouldn’t have diversity; we should not have multiparty democracy.
This was a gospel preached by (Kwame) Nkrumah, for instance, and many Africans adopted it. We had the Mulungushi Club in East and Central Africa and Uganda was a member of it.
That was misreading of the situation. So, even among the youth there will be naturally diversity in terms of opinions. So, yes, the movement is good to show that enough is enough, but it must be guided.
Talking of parties, Gen Muntu has left FDC, DP is splintered, UPC is splintered.
Such also happened when you were an active politician in DP …
Yes and this thing is not abnormal. That is why I talk of multiparty democracy, it caters for all, alright, and you see it even in America, you see it in Britain. People are free to stay or leave the party. People are free and even within the party they can challenge the leadership.
This is the whole business of freedom of association and the challenge is for adopting or adhering to the principles and objectives of one’s party and attracting as much support as possible towards the same principles and objectives.
I know, for instance, that there are some people who join parties opportunistically because they expect to get material benefits. We have this kind of people, but I think the principle of a multiparty dispensation is sound, and it gives room for everybody in the country to be involved in the politics of the country in accordance with the choice of the party he or she wants to belong to.