The attempts to amend the Constitution to lift the presidential age limit capped at 75 years by Article 102(b) have witnessed an overwhelming demand from the public for the opinion of religious leaders on the matter.
The last time the Constitution was amended in 2005 to remove the term limit, President Museveni benefited for he would have been barred had the law been left intact. Because Museveni will be well more than 75 years come the next election in 2021, there is every reason to believe that the latest desire for an amendment is intended to benefit him. He may then rule for life.
The clamour for the opinion of religious leaders is premised on the notion that they hold a privileged position in society.
They are the voice of morality and have an influence on myriads of people who go to the places of worship. They speak to the people, who political leaders lord it over. Should there be a political fallout that results in war, homelessness and death, it is they that will pray, and bury the people. They, therefore, have a huge stake in what happens in the political arena.
In the Bible are two interesting events that happened and speak to Uganda’s current situation.
In 2 Samuel Chapters 11 and 12 is the story of King David, who sleeps with and impregnates Bathsheba; wife of one of his soldiers, Uriah. He then has Uriah killed in a stage-managed situation of war. King David then moves Bathsheba to his palace.
King David’s machinations to get Bathsheba into his arms, at all costs, including taking a life, is a move akin to removing term and age limits to selfishly benefit an individual. It is similar to NRM bribing legislators with ‘facilitation’ money to ‘consult’ constituents. Or beating and jailing those who are opposed to amending the Constitution.
In the Bible, Prophet Nathan does not address a press conference, fast and pray to God for ‘sanity and tolerance from all sides.’ He goes to the powerful King David’s palace and lays bare all these transgressions without the fear of being killed. He curses his house thus ‘…the sword will never depart from his house.’ He informs King David that the child of the adulterous relationship will die and it happens. King David overcome by fear, repents. (You may read the Bible to get the other details.)
In Uganda’s context, we may say, Prophet Nathan acted without fear of being denied an expensive four-wheel drive vehicle or funds to build or roof a church building, should the need arise. (We may add the fear of suspected sponsored parishioners waging disruptive wars against the Bishop to bring him down with frivolous accusations.)
Prophet Nathan also highlights how ordinary and mortal, leaders are despite the many medals on their chests acquired as a result of wars and the authority they hold as leaders. However great, invincible and irreplaceable they may think they are, they desire, hunger, fear and at the end of the day die like the rest of us.
The second interesting story from the Bible is the crucifixion of Jesus. In Mathew 27, Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Judea, had the task of trying Jesus for treason because he called himself the King of the Jews.
Though Pilate felt that Jesus had no case to answer, he did not want to displease the powers that be. In fact, as Pilate sat at the Judge’s table, his wife sent him a message not to have anything to do with that ‘innocent man’ because of a dream that troubled her the whole day. Pilate decided to stay clear of the case by putting it to a ‘referendum.’
He put Jesus on a pedestal with Barabbas, a notorious criminal and asked the crowds that had gathered, which one of the two he should release. They overwhelmingly voted for Barabbas and asked that Jesus be crucified.
Many religious leaders are cognisant of the ominous implications of lifting the age limit. For instance, in an environment where Uganda does not have a record of holding credible elections, putting this matter to a referendum is akin to allowing Museveni to keep standing and ‘winning.’ This may make people lose hope in elections and constitutional governance as a way of regulating society.
They are also well aware that after 35 years of the same President, there is an obvious great amount of stagnation and retrogression. The need for fresh blood and ideas cannot be overstated. They know that these grievous consequences are avoidable should Museveni hand over power peacefully.
Yet you have many religious leaders opting to act like Pilate - fearing the consequences of sticking a “finger in the anus of a leopard” as Museveni would say.
So they are playing safe by talking about tolerance and asking the matters to be put to a referendum. History is being recorded.
Knowing that Uganda is the land of courageous Christians like the Uganda Martyrs, Archbishop Janani Luwum, Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga, Bishop Festo Kivenjere, etc. they have the option of following in the footsteps of Prophet Nathan or going along with the easier Pontius Pilate route.
Nicholas Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org