Prominent Ugandan Bishop, Rev. Odama, Asks Museveni To Come Clean on Age-limit Debate

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Rev. Odama

GULU, Uganda---As political tension increases in Uganda a prominent church leader has called on Yoweri Museveni the country's ruler of 31 years to clearly state that he does not support the current bid members of Parliament from his ruling party to remove from the constitution the 75-years age limit for presidential candidates.

This clause in the constitution would bar the 73-year-old ruler from running again in 2021.“His Excellency the President of the Republic of Uganda has all the moral obligation and responsibility to clear up his name and reputation from all these messes in order to leave a legacy of good leadership in Uganda and the world at large," said Rev. Dr. John Baptist Odama in the city of Gulu. "We therefore call him to pronounce himself to save Uganda from further embarrassment.”

Odama was speaking at a gathering of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) an interfaith peace-building organization bringing together Muslims and Christians in the northern part of Uganda. On September 27, running fist-fights erupted on the floor of Uganda's Parliament when security agents dressed in business suits stormed the legislature to arrest dozens of Members of Parliament who oppose the attempt by Museveni's supporters to amend the constitution to remove the age-75 ceiling.  Three-quarters of Ugandans, 75%, want the age-ceiling to remain, according to a poll by Afro-barometer.The speaker of Uganda's Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, allowed a member of Parliament named Raphael Magezi to table the age limit motion. Museveni's ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party controls 293 seats out of 426 in Parliament or 69%.

The religious leaders said it would be "an embarrassment" to the country if parliament chooses to amend the constitution to suit a selfish interest. “The whole world will judge the 10th Parliament of Uganda very harshly if it makes the mistake of amending Article 102 b of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda for selfish end..." Bishop Odama said, reiterating the position of ARLPI that Uganda must desist from violence but exercise political maturity, tolerance and embrace dialogue as the best means to resolve differences. Article 102 (b) is the section in the constitution that bars candidates who have reached the age of 75 from running for president. He added that Uganda has pressing priorities that the nation needed to address such as poverty and youth unemployment, which has been estimated at 83%.

David Mwaka, a retired diplomat who was part of the 1995 Constituent Assembly that worked on the constitution also condemned the attempts to remove the age-ceiling.  “We agreed in the Constituent Assembly that there must be age limit. The president at 75 must retire, go back and become, say, national statesman, a consultant of some sort. Have a rest. But what is happening today, the fracas in parliament, how did this come about?” Mwaka said.

Mwaka said Museveni should learn from former African life-presidents, including Malawi's Kamuzu Banda of Malawi who at age 100 did not know what was happening in his country. Eventually the country held elections and voted for a new president and Banda was not even aware that he was no longer president.

“We said let the president serve and retire at 75 years and his excellency the president himself said at 75 he will not continue in office," Mwaka said. "But he changed his mind and now he alone knows when he would like to retire from the presidency to hand over to someone else.” He was referring to a national television interview when Museveni said he wouldn't be president at age 75.

Mwaka added that the public's right to protest against the attempt to remove the age-ceiling is protected by Article 29 of the constitution.He condemned the arrests and detentions by the police of people demonstrating against the age-ceiling debate.

“Every person shall have the freedom to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed and to petition,” Mwaka said, referring to the constitution. 

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