Uganda: Only The People Can Stop The Desecration Of Our Constitution

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Jacqueline Asiimwe

[Commentary]

In order to encourage a national debate on Uganda's problems and to explore solutions The Black Star News invites nationals to submit essays of reasonable length addressing the topic " Where Uganda is Today And The Changes We Need."

I can remember the euphoria of those years, as if it was yesterday -- when I contributed to something big.

I was part of a group of women, seeking views of other women, at the dawn of the birth of the 1995 Constitution. There was such hope that finally we had a "People’s" Constitution – not one smuggled in the dark into the pigeon holes of our nation's Members of Parliament, but one prepared in the full glare of daylight and written after people from all walks of life shared their views.

That was then. And this is now.

And looking back at all the energy we spent, it is fast becoming clear that we wrote a Constitution which our leaders had no intention of respecting. What we have now is a Constitution, without Constitutionalism. A key tenant of Constitutionalism is the respect of the rules that are laid down. But in Uganda, we have failed or refused to respect rules, and instead, we have used the Constitution for selfish political ends.

The first change of rules was the now infamous removal of term limits for the Presidency – for which the then sitting Parliament was paid five million shillings apiece or less than $3,000. That very action has opened the floodgates of the desecration of the Constitution and we are not headed to a pretty place, unless we stop this watershed.

Fast forward to 2013. We have seen four major incidents that have shown how little we respect the Constitution. The first is an unlikely example – but it is there nonetheless. When the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) Caucus "threw out" the Marriage and Divorce Bill, they were violating the Constitution.

There is a clear Article in our Constitution that proscribes the right to equality at marriage, in marriage and at its dissolution – and the Marriage and Divorce Bill was an articulation of this Constitutional principle. Regardless of the contentious issues, because of the article in the Constitution, Uganda must reform its marriage laws to reflect the principle. We cannot run away from that. But the bill was thrown out without much ado and consequence. But for us who watch the Constitution, that was one other blow.

The next blow came when the Parliament chose to approve the appointment of the former Army Commander, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, a serving military man, into a political position, as Minister of Internal Affairs, serving the ruling party. Our Constitution is clear that Uganda is a civilian state and that the army must be subordinate to civilian rule and not be party to partisan politics. To serve as a minister of a ruling party, as a serving army man, is in violation of the Constitution.

The third example is one that touches on the re-appointment of the Chief Justice, Benjamin Odoki.

The office holder reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 this year and the Constitution is clear that because of this, he would not be eligible to serve as Chief Justice. However, the President appointed the Chief Justice again, even looking to the Constitution to give credence to his unconstitutional act.

All eyes are now on Parliament to see whether they will approve this appointment. Given that this same Parliament approved the appointment of an army man to a political office – the writing may already be on the wall.

The final example I will point to is the recently passed Public Order Management Bill, which seeks to regulate the rights to freedom of assembly and association. The broad intent of the bill is to stop, or make it hard for any Ugandans to associate or show dissent without state approval – granted through the Inspector General of Police. This bill goes against the spirit and letter of the Constitutional rights to assembly and association. But the Bill was passed regardless.

And so, the Constitution has become for us a document, which our leaders are willing to violate at every turn, not caring that in so doing, in disrupting and disrespecting the Constitution, they are actually committing treason. It’s that bad. It’s that sad.

Since this is a People’s Constitution, it must be we the people who once again, rise to demand a stop to this blatant abuse of the Constitution.

We must reclaim our Constitution.

 

Feel free to submit to milton@blackstarnews.com your own commentary, accompanied with a high resolution headshot photo, if you're interested in contributing to this debate.

 

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