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Political Disorientation Has No Age Limit: A Case of Ugandan Parliament
Presidential Age Limit
The issue of amending article 102 (b) of the Ugandan constitution to remove the presidential age limit has been a subject of contentious debate over the last several weeks. Members of the opposition believe that the planned bill is a ploy by the ruling party to pave way for the incumbent president to run for another presidential term in 2021 after clocking the mandatory retirement age of 75 years. While amending the constitution is supposed to be a normal parliamentary exercise, it is curious that this issue has engendered hysteria on the opposition side and euphoria on the ruling party side.
Having watched with dismay the images of a cult-like Ugandan parliament in recent days, I cant help wondering what has befallen the pearl of Africa: red headbands have now become the new parliamentary dress code for the opposition lawmakers to symbolize defiance and civil disobedience; participating in running battles with police in the halls of parliament in a hide-and-seek fashion now epitomizes a state that has resorted to kindergarten-like recess activities; urinating on the fence of the ministry of finance by an honorable member of parliament has typified lack of civility and decency in our elected officials; undercover police swinging into action to professionally arrest the defiant members of parliament on the orders of the Speaker of Parliament illuminates the speaker's demanding job of handling child-like adult lawmakers; and the smacking of one another on the head with chairs and desks in parliament illustrates the need to hummer into the heads of our elected officials a sense of personal responsibility. This in large measure epitomizes a society that is tired, confused and angry.
John Mbuga was right after all: "When the madness of an entire nation disturbs a solitary mind, it is not enough to say that a man is mad." The Ugandan parliamentary spectacle, which has became a media sensation and an international disgrace, requires a cool-off time for the country to heal. What is disturbing, however, is the fact that everybody is involved; the lawmakers, the police, the cabinet ministers, the speaker of parliament, and the general public. And what is more surprising is the fact that the situation is so politically disorienting that nobody seems to understand what is really going on.
Could our representatives have behaved differently to demonstrate their displeasure toward the ruling party's attempt to amend article 102 (b) of the constitution? It depends of whom you ask. If you asked me, I would tell you that our lawmakers lack new ideas. Plain and simple. Now they think that showing off their wrestling pedigree through pretense of stopping the age limit bill from being brought to the floor of parliament is the saving grace for their undesirable records of accomplishment in parliament. I reasonably believe that it is lack of new ideas that has necessitated them to start smacking each other to see what new ideas might jump out of their heads so that they could resuscitate their doleful political careers. Don't get me wrong: I'm not convinced that introducing the bill to strike the presidential age limit out of the Ugandan constitution is necessary at this time. Albeit, the opposition should clear the way for the bill to be tabled in parliament on condition that the bill is debated but not voted on. After which, parliament should go on a three-month recession and return to their respective constituencies to consult with their constituents. This will help them acquire new ideas from their electorates so that they can return to parliament rejuvenated for a new start. To avoid letting the age limit obscure the important parliamentary business, the bill should be shelved and brought up for consideration again after the 2021 presidential elections. At that time, it is hoped that our lawmakers will have gained their swagger back, and therefore able to reason at the same wave length.
The embarrassing scenes of cabinet ministers sleeping during president Museven's key state-of-the-nation address in 2013 encapsulates that political disorientation does not discriminate based on gender, religion, age, political persuasion and race. Whereas the journalists and commentators tried to insinuate that those sleeping while the president was giving a critical speech were elderly cabinet ministers, what I saw was that everyone--young and old--was sleeping. And had Jesus come back to take only those who were awake during the president's address, only one person would have made the cut to go to heaven--president Museveni; however, the only question he would have had a difficult time answering, if Jesus had asked, would have been why he continued wasting his breath addressing a sleeping and snoring cabinet. Waking up these honorable members from their honorable slumber by taping them on the shoulder politely is to augment their mediocrity. The only way to punish them for disrespecting the president is to send them home to play with the children and their grandchildren.
I was also appalled by some cabinet ministers who tried to weigh in on the partisan issue of lifting the presidential age. I have not read the army code of conduct, neither am I familiar with rules that govern the conduct of cabinet ministers in partisan debates; therefore, I don't know if a minister of security coming out openly to side with the ruling party constitutes conflict of interests. Have you ever thought about the fact that Uganda is one of the few countries in the world, if not the only one, where one can be a cabinet minister as well as a member of parliament? Why is the age limit bill such a hot topic, and yet when it comes to the issue of stopping ministers from running for member of parliament, our learned lawmakers say "TOGIKWATAKO?" meaning "don't touch it." But do you know why? Because every single one of them thinks he or she is a minister in the making. Let's be honest: being a minister as well as a member of parliament, constitutes a conflict of interest. That is why we have three brunches of government for checks and balances: the executive, the judiciary, and the legislature. One should not have it both ways; one should not be the judge, the jury, and the executioner.
Unfortunately, these double standards have created obsessive compulsive corruption. These guys collect two salaries only to go back during election time to spend it on electoral malpractice. Therefore, it is not surprising that when they return to parliament, they are exhausted after depleting their funds on vote rigging, and consequently, they sleep again. What we expect from the ministry of security is protection of all individuals and their property regardless of party affiliation. That is why our army is called "Uganda Peoples Defense Forces," because it defends all peoples. What we need to hear from the minister of security is how he is prepared to beef up security to complement and supplement the work of police in maintaining law and order; the whereabouts of Joseph Kony and his plans to capture him; the welfare of our men and women in army uniform serving tours of duty across the globe; plans for expediting the process of processing the retirement package for our army veterans; and the welfare of the Rwenzururu King and when he would be released to return home to be with his subjects. Addressing such important security issues would go a long way in rekindling trust and hope that our security organs are doing a marvelous job of providing necessary security to our citizens and their property.
I'm tempted to commend the Ugandan police force for acting professionally in handling the angry members of parliament. For the first time, I saw police officers entering parliament wearing suits and coats to arrest members of parliament professionally. I also saw some of them putting their lives on the line by allowing themselves to be hit by the lawmakers with steaks in an attempt to arrest them. I am also told that some of the lawmakers that were arrested, were eventually released and escorted to their respective homes by police to guarantee their security. In other countries like North Korea, it would have been extremely difficult for the lawmakers to go home alive after resisting arrest. This is not to say that the police is off the hook. There are some disturbing images on the internet and on other social media platforms where police officers are seen engaging in police brutality and unprofessional-like conduct. I saw one police officer trying to undress a Muslim woman in public in one town early this week in total disregard for her privacy and her religion. There are other instances where the police use of excessive force has left some members of parliament and some members of the general public hospitalized. While it is the duty of police to provide law and order, it is their sacred obligation to ensure that the constitutional rights of the people, especially the right to assemble and voice their concerns, are also protected. In addition, the bad elements in the police force that engage in brutality and reckless behavior must be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
The Speaker of Parliament
The Parliament is the office of the speaker of parliament; she is in charge, so "TOGIKWATAKO--don't touch it." She has a right to exercise her power to ensure that the parliament moves on with its normal business. There are many ways to filibuster and oppose any bill brought to the floor of parliament. I agree with the speaker of the house: random behaviors should not be tolerated in our sacred house of freedom, the parliament. I still believe that the opposition has made long strides as far as increasing their numbers in parliament is concerned. All that is needed is for them to stay the course. There is magic in numbers. The opposition should continue recruiting, mobilizing, and sensitizing the people about their political agenda to increase their numbers in parliament to be able to turn their minority status into the majority status. This will help them to ensure that the bills that work in their favor are introduced on the floor of parliament, debated, voted on and passed. Other than that, defiance and civil disobedience will only work to derail the gains their political parties have made over the years.
The general public
Scenes of the local community members around the country engaging in fierce battles with securing organs demonstrate that the problem has spread across the entire country. What is not known, however, is whether the local population really understands what is at stake or what they are fighting for. There are some images that indicate that some members of the public have become a public nuisance. For instance, there is an image of a student from one university who decided to strip and demonstrate naked in public. This is a disturbing image of public indecency, which unfortunately is even being watched by children. What messages are such characters sending to the public? In my view, the speaker of parliament needs to send the lawmakers on recess for some months so that they can go back to their constituencies and educate the public on the presidential age bill so that the people do not demonstrate and riot in the ignorance of the truth. It is important to note that some people might take advantage of chaotic situations to express their anger and frustration through civil disobedience, even when the reasons for doing so are not related with the issue at hand. There are those who are unemployed who join the demonstration to protest their lack of jobs; there are those who are poor and are not sure of their the next meal; and yet there are many with all sorts of impediments who might express their anger through civil disobedience to make their voices heard. Therefore, it is imperative that this situation be arrested before it spins out of control.
While I understand that every Ugandan is passionate about the future of their country, the question we ought to ask ourselves is: Is Uganda ready for the lifting of the presidential age limit? In my view, the answer to this question is "yes and no." The answer is "yes" to the extent that the opposition has not demonstrated that it can rally around a single candidate to spread its vision. We saw that during the 2016 presidential election when the opposition could not reach an agreement on whom to field as a unifying candidate. Consequently, everybody went his or her different way and ended up fragmenting their votes while the ruling party stayed unified around their flag bearer. And the opposition went on to lose the election.
My advice to the members of opposition is that if they are serious about unseating president Museveni, or the ruling party for that matter, they need to put their act together. This will require them to create a coalition or an alliance and field one candidate who can dislodge the ruling party. The defeat of Yahwa Jammel (in 2016) who had ruled Gambia for 22 years is a constant reminder that if the opposition creates a strong and legitimate alliance, it might increase its chances of gaining ground on the incumbent so that, maybe, in fifteen or twenty years to come they could unseat the ruling party. In addition, the oppositions' messages must be packaged with service delivery. It is one thing to criticize their opponent for the sake of winning political points, and it's another to juxtapose their record of accomplishments with the incumbent's records. Even if theirs are not comparable to his, the electorates will understand that the opposition is not in leadership after all.
On the other hand, the answer is "no." Uganda is not ready for lifting of the presidential age limit because Uganda is ready for a peaceful transition of power. One of the reasons for this is that, the NRM government has done a good job of bringing discipline in the army, and the peace and tranquility we enjoy in Uganda today is partly because soldiers of the Ugandan Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) have stayed in their barracks. Related to that, Uganda has a disciplined police force that can supervise and provide security to ensure that the transition is smooth and peaceful. Aside from some incidents of police brutality and unprofessional-like conducts, which the Inspector General of Police should handle with the seriousness they deserve, on the most part, the Ugandan police force has handled demonstrations and chaos in parliament in a somewhat professional fashion. Had such civil disobedience happened in North Korea, in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's era, or during Idi Amin's reign of terror in Uganda in 1979, the consequences would have been catastrophic.
Secondly, a successor must be groomed. I understand that there are many people standing in line for Ugandan presidency, but in Uganda we have a culture of having one president at a time. My advice is that the NRM caucus needs to return to Kyankwanzi on the drawing board and start the process of finding a successor, but the caucus needs to do so with the blessing of the president. In my view, the NRM government is still as strong as over because of its records of accomplishments, and I truly believe that any viable candidate that the president endorses stands a good chance of a landslide victory over any opposition candidate.
In a nutshell, there are very many moving parts in the debate and the public outrage about the proposed bill to lift the presidential age limit in Uganda. A caution for everybody: before one takes a stand on the issue of lifting the presidential age limit, he or she should wait and study the situation first and understand the intricacies of the issue. If the very people we look up to for leadership in parliament opt to turn our parliament, into a "chicken house" or "World Wrestling Entertainment," then all our gains of the last 30 years will go up in flames. But I remain optimistic about Uganda's future and the future of our children and grandchildren. It is my sincere belief that the prevailing political disorientation in Ugandan parliament and the entire country today will be solved, not by red headbands, teargas, wrestling matches, and police brutality, but through dialogue and constructive debate. It will also require that our lawmakers carry themselves with utmost professionalism and behave like professionals they truly are. I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, I chose to enjoy the prevailing peace and tranquility in Uganda while it lasts.