Sunday December 24 2017

Age limit Bill passed: What next ?

Together. Opposition MPs led by the Leader of th

Together. Opposition MPs led by the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Ms Winnie Kiza (left), applaud Lira MP Jimmy Akena after he voted “No” to the amendment.  

By Isaac Mufumba

Needlework precision! That is perhaps what best describes the passing of the age limit Bill.
It must have gone by the script of Government Chief Whip, Ms Ruth Nankabirwa (or her handler), who had always wanted it hastily passed.

“If you don’t bring this amendment early enough to allow damage control and explanations, it will be difficult,” she told the NRM caucus on September 19.

Celebrations of the NRM’s “victory” has so far been muted and confined to the precincts of Parliament. A party at State House Entebbe was, however, in the works, according to the grapevine. It may or may not take place ahead of Christmas as speculated.

While Ms Nankabirwa may be right that they have time to mend fences with those who feel aggrieved, one wonders how the party will proceed down this path.

The NRM would appear to have two options. The first would be informed by Mr Museveni’s knowledge of military matters and experience as a fighter, who no doubt knows that it behooves well of a victorious General to treat a vanquished adversary and his men with some dignity and respect.

Mr Museveni and the NRM can, therefore, reach out to the Opposition and open the doors to a national dialogue that will address longstanding governance issues such as electoral reforms, harassment of the Opposition, federalism and redirection of the economy, even for cosmetic reasons.

This will give the Opposition a chance to vent and hand the NRM an opportunity to establish principled working relations with the Opposition, which would be a plus for democracy.

Mr Museveni can, on the other hand, stick to occasionally handing out jobs to a few Opposition figures while ignoring or repressing the rest. This can only lead to more Opposition protests, which would translate into more repression, a rise in the public order management budget and negative publicity for the police and the government.

Such negative publicity impacts on cash cows like tourism, foreign direct investment and donor support. Can Uganda cope?
What about the opposition?

The Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Ms Winnie Kizza, announced on Thursday the “Kojikuteko” (now that you have touched it) campaign, which is aimed at establishing whether those who voted “Yes” had done so in line with what their constituents had said.

The campaign, which is expected to begin shortly after the Christmas and New Year festivities, is likely to be met with brute force and as much or more teargas than we saw in Opposition strongholds during consultations that preceded Wednesday’s vote. It is, therefore, likely to come to naught.

With a number of legal experts having declared Wednesday’s vote unconstitutional, those opposed to the amendment will be left with two options.

The first option would be to run to the courts of law, but both the High Court and the Constitutional Court had earlier declined to grant interim orders in cases where the leaders of Opposition parties DP, CP and Jeema in one case, and “illiterate” people on the other, had sought to stop Parliament from debating the amendments.

So under the circumstances, would the courts be a viable option? Yes! Would it overturn the amendment? Unlikely, considering the terribly eroded independence of the Judiciary.

That would leave the Opposition with one option; embark on a sustained campaign aimed at fighting the NRM in the international community, but this would possibly result into cuts in donor aid and a fall in foreign direct funding, which would lead to, among other things, job losses and further shrinking of the economy. Would the Opposition want that?

For the rest of the citizens – standing at 85 per cent, according to an NGO survey – aggrieved by the amendment, they could rally behind the Opposition or wait to punish the MPs at the next election. That election, unfortunately, seems five years away, not two years way, if the amendment takes full effect. If a year in politics is a long time, five years is a very long time and many things will have changed by then.

Religious leaders’ take

Left in the dark. Having pronounced themselves on the matter on September 17, when they issued a statement calling for public discourses and a referendum to determine whether or not to amend the Constitution, religious leaders have been left in a quandary.

Archbishop John Baptist Odama, Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa, and Sheikh Shaban Mubajje were quick to condemn the amendment but what, beyond that, can they and other religious do?

Options. The church can choose to keep quiet and only counsel those who feel afflicted by Wednesday’s actions in Parliament or come out and continuously talk about whatever injustice that could have been committed. This would set it off on a collision course with the government and those who are willing to kill for it. Would the church be up to such a challenge?