Civic education cannot replace the need for a responsible Constitution

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By Beti Olive Kamya

Posted  Tuesday, January 14   2014 at  02:00

In Summary

I do not mind admitting that if I was president of Uganda operating under similar constitutional mandates, I would most likely appoint Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA) supporters, collaborators, associates and people with whom I share goals...

In his article “Kamya fighting the wrong battle” published in The Independent of January 3-9, Andrew Mwenda wrote: “2014 is going to set the tone for the 2016 elections and the politician with an argument for the future of Uganda is Beti Kamya…” He agrees with me that mere regime change is not a lasting solution to Uganda’s problem (having failed the test of time, nine times in 50 years)! But neither does he buy my prescription of amending the Constitution to trim presidential powers, which he admits are excessive, but argues that it is abuse, rather than use of such power, that has put Mr Museveni’s rule to question.

Mwenda further argues that there are checks provided in the Constitution (eg parliamentary approval of appointment of public officers), intended to tame presidential powers, but that President Museveni violates them because they are not guarded by an empowered society. He, therefore, concludes that Uganda does not need constitutional amendment to trim presidential powers, but an empowered society, through mass mobilisation, to guard the Constitution against violation by the President.

Uganda’s Constitution mandates the President to appoint the Inspector General of Police (IGP). Museveni appointed a trusted NRM cadre. He is also a General in the national army, UPDF, where the President is Commander-in-Chief. The President acted by the book, so Parliament approved the appointment. We now have an IGP whose army code requires him to obey the Commander-in-Chief, whose tenure of office can only be guaranteed by the President, and for whom it is personally profitable that Museveni remains President of Uganda.

The effect of these considerations, which book-prone analysts will not find in print, is an IGP whose political, professional and personal interests cannot be coordinated through the Police Act, but through presidential orders, hence – the invasion of court, closure of media houses, violation of Dr Kizza Besigye freedoms, fighting with junior Lands minister Idah Nantaba! At what point in this chronology would the public intervene? Wouldn’t it be better if the President was not mandated to appoint the IGP in the first place, as it is in Kenya?

Out of the 19 Chapters of the Constitution of Uganda, 12 chapters mandate the President to appoint all public officials above the rank of head of department. President Museveni used this mandate to appoint NRM cadres, supporters, loyalists and desperados. The overall impact of this constitutional blank cheque, which you will not find in print, is a repeat of the IGP scenario in every public office.

Although the Constitution does not explicitly say so, it implicitly makes the president sole employer, provider, benefactor, and invincible. Which ordinary official or trader would wish to take on such a power with no regard to possible consequences? Hence the unwritten consensus to play safe and let him be!

I do not mind admitting that if I was President of Uganda operating under similar constitutional mandates, I would most likely appoint Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA) supporters, collaborators, associates and people with whom I share goals and aspirations, to all public offices, and they, too, would pay me back with loyalty and reverence, fuelling the vicious circle of patronage, arrogance, invincibility and impunity!

Mwenda is right, the most important safety valve for democracy is a society empowered through mass education, sensitisation and mobilisation, but that does not replace the need for a responsible Constitution that seeks to prevent rather than create an imperial presidency through over-centralised power!

Ms Kamya is the president, Uganda Federal Alliance.

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