Friday August 8 2014

Forget piecemeal amendments; our Constitution needs an overhaul

By Patricia Nangiro

In June, President Museveni announced that the government is considering amendments to the Constitution. More than 20 Bills will be tabled for amendment relating to various laws. Mr Museveni did not, however, give details of what the amendments would entail.

The Constitution of Uganda has undergone a number of amendments since it came into effect in 1995. Notable is the amendments to lift presidential term limits and opening up the political space for multi-party democratic participation in 2005.

The implication of these amendments has impacted heavily on Uganda’s various sectors. It has seen President Museveni extend his grip on authority.
While the period of the intended amendment is not yet known, it is useful for us to analyse the President’s announcement.

It is important to have fruitful conversations around these issues and ask critical questions: Why is there need to amend the Constitution and on whose terms? Is the amendment in the interest of all Ugandans across the board? What will the outcome of the amendments be?
In this respect, I want to argue that in its current state, Uganda’s Constitution needs much more than just amendments to selected sections.

We must effectively engage in an inclusive conversation within our democratic space on issues relating to our mutual interest for a progressive society.

The Constitution needs a systemic but comprehensive transformation with inputs from all Ugandans.

It must be designed to effectively address a key national question - on what terms should Ugandans continue to live together, bearing in mind the various diversities within the country, resulting from a colonial control mechanism where nations and stateless communities were clumped together to form a so-called country?

Like in most African states, Ugandans have not in any meaningful way interrogated the terms on which they live together and are governed.

Since gaining independence, it has been business as usual – a continuation of colonial legacies (of inherited boundaries and authority systems), which by all means have persistently proved challenging.

Even as more than 50 ethnicities have lived together since the creation of the colonial state, the inherited authority systems are constantly manipulated by elite leaders to suit their interests. This probably explains the existing social, economic and political tension.

On the political scene, governance has led to marginalisation of certain groups due to the apparent control of the means of resource allocation within the State.

This has led to a ‘them versus us’ democracy where a lucky minority petty bourgeoisie class of mainly one or two tribes is domineering over the majority.
In my view, there is need for an overhaul of the entire Constitution, which in its current form is a representation of elite interests.

Post-conflict experiences from countries like Kenya and South Africa have produced some of the best constitutions currently in Africa.

These constitutions are believed to be inclusive, taking into account the important fact of everyone agreeing to live together. These constitutions have been engineered in a progressive manner to meet the aspirations of citizens.

Uganda must take the bold step of having a similar constitution. In modern constitutional democracies, constitutions provide the basis for which a prosperous society is built. This, we Ugandans must not allow to elude us.

But as the saying goes, ‘nothing good comes easy’. We will have to put our shoulders to the wheel by demanding for what is best for us. The conversations must start now and all Ugandans must be part of this.

Ms Nangiro is a Women, Peace and Security fellow at the African Leadership Centre, Nairobi.