Saturday March 22 2014

Motive behind extension Bill is selfish, ill-conceived

By David F. K. Mpanga

One of the most moving speeches that I have heard in my life was delivered by Spencer Turomwe at his graduation dinner in 2001 or 2002. He was a mature student having taken a detour through freedom fighting, first as a “kadogo” in the 1979 Liberation War that toppled Idi Amin and then as a junior officer in the National Resistance Army in the Bush War against Milton Obote. Apologising for graduating 20 years or so late, Turomwe said he had been engaged in what he thought was a struggle for the liberation of his country, but later found out that in fact he had been fighting for a completely different cause which was neatly disguised within the legitimate struggle for the liberation. Sadly, he did not live very long after getting his degree, rendering his speech even more poignant.

Turomwe’s words have been echoed by many people who have written memoirs or given interviews about the Bush War. There is a recurrent theme of disillusion and a realisation of a misalignment of aims. One could argue that many were young and, perhaps, too idealistic. But when you hear people like the late Sam Njuba, who joined the struggle as rational adults, echo the same sentiment, you have to pause and wonder whether so many people could have been so wrong about the true nature of the struggle.

The question of legitimate causes being hijacked and used to execute selfish and illegitimate causes came to my mind as I read about the young Members of Parliament, who are being used to float the nefarious “Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Extension Bill 2014”. The Bill, which is being fronted by hitherto unheard of Nakifuma County MP, Mr Robert Ssekitoleko, proposes to amend the Constitution to extend the terms of the President, the MPs and the local councils by two or more years so as to give a National Electoral Restructuring Committee a chance to investigate, propose and implement electoral reforms.

There is no doubt that Uganda desperately needs electoral reforms. The electoral field is far from level and the present institutions charged with organising and safeguarding elections suffer severe constitutive and capacity shortcomings as well as a clear institutional bias. Time and again, courts have declared elections, at all levels, far from free and fair. Many of the lower level elections are annulled because of malpractices and unfairness – at a great cost to the taxpayer. At the topmost level, twice the Supreme Court has held that the elections were not free or fair but urged the aggrieved challenger to grin and bear it or to accept and move on.

Several opposition parties and personalities and many civil society organisations have called repeatedly for electoral reforms to level the playing field. This is so that the people’s faith in elections may be restored and the danger of agitation or, even worse, fighting for power, completely removed. When these voices calling for reform have been raised in the past, the master puppeteers behind Ssekitioleko have said that there is absolutely no need for electoral reforms and that those calling for them are simply bad losers. Whilst the natural instinct would be to welcome the seeming Damascene conversion and start helping to point out the areas that are desperately in need of reformative actions, the self-serving extension of the political incumbents’ terms by the proposed postponement of the 2016 elections call for caution.

It is never a wise thing to permit a person to sit in judgment of his own cause. This is why our forefather’s deemed the monkey unfit to sit in judgment of the forest and why farmers have never considered it wise to give turkeys a say in whether or not to postpone Christmas. The people who are pushing this Bill are a closed club that makes a living out of politics – an activity that generates no wealth or income of its own but thrives on the blood, sweat and tears of you and I. Their sense of self-entitlement clearly knows no bounds. They have shown us time and again that they are quite happy to lavish expenditure upon themselves at the expense of our basic needs such as hospitals, essential drugs, schools, roads, etc. They are leeches, sucking our blood and growing ever fatter whilst the nation grows ever more emaciated.

With these kinds of antecedents, I do not think that any sane person should believe that the intention behind the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Extension Bill 2014 is noble. Electoral reform is just another legitimate cause being hijacked to serve and mask the most base and selfish desires. As T.S. Elliot had Archbishop Thomas Becket say in the play Murder in the Cathedral, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” I hope that in the future, our children will not have to read an interview or memoir of Ssekitoleko regretting his lack of awareness at the true motive behind the Bill he is fronting.
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