I want to congratulate every Ugandan upon starting the new year even when the painful ‘cries’ of our Constitution still reechoes in many people’s ears.
Towards the end of last year, the President highlighted, among many things, his discontent with the clergy antiphon towards the Constitution Amendment Act No.2 of 2017 that removed the presidential age cap on the office of the president and extending the term of parliament to seven years.
We seem to be jumping from one issue of public debate to another without settling one at ago. Religious leaders freedom of speech must be guaranteed. But the most recent statement made by Bishop Reuben Kisembo of Ruwenzori Diocese in Fort Portal is a reminder to all Ugandans that we must have a right to hold opinions and no one unless forbidden by law, should be denied this principal right that any human being is entitled to.
The supreme law of Uganda does not stop religious leaders from partaking in politics. Institutions like kingdoms or/and chiefdoms are expressly prohibited from participating in politics and no provision whatsoever says the same against or in line with religious leaders.
To say that religious leaders have no ‘say’ or they must have a ‘particular’ say is irrational and unconstitutional. Religious leaders like any other persons or groups, enjoy the fortification and freedoms conferred by the Constitution.
Article 21 of the 1995 Constitution (As amended) prohibits discrimination based on religion among other grounds. To say they must not get involved in matters that concern the welfare of their ‘Sheep’ is not only discriminatory, but also to deprive them of their freedom of thought, conscience and belief guaranteed under Article 29 of the same Constitution.
Religious leaders just like their followers have a right to practise their religion(s) and this comes with values they cherish such as justice and equality for all among many others. Practice in this instance must not remain in just in the holy books.
As religious leaders, they are morally obliged to give their opinion on issues of both private (for us who still have respect for them to invite them in our family matters for moral counselling and guidance) and those public in nature.
This right to practice and to ‘manifest’ such practice (this is an action, not a theory) is expressly and by implication protected by Article 29(1)c of the same Constitution.
Why did I say the clergy are moral leaders?
When the prices of goods are high on the market, corruption is becoming the trend and unemployment is leading to Kawempe calling for secession from this great country, then the only institutions with the moral high ground to oversee and check government are religious institutions.
They act like an eye to the government and the public. Depriving the clergy this right is placing this country in a bottomless pit of human rights abuse, intolerance, dictatorship, and impunity.
Religious leaders opinions may pierce your sweet ears, but look, they are not binding, they cannot stop you from sipping your coffee comfortably in your offices without necessarily stopping them from speaking. The court of public opinion will judge who is right or who is erroneous. The state is under a constitutional mandate to protect and respect all the citizens with religious leaders inclusive.
God bless Uganda
Mr Muhindo is at Nkumba Law School.