Friday August 29 2014

Why Lord Mayor’s court battles may not end until August 2015

By Crispy Kaheru

I have come to the conclusion that the running court-based contestations around the Kampala Lord Mayor and his legitimacy (or the lack of it) to occupy the mayor’s office are neither issues of a legal nor an administrative nature but simply political machinations with clearly calculated moves that are well designed to deliver a certain premeditated outcome.

Over the last one year, the Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, has strove to hold onto his mayoral turf amidst various waves of political and legal turbulence. Between being removed from the office on disputed administrative grounds on November 25, 2013, the mayor has regained and lost the same office through unrelenting court battles a number of times – including regaining the office for barely three hours sometime late last year.

The most recent court manoeuvres involved a panel of five judges of the Supreme Court, ruling that Lukwago waits to return to KCCA until the Court of Appeal hears the matter involving himself on one-hand, KCCA and the Attorney General on the other.
Because of these legal run-arounds, sections of society have developed the impression that no definitive position is about to be taken on this issue. Without seeming to be presumptuous, these current legal machinations seem to be well deigned moves to keep the Lord Mayor out of office but without necessarily ‘officially’ declaring the position vacant.

I am moved to believe that the tacticians working on “the Lukwago Project” have done some political cost-benefit analysis and realised that if they keep the mayor out of office through employing any sorts of legalese, then they probably will succeed at keeping the situation at KCCA ‘controlled’. However, if the due processes of the courts make their conclusive judgements at this material time and reinstate the mayor, this could be ‘politically disruptive’ to the so-called ‘calm’ that the KCCA technocrats might (claim to) be enjoying.

On the flip side, if court determines that Lukwago loses the mayoral seat, a by-election will have to be organised. With the strong historical anti-NRM voting patterns in Kampala City, a by-election less than 15 months to a general election would probably be very suicidal to the ruling NRM. First, because, this would consolidate/galvanise the opposition around a specific candidate on one hand against the NRM on the other.

Secondly, the number of voters that would use such a by-election to protest certain schemes would be so significant and would definitely offer a landslide victory to any force that stands against the establishment. The nature and results of such an election would generate strong impressions about the strength and weak points of the two contesting blocks. These impressions could be carried over and could influence voting patterns not just in or around Kampala but also in areas beyond during the 2016 elections - tactically, that’s not what the establishment would want to risk going into.

The statutory deadline for conducting by-elections is six months to a general election – this deadline is less than a year away. I am, therefore, inclined to buy into the conspiracy theory that views the current legal gymnastics around the Lord Mayor’s issues as mere delaying tactics to ease government out of a sticky situation that it currently finds itself in.

In whichever way the verdict plays out, this experience has had a lot to say about how government perceives issues of elective democracy. But also, and most importantly, this actually tells a full-page story about the nature of relationship between the justice and political systems in this country.
Did someone say, justice delayed is justice denied?

Mr Kaheru is coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda.