To distract his opponents, President Museveni once talked speculatively about doctors being the right experts to determine whether people older than 75 should compete for the presidency.
As if considering it a serious idea, Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee recently asked a bunch of medical experts some related questions.
I smelt a can of worms. And someone probably quickly put back the lid.
Several days later, Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere appeared before the Committee.
Although not a medical man, we would expect the professor to throw more light on the subject than a village brewer. Unfortunately, Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere thinks like Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere.
Kabwegyere argued that ageing is a biological process and should not be used to edge out anyone from political competition.
“Every minute that passes by, people change biologically. If you think the old ones are disposable, and you think you will not age, you will be disposed (sic) yourself,” he said. (Daily Monitor, November 9.)
First of all, does undergoing a weakening process leave one’s abilities intact just because the process is ‘biological’ or natural?
Precisely because ageing is a universal natural process, most people would accept and even prepare for its coming; with all its implications, including exclusion from some very demanding roles.
There is no magic about age 18, or 35, or 75, but social organisation would be extremely difficult if its institutions did not simplify and classify some of the infinitely complex stuff they deal with.
The bars at 18… and so on are arbitrary, but they were set after considering a range of generalisations that are fairly reasonable.
Elected at 75, and given five years in power, an 80-year-old president is likely to be more bothered by his health than the health of the State.
Kabwegyere used the word ‘frail’ several times. Yes, some 75 or 80 year-olds are less frail than some younger people. But remember, in functioning democracies, the frail cases (regardless of age) somehow either gracefully eliminate themselves, or voters sensibly deny them the big role.
Under authoritarian/command ‘democracy’, a manipulative election fixer of Robert Mugabe vintage can infinitely renew his rule unless he is forcibly removed.
I suggested above that invoking medical expertise could open a can of worms. Why; because a president is not a weight-lifter or a gladiator. In Uganda’s case, after 35 years in power, the citizens may not be so much at risk because an 80-year-old ruler is (in the popular sense) physically frail, or his muscles flabby, but because mentally he has become dangerously prone to harm society.
The dichotomy between the physical or the biological and the ‘mental’ is really not there. Brain function is now also understood to be biological, chemical and electrical.
Brain science is entering a zone where the neurological activity (and damage) of potential criminals and dictators can be located, plotted and measured in laboratories and advanced clinical outfits.
If we reject the simple bars of age, education level and so on that are roughly applicable to all, should we move towards comprehensive and detailed scientific testing of all presidential candidates on a brain-by-brain basis in European laboratories, regardless of age?
With growing institutional decay, and the glaring disconnection between our brutal selfish ruling elite and the disillusioned masses, if a sociology professor cannot add anything intelligent to a constitutional debate in which the question of a dignified political transition is so central, then the country must feel betrayed, and the President’s enemies are the opportunists masquerading as his best friends.
Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.