The beating of MPs on September 27 was a signal moment in the current fight over moves to ensure a life presidency for President Museveni.
When in broad daylight, specially trained security operatives storm the belly of Parliament to kick, slap, place in a chokehold, and dump elected leaders into torture vans and speed into the unknown, you know the politics just got a lot braver. In a bad way.
The point of the craziness is this: I want a life presidency and I will get it, damn y’all. The MPs opposed to changing the Constitution to allow a life presidency were made an example of on that day. If MPs can be clobbered, anyone who loudly opposes the removal of the age-limit clause from the Constitution will suffer the same fate. Or worse.
There is clarity.
The one who commandeered the operations, police chief Kale Kayihura, gloats over the works of his hands and brains. Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga won’t apologise, can’t apologise for presiding over an epochal travesty. Both of them, the key enablers, and their boss the President, see nothing despicable in their actions. Only when their hubristic bubble bursts some day will they repent. But it may just be too late, as it often is with these things.
With those brutal actions, debate was cut off. (Stop press! As this article was being written, news came through that the pliant NRM MPs had thrown their colleagues opposed to age limit removal out of a party caucus meeting in Kampala.) If debate must take place, it is of no consequence. Which is why MPs on the committee that is evaluating the age limit bill can proceed with their countrywide consultations knowing all they are doing is enjoy taxpayer shillings. They will come out of it with fatter bank balances, which is not bad for them and their families, and possibly friends.
Their report will amount to nothing. Let’s assume, for argument, that the majority of submissions to the committee oppose the removal of the contentious clause from the Constitution. In that case, the committee would have to recommend accordingly to Parliament.
Does anyone imagine that then the MPs, those brilliant and self-less people’s representatives belonging to NRM, will agree with the committee report and kill the life presidency mission? They will argue that they are not delegates in a constituent assembly, but MPs who are free to still make independent decisions based on their clear consciences and impeccable knowledge of what is best for Uganda.
They will say that the views of their people are not binding but advisory. They will say that as leaders, they must provide leadership to their people, who in this case were mistaken to oppose the life presidency project. And on and on until the ultimate shameful deed is done. A few hundreds of millions of shillings into their bank accounts will nail it.
Back to Wednesday, September 27. President Museveni threw down the gauntlet. He thumbed his nose at a country of 40 million. He did this drawing cynically on the country’s murderous political past. Armed mayhem was once the face of our politics. Terrible things perpetrated by the State happened to many good people. He is reminding us that the State he presides over can also do bad things to you if you stand in his way.
The State apparatus exists for the comfort of the presidency, not the people. Political opponents are enemies for crushing. Decent behaviour is for political wimps and novices. Remember the Lubiri invasion and the military surrounding of the National Assembly to ensure a new Constitution is passed in the mid-1960s. Remember the disappearance of a chief justice in the early 1970s. Remember the raid on the High Court in 2005, and the storming of Parliament on September 27, 2017.
This nightmare continues because Ugandans allow it. How we should stop it is an open question. However, once the life presidency project is enabled constitutionally, we may have to wait for the 2021 elections. If enough people vote wisely, we can overwhelm the system. There is a limit to how much rigging and intimidation can take place to overturn the will of a determined people.
Mr Tabaire is the co-founder and director of programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala. firstname.lastname@example.org