The President will address the country on Saturday. There is plenty for him to speak about: His trip to China, the state of the economy, the developments in South Sudan, et cetera, but it is his views on the current political environment that many will pay attention to.
The President has already made repeated statements about the Anarchy in Arua, the Madness in Mityana and the Brutality in Bugiri, but these have been either incomplete or through the narrow prism of party partisanship. Here are a few points that this column hopes the President will emphasise.
One, although the President has described as “unfortunate” the deaths in these political contests, it has been with the indifference of a statistician, not the compassion of a Head of State.
The President named one of the two killed in Mityana, identified him as an NRM supporter, and promised to help the family. But I could not find the name of the young men killed in Arua and Bugiri in any of the President’s public statements, or any promises to help their families.
It would be a touch of class if the President mentioned all victims by name, offered similar assistance regardless of political affiliation, and condemned all deaths arising out of political violence.
Two, in his letter to the Speaker of Parliament, the President noted that the Chief of Defence Forces and the Inspector General of Police had both stated that the Armed Forces “do not condone torture”. It would be a powerful message to the men and women in uniform if the President added his personal voice, and that of his various offices, to state clearly that torture has no place in Uganda. This would also clarify his earlier statements on the matter – on ‘legal beating’ and ‘in self-defence’ –, which some interpreted as condoning torture or the use of disproportionate force against unarmed civilians.
Three, the President described some of the actors in the recent impugned parliamentary by-elections, understood to be supporters of Opposition candidates, as “rioters” and “terrorists”. The latter, in particular, is a serious offence requiring clarification, especially in light of the since-silenced claims of illegal guns in the possession of some of the political actors.
While pushing the authorities to investigate the matter fully and transparently, the President, as Defender of the Constitution, should make it clear that citizens have constitutional rights to assembly and to support political parties of their choice and that these rights are inalienable and not granted by the police. The President might want to ask citizens to support his NRM party, but also make it clear that they are free to support other political parties without fear of retribution.
In this regard, the President might wish to clarify past statements, which seemed to indicate that social services would only be made available to areas and citizens who vote for NRM party candidates.
As the Father of the Nation, the President should make it very clear that all citizens are equal before the law regardless of which political party they support, and that as long as they carry out their civic duties and pay their taxes, they will not be discriminated against in accessing social services or opportunities.
Fourth, the President, who is known to handle his own intellectual arguments, should reaffirm his commitment to a society in which citizens are free to hold and express a diversity of views in private and public media. The President should make it clear that while he might not agree with many of these views, he will defend – to the death if need be – the rights of citizens to speak out without fear of retribution, and the freedom of the media.
In fact, the President might want to speak broadly about rights and his historic mission to impose the rule of law. A clear reaffirmation of citizen rights, constitutionalism and the rule of law, and specific orders to the police and the military in this regard will go a long way in checking the rampant impunity and lawlessness.
Finally, the President might want to make a general comment about partisanship. Something about us all being Ugandans, regardless of tribe, religion or political leaning would be nice, followed by a commitment to govern as the President of Uganda, not the president of NRM.
Should time allow, the President could also reassure the country, as he reportedly told NRM Members of Parliament, that if Parliament summoned soldiers he would, as Commander-in-Chief, make sure they showed up. Of course, the President should also remind us, his loyal supporters, how far we have come since 1986.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. [email protected]