The meaning of General Aronda’s appointment

Friday July 19 2013

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Gen Aronda Nyakairima yesterday inked his name in the country’s history books as the first serving army officer under the 1995 Constitution to serve as a Cabinet minister.

His approval amid protests has angered Opposition politicians, legal minds and civil society activists who have accused Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who chaired the Appointments Committee, of failing to defend the Constitution she swore to protect. The UPDF enjoys a constitutional mandate to preserve and defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Uganda.

According to Article 208(2) of the same supreme law of the land, the UPDF shall be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional, disciplined, productive and subordinate to civilian authority.

As a minister of Internal Affairs, Gen Nyakairima is expected to take partisan positions some of which, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mr Nandala Mafabi, will oppose yet under Article 208 (2) of the 1995 Constitution, as a serving army officer, he owes the ultimate political responsibility to Uganda.

Citing the constitutional implications of accepting Gen Nyakairima as Internal Affairs minister, the lawyers and independent-minded lawmakers insisted that the former army chief cannot assume a partisan office unless he quits the army, expressing the fear that Parliament would be “dragging the national army through mud”.

The other concern is that this disputed approval is likely to open the floodgates for other military appointments to Cabinet fuelling fears of a military take-over of government by default.

Against the backdrop of Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga’s statement that the army would be compelled to take power so as to refocus the direction of the government if politicians in Parliament continue exhibiting lack of seriousness, this development caused concern in the House last night.

Mr Wilfred Nuwagaba (Ndorwa East) told this newspaper that the decision has “far reaching implications because it means the President can appoint his son [who is a Brigadier] a Cabinet minister in total disregard of the law.”

Going forward, even with Ms Kadaga’s line that the Constitution has “lacunas” and lacks clarity on the appointment of serving army officers, the committee decision could be the beginning of a protracted legal battle in the Constitutional Court seeking to restore what legal minds called the “constitutional equilibrium”.

The Opposition say they are going to court over this.

The other disquiet is that this approval sets what Mr Mafabi called a “dangerous precedent” that makes the Constitution “meaningless” in a sense that for the President to get his way, even on matters that touch the heart of the Constitution, all he needs will be the ruling party majority on the Appointments Committee.

The insistence on keeping the General in uniform while at the same time having him in Cabinet suggests that the Constitution has been set aside and the Gen Jeje Odongo resignation precedent overturned.

The General’s approval amid allegations of influence peddling from the President further dampens the independence of Parliament in holding the Executive accountable.