I guess the Constitution still means something to someone

Sunday July 29 2018


By Bernard Tabaire

It has been obvious in Uganda for the longest time, as it is clear elsewhere, that the wananchi make the final decision about how they want to be governed. The elites that make up the Executive, legislative and judicial branches are largely an incestuous lot ever ready for Faustian bargains.

The question, I suppose is this: do we the people, the unwashed masses, clearly understand the power we have and how we should wield it to create a great society?

Somehow, the Speaker is innocent in allowing soldiers to attend to an emergency inside the wall of the parliamentary chamber. The said emergency is yelling politicians.

They constitute an emergency that calls for severe beating, which clobbering was clearly pre-planned and therefore had nothing to do with responding to an emergency but rather to force through the required constitutional changes. Even if there were an emergency, did it require bringing in soldiers? Search me. This rubbish can’t be surpassed.

The Constitutional Court judges think the process wasn’t entirely clean, but they seem to say it wasn’t so unclean as to invalidate the outcome. Huh, same stuff we hear regularly from the Supreme Court when it comes to presidential petitions.

Oh, wait. The unclean process only invalidates the extension of MPs’ term from five to seven years, itself constituting daylight theft. It does not smear the removal of the age limit to allow for a life presidency.

When doublespeak and outright duplicity come from on high, what are we the people to do? Fold and run? Nope, except that those who want a new way forward will have to work harder to make their votes count, they have to act to overwhelm the well-oiled dirty tricks machine of electoral theft. It is apparent that whining and whimpering will not do.

Meanwhile, why read all the acres of text word for word? There was unanimity, for example, on throwing out the MPs’ extension of their term. So why did every judge go over his/her reasons in excruciatingly boring detail? Just concur and underline one or two things that in your view the colleagues who spoke before did not adequately articulate, after which you dump your entire judgement on the judiciary website for those interested to read and praise or damn your prose and grounding in constitutionalism.

It should be instructive to the judges that their decision was obvious from the moment the hearings ended. I do not know of even one perceptive commentator who did not predict the outcome: age limit stands and Mzee gets his life’s desire, but the MPs’ power grab of a longer term gets binned. That is exactly how it turned out. This cannot be a ringing endorsement of our judicial system and this particular coram of judges.

Now it is onward and forward, sort of. Soon, it will be campaign season ahead of the 2021 election. That election, if it doesn’t turn out all the bums, will produce another bunch that is as uninspired, or even worse, than the ones before. No sense of higher purpose for being in public service. Corruption. Cronyism. Incompetence. Patronage. Chicanery.

Anyways, let me leave the dark side and look to the positive. In the long flow of Uganda’s history, this court process has added something, for better and for worse, to constitutionalism in our society.

Even if there is an appeal to the Supreme Court, decades from today, we will have picked what lessons we want. This is because ultimately, it is about the choices we make. Thus far, we have not acquitted ourselves very well. And yet we have no one to blame. We blame us — the wananchi. If we really want different, let’s go for it.

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.
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