It’s interesting we may soon be talking term limits again

Monday September 16 2019


By Bernard Tabaire

The shadow attorney general has finally got the nod from Parliament to table a private member’s Bill on electoral reforms.
Mr Wilfred Niwagaba, also the Ndorwa East MP, wants the Judicial Service Commission, and not the president, to appoint the head and commissioners of the Electoral Commission.

Mr Niwagaba is an ambitious man. He is proposing several other provisions. Another that stands out is the reintroduction in the Constitution of the two-term limit for a president.
This is the type of news that gets one thinking about how a society manages its affairs.

In the beginning, we debated long and hard and decided that the president will serve two terms of five years each and go away. Again, that a person could not run for president if below 35 or above 75 years of age.
When these limits were catching up with President Museveni, they were removed by any and all means necessary — bribery, kiboko, and whatnot. There was never a higher principle guiding decisions except a naked greed for power on the one hand, and a profiting off it on the part of well-placed supporters. Now we have a life-presidency.

These life-presidency projects, or decades-long power projects for that matter, have not gone well for several countries around Africa. Uganda may yet turn out different, but that we wait to see.
Félix Houphouët-Boigny’s 30-plus years in power plunged Cote d’Ivoire into violence after he died. Things are quiet now, but years of development were lost.

Robert Mugabe is expected to be buried today in a Zimbabwe he superintended over with some terrible results. There was no better testament to that than the fact he died in Singapore. He did not die in a fancy hospital in Harare. This little matter is so damning.
There were also people like Mobutu Sese Seko. He also logged more than 30 years in the palace. Siad Barre of Somalia did a respectable 20-plus. Thanks largely to their efforts their countries are not where they could have been.

Let’s remember Gen Omar Hassan al-Bashir, ruler of Sudan for just under 30 years. He is literally a caged chap now standing trial for corruption and money laundering. He was found sitting on piles of hard foreign currency bills in his house. The things these so-called super patriots get up to can be a study in the absurd.
Apart from making the wise decision to surrender South Sudan to its own devious devices, Gen Bashir failed to learn anything from his brothers in Cairo, Tripoli, Tunis, or even Algiers.


The power men in those countries sat pretty for decades, thinking they owned their countries and the hundreds of millions of people who lived in them. They did not.
Maybe all this stuff is gnawing on Mr Niwagaba’s mind. Having lost to Mr Museveni on the presidential limits fights, he must be thinking about Uganda the day after. No one wants the country to return to political chaos after Mr Museveni’s decades finally close.

A most interesting thing to watch is how the NRM MPs will deal with Mr Niwagaba’s Constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2019. They can repair the damage. They should honestly say they sought to reward Mr Museveni for liberating Uganda by freeing him from constitutional limitations on the length of his rule. Now it is time to do the right thing: support the two-term limit, at the very least. They may maintain the removal of the age-limit clause because it is an exercise in ageism.

The catch is that the next president may bribe, beat up, and jail people to also enjoy unlimited stay in power. That remains a risk, but possibly a remote one. Mr Museveni enjoyed a unique moment in the way he came to power when he did. The next president will not have some of the advantages, or even if he or she did, may not have the deftness and single-mindedness to push the advantage.

Whichever way these things pan out, they ultimately boil down to how we want to run our affairs and the kind of society we want to create for our bazzukulu and ourselves.

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