IPOD summit: Is it peace on earth or weapon for re-election?

Thursday January 10 2019


By Karoli Ssemogerere

In December, President Museveni, to much fanfare, attended an interparty summit comprised of NRM and the smaller parliamentary opposition - DP, UPC and Jeema, which command a total of 22 Members of Parliament.

He followed up with a hot breakfast in Entebbe with another IPOD sponsored event bringing together elders led by retired Justice James Ogoola, who have been pushing for a national dialogue to discuss political transition.

The two events came on the heels of government’s decision to appoint a Constitution Review Commission under the Commission of Inquiries Act, a more limited mandate than a fully - fledged Constitutional Commission. The Commission is led by Associate Professor Edward Khiddu Makubuya, 69, the longest serving Attorney General (2005-2011).

His deputy is former Speaker Francis Butagira, 82, (1981-1985), long serving Member of Parliament (1980-1996), and Ambassador (1998-2016). Interesting that the President chose from the Ivy Leaguers this time. Makubuya went to Yale after winning a first class law degree, and Butagira attended Harvard Law School.

Makubuya as a choice is intriguing, especially given the fact that two prior nominees for the post, former Chief Justice Odoki and Principal Judge Ogoola demurred from taking up this job. Odoki has recently felt enamelled by his work, the Odoki report as a saving grace after a disturbing tenure as Chief Justice when he had to be evicted from office after attaining retirement age.

It was a panel of his juniors, the Court of Appeal sitting as the Constitutional Court that served marching orders on him leaving him with certain blemish on an otherwise storied judicial career.

Mr Ogoola, a jurist who has chaired other commissions before like Global Fund, which found three ministers culpable for abuse of office and loss of funds, has been very active in public life after retiring as chairman of the Judicial Service Commission in 2010.

Khiddu arrives on the job after a very quiet time after losing re-election in 2016.

He is a former member of the Uganda Constitutional Commission. In fact, a younger version of Khiddu would mostly be ideal with a combination of history, jurisprudence and a strong background in human rights law.

Three candidates, all law dons at Makerere University, professors of Law, John Jean Barya, Joe Oloka-Onyango both 58, and Oloka’s wife Sylvia Tamale, 56, methodically would be top candidates for this job having spent their academic careers scrutinising constitutional developments in Uganda.

But they are all non-regime ideologues, highly critical of the monogrammed State, which they feel is unfairly dominated by President Museveni.

Another candidate for appointment who would fare better ideologically would have been retired Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, 72, from Kenya.

A freedom fighter and combative jurist, he would have come from outside the realm with less of an interest in local politics. Very few believe that Ogoola’s dialogue dominated by a fading urban elite will go anywhere. First, it is of doubtful legal authority. Amendment of the Constitution is vested first and foremost in Parliament.

The dialogue does not feature anywhere in Uganda’s statute books. Second, the dialogue missed a chance to fully participate in recent major legal developments, the 2016 presidential election petition and the ongoing age limit petition.

Returning to the politicians. The dialogue was more about convenience for President Museveni. He is actually very happy dialoguing with these small groups at the periphery whose existence bolsters his credentials as a democrat.

In 2018, President Museveni delivered a near fatal blow to the official Opposition FDC by causing a split in its ranks recruiting the non-Besigye faction to his side. This group, in an era where even music shows need presidential approval, can only be registered with the president’s tacit support.

Angry and diminished Patrick Amuriat Oboi whose party snatched two critical seats in Rukungiri and Jinja, has watched its great opportunities massively dwindled. No more honeymoon, for him, it is a war of ultimate survival.

Mr Ssemogerere is an attorney-at-Law and an advocate.