Ten years later: Revisiting term limits drama of 2005 - part I

What you need to know:

Open rule. Tomorrow, July 12, will be 10 years since Parliament, presided over by Edward Ssekandi, now vice president, voted to delete term limits.


If the two five-year term limit clause had not been deleted from the Constitution in 2005, President Museveni would be into his 10th year of retirement on his ranches, having handed over power peacefully to a successor in May 2006.

His successor, assuming he/she had been re-elected in 2011, would also be arranging to hand over power next May at the expiry of his/her second term.

Tomorrow, July 12, will be 10 years since Parliament, presided over by Edward Ssekandi, now vice president, voted to delete term limits. Two legislators – Army representative Col Fred Bogere and Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, who was the chairperson of the parliamentary committee on legal affairs, which had considered the Bill - abstained from the vote while 53 members voted to retain term limits.

Two hundred twenty members voted to lift term limits, denying President Museveni’s childhood friend, Eriya Kategaya, an opportunity to see a peaceful transfer of power in Uganda before his death in 2013. Kategaya, who was President Museveni’s fellow fighter, and was for a long time perceived as the de facto No.2 to Museveni, fell out with the President over the removal of Article 105 (2) of the Constitution, which limited the terms a president would serve to two.

As calls to delete the clause from the Constitution gathered steam in 2003, Kategaya urged his childhood friend to “seize the moment” and be the first Ugandan president to hand over power peacefully.

“We can’t have a country where presidents keep running away,” Kategaya said. He put down some of these views in a hurriedly written autobiography, “Impassioned for Freedom”.
Kategaya was drawing from Uganda’s turbulent history, which had heavily influenced the makers of the Constitution in 1994/1995 to limit presidential terms in order to prevent overstay of leaders, which could occasion violent change of power. Power had been so frequently transferred violently in Uganda. In 1966, 1971, 1979, 1985 and 1986 when President Museveni grabbed it from Tito Okello.

Elsewhere, many African countries had experienced long-running dictatorships so it was in vogue for each country, which adopted a new constitution around the 1990s, to limit the terms for the president to two.

So popular was the idea of limiting the length of time spent in the presidency that President Museveni, on taking over in 1986, identified clinging to power as one of Africa’s biggest problems.

The third term article
Moments to voting on deleting term limits, veteran legislator Omara Atubo, who had participated in the making of the Constitution, posed two “fundamental” questions to his colleagues: “For us who were in the Constituent Assembly, “why is it that Article 105 (2) was the least contentious and the least controversial? ... Why is it that after 10 years, this Article 105 (2) has now become the most contentious and most controversial clause in the constitutional amendment?” He, like Kategaya, was arguing for Uganda’s history to be taken into account.

Another prominent member of the establishment, who shared Kategaya’s view, was then Local Government minister Jaberi Bidandi Ssali. President Museveni reacted by ridding his Cabinet of dissenters, although Kategaya would later bounce back to serve at a senior level after the term limits had been deleted and President Museveni returned to power. He was first deputy prime minister and minister for East African Affairs at the time of his death.

Others who fell out with President Museveni over the lifting of term limits include Ms Sarah Kiyingi, former state minister for internal affairs, former Ethics minister Miria Matembe and Major Amanya Mushega, who had held a number of cabinet positions and was secretary general of the East African Community.

A number of Movement-leaning legislators, including Augustine Ruzindana, Salaamu Musumba and Major John Kazoora, also broke ranks with the establishment and founded a “rebel” outfit called the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (Pafo) to oppose the lifting of term limits. Pafo eventually became a key constituent part of the Forum for Democratic Change.

Third term or sad term?

Mr Edward Ssekandi’s led Parliament removed term limits. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s Parliament has not succeeded in restoring them.

Ms Musumba brought her colourful use of language to bear on the debate, warning that should the Constitution be amended to allow President Museveni serve a third elected term, it would turn out to be a “sad” term.

The phrasing of the deletion of term limits as “third term”, of course, was a misnomer. The operation should have been aptly dubbed “open terms” since no limitation was imposed on the number of terms one would serve as long as he got re-elected and had not yet clocked 75 at the time of the next election.

President Museveni, if he runs next year, will be seeking a fifth elected term. Before the election cycles in the current constitutional order kicked off in 1996, he had already served for 10 years. The debate on restoring term limits is now back and although many of the arguments being advanced are old, there has been an eye-catching switching of sides and changes of heart.

Presidential aspirant Amama Mbabazi almost paraphrased Kategaya’s words regarding term limits in a letter to President Museveni just days before he declared he would stand for president next year.

“We simply must join those nations where a change of guard happens regularly and through the ballot ... It is time for a peaceful transition,” Mbabazi wrote.

Mbabazi was a key pillar in the drive to delete term limits in 2005. In a debate on the proposal to lift term limits hosted by the Royal African Society in London on May 26, 2005, Mbabazi said he and “some other colleagues” had unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Movement Caucus during the Constitution making process not to insert term limits in the Constitution.

“As the chairman of the Movement Caucus, having lost the debate in the caucus meeting, I accepted defeat gracefully and decided to bide my time,” Mbabazi, then minister of Defence and chairman of what was called the NRM Promoters Constitutional Committee, said while on a trip in London.
He dismissed the argument by pro-term limits agitators that incumbents can manipulate the electoral processes to stay on indefinitely, saying: “If manipulation is the issue, it does not have to wait for the third term.”

“The whole argument behind term limits is a disguise for personal ambitions,” Mr Mbabazi said, adding: “The unstated objective is not the defence of democracy but a desire to get into government and share in the so-called spoils of office. Since the people have absolute power to elect or not to elect their presidents in a free and fair elections at regular intervals. Term limitation serves no useful purpose.”

Mbabazi, however, has since changed his stance and, on the Capital Gang show on July 4, he said he now supports the re-instatement of term limits. He said although he was “a vigorous defender” of the amendment of the Constitution to remove term limits, experience has forced him to “think more deeply” about the “very many good reasons” which he gave in favour of deleting term limits and which he says he still subscribes to.

“My main reason against term limitation was that it limits, it undermines, the very concept of democracy. Democracy means people having free choice,” he said on Capital radio.

“What I had in mind was people who make conscious choice; people that have the freedom to make that choice ... If you are in a situation where (there is) intimidation using state machinery; you are in a situation where corruption, bribery is used as a method of influencing people who live in abject poverty, then obviously these people will not have a free choice,” Mr Mbabazi said.

He added: “So for these reasons, I think it makes sense for us to revisit this question of term limits.”

Many, including NRM secretary general Justine Lumumba, have sought to hold Mbabazi to his role in the deletion of term limits, especially the arguments he made in favour of longevity in leadership. In the see-saw that is politics, Kasule Lumumba voted to retain term limits but she is now President Museveni’s key enforcer while Mbabazi is looking to replace Museveni, whose leadership he says, has become “weak and inefficient”.

Carrot and stick
Mbabazi’s new stance on term limits, observers say, could have been influenced by the stance of The Democratic Alliance (TDA), which has made a key demand that term limits are restored and entrenched in the Constitution.

Mbabazi is believed to have one eye on being the joint Opposition candidate under the TDA arrangement, where he could tussle it out with, among others, Prof Gilbert Bukenya, a former vice president, who also played a key role in the deletion of term limits from the Constitution.

Some have argued that Prof Bukenya was elevated to vice presidency in 2003 because of his enthusiasm with regard to the lifting of term limits. He would later claim that he started the talk on third term.

Kabula County MP James Kakooza, who also claims he started the talk on third term, eventually made it into cabinet too, perhaps in sync with rewarding third term campaigners.

Those MPs who did not get appointments at least picked up Shs5m from Mosa Court Apartments, which belongs to NRM vice chairman Moses Kigongo. It was the first time during President Museveni’s rule that MPs were being given money openly to vote for a certain position.

On the other hand, the whip was cracked on those who resisted the amendment. We already noted the ministers who were dropped due to their opposition against the scheme. Col Fred Bogere, an army representative, abstained from voting on whether to lift term limits, arguing that being a serving officer, it would be partial of him to pronounce himself on a divisive matter.

This angered the establishment. Gen Aronda Nyakairima, then Chief of Defence Forces, had already openly voted in favour of lifting term limits by the time Col Bogere was called on to vote. Speaking at Nakasongola after the incident, Gen Nyakairima said that Col Bogere had gone against the army’s collective position and that he would face the Army Council for that reason. It took Mbabazi, then Defence minister, to clarify that Col Bogere would actually not appear before the Army Council over the matter. Col Bogere was subsequently removed from Parliament, and he has never got any meaningful deployment in the army since.

Before the Col Bogere incident, Brig Henry Tumukunde, another army representative, had caused a stir when he went public against the proposal to abolish secret voting in Parliament with regard to the lifting of term limits.

Brig Tumukunde argued that the MPs, for fear of being victimised, would not freely express themselves through open voting. He appeared on talk shows, most notably on CBS FM, to argue his case. As a result, he would later say, he was “forced” to resign his seat as an army representative in Parliament. The “resignation letter” was written on a leaf from a writing pad, and, Brig Tumukunde would later claim, under duress.

Vice President Edward Sekandi, then Speaker of Parliament, afterwards ignored Brig Tumukunde’s plea to retain his seat, saying the resignation had already taken effect.

Brig Tumukunde would suffer house arrest for extended periods and undergo a protracted trial for “spreading harmful propaganda”, among other charges. He was subsequently convicted in 2013 and sentenced to “serious warning”.

The fallouts, turnarounds, and agitations around the term limits debate are already too many. Yet if the current developments are anything to go by, the term limits debate seems to just be unfolding.

Term limits fever in the rest of Africa

As Mr Museveni secured the licence to rule on 2005, not everyone on the continent was having it his way. Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria, wanted to stay on too after his two terms had expired but his schemes were defeated.

At the height of his attempts to do the same, Gen Obasanjo called on Mr Museveni in a visit that was widely viewed as an attempt to seek advice on how to execute the mission. Mr Museveni had only freshly pulled it off. But it was too little too late for Gen Obasanjo and the Nigeria Senate rebuffed his efforts. He finally retired in 2007 at the expiry of his second four-year term.

Sam Nujoma, former president of Namibia, had pulled off the feat even before Mr Museveni when he succeeded in getting the constitution amended in 1998 to allow him a third term.
It was stressed, however, that he would only do one extra term and that the future presidents would serve strictly two terms. He eventually retired in 2005.

In Senegal, former president Abdoulaye Wade managed to negotiate his way on to the ballot paper and vied for a third term in 2012, but the opposition to the scheme was so strong that he was defeated at the polls.

Currently, a row over term limits rages in Burundi and has resulted into paralysing protests with thousands fleeing the exile. An attempted coup was foiled, but president Pierre Nkrunziza’s insistence on running for a third term continues and he seems poised to be on the ballot paper in the looming elections.

Mr Nkrunziza recognises that the Burundi constitution allows one a maximum of two five-year terms in the presidency, which he has already served, but he argues that his first term was before the current constitutional order came into force and that it should not count. A ruling by the country’s highest court in his favour did not satisfy his opponents.

In Rwanda, Gen Paul Kagame is widely expected to make a u-turn and seek a third seven-year term as Rwandans continue to “urge” him to do so. The General has dominated Rwanda’s politics since the genocide in 1994, first as vice president but in effect de facto leader.

He had argued upon re-election in 2010, in response to suggestions that he should continue beyond 2017 because there was no one fit to replace him, that if that were to be the case, it would be the reason for him to quit because failing to nurture a successor is evidence of blatant failure of leadership.

He now says that the debate on whether he should continue beyond 2017 should continue. “Africa’s problem is not term limits, it is poverty and hunger,” he recently told visiting journalists from Uganda. He said that he will “soon” speak out on the issue. On the other hand, Kenya and Tanzania are the foremost countries in East Africa to have made run-away progress on the issue of term limits. In Kenya, Mr Daniel Arap Moi stepped down in 2002 and his successor, Mr Mwai Kibaki, bowed out in 2012 in favour of current president Uhuru Kenyatta.

This September, Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete will call it quits and he has already started traversing the world to bid his colleagues goodbye. Mr Kikwete’s predecessor, Mr Benjamin Mkapa, called on President Museveni to say his farewells in 2005 when the third term debate was raging in Uganda.

At a press conference at State House, Mr Mkapa was asked whether it was proper that he, having served “only” two terms, was stepping down.

Mr Mkapa said that 10 years was such a long time in the presidency that it had made him completely disconnected from his community. President Museveni, who had already served almost 20 years in power, looked on.