We shall neither smile nor  sneer at Magufuli’s funeral

Still beats me how one decides to become a judge but does not have the stomach, or the gall to make tough decisions when push comes to shove…or, if you like, when the chips are down. Why did they even bother to get to the bench in the first place then?

That is precisely what is happening in Uganda’s Judiciary. See, a couple of years ago, Parliament passed the Human Rights Enforcement Act, 2019; one of whose roles is to ensure that agents and agencies of the State respect human rights in handling of suspects.

 The sweetest bit about this law is maybe Section 11: once the non-derogable rights of a suspect are shown to have been abused – like right to a fair hearing, illegal detention (place and span of time), violation of a habeas corpus order, torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, etc. – the criminal legal process would have effectively criminalised itself. No matter how strong the evidence against the suspect, the trial must be nullified. 

Very few judicial officers in Uganda have the guts to implement this law. The way they talk (some even quarrel about it), you’d think it is we the lawyers who wrote it by ourselves, in our chambers and carried it to the courts.

A few days – or a few weeks – ago, depending on whom you want to believe, Tanzania’s president John Pombe Magufuli took leave of the earth – and, unlikely as this may sound, for those who knew the kind of person Magufuli was, he won’t be coming back.

It is a very humbling reality and realisation that a man so powerful, who exercised state power with unprecedented ruthlessness and resolve and brooked no interference or opposition, has left the earth quickly, against his will, permanently.

It’s a small, stinging reminder that no matter how powerful someone – any one – may seem today, there is One above us all, Who owns our lives and Who runs the show.

It is undeniable that Magufuli was enthusiastic about his job and took transformation of Tanzania very seriously.

 Magufuli wanted the best for his country: a corruption-free society, efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery, fiscal discipline and genuine development for all (that means all) his people – something I would never, ever, accuse Magufuli’s Ugandan counterpart of. 

Strange and ironic that Magufuli didn’t look as bouncy and energetic as similarly deceased former president Benjamin Mkapa who walked with a spring in his stride, as though he was ready for a fight. 

In fact, he looked pretty harmless on the surface; a very misleading picture, when you consider that he suppressed media freedoms, narrowed space for civic engagement and made it costly – and deathly – for anyone to oppose him.

Any leader can build infrastructure – if they purpose to do so. Even Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, tyrant that he was, did so.

 Most of the very undemocratic states in the Middle East are super in infrastructure. But it takes a real leader to nurture a democratic culture where the criteria of access to power is truly liberalised and democratised, entrench a tradition of respect for human rights and accept critique and criticism without flinching.

To blindly celebrate Magufuli would be to assert that democracy and development do not need each other.

 And that is precisely the flaw of African thinking: we focus on roads, bridges and high rise buildings and forget that sustainable development is only guaranteed by exciting and stimulating human capital advancement that is premised on protection of human rights and freedoms, and mainstreaming the dignity of the human being into the DNA of every governmental action. 

It is the absence of this that causes social tensions, civil war, poverty and the like.

It is undeniable that Magufuli was very developmental; but his human rights record puts paid to all that. This is the spirit and essence of our Human Rights Enforcement Act, 2019. 

The Bible teaches (2 Samuel 23:3) that whoever rules over men must do so justly, walking in the fear of the God who owns this world. You cannot sacrifice human rights at the altar of “progress”.

Some of us shall, therefore, not laugh, smile and sneer at Magufuli’s funeral; but we shall certainly not shed any tears for him.

Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda     [email protected]